Was William Shakespeare an Author?
"That every word doth almost tell my name / Showing their birth, and where they did proceed..." Some might say that this quote from Sonnet 76 eloquently expresses the narrator's desire to be heard. This is a normal enough emotion to have. In today's society, people will fight behemently for that right. In Elizabethan times, however, to be heard was not a right at all, but a privilege. The queen, Elizabeth I, had the power to silence any opposition. One could easily see how a verse like the above example could find its inspiration. Some would argue that, with the necessary information, one could just as easily see a darker purpose uncovered, William Shakespeare: Did he exist? There is no doubt of that. Was he responsible for the greatest poetry and prose the English-speaking world has ever known? That, it would appear, is a greater mystery than one would initially think. I intend to search for the answer to the question: Was William Shakespeare responsible for the writings traditionally attributed to him?
When I first became aware of this debate, I was skeptical. Who wouldn't be? A 400-year old conspiracy theory always invokes doubt, especially one of this caliber. The plays and poetry of William Shakespeare are frequently called the greatest writings of the English language. The Guiness Book of World Records, using only his plays and poetry or the word count, lists him as the man with the largest vocabulary. How then can these works be attributed to the son of a glove maker with no formal education? This is the backbone of the debate raging through the literary world today. Stratfordians, the people who hold to the traditional view, have no real answers. Oxfordians, however, have a slew of evidence that rocks the foundations of that tradition. The reason that they are called Oxfordians will become apparent shortly.
In case the traditional view is not familiar, I'll review it briefly here. It states that William Shakespeare was born in 1654 in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small town near London. He married at age 18, had three children, and died in 1616. In that time, he penned at least 154 sonnets and 37 plays. He lived a commoner's life and was an actor with the Globe Theater in London. His death sparked no comment anywhere. This much is generally agreed upon. To our detriment, very few documents exist pertaining to him. There is no record of his ever being schooled anywhere, no birth records, and no documents written by him. The only examples of his handwriting we have are six signatures, three from his will. Interestingly enough, they are all spelled differently. I will spell it Shakespeare here to avoid confusion, but "... variants such as Shake-speare, Shakspeare, Shaksper, and even 'Shak---' exist. These inconsistencies were not common, but did exist in 16th century Elizabethan society" (Stevens, 1992). No one ever thought to disbelieve his authenticity. His name is indeed...