Revisited Myth # 68: Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.


Okay, this isn’t an American history myth and I probably shouldn’t be dealing with it in this blog, but the topic was so current when I first wrote this post in 2011 (because of the new movie “Anonymous”), I had to go with it.

You simply must read the short article by Stephen Marche, a Shakespeare expert, former professor, and prolific writer who is horrified at the myth perpetrated by the movie “Anonymous.” For those who haven’t heard of it, the movie is about the “real” author of Shakespeare’s plays, an English earl named Edward de Vere. This is a theory that has been bantered about for decades and, says Marche, “has roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts.” I think all of us who lament the hardiness of these history myths can sympathize with Stephen Marche . . . I know I do. Thank you, Mr. Marche, you are one of my heroes. And I’ll enjoy the movie all the more, thanks to the myth-busting details you provided!

Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare? 

And yet, in typical myth fashion, the debate rages on. 
Comments from earlier post:
Prof. Marche, or his editors, could have been gentler in his conclusion. I disagree that. “some people deserve to be marginalized and excluded.” Ideas, theories, objections all might deserve exclusion, but never people.

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marymiley In reply to F.V..
That’s a point I hadn’t heard before! (about inbreeding)

When I hear people make this argument about an uneducated man being incapable of doing genius work, I think of Charles Dickens, dirt poor, uneducated, and probably the English-speaking world’s greatest novelist. I’m sure we can all think of others, too.

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Shakespeare conspiracy theories are 100% classism based solely on the fact that a “commoner” could not have been such a great writer.
Of course one would think that if anything all the inbreeding would make the aristocrats less capable then commoners at just about everything.

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No one disputed Shakespeare’s authorship until the 1850s. I find the idea that only an aristocrat could have written ‘aristocratic’ plays unconvincing and unappealing. Emily Bronte had limited experience of romantic love and yet she wrote the greatest romantic novel in the English language. People under estimate the rigour of English grammar school education of the period. A 14 year old grammar school student from Shakespeare’s time would probably know as much about the classics as a modern post graduate student. Also Shakespeare’s geographical knowledge is flawed. He makes many mistakes about European geography. Shakespeare wrote convincingly about all social classes right down to grave-diggers. You could turn the question around and say ‘how could an aristocrat write about the life of a grave-digger?’

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Howard Schumann
There is only one myth here, that is the myth of the uneducated genius from Stratford who, against all odds, rose to become the greatest writer in the English language. This mythology has been perpetrated on a gullible public for hundreds of years without a shred of evidence that has ever shown that William of Stratford was a writer.

There is nothing ever discovered in his name except for six unreadable signatures. No correspondence, no letter to or from, no diaries, no descriptions, no one ever claimed to have met and talked with the man.

It is a comforting story and we are reluctant to give it up. In spite of the fact that the powerful throughout history have been wealthy, we still have a picture of the haughty aristocrat which doesn’t meld with our ideal Shakespeare, the cipher who we can ascribe any personality to that we want.

But the truth isn’t always the way we want it and any open minded look at the evidence will discover that it strongly points to Edward de Vere as the true author. This may not please the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust or the academic establishment, but the issue should be only one thing – Is it true? To me, it seems very much to be.

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William Ray
I suggest you do a great deal more reading before you dismiss this topic so blithely. There is much wrong with the inherited story that academia has endorsed as fact, making it a form of customary truth. Shakspere of Stratford was never a writer. He was a poacher, a runaway from his marriage to a woman eight years older, a money-lender, a grain and hops broker, an investor, a litigant over small sums, and a witness in a trial wherein he could not remember what year in which he was born. This was a prudential rather than artistic personality. The received wisdom is therefore suspect. There are many other indications and proofs. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford was a prodigy, wrote poems and plays from childhood, owned and sponsored play companies and produced plays nationally on assignment from Queen Elizabeth before the expected Spanish Armada. These became the Histories, which formed the foundation myth of the English nation. He used numerous pseudonyms and proxies since his station did not include writing for the masses, it being a taboo. There was no need for a massive conspiracy because the majority of plays were written anonymously and pseudonymously , his among them and recognized covertly in the record by many literary figures. But this information was suppressed at the time because his life was a departure and an embarrassment to the government and his class, especially his bastard-born son by Elizabeth I, who was the recipient of dedications to three major works, the only person so honored. The Shakespeare canon reflects the life of the writer, and obviously it had nothing to do with Shakspere. He came into the picture, first as a pretender HE wrote the plays because a variant of his name was on the quartos and playbills, then as a decoy when the works were finally published, and the government wanted to be certain Oxford would not be associated with the subversive work he had done concerning individuals and government policies of his time. Hamlet is perhaps the most autobiographical work ever written, in the biographical and spiritual sense. Again it has nothing to do with Shakspere. There is only one way to overcome the ignorance displayed on this website, which is to study the issue, and books and websites have been formed over time for that possibility among the educated and the youth. It is hardly propaganda and is not fanciful. There could be no more fanciful depiction of an artist of universal importance than the present description of the author, rationaized because it is so much a part of our national and cultural belief system.

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marymiley In reply to Deborah Brower.
I do remember this incident! Some crazies tried to dig up the graveyard in 1991 because they were trying to prove that the original versions of Shakespeare’s writings were buried there and that Sir Francis Bacon wrote them. And earlier crazies actually did excavate the graveyard in the 1930s but found nothing. See the Virginia Gazette article for details at

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Thank you for sharing this. I homeschool my kids and we will be studying Shakespeare in a few months. I know my kids would have brought this movie up, having seen the trailers. You have saved me a lot of time researching. I’ll bookmark this.

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Deborah Brower
I think it fits well with American Myths. I was down in Williamsburg many years ago and they doing some archeology in the yard at Bruton Church. When I asked about it they said they were working on the foundations of the earlier church. Then told me that periodically nut jobs start poking around looking for a secret vault.
Shades of Dan Brown! I even remember something about someone trying to sneak in with heavy machinery.

The vault is supposed to contain the original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays with absolute proof that Bacon wrote them. According to this whopper they were brought to America for safe keeping during the English Civil Wars along with other super secret documents.

It had become a big enough problem that the foundation of the later church was threatened by people digging. Silly CW to think that serious science would put a goofy myth like that to rest. People who believe this stuff are so entrenched they’ll just find another even more outrageous twist to the tale to explain the lack of evidence. I think the person who came up with this was named Marie Baur Hall and it might have something to do with Edgar Casey too. If anyone out there knows the rest of the story I’d love to have my memory refreshed.

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2 Responses to Revisited Myth # 68: Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

  1. Elizabeth Simon says:

    Unfortunately, reading Dr. Marche’s article made me want to ask “Who is the elitist here?” According to the professor, we commoners are welcome to debate whether Fonzie jumping over a shark was cool, but we shouldn’t presume to debate literary topics, which are obviously far above our ability to comprehend. Research and logical deduction, too, are beyond us.

    Methinks Professor Marche misses the point. “Anonymous” is a movie. It’s a creative weaving of fact and fiction into a story meant to entertain, not an attack on the academy (or as Dr. Marche states, on himself personally).

    Did the man called Shakespeare write the plays attributed to him? Did he write them alone? I don’t know, but I see no reason people can’t enjoy debating those questions. And we can all agree the plays are great, so what does it matter except to those who make their livings writing about Shakespeare?

  2. Conspiracy theories can be so tiresome. Usually, they’re only worth considering because of what they tell us about ourselves.

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