Shakespeare's Authorship and Questions of Evidence

By Price, Diana | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Shakespeare's Authorship and Questions of Evidence


Price, Diana, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


Note from editors. In SKEPTIC Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 70- 75, we published an article by Scott McCrea entitled "Two Shakespeares: A Skeptical Analysis of Shakespeare and His Works Reveals the Real Author." McCrea sets the stage for his analysis: "The sheer number of alternative Bards--fifty-six, by some counts--has caused many people to dismiss the Authorship Question outright. But we should remember that all visions of the True Author were spawned from the same germinal belief in the inadequacy of Shakespeare's education, if Shakespeare had gone to Cambridge, his vocabulary and knowledge of the classics would seem to be explicable, and it's safe to say there would be no doubts about his authorship. The question is: was his education really so meager? Or, to put it another way, is the education evident in the plays really that of a university graduate? Were there two Shakespeares or only one?" McCrea then conducts a content analysis of Shakespeare's works, demonstrating that it was not necessary to have been classically trained at Oxford or Cambridge to have written the works of Shakespeare and that, in fact, Shakespeare's education at the Stratford grammar school was adequate to account for the works that have come down to us as classics of Western literature. Thus, McCrea concludes, the author of Shakespeare's works was none other than ... Shakespeare/

Predictably, we received numerous critical letters, most notably from Diana Price, author of Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem (Greenwood Press, 2001; www.shakespeare-authorship.com), who noted in a letter published in SKEPTIC Vol. 10, No. 1: "A skeptic needs to ask why the quality of professional evidence for Shakespeare is different from that of his contemporaries, lf he was the writer the title pages proclaim him to be, then he should have left behind a few 'personal literary paper trails' to prove it. Since he did not, I conclude that his name appears on all those title pages (including non-Shakespearean plays) for another reason." That reason, and the larger authorship question, required more space than a letter to the editor permitted, so we invited Diana Price to provide an article-length explication of why she is skeptical of Shakespeare's authorship. That article follows.

THE SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP question is over 400 years old. One would think that after all this time, the controversy would be resolved, but the debate continues. And it continues for the most part, not on college campuses or in scholarly journals, but wit-fin a relatively small anti-Stratfordian community, with occasional forays into mainstream media or forums.

Anti-Stratfordians are so called bemuse they don't think that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays, but they don't agree on who did. Among the most popular candidates are Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Edward Dyer, the earl of Derby, and especially Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford.

Orthodox or Stratfordian scholars disagree on all sorts of issues, such as the extent of Shakespeare's formal education, his travels, his family life, his gentle or ungentle personality, and so on, but none doubt that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays. In fact, Shakespeare's authorship is a subject that orthodox scholars would prefer not to defend, because, in their minds, there is no debate. Those who do respond to challenges usually avoid or skim over the arguments against the traditional biography, and instead focus on the circumstantial and often wildly speculative arguments for an alternative candidate, most frequently the earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. Oxfordians organize the most conferences and argue for their candidate regularly at mock trials, debates, or symposiums, usually in the United States or England. Yet a win for the Oxfordian side in a debate would not constitute proof that Oxford wrote Shakespeare, much less that the man from Stratford didn't. …

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