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Shakespeare's Authorship Webquest

Andrew Kokanoutranon

Webquest 1 & 2

1. What is the Shakespeare authorship problem?

Shakespeare was accused of not composing and writing his own plays. Shakespeare was thought to have stolen plots.

2. What literary, cultural, and political figures doubt that Shakespeare was the sole author of the work?

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) "In the work of the greatest geniuses, humble beginnings will reveal themselves somewhere but one cannot trace the slightest sign of them in Shakespeare... Whoever wrote [Shakespeare] had an aristocratic attitude."

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) "It is a great comfort, to my way of thinking, that so little is known concerning the poet. The life of Shakespeare is a fine mystery, and I tremble every day lest something should turn up."

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) (1835-1910) "We are The Reasoning Race, and when we find a vague file of chipmunk tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there. I feel that our fetish is safe for three centuries yet."

Malcolm X (1925-1965) "Another hot debate I remember I was in had to do with the identity of Shakespeare. No color was involved there; I just got intrigued over the Shakespearean dilemma. The King James translation of the Bible is considered the greatest piece of literature in English... They say that from 1604 to 1611, King James got poets to translate, to write the Bible. Well, if Shakespeare existed, he was then the top poet around. But Shakespeare is nowhere reported connected with the Bible . If he existed, why didn't King James use him?" (From The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

3. Make a chronological history of the doubts that surround the authorship of the Shakespearean canon.

1728 -
Publication of Captain Goulding's Essay Against Too Much Reading in which he comments on the background Shakespeare would require for his historical plays and suggests that Shakespeare probably had to keep "one of those chuckle-pated Historians for his particular Associate...or he might have starvd upon his History." Goulding tells us that he had this from "one of his (Shakespeare's) intimate Acquaintance."

1769 -
Publication of The Life and Adventures of Common Sense, an anonymous allegory which describes a profligate Shakespeare casting "his Eye upon a common place Book, in which was contained, an Infinite Variety of Modes and Forms, to express all the different Sentiments of the human Mind, together with Rules for their Combinations and Connections upon every Subject or Occasion that might Occur in Dramatic Writing..."

1786 -
The Story of the Learned Pig , an anonymous allegory by an "Officer of the Royal Navy," in which The Pig describes himself as having variously been a greyhound, deer, bear and a human being (after taking possession of a body) who worked as horseholder at a playhouse where he met the "Immortal Shakespeare" who's he reports didn't "run his country for deer-stealing" and didn't father the various plays, Hamlet, Othello, As You Like It, The Tempest , and Midsummer's Night Dream. Instead the Pig confesses to be author.

1848 -
In The Romance of Yachting by Joseph C. Hart, a former American consul at Santa Cruz, provides Considerable anti-Stratfordian opinion. Favors Jonson as probable author of Shakespeare's plays.

1852 -
August issue of Chambers' Edinburgh Journal contained an anonymous article, 'Who Wrote Shakespeare" The author suggests that Shakespeare "kept a poet."


1856 -
Bacon is proposed as author of Shakespeare's plays in Putnam's Monthly (January issue) which contained "Shakespeare and His Plays: An Inquiry Concerning Them" by Delia Bacon, an American bearing no family relationship to Francis Bacon.

1857 -
Publication of The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, a book by Delia Bacon in which she considers the possibility of several authors. Nathanial Hawthorne helped Delia Bacon publish this book, for which he contributed a preface.

1891/92 -
James Greenstreet, a British archivist, in a series of essays in The Genealogist, proposed that William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby was author of the Shakespeare plays.

1892 -
Our English Homer listed several writers as a group who were responsible for writing Shakespeare's works: Marlowe, Greene, Peele, Nashe, Lodge, Bacon and others.

1895 -
It Was Marlowe: A Story of the Secret of Three Centuries, a novel by Wilbur Ziegler, proposed that Marlowe, Raleigh, and the Earl of Rutland were authors of the Shakespearean canon.

1903 -
Henry James in a letter to Miss Violet Hunt says "I am 'a sort of' haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world."

1910 -
Bacon Is Shakespeare by Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence (New York, John McBride Co.) cited arguments that Bacon is Shakespeare and that the following are distinguished men who perceived "the truth respecting the real authorship of the Plays:"

--Lord Palmerston, British statesman, 1784-1865.
--Lord Houghton, British statesman, 1809-1885 (better known as Richard Monckton Milnes).
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, British critic and poet, 1772-1834
--John Bright, British statesman, 1811-1889 ("Any man that believes that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote Hamlet or Lear is a fool.")
--Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher and poet, 1803-1882
--John Greenlief Whittier, American poet, 1807-1892 ("Whether Bacon wrote the wonderful plays or not, I am quite sure the man Shakspere neither did nor could.")
--Dr. W. H. Furness, eminent American scholar and father of the editor of the Variorum, 1802-1891 ("I am one of the many who have never been able to bring the life of William Shakepeare and the plays of Shakespeare within planetary space of each other.")
--Mark Twain, American author and humorist, 1835-1910
--Prince Otto von Bismarck, 1815-1898


1915 -
The Derbyite theory, suggesting that William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby was the true author behind the Shakespeare name, was revived by Robert Fraser in The Silent Shakespeare.

1922 -
The Shakespeare Fellowship, an organization devoted to research on the Shakespearean authorship, is formed with honorary president Sir George Greenwood, and officers including J. T. Looney, Colonel B. R. Ward (father of the biographer of Edward de Vere) and Abel Lefranc.

1926 -
Sigmund Freud adopts J. Thomas Looney's theory on the 17th Earl of Oxford. (One of Freud's teachers, Theodor Meynert, had believed in Bacon as the true author.) Freud later confirmed this advocacy in 1935 with the revision of his Autobiographical Study.

1930 -
Canon Gerald Rendall, Gladstone professor of Greek at Liverpool's University College, publishes Shakespeare Sonnets and Edward de Vere --another book that influenced Sigmund Freud.

1930 -
Eva Turner Clark publishes a book, Shakespeare's Plays in the Order of Their Writing, which proposes that the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the plays and at a much earlier date than supposed.

1952 -
Dr. A. W. Titherley, onetime dean of the faculty of science at the University of Liverpool wrote Shakespeare's Identity in which he tried to establish the Derbyite theory through a series of scientific formulas.

1955 -
Calvin Hoffman in his book, The Murder of the Man Who Was "Shakespeare", reawakened interest in the theory that Christopher Marlowe was author of Shakespeare's plays.

1956 -
George Elliot Sweet's Shakespeare the Mystery presents the case for Queen Elizabeth as author.

1957 - present
Incorporation of the Shakespeare Oxford Society. From its inception (originally as the Shakespeare Fellowship in the l930s) a stream of publications in the form of books, newsletters, and journals advanced the evidence for Edward de Vere's authorship of the Shakespeare canon. Noted writers: Charlton and Dorothy Ogburn, Charlton Ogburn, Jr., Charles Wisner Barrell, Louis Benezet, Gelett Burgess, Ruth Loyd Miller, Dr. A. Bronson Feldman.

1962 -
Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper in Realites ( Nov. 1962) says, "One-hundredth part of the labor (expended on Shakespeare's curriculum vitae) applied to one of his insignificant contemporaries would be sufficient to produce a substantial biography."

1984
Publication of Charlton Ogburn's The Mysterious William Shakespeare results in a burst of new interest in the authorship that continues today

1987
The Moot Court Debate in Washington DC presided over by three sitting Justices of the US Supreme Court. Two of the three justices (Blackmun and Stevens), while voting for Shaksper of Stratford on narrow legal grounds, express their great interest in the issue and later express opinions that Edward de Vere may very well be the true Shakespeare.

4. Now do the same for the doubts surrounding the Stratfordian attribution.

-There is no reference during the lifetime of Shakepere of Stratford (1564-1616) which either speaks of the author of the Shakespearean works as having come from Stratford or speaks of the Stratford man as being an author. (The first indication that the author of Shakespeare's plays came from Stratford appears, ambiguously, in the prefatory materials of the 1623 First Folio.)

-In an age of copious eulogies, none was forthcoming when William Shakspere died in Stratford. William Camden in his book Remaines had praised the author "Shakespeare", but in his Annals for the year 1616 Camden omits mention of the Stratford man's death. Also, in the list of Stratford Worthies of 1605 Camden omits the Stratford man's name, even though Camden had previously passed on Shakspere's application for a family coat of arms. (The inference is that it did not occur to Camden that the author, "Shakespeare", and the Stratford man were the same person.) The first memorial verse to "Shakespeare" appears in the 1623 Folio.

-There is no mention in the documents of the time of a Shakespeare's, or a Shakspere's, intimate acquaintance with the inner court circles as has been implied by such contemporaries as Ben Jonson, later seventeenth-century commentators such as John Ward, the author's dedications to the Earl of Southampton of two poems, and internal evidence from Shakespeare's works.

-The author of Shakespeare's works had to be familiar with a wide body of knowledge for his time --on such subjects as law, music, foreign languages, the classics, and aristocratic manners and sports. There is no documentation that William Shakspere of Stratford had access to such information.

-Despite evidence of Shakspere's unspecified connection with the theater, documentation of any career as an actor is conspicuously absent. For example, there is no record of any part he may have played, and only two posthumous traditions to bit parts. Contrary to all this, the 1623 Folio lists 'William Shakespeare" at the head of "...the Principall Actors in all these Playes." Since the hint that the author came from Stratford is also made here for the first time, the dubiousness of the one claim should make us suspect the other as well.

-In the Stratford man's will, noteworthy for its detailed disposition of household furniture, there is no mention of books, library, manuscripts, or of any literary interest. Indeed, the only theatrical connection there appears as an interlined bequest to three actors.

-The only specimens of William Shakspere's handwriting to come down to us are six almost illegible signatures, each formed differently from the others, and each from the latter period of his life (none earlier than 1612). Three of these signatures are on his will, one is on a deposition in someone else's breach of promise case, and two are on property documents. None of these has anything to do with literature. The first syllable, incidentally, in all these signatures is spelled "Shak", whereas the published plays and poems consistently spell the name "Shake".

-There is no evidence that William Shakepere had left Stratford for London before 1585 (with the birth of his twins). This 1585 date is providing a great difficulty as more commentators find earlier dates for the composition of certain plays and poems.

5. Consider the logic/illogic of each position and evaluate the effectiveness of each argument.

It is highly unlikely that Shakespeare's works could have been composed by the person to whom they are traditionally assigned. Also, the qualifications necessary for the true author of these works are more adequately realized in the person of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, than in the many other candidates proposed in the last two hundred years. The three main reasons for thinking this way are the prefatory "testimony" of the First Folio of Shakespeare's works published in 1623, seven years after the Stratford citizen's death, the sundry collections of "traditions" later published by several so-called "ancient witnesses" (none of them, however, boasting of personal acquaintance with the putative "author"), the lack of any challenge to this attribution during the century following Shakspere's death.
Other people believe, on the other hand, that these points constitute an insufficient barrier to the major piece of negative evidence: the inability, after 300 years of arduous search, to find a single document which connects the Stratford man to literary activity of any kind, much less to the composition of the world's greatest drama and verse. All of the evidence in the Stratfordians' arsenal is posthumous; it is, moreover, entirely consistent with the skeptics' hypothesis that there was a concerted effort in Tudor and Jacobean times to keep the authorship hidden.

6. Make a list of the six contenders for the authorship question. Then add to each as much significant evidence that is presented.

Christopher Marlowe-
Son of a village cobbler, Marlowe created a stir with his literary output while attending Cambridge as a scholarship student. The young writer, whose translations of Ovid were ordered publicly burned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, was the first to translate Ovid's Amores into English. He made the Ovidian cursus, which turns from amatory poetry to tragedy and epic, literally his own. His translation and adaptation into blank verse of Lucan's Pharsalia is one of the earliest English verses written in unrhymed iambic pentameter and has influenced poets from Milton to Wordsworth. While still a university student, Marlowe's play DoctorFaustus was produced in London, and shortly after he earned his M.A. and left Cambridge his play Tamburlaine the Great appeared on the London stage for an unprecedented 200 performances. In 1593 Marlowe was under investigation for heresy, a capital offense. Ten days after having been questioned by the Privy Council, he was dead--or so it was claimed. The extremely suspect report of his death has led many to wonder: was Christopher Marlowe really murdered in 1593 or was an elaborate hoax planned and executed by his friends in high places in order to save his life?

Sir Francis Bacon-
"A man so rare in knowledge, of so many several kinds, endowed with the facility of expressing it all in so elegant, significant, so abundant and yet so choice and ravishing a way of words, of metaphors, of allusion, as perhaps the world has not seen since it was a world." So wrote Sir Tobie Matthew of Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon graduated with a degree in law from Cambridge and became, like his father before him, Lord Chancellor of England. Of the many works of this philosopher, essayist, translator and scholar, the best known are The Advancement of Learning and The New Atlantis. Bacon's essays on morals remained widely read well beyond his time. Upon his death in 1626 eulogies were written, collected and published in his honor by 32 scholars -- University Fellows and members of the Inns of Court -- crediting Bacon for his talents as a poet and for uniting philosophy with the drama.

Edward de Vere-
De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was patron of a number of writers, among them Gabriel Harvey who, in a 1578 address, declared: "...vidi tua plura Latina, Anglica plura exstant (I have seen your Latin things, and more English are extant) ... Francasque, Italasque Camænas et mores hominum multorum artesque forenses Plenius hausisti (of French and Italian muses, the manners of many peoples, their arts and laws you have drunk deeply)...." In 1589 George Puttenham, praising the nobles who wrote plays and masques for the court, wrote in The Arte of English Poesy: "...for tragedy, Lord Buckhurst and Master Edward Ferrys do deserve the highest, the Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty's chapel for comedy and interlude." De Vere died in 1604.

William Stanley-
Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby, possessed the university education, extensive European travel, knowledge of foreign languages, involvement with the theatre and literature, and familiarity with life in court necessary for authorship of the canon. Two letters from the Jesuit spy George Fenner, both dated June 1599, stated that Derby was "busyed only in penning comedies for the commoun players". His elder brother, Ferdinando, formed an acting troupe which evolved into the renowned company The King's Men, known for its Shakespearean productions. According to many scholars, A Midsummer Nights Dream was written to be performed on the occasion of Derby's wedding, which took place in the palace in the presence of the Queen. Derby died in 1642.

Ben Johnson-
The same expressions and similar phrases can be found in the works of Ben Johnson. The list of contemporaries is extensive, and while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, there were no copyright laws during Elizabethan times to protect writers against “flattery.” Ben Jonson, after Shakespeare the most eminent writer for the Elizabethan stage, was born in 1573, and died in 1635. He was the founder of the so-called "Comedy of Humours," and throughout the reign of James I was the dominating personality in English letters. A large number of the younger writers were proud to confess themselves his "sons." Besides dramas of a variety of kinds, Jonson wrote much lyrical poetry, some of it of the most exquisite quality. His chief prose work appears in his posthumously published "Explorata, Timber or Discoveries, made upon men and matter", a kind of commonplace book, in which he seems to have entered quotations and translations from his reading, as well as original observations of a miscellaneous character on men and books. The volume has little or no structure or arrangement, but is impressed everywhere with the stamp of his vigorous personality. The following passage on Bacon is notable as a personal estimate of this giant by the man who, perhaps, approached him in the field of intellect more closely than any other contemporary.

Thomas Middleton-
English dramatist, son of William Middleton, was born about 1570, probably in London. There is no proof that he studied at either university, but he may be safely identified with one of the Thomas Middletons entered at Grays Inn in 1593 and 1596 respectively. , He began to write for the stage with The Old Law, in the original draft of which, if it dates from 1599 as is generally supposed, he was certainly not associated with William Rowley and Philip Massinger, although their names appear on the title-page of 1656. By 1602 he had become one of Philip Henslowes established playwrights. The pages of Henslowes Diary contain notes of plays in which he had a hand, and in the year 1607-1608 he produced no less than six comedies of London life, which he knew as accurately as Dekker and was content to paint in more realistic colors. In 1613 he devised the pageant for the installation of the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Middleton, and in the same year wrote an entertainment for the opening of the New River in honor of another Middleton. From these facts it may be reasonably inferred that he had influential connections. He was frequently employed to celebrate civic occasions, and in 1620 he was made city chronologer, performing the duties of his position with exactness tifi his death. The Witch, first printed in 1778 from a unique MS., now in the Bodleian, has aroused much controversy as to whether Shakespeare borrowed from Middleton or vice versa.

1. How is the spelling and pronunciation of Shakespeare's name important to investigate?

Oxfordians try to account for this evidence by claiming that the man from Stratford was actually "William Shaksper" (or "Shakspere"), a man whose name was spelled and pronounced differently from that of the great poet "William Shakespeare," and that nobody at the time would have thought to confuse the two.

2. What are the Oxfordian claims that Shakespeare is responsible for everything he produced? Can these claims be refuted?

The man's name was "William Shakespeare"; that was by far the most common spelling used to refer to him during his lifetime, not even including references to him as a poet/playwright. In London, his name was spelled "Shakespeare" over 90 percent of the time; in Stratford, where all spelling was more erratic, the two most common spellings were "Shakespere" and "Shakespear," with "Shakespeare" coming in fourth place. True, he signed his name "Shakspere," but there's nothing unusual about that; Christopher Marlowe signed his name "Marley," Phillip Henslowe spelled his name a variety of ways from "Hinshley" to "Henslow," and the Earl of Oxford signed his name variously "Oxford," "Oxenford," and "Oxenforde." I've actually had Oxfordians tell me to my face that the Stratford man was never called "Shakespeare," which is a blatant lie. The more common claim is that his name was usually spelled without the first "e" (e.g. "Shakspere" and variants), which is equally false. Calling this man "William Shaksper" and implying that that was the name he went by is a gross perversion of the facts.

Similarly, we get the claim that "nobody we know of ever corresponded with Shaksper [sic]," when in fact we do have a letter addressed to Shakespeare by Richard Quiney. That's more than we have for most of his contemporaries. Many of Shakespeare's contemporary playwrights have left us no trace at all of their handwriting, including such major figures as Robert Greene, John Webster, and Francis Beaumont; for several others, including Christopher Marlowe and John Fletcher, we have only a single signature. In this light, Shakespeare's six undisputed signatures start to look pretty good

3. Why is it important to preserve the authorship status of William Shakespeare?

It is important to preserve the authorship of William Shakespeare because he is the most likely candidate to have written the plays even though many other contenders are up for the running.

4. What is the most convincing evidence that leads us to believe that Shakespeare, did in fact, write Shakespeare?

Even though Shakespeare wrote his signature or sometimes not even crediting for his work, he in fact did write his own work. All of his signatures vary slightly but experts say they are all written by Shakespeare himself. A strong, tight web of evidence shows that a real person named William Shakespeare wrote the poems and plays attributed to him; that a real person named William Shakespeare was an actor in the company that produced the plays attributed to him; that the actor was the same William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon; that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was part-owner of the Globe Theater, where his acting company produced the plays attributed to him; and that those who knew the writer of the plays and poems knew that he was William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. It's true that no one single document states categorically that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote Hamlet and King Lear, but then no such document exists for any other playwright of the time either. The evidence is cumulative and interconnected, and taken as a whole it leaves no doubt that a single man was actor, author, and Stratford property owner.

5. What type of logic/illogic is used to support these claims?

Anyone could have “wrote” or stolen Shakespeare’s plays because it wasn’t illegal to take other people’s work during that time period.

Persuasive Essay:

Over the last 400 years, many controversies involving the true authorship of Shakespeare’s work has risen. Bacon, Edward de Vere, and Christopher Marlowe are three of the top contenders in the true writers of Shakespeare’s works. I believe that Shakespeare wrote his own work and no one else was the true author because evidence shows that a real person named William Shakespeare wrote the poems and plays credited to him; that a real person named William Shakespeare was an actor in the company that produced the plays credited to him; that the actor was the same William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon; that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was part-owner of the Globe Theater, where his acting company produced the plays credited to him; and that those who knew the writer of the plays and poems knew that he was William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare only attended grammar school; he was a very intellectual and bright person. He might have used other plots from other plays, but he made them his own and better too. The other contenders may in fact have stolen Shakespeare’s work instead of the other way around because Shakespeare wrote his signature many different ways but all of it matches up to the real Shakespeare. It is true that there is no concrete description about Shakespeare writing Hamlet, but no other author had to credit their work either. Many plays, poems, and letters were addressed to Shakespeare of Stratford, the poet and writer.

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