Why there is an Authorship Question
For four hundred years there has been a question about the authorship of the Shakespearean works. Many traditional Shakespeareans claim the question is based on “mere snobbery,” claiming the only discrepancy for authorship is the mistaken idea that a low-born tradesman would not have had the skills to write this powerful body of work. But low birth is not the problem—the problem is that William Shakespeare, the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, was not acknowledged as a writer in any documentation of the time.
We know details such as Shakespeare sold a load of stone to Mr. Chamberlin on December 1, 1598 for ten pence, and his wife had to borrow two pounds from a shepherd—yet we have no records that document his authorship of anything.
It’s true we have more documentation for the man named William Shakespeare than for any other dramatist of the time (with the exception of Ben Jonson), but a close look at that documentation tells us:
- William Shakespeare was baptized, married, had three children; he died and left a will of three pages.
- He illegally hoarded eighty bushels of grain during a shortage.
- He defaulted on his property taxes several times.
- He sold a load of stone to a Mr. Chamberlin in Stratford.
- His wife borrowed £2 from a shepherd.
- He sued people for small sums of money.
- Several times he paid huge sums of cash for property, houses, and a share of tithes.
- A citizen of London made a formal complaint in fear of his life from Shakespeare.
- He was an actor in two of Ben Jonson’s plays and was listed as an actor with the King’s Men.
- He was a shareholder of the Globe Theatre and of the Blackfriar’s gatehouse (not the theater).
This is what is missing from the documentation:
- There is no evidence he was ever paid as a writer.
- There is no evidence he was recognized by a patron.
- There is no evidence of an education in French, Italian, or Latin, languages in which the author was obviously fluent.
- There is no original manuscript or even a piece of one.
- There are no records from anyone in which Shakespeare is personally referred to as a writer (read the contemporary mentions of William Shakespeare carefully—the works are referred to, not the man).
- Not Shakespeare, not his family, not anyone in Stratford is recorded as having mentioned he was a writer.
- There is no evidence that he owned or borrowed any books or ever used a nobleman’s private library to access the more than 200 source materials used in writing the plays.
- There is no evidence he was ever present in the royal court, where most of the plays take place.
- There is no correspondence extant from Shakespeare, and only one unsent business letter to him; that letter makes no literary reference.
- There is nothing in Shakespeare’s handwriting except six signatures (one illegible), all on legal documents, all within four years of his death, all spelled differently.
- There is no evidence that anyone noticed when he died.
For a writer of this stature to be so completely undocumented in his own time is exceptionally unusual, even bizarre.
These facts combine with what we know of the author based on the contents of the plays. For instance, we know the author was fluent in Latin, Italian, and French; was a musician; an avid falconer; loved the game of bowls; was familiar with sailing ships; had a thorough knowledge of sewing, cooking, alchemy, gardening, medicine, heraldry, law, and politics; and was intimate with the royal court and aristocracy.
The Shakespearean sonnets indicate the poet had a younger, male lover, and this lover seems to have had an affair with a dark-haired, dark-eyed, newly married young woman whom the poet also knew and loved.
Yet no connection between what we know of the author based on the plays, the younger lover written about in the sonnets, and the man named William Shakespeare has been found.
The doubt about Shakespeare as author of the works attributed to him is growing in acceptance and importance. It is incredible that no one has been able to definitively prove who wrote this large body of important work. Perhaps we’ve been looking in the wrong direction. Perhaps the poet who wrote to a younger, male lover was not a man at all.
Every document that records an activity by Shakespeare can be seen at this site: http://fly.hiwaay.net/~paul/shakspere/evidence1.html.
For some people, talking about the authorship of the Shakespearean works is similar to talking about politics or religion—a few are still unwilling to look at things in a different way, simply as a query; some actually find it offensive to even consider the authorship issue as a question at all. Fortunately, this rigid way of considering (or not considering) the Authorship Question is no longer the majority position. Several links to sites that examine the Authorship Question may be found here.