...you have many enemies that know not
Why they are so, but, like to village curs,
Bark when their fellows do.
Henry VIII, Act II, Scene iv.
If you're still with me, you may have guessed that I'm a firm believer that the author of Shakespeare's works was none other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. Hardly surprising, unless you've come into contact with someone who claims otherwise. Until you've had the experience, however, you can scarcely comprehend how frustrating it can be to attempt a rational conversation with a member of the cult that believes that the "Works" were written by someone other than Shakespeare. In all fairness to the opposition, however, I'm sure that an "Anti-Stratfordian" would tell you the same thing about arguing with a "Strat".
Among those who think that the Stratfordian, William Shakespeare, was incapable of having been the author of the works attributed to him (either through lack of education, ill-breeding, or both), a number of alternate candidates have been proposed as the "true" author. The current front runner in the alternate candidate sweepstakes is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Other candidates include Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, The Earl of Rutland, Queen Elizabeth I, and a seemingly endless number of other notables of the period. It's important to note, however, that none of these alternate "candidates" for authorship ever made any pretense of having been the true author themselves. Theorizing about the identity of the "true" author of the Works is a fairly recent obsession.
Other than Sir Francis Bacon, whose early entry in the authorship sweepstakes has been eclipsed by the later entrants, the primary handicap for the majority of the alternate candidates is that they had all died before Shakespeare had finished writing his plays. The untimely death of their favorites hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of the ardent Anti-Strats, however, and much effort has been expended in attempting to prove that the admittedly scant evidence used to date the plays has been inaccurately interpreted.
Of course, the chief argument against the Anti-Strat theorizing is the fact that in all of the records that have come down to us regarding the authorship of his works, everyone said that the author was William Shakespeare. The cult of the Anti-Strats counter this evidence with the claim that the records seldom specifically identify "William Shakespeare", the author, as "William Shakspere" (or any of the other alternative spellings common at the time) of Stratford-upon-Avon, and that the true author merely used the name "William Shakespeare" as a pseudonym. Where the records do clearly identify the author as having been the William Shakespeare from Stratford (such as in the prefatory material printed in the First Folio of Shakespeare's works), the Anti-Strats claim that it was all part of an enormous conspiracy to conceal the "true" identity of the author.
In order to make the conspiracy theory work, the Anti-Strats must argue that the conspiracy continued long after the "true" author was dead. Why it was necessary to continue the conspiracy after the death of the true author hasn't been satisfactorily explained. In fact, there's considerable question regarding the need for a conspiracy in the first place. To illustrate just one of the absurdities of the Anti-Strat position, the playwright Ben Jonson, whose elegy praising Shakespeare as the sweet Swan of Avon was printed in the First Folio, is regarded as being a key player in the "conspiracy" to hide the identity of the true author. What makes this claim ludicrous is that Jonson recorded additional praise of William Shakespeare's ability as a playwright in his personal notebook, which wasn't published until after his death. Not only are we to believe that Jonson lied to the public in the First Folio, the Anti-Strats would have us believe that he lied to himself in his own diary!
Winston Churchill once defined a "fanatic" as someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject. The "problem" regarding authorship isn't in the question of who was responsible for writing Shakespeare's works. The existent evidence establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that the author was William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. The "problem" is in the fanaticism of the Anti-Stratfordian cult.
Although I can add little to the debate that hasn't already been covered in greater depth by Dave and Terry, I have found myself occasionally crossing swords with the Anti-Strats on the Shakespeare Newsgroup, humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare (available at Google Groups, if you're unable to get it on your server). One of the items regularly discussed on that newsgroup is Shakespeare's monument in Stratford, and the significance of the depictions of it in the various engravings that have come down to us over the years. There's a good essay regarding the monument on The Shakespeare Authorship Page, but if you'd like to review my observations on the subject, I've posted them here.
Any suggestions or comments you may have would be appreciated.
© 1999 by Clark J. Holloway.