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Reluctant to accept William Shakespeare (1564–1616) of Stratford‐upon‐Avon as the true author of the plays and poems published in his name. Despite the fact that several of Shakespeare's own contemporaries, including Ben Jonson and the compilers of the 1623 First Folio, clearly acknowledged him as the author of those works, a succession of amateur scholars and conspiracy theorists in the 19th and 20th centuries proposed various alternatives as the ‘true’ author. Although disagreeing among themselves on the central point of attribution, they shared common ground in their refusal to accept that a provincial glover's son lacking any university education and working as an actor could have written such magnificent works himself: all anti‐Stratfordian theories attribute the poems and plays to a better‐educated or more socially distinguished contemporary, and most of them propose that William Shakespeare was used as a front‐man to disguise the true identity of the hidden genius.

The first candidate in this tradition was the English philosopher, essayist, and lawyer Francis Bacon (1561–1627). The Baconian theory, as it became known, of Shakespearian authorship was launched in 1856 by Delia Bacon in an article for Putnam's Magazine, and was soon endorsed by Dr William H. Smith's Bacon and Shakespeare (1857). Several followers claimed to have discovered in the writings hitherto attributed to Shakespeare elaborate ciphers and numerological codes all pointing to Bacon's authorship. But other hidden hands were detected by similar illogic, including the Cambridge‐educated poet‐playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564–93), whose death awkwardly predates nearly all of Shakespeare's works; Queen Elizabeth I (1532–1603), whose death predates many of them and whose life left little enough time for secret literary careers; William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (1561–1641), who is not known to have had any literary ability; and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604), who was at least a theatrical patron and inferior poet, and who became the favoured candidate of anti‐Stratfordians in the wake of Thomas J. Looney's book ‘Shakespeare’ Identified (1920). The definitive refutation of these theories is to be found in Samuel Schoenbaum's Shakespeare's Lives (1970; rev. 1991); for another rewarding account, consult Jonathan Bate, The Genius of Shakespeare (1998).

http://www.shakespeareauthorship.com Provides evidence for the Stratfordian position.

Subjects: Literature

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