Let me begin this discussion with the statement that I have serious doubts that William Shakspere of Stratford wrote the plays, sonnets and poems of William Shakespeare. Although I am certainly not alone in believing this, I am in a tiny minority. Most established academics dismiss people like us as idiots or something worse. However, when asked to refute details presented by those opposed to their view, they refuse to engage in debate. In fact, if you replaced their arguments based on the expression “would have” with the more accurate, “there is no evidence that”, their evidence is really minimal and based only on the dedication to the 1623 folio edition, which in a future blog, I will explore.
So, to begin, the verifiable evidence of the development of the Stratford man as a writer from his birth to his death in 1616 could be written in a large font on the head of a pin. There is nothing. That he acted in plays, invested money, owned property, sued people regularly and was a grain merchant seems quite certain. That he could even read or write has no evidence. His family members were illiterate.
The first published work under the name of William Shake-speare was the poem Venus and Adonis. This was not the spelling of the Stratford man’s name. However, given spelling was indifferent in the Elizabethan age, this is not definitive evidence. It does raise some doubt. So why the need to name the author when several plays that were assigned to William Shakespeare had already been produced without an author?
One very interesting event occurred just before the publication of the poem. Christopher Marlowe was killed in Deptford in late May 1593. Marlowe was one of the best known playwrights with produced plays prior to his death. He was also strongly linked to Francis Walsingham’s spy network and was slated to be questioned on matters very sensitive to the crown. It was thought that he would reveal information under torture that would expose this and was killed to prevent that. Of course, the other point of view is that his death was faked, and he continued to write plays as William Shakespeare. There are a number of people who find the details of Marlowe’s death odd. However, that is not the position I am taking in this blog.
A number of very knowledgeable scholars believe that the poem was written by Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. I am one of those who feel that is the correct. So, since de Vere was very likely closely associated with Marlowe and other playwrights, it was a major risk to publish under his name. Those same scholars further believe that de Vere was the main author of the complete canon of sonnets, poems and plays assigned to William Shakespeare. I am onboard with that, as well. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that William Shakespeare was a pseudonym for de Vere and that the fact that William Shakspere of Stratford had a similar sounding name was merely coincidence. Use of pseudonyms was very common during this period. De Vere was one of the most prominent supporters of theatrical presentation in Elizabethan England from 1570 to his death in 1604.
To keep this first blog short, I wanted to point out with support from those far more learned than me, that the Metamorphoses of Ovid, a Roman writer from the 1st century CE, was a major source of material for the poems and plays. Since there is no evidence that the Stratford man had access to the Metamorphoses in any language, or that he could even read or write, and de Vere lived in a household and supported the man, Arthur Golding, who did the English translation of it, there is a much stronger link. Further, there seems general consensus that the early plays of Shakespeare are collaborations of multiple authors, and none assigned to him until 1598. The person to who the poem was dedicated was Henry Wriothesley, who some people think might be the illegitimate child of Elizabeth I of England with several father candidates including de Vere. So, this is a further potential link to de Vere while there is no known link between the Stratford man and Wriothesley or any of the royalty or high ranking nobles. When I get to the sonnets in a future blog, you will see this connection extended significantly.
So, I will end the blog here and will begin a new one later this month.