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, ³I 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 ³the author of the most magnificent English dramatic prose and poetry ever written. (Hoffman 27) But, he reiterated this belief nineteen years later, stating, ³They are magnificent! Only, William Shakespeare of Stratford-on- Avon never wrote the plays and poems.² (Hoffman 27)
Crime, guilt, fraud, exile, hate, deceit, and murder are all woven into this shroud of authorship that hides the identity of the world¹s 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 Shakespeare¹s 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 Shakespeare¹s 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 Shakespeare¹s works was usually incorrect because he used knowledge outside the range of his own experiences, with a ³grand audacity.²
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 ³dark years,² 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 lawyer¹s 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 Shakespeare¹s 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 Shakespeare¹s 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 Shakespeare¹s 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 Shakespeare¹s greatness was not widely proclaimed and because none of his original manuscripts survived, is evidence that the latter was destroyed to conceal the author¹s 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 Shakespeare¹s handwriting.
Anti-Shakespeare arguments begin with the point that no public or private mention of Shakespeare as