William Shakespeare came from Stratford-upon-Avon. Today this bald statement, largely unquestioned, is supported by a huge industry of theatre, tourism and Shakespeare memorabilia based there. To suggest that the revered author of 154 sonnets, 34 plays and two epic poems, in fact came from Essex would seem silly. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, actors, fellow writers, such as Ben Johnson, and theatre owners, like John Heminge and Henry Condell, acknowledged Shakespeare’s talents. Yet for more than 300 years sizeable groups of people have been casting doubt on Shakespeare as the author and posing alternative names as the TRUE BARD.
Candidates nominated at various times as the true author of Shakespeare’s works have included, among others, the philosopher and lawyer Sir Francis Bacon, the playwright Christopher Marlow, William Stanley, Earl of Derby, Roger Manners Earl of Rutland and Sir Henry Neville. In 1920 an English School master, J. Thomas Looney, researched the question and published his findings in his book, Shakespeare Identified.
He suggests Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, from Hedingham Castle, Essex, as the most likely creator of much of the work attributed to William Shakespeare. This claim has been made many times over the years since de Vere is known to have been a poet of some merit. He was also well educated, widely travelled and spoke several languages. He had played host to Queen Elizabeth at Castle Hedingham and was well known at court.
Shakespeare, on the other hand, was from humble stock and very few hard facts of his life were recorded. He was baptised in Stratford-upon-Avon on April 26, 1564 and was presumed to have been born three days earlier. He may have attended Stratford Grammar school; however no records survive to show this. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, or was it Anna Whately? There are entries in the Episcopal Register at Worcester for licences granted for both. Was it a clerical error or was it a late change to a shotgun wedding, since it is known that Hathaway was pregnant when they married? He may have attended Stratford Grammar school; however no records survive to show this. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, or was it Anna Whately? There are entries in the Episcopal Register at Worcester for licences granted for both. Was it a clerical error or was it a late change to a shotgun wedding, since it is known that Hathaway was pregnant when they married?
Sometime after 1590, a William Shakespeare performed with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and other theatre troupes in London, possibly in front of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1597, William Shakspeare (there are many different spellings of his name) bought a large house in Stratford-on-Avon, where, in 1616, he died aged 52. He left no manuscripts, drafts or even letters and the only evidence of his handwriting are six different signatures, including the one on his will. Much of the rest of his life is guesswork and speculation. He seems never to have left England and, apart from London to Stratford-on-Avon, travelled very little. Claimants of de Vere as the true author, such as ‘The Shakespeare Oxford Society’, cite the lack of evidence supporting Shakespeare. They also ask how he could have known the details of court procedures and intrigues for the historical plays. Where did his knowledge of Italy, Denmark and Scotland, knowledge crucial to some of his plots, come from?
Edward de Vere conversely, had travelled all over England and Europe, particularly Italy. He had consorted with foreign ambassadors and the like. As a boy he had been a royal ward of Richard Cecil (Lord Burley), chief advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. De Vere’s brother-in-law was well acquainted with Denmark so he would have known the details of the Danish court that were required to write Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.
So who did write the Shakespeare plays we all know today?
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