A brief Shakespeare biography. Do we really know who wrote the greatest literary works on earth? Was it William Shakespeare or another, lesser known writer? Get the facts and decide for yourself.
He is, without, doubt, the most acclaimed man of words in the history of the world. His works have been translated into over 70 languages and are performed more often than those of any other playwright, living or dead. Despite this, however, there is a question mark over the authorship of the works accredited to William Shakespeare. Despite the fact that the World Book Encyclopedia recently stated that ‘no important Shakespearean scholar doubts that Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems’, many scholars do, in fact, have their doubts. Upon what foundation are these doubts based? And, if not Shakespeare, then who actually wrote all of those great pieces of literature? Let's investigate.
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. He was an amateur actor who travelled the area performing and entertaining. His father, a glover, was illiterate and all indications are that William's education was rudimentary. There are six surviving examples of the man’s signature. The spelling on these is inconsistent, which raises the question of the competency of his literacy. It is known also that one of his daughters, Judith, was illiterate.
In contrast to the basic education that history paints of Shakespeare stand the works attributed to him. Several things immediately stand out. Firstly, the writer of these works drew upon an amazing array of knowledge. He had a strong knowledge of legal matters and terminology. His grasp of medical matters was advanced. He was also well acquainted with hunting, falconry, and other sports. His featuring of shipwrecks in his works shows an advanced knowledge of nautical matters. Besides all of this, it is apparent that he was familiar with royal court etiquette.
None of this fits the experience of a simple actor from Stratford-upon-Avon.
The author of these works also quoted from the Bible to the tune of over 1000 times. This show an advanced Biblical knowledge. Yet, there is no evidence of Shakespeare studying the scriptures to any degree. It is also incredible to consider the wealth of vocabulary that the wrier had available for his use. His works show familiarity with as many as 21,000 words. When we contrast that to the average vocabulary of an educated person in the modern western world, which stands at about 4,000 words, we start to get a picture of a very well educated person. Yet, once again, this does not fit the picture we have of the historical Shakespeare.
So, if not Shakespeare, then who? Though over 60 possible candidates have been put forward, a few stand out as most likely. Firstly, there is Francis Bacon, a Canterbury educated scholar, lawyer and royal court official. Bacon wrote many works under his own name. Bacon lived in the town of St. Albans, some 20 miles north of London. This obscure town is mentioned 15 times in the works of Shakespeare. Interestingly, Stratford-upon-Avon is not mentioned at all.
Others who have been suggested as writers of the works include Roger Manners, fifth Earl of Rutland and William Stanley, sixth Earl of Derby. They would have had knowledge of the vast areas covered in the works. They would have chosen to write under a pseudonym as it was not proper for noble men to get involved in works geared toward the masses.
The debate over the authorship of the world’s greatest works continues unabated. Only the discovery of an original manuscript, of which there are currently none, will resolve the issue. Until then, let us enjoy the works for what they are – without concern for their authorship.