August 10, 2006

Eight people who might be the “real” Shakespeare

In academic circles, the question of Shakespeare’s “real” identity has long been debated. Some scholars believe, for various reasons, that the historical person known as William Shakespeare was not the actual author of the works he is known for today. Entire books have been dedicated to the subject, on both sides of the issue. I recently read Stephen Greenblatt’s biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, which carefully lays out the existing evidence that links William Shakespeare, the historical person, to elements of the writings, and in the absence of direct evidence, makes reasonable assumptions about these connections. I found the book quite convincing, but I personally don’t need proof of authorship to enjoy the plays and poems, although I do love good literary gossip. For those interested in the controversy, here are the leading contenders:

  1. Francis Bacon: aristocrat and philosopher known for formulating the Baconian method; the earliest contender
  2. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: a poet and patron of the arts; currently the most popular contender (see “Shakespeare” by Another Name by Mark Anderson)
  3. Christopher Marlowe: poet and playwright; a historically popular contender even though he died before many of Shakespeare’s works appeared
  4. Sir Henry Neville: diplomat and distant relative of Shakespeare; the newest addition to the list (see The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare by Brenda James and William D. Rubinstein)
  5. William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby
  6. Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
  7. Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke
  8. William Shakespeare (yes, it’s still possible)

For much more information on this debate, go here, here, or here.

7 Responses to “Eight people who might be the “real” Shakespeare”

  1. Early Modern Notes » Carnivalesque 18 said:

    […] If it’s early modern, how can there not be Shakespeare? Kristine reviewed a book on Green Shakespeare at Earmarks in Early Modern Culture. And at Senselist, a roundup of 8 people who, according to various more or less loony theories, might be the real Shakespeare. […]

  2. Cecily said:

    I saw somewhere that Queen Elizabeth I was also one of the people said to have wrote one of Shakespeare’s works. But, I don’t know.

  3. Morgen Jahnke said:

    Cecily: I’ve read that too; thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Richard said:

    None less than St. Thomas says it was Devere. Look in “The disappearance of the universe” by Gary Renard. There’s the whole story.

  5. Steve of Earl said:

    The correct answer to this question is Sir Francis Bacon (who many have claimed to be the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth) who through those old men of renown had created these writings.

  6. britt said:

    I do think tht there was a guy whos name was Shakespeare, although with knowing his back ground, nt owning any books or anything, i do think tht some other people wrote them, and he put his name on them…

  7. epic said:

    well, there is not proof that shakespeare did or did not write his plays or exist. there was an actor named william shakespeare.. people have said edward de vere, francis bacon, or marlowe. but, i’m REALLY confused because some people say that shakespeare existed but he didn’t write his plays cause he didn’t have any education and some say shakespeare did NOT exist and he was made up by the real writer?