Doubt of Shakespeare\'s Authorship of His Plays


Over the years, various persons have expressed doubt as to the
authorship of William Shakespeare. These doubts are as old as his plays.
American author, Henry James once said, "I am haunted by the conviction that the
divine William is the biggest and the most successful fraud ever practiced on a
patient world. (Hoffman 27) On the other hand, author Calvin Hoffman was
convinced that Shakespeare was "the author of the most magnificent English
dramatic prose and poetry ever written. (Hoffman 27) But, he reiterated this
belief nineteen years later, stating, "They are magnificent! Only, William
Shakespeare of Stratford-on- Avon never wrote the plays and poems." (Hoffman 27)
Crime, guilt, fraud, exile, hate, deceit, and murder are all woven into
this shroud of authorship that hides the identity of the world\'s most renowned
writer. Cranks have proposed over fifty candidates for authorship, from Queen
Elizabeth to the Jesiuts.
Although many doubt that William Shakespeare ever wrote the works
attributed to him, some still resort to pro-Shakespearean arguments. John
Drinkwater, author and believer, felt that the flowers, banks, brooks, pastures,
and woodlands of Shakespeare\'s boyhood home, Stratford, were all transfigured in
his plays by his wonderful verse, but yet they still remained the scenes to
which he was bred. Drinkwater believed too, that not only in Shakespeare\'s
humble folk, shepherds, gardeners, and serving men, but also in his princes and
kings, he reflected the humanity with which he was familiar in Stratford. The
knowledge and wisdom he acquired directly from his own enviroment was quite true
to life. Drinkwater also said that mere book- knowledge in Shakespeare\'s works
was usually incorrect because he used knowledge outside the range of his own
experiences, with a "grand audacity."
It is true that William Shakespeare attended grammar school in Stratford,
and tha he acquired some competence in Latin and gained a limited knowledge of
English history. There was a period of time in his life referred to as his
"dark years," and this period of time may have been subjected to influences
making for high culture.
Records say too, that Shakespeare left Stratford in 1585 and went on the
stage in 1590. During this time he could have attended Cambridge or worked in a
lawyer\'s office, apparently remaining about one year with the court. This left
one year in which he might have traveled to France and Italy, which would
account for certain knowledge revealed in his works. Perhaps Shakespeare\'s
plays are too scholarly to have been written by a man without a degree, but that,
some believe can be explained by the fact that the plays looked learned to
people of later generations who did not use classical allusion as a part of
their common speech. Others believe that the depth of learning in the plays
seems impossible for a man of Shakespeare\'s position, but when the overwhelming
power of the plays is considered, the learning in them seems trivial. Little is
known of Shakespeare today. But, this lack of information about Shakespeare\'s
life can be attributed to the fact that his era was not one of biography, casual
letter writing , or journalism. What was said about Shakespeare was unwritten.
Stratfordians, or those who believe that Shakespeare did indeed write
the works attributed to him, began with a preconceived idea that he wrote the
plays, and then they tried to make facts and circumstances fit their case, some
say . To account for innumeralbe instances where Shakespeare exhibited such
wide knowledge, Stratfordians say that Shakespeare pumped anyone he could for
information. However, others feel that pumping friends for local color could
help with broad knowledge, but really could not enable him to convey the
atmosphere of a country or to add small, rather insignificant details which
could only come from the pen of a writer who had actually experienced them.
Many feel that since Shakespeare\'s greatness was not widely proclaimed
and because none of his original manuscripts survived, is evidence that the
latter was destroyed to conceal the author\'s identity. And too, once a play was
printed, the manuscript possessed no value, so the paper, which was costly and
needed for practical purposes was used, leaving no single manuscript in
Shakespeare\'s handwriting.
Anti-Shakespeare arguments begin with the point that no public or
private mention of Shakespeare as a man, poet, or dramatist was made at his
death. In Elizabethean convention too, the elegiac poem was a true work of
respect, yet there was none found for William Shakespeare. How could he then be
the foremost figure in English literature? From all indications found,