Oxford's Life Span and Dating the
In Shakespearean biography, chronology is destiny.
Dating the composition of Shakespeare's works has always been a thorny issue. The difficulties arise because there are no manuscripts, diaries, letters, or other records that tell when the plays and poems were written. To estimate a year of composition, scholars rely on a variety of evidence. Most directly helpful are dates of registry in court records, dates of performances, and dates of publication. Obviously, the plays were written sometime before these dates, perhaps years before. Unfortunately, for many plays these helpful dates are missing. Also significant, but more elusive, are references to the plays by contemporaries, allusions in the plays to contemporary events, and the author's evolving style of writing over the years. Assessing the authenticity of all these variables and weighing their merits have always been major preoccupations of Shakespearean scholars.
The question of when the poems and plays were written bears directly on the question of who wrote them. Stratfordian scholars argue that Oxford died too soon to have written the late plays; The Tempest is a favorite example (see chapter 11). For their part, Oxfordian scholars cannot accept that Will Shakspere, if he was the author, would have retired to rusticate in Stratford at the