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What’s Wrong With the Old Shakespeare?

14 reasons to doubt the Stratfordian attribution

Shakespeare, alone of all the great writers in Western civilization, presents a unique enigma. Despite two hundred years of scholarly attempts to establish the Stratford man’s credentials, doubts about the author’s identity refuse to go away and are getting stronger daily. As Henry James said, “The facts of Stratford do not ‘square’ with the plays of genius…”:

  1. The life documented in conventional biographies is inconsistent with the life revealed in the plays and poems. William Shaksper was the perfect bourgeois businessman, a man of worldly wealth and upward mobility. The plays express a consistent pattern of contempt for the values and attitudes necessary for success in the social milieu in which the alleged author lived. Instead they reflect a distinctively aristocratic social view, as Walt Whitman recognized when he postulated that “only one of the Wolfish earls” would seem to be the true author of the history plays.
  2. As Charlton Ogburn and others have argued in the past, and as Diana Price’s new book documents in detail, all of the literary references allegedly made to the man from Stratford are in fact ambiguous and may just as easily refer to some unknown person writing under a popular and often-recognized “nom de plume”; conversely the many documents which do exist relating to the Stratford Shakspere fail to indicate that he was even literate and suggest the life of someone who is unlikely to have been anything but a talented shill and front man for the real author.
  3. In an age of copious eulogies, none was forthcoming when William Shakspere died in Stratford.
  4. Among the leading figures of the day who strangely take no notice of the Stratford man’s fame is the antiquarian, classical scholar and heraldic expert William Camden. In his list of Stratford Worthies of 1605 William Camden omits the Stratford man’s name, even though Camden had previously passed on Shakspere’s application for a family coat of arms. In his Annals for the year 1616 Camden omits mention of the Stratford man’s death. In his Remains Concerning Britain Camden lists the name “Shakespeare” as one of the common names of England, but makes no remark at all about the then-famous author. (The inference is that it did not occur to Camden that the author, “Shakespeare”, and the Stratford man were the same person.) The first memorial verse to “Shakespeare” appears in the 1623 Folio.
  5. William Shakspere’s son-in-law John Hall, who kept an extensive journal, including notice of the “excellent Poet” and Warwickshire native Michael Drayton, fails to mention his father-in-law’s association with the theatre, with drama, or with literature — an astounding and troubling lacuna.
  6. As Charlton Ogburn points out, the conditions for the survival of books, manuscripts or other documents definitively linking the Stratford man to the works of Shakespeare could not have been more ideal. New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon remained in hands of Shakspere’s descendents until the 1670s, after the social upheavals of the revolution, and less than forty years before Nicholas Rowe wrote the first biography of the alleged author.
  7. Aside from one curious and now lost or suppressed document once at Wilton House referring to “the man Shakespeare,” there is no mention in the documents of the time of the supposed author’s intimate acquaintance with the inner circles of the Jacobean or Elizabethan courts, in striking contrast to Ben Jonson and other contemporary writers.
  8. The author of Shakespeare’s works had to be familiar with a wide body of knowledge for his time — law, music, foreign languages, the classics, and aristocratic manners and sports. There is no documentation that William Shakspere of Stratford had access to such information. Unlike other major playwrights of the period he did not attend college.
  9. Shakespeare accurately employs as many as six hundred legal terms in the play, indicating the necessity of a formal legal training in his background, which in Elizabethan times was not likely to have been obtained outside the Inns of Court. No record exists of the Stratford man attending an Inn of Court; Edward de Vere graduated from Grays Inn circa 1567.
  10. Despite a massive man-hunt going back more than two centuries, not a single authenticated letter written in his hand or book from his library has ever been found.
  11. No legitimate portrait of him exists.
  12. The plays reflect an intimate knowledge of mid-late 16th century international affairs and diplomacy, court life, etc. Yet the supposed author moved in the exalted circles where such information was available without leaving a trace. Ben Jonson, a real-life middle-class poet and playwright, displays a similar knowledge but his copious interaction the aristocratic power elite of the day is documented in many extant sources.
  13. Shakspere’s will, noteworthy for its detailed disposition of household furniture, there is no mention of books, library, manuscripts, or of any literary interest. The only theatrical connection is an interlined bequest, quite possibly a spurious later edition to the will, to the actors Hemminges and Condell who are also mentioned in the 1623 folio as “friends” of the author.
  14. The only specimens of William Shakspere’s handwriting to come down to us are six almost illegible signatures, each formed differently from the others, and each from the latter period of his life (none earlier than 1612). Three of these signatures are on his will, one is on a deposition in someone else’s breach of promise case, and two are on property documents. None of these has anything to do with literature. The first syllable, incidentally, in all these signatures is spelled “Shak”, whereas the published plays and poems consistently spell the name “Shake”.

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