Shakespeare Cross-Examination: A Compilation of Articles First Appearing in the American Bar Association Journal

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Elizabethan Whodunit: Who Was "William Shake-Speare"?

by Richard Bentley

THREE AND A HALF centuries, more or less, have rolled by since the Bard of Avon "shuffled off this mortal coil". Since then Shakespeare has become big business in Stratford, with vested interests, worth millions a year in tourist trade. He has become a "sacred cow". To question his authorship is considered "bad form", like eating peas with your knife, or even spitting on the rug. If you question it you are branded by Shakespeare scholars as either a knave or a fool, or perhaps both.

The scholars help us to understand Shakespearean language, to appreciate the content and structure of the writings and to learn the literary sources upon which the author drew. These are primarily literary questions and strictly within the sphere of scholars.

But the question of the identity of the author is not purely a literary question; it is also a question of evidence. It is, therefore, properly within the province of lawyers to inquire as to the authorship and to judge of the competence and validity of the evidence.

The known facts are few. The first real biography of Shakespeare was published ninety-three years after his death and covered four pages. This and subsequent biographies are based largely upon inferences from the works and upon assumptions and guesswork. There is admittedly no direct proof of the authorship. We can arrive only at the most probable solution upon the preponderance of the evidence. And we should not reject a new conclusion merely because it may be different

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