Why Should We Care Who Wrote Shakespeare?
Most people when asked the question “Is there any solid evidence that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the works?” will be told “No, because there is NO direct evidence.” The usual answer often goes like this, “Shakespeare wrote the plays that bear his name and the evidence for his authorship is plentiful and if you doubt it, then you must be either a ‘crank’ or a ‘flat-earth believer’.” And who wants that?
But, have you ever seen the optical illusion below? It’s called the old crone and the young lady. Some people will only see the crone even after you point out to them that the nose of the old lady is the chin of the young lady. Why? Because that’s what they have been taught. They have been told that there is only an old woman there.
And, if you really understand Shakespeare’s historical background, one would NOT expect to find ANY direct evidence. That’s the whole point. Here’s what I mean:
We all know King Henry VIII beheaded two of his wives. Why? They were guilty of not being able to conceive a male heir when Henry wanted one.
King Henry VIII’s daughter was Queen Elizabeth. She was called the “Virgin” Queen because she did not leave an heir, but does this mean she was *pure as the driven snow*? No.
Modern biographers claim she was kinda scary. Queen Elizabeth could be calm and jovial one moment and then fly off the handle at a minor infraction of court etiquette. Those who knew her feared her.
If Queen Elizabeth flew into a fit of rage, what might she do?
Might she act like her father and behead someone? Yes.
Might she have the person imprisoned in the Tower? Yes.
Tortured on the rack? Yes.
Elizabeth did all three. She ordered the beheading of her own cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, didn’t she? Yes.
What does this have to do with the authorship of Shakespeare?
Under an edict of 1350, did you know that an English ruler could legally be a serial killer? Back then, any person could be charged with “high treason” for petty things like “imagining the death of the ruler” or “ridiculing” the monarchy. For this, the King or Queen could legally sentence any person to death. There would be nothing a convicted person could do about it.
So, knowing this, would you really want to put your name on a play called Julius Caesar where a ruler gets stabbed by his friends? Or, Cleopatra where the queen dies? Or Hamlet? (Prince Hamlet kills the king.) How about Richard II?
So, to answer your question, yes, without question, Shakespeare’s name is directly found in all the plays, poems, and sonnets. Yes, the direct evidence for his authorship is plentiful. But does that necessarily mean he was the *real* author?
However, if there is no direct evidence to prove that someone else wrote the plays, guess there is nothing that can be done, right? No.
What about circumstantial evidence?
The play Hamlet, for example, talks about how the king of Denmark would fire a cannon after downing a shot. We also learn that his two ambassadors were named Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern.
Modern scholars have checked out these things and discovered they were true! This is based on the travel journals of Peregrine Bertie and were “state secrets” which means they were not published for about 80+ years after the death of QE.
Question: How would William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon know about the Danish King’s drinking habit of firing a cannon? What about the names of the two ambassadors? Usual answer: Shakespeare had a great imagination.
Back to the question. Is there any circumstantial evidence for another candidate writing the Shakespeare works?
Yes. Peregrine Bertie, was the brother-in-law of Edward de Vere. Bertie had spent over six months as the English ambassador to Denmark. Bertie personally knew about King Frederick of Denmark’s bizarre drinking ritual and that the names of the Danish King’s ambassadors were Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern.
Now, which seems more likely, “imagining” the firing of a cannon after drinking a shot? Or overhearing a true story about the Danish King from someone who actually went to Denmark?
More circumstantial evidence? Edward de Vere had lived in Italy for about a year and if you were to put colored push-pins on a map of Italy, they would match the Italian cities mentioned in the Shakespeare plays. But here’s the thing. DeVere did NOT wish to be found out or known as the *real* author. So, might he make a mistake or two in geography in order to throw people off his scent? Why wouldn’t he?
Are you starting to see the young woman in the picture now?
My book, Shakey’s Madness suggests the “real” author also may have had a mood disorder. This is based on all the fainting, depression, and suicides found in the canon.
It’s just something I noticed during the pandemic.
Therefore, if Edward de Vere truly suffered from a mood disorder and William Shakespeare did not, might that fact bolster a circumstantial case for de Vere? Possibly, but I am not holding my breath.
See, it is not *direct* evidence and nowadays, most people demand *smoking gun* type proof like DNA evidence, right? It’s like some people want a notarized letter from Shakespeare claiming he did not write anything. This is not going to happen. The best I can hope for is someone like you, who after reading this article might stop and say, “Okay, I get it now. I am going to share it with a friend.” But even this is a long shot!
But in real life, lawyers DO win court cases by using circumstantial evidence. How? Bits of proof are gathered together. Each bit of evidence is like a pencil in a fist. It’s easier to break one pencil but if you have five pencils, it becomes much harder to break them all at once.
So, does the fact that Queen Elizabeth could be mentally unstable make sense? Does the fact that only Bertie knew the Danish king fired a cannon after drinking a shot make sense? Does the fact that 13 plays are based in Italy, and William Shakespeare never even left England? What about his six sloppy signatures where he does not even sign his last name as “Shakespeare”? One would think that a great writer would know how to spell his last name, right?
Still, some people will only see the old lady and claim that Shakespeare might have had palsy. Or they will make a big deal about how de Vere had died in 1604, so a dead man could not have written the plays. But could Francis Bacon have edited some or all of de Vere’s old plays? Sir Francis Bacon was de Vere’s cousin.
Therefore, it just depends on how you look at things – sort of like the picture of the old lady or the young one.
Other folks will claim this is all just snobbery or ignorance. But I say not really, it’s more like trying to make sense of a tangled, real-life, 400+- year-old mystery. If Edward de Vere had been crowned king, he would have been King Edward VII. What’s interesting to me, is that de Vere was in love with a woman with a “dark” complexion and the sonnets talk about the author’s love for a “dark” woman, right? Edward de Vere spent six months in the Tower of London because of his love for Anne Vavasour. Shakespeare’s play, Titus Andronicus features a play with a Black man and a white woman. So does Othello. But did you know that King Edward III had also been in love with a woman with a “dark” complexion? Her name was Philippa of Hainault and she was the first Black Queen of England.
So, can you see why people might be interested in the authorship question? It opens up “I didn’t know that” moments and makes the study of history more interesting too.
In any case, whether you doubt Shakespeare’s authorship like me or not, welcome to the authorship mystery. Enjoy your journey, whichever side you take.