Know Your Stuff | The Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship

Please bear in mind that the following post is only a take on the Shakesperian authorship. It does not imply that I stand by it or not. If you want to know my stand on the matter, feel free to ask me. Please do leave your comments below!

The Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship proposes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550–1604), wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. While a large majority of scholars reject all alternative candidates for authorship, with the editors of one scholarly edition of Shakespeare’s works writing in the introduction that such theories’ only redeeming feature is “unintended humour,” there is popular interest in various authorship theories. Since the 1920s, Oxford has been the most popular anti-Stratfordian candidate.

The convergence of documentary evidence of the type used by academics for authorial attribution—title pages, testimony by other contemporary poets and historians, and official records—sufficiently establishes Shakespeare’s authorship for the overwhelming majority of Shakespeare scholars and literary historians, and no evidence links Oxford to Shakespeare’s works. Oxfordians, however, reject the historical record, often proposing the conspiracy theory that it was falsified to protect the identity of the real author, often invoking the evidence against it and the dearth of evidence for any conspiracy as evidence of its success.Some Oxfordians believe that Shakespeare acted as a “front man,” receiving the plays from Oxford and pretending to have written them, but others claim that he was simply a merchant from Stratford who had nothing to do with the theatre.

The Oxfordian case is based on purported similarities between Oxford’s biography and events in Shakespeare’s narrative works; parallels of language, idiom, and thought between Oxford’s letters and the Shakespearean canon; and marked passages in Oxford’s Bible that appear in some form in Shakespeare’s plays. Oxfordians interpret the plays and poems as autobiographical and use the plays and poems to construct a hypothetical author, a method literary specialists consider arbitrary, subjective, and of no proven evidential value. Oxfordians deduce from the works that the author must have been an aristocrat of great formal learning, intimate with the Elizabethan court and widely travelled through the countries and cities mentioned in the plays. They say that this inferred profile of the author fits Oxford’s biography better than the documented biography of William Shakespeare.

Though Oxford died in 1604 before approximately 12 of the plays were written according to the generally-accepted chronology, Oxfordians say that regular publication of new, “newly augmented”, and “corrected” Shakespeare plays stopped with Oxford’s death in 1604,and they interpret certain written references to Shakespeare between 1604 and 1616 to mean that the writer was dead. In order to make the chronology fit Oxford’s lifespan, they date most of the plays earlier and say that the post-1604 plays, some of which show evidence of revision and collaboration, were completed by other playwrights for posthumous release.


About musingsofananglophile

Fran. 20. Anglophile. Daydreamer. English Literature Student.

Posted on July 21, 2012, in Books, Celebrities, History/Curiosities and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The Oxfordian theory is based on evidence, not conspiracy theories. You cite names on title pages and contemporary references as evidence for the Stratfordian attribution, yet the references were to the author only, that is, the name on the title page. During Shake-speare’s lifetime, no one ever claimed to have met the man.

    Consider the following:

    1) In twenty years of supposedly living in London, not a single letter exists from or to William Shakespeare. Shakespeare (referring to the actor from Stratford) left no letters or other writing in his own name, except for six crude signatures that are barely legible. There is only one known letter addressed to him — it was about 30 pounds and it was never delivered.

    Yes, documents from 400 years ago could be lost, yet we have letters from Thomas Nashe, Philip Massinger, Gabriel Harvey, Samuel Daniel, George Peele, Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and William Drummond, Anthony Mundy, John Lyly, Thomas Kyd, Robert Greene, Christopher Marlowe and others, many of them lesser writers.

    2) There is no evidence that William of Stratford could have acquired the vast educational, linguistic or cultural background necessary to write the masterpieces of English literature ascribed to Shakespeare. His plays reveal knowledge of languages, the law, Latin and Greek classics, medicine, falconry, the sea, music, and nature that is so deep it could have only been learned through personal experience.

    3) He left no books or manuscripts in his will, though, at the time of his death, 20 of his famous plays remained unpublished. Indeed, his will gives no indication that the deceased was engaged in literary activities of any sort.

    4) He took no legal action against the pirating of the Shakespeare plays or the apparently unauthorized publication of Shake-speare’s Sonnets in 1609, even though he was known to frequently initiate lawsuits to recover petty sums of money owed to him.

    5) His parents, siblings, and daughters were all illiterate except that one daughter could sign her own name. Would the greatest writer in English history have allowed this?

    6) He was so well known that at the height of Shakespeare’s alleged fame, tax collectors could not discover where he lived.

    7) Shake-speare’s Sonnets, published in 1609, paint a portrait of the artist as a much older man. The scholarly consensus today holds that most of the Sonnets were written in the 1590s, when Shakspere of Stratford was in his late 20s to late 30s, a relatively youthful age even in Elizabethan times. Yet, the author of the Sonnets at times is clearly much older and anticipating his own imminent death. Inexplicably, the publisher’s dedication in the 1609 volume of Sonnets refers to Shakespeare as our ever-living poet, a term that implies the poet is already dead, but Shakspere of Stratford was still very much alive until 1616.

    8) At his death, there were no eulogies, no testimonials, or tributes, not even from fellow actors, playwrights, or his esteemed friend, Ben Jonson. His only alleged connection to the plays came seven years after his death in the tribute by Ben Jonson in the First Folio. Why was no notice taken of Shakspere of Stratford’s death if he was such a literary luminary?

    9) The Sonnets also suggest strongly that Shakespeare was a pen name and that the author’s real identity was destined to remain unknown. In Sonnet 72 Shakespeare asks that “My name be buried where my body is”. Sonnet 81: “Though I, once gone, to all the world must die”. If Shakspere of Stratford truly was the famous author of the Sonnets, why would he think his name would be buried with his body? The name Shakespeare which appears on the title page of the Sonnets themselves — certainly wasn’t buried with the body of the poet, whoever he was.

    10) There is no evidence of a single payment to Shakspere of Stratford as an author. Nor is there any evidence of Shakspere of Stratford seeking out or establishing an ongoing literary patron as was a common practice for writers of the day.

    11. Shakespeare is not known to have traveled outside of England, yet the plays reveal an extensive knowledge of Italy and France.

    12. The plays reveal an intimate familiarity with court life and manners that Shakespeare, as a commoner, could not have obtained simply by conversations at the Mermaid Tavern.

    13. Shakespeare’s point of view in the plays and poems is always that of an aristocrat. He has created commoners, but they are mostly buffoons who mangle the language. He portrays the nobility as individuals, but the lower classes as types, even stereotypes.

    14) Many books that were used as source material for the plays were not translated into English in Shakespeare’s time. For example:

    Francois de Belleforest Histories tragiques
    Ser Giovanni Fioranetino’s Il Pecorone
    Epitia and Hecatommithi
    Luigi da Porto’s Romeus and Juliet (Italian)
    Jorge de Montemayor’s Diana (Spanish)

    Shakespeare’s reliance on books in foreign languages puzzles the experts, so we can suppose all sorts of things rather than conclude the obvious. If the man who was Shakespeare regularly relied on books not yet translated from Italian, French, and Spanish, then he must have been able to read in Italian, French, and Spanish. We know specifically that Edward de Vere was fluent in four foreign languages, Latin, Greek, Italian, and French.

    15) The Shakespeare plays and poems show that the author had specific knowledge of certain works of literature, certain prominent persons in Elizabeth’s court, and events connected with them. In the sonnets and the plays there are frequent references to events that are paralleled in the life of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.

    The evidence for Oxford is strong and I would even call it compelling but it requires looking under the surface of many common myths that have been carefully taught to us since first grade. .

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