So who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays?


Since the middle of the 19th century, the Shakespeare authorship debate has produced over 70 candidates who may have written the canon of English drama and poetry supposedly composed by William Shakespeare. Here are a few of the people that have been considered throughout the debate.


The Frontrunners


William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

English poet and playwright (we think)

Shakespeareans Say: His name is on the plays.

Doubters Say: Shakespeare arguably lacked the education and knowledge of the aristocratic court and politics seen in his plays.

Origins of Controversy: This was first proposed in 1592, when the first plays by Shakespeare appeared on the English stage.


Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

English philosopher, essayist, scientist, diplomat, and all-around Renaissance man

Baconians Say: Secret ciphers in the plays reveal Bacon, a clever cryptographer, as the author: the Latin word honorificabilitudinitatibus, in Love’s Labour’s Lost is an anagram for Hi ludi F. Baconis nati tuiti orbi (“These plays, the offspring of F. Bacon, are preserved for the world.”)

Doubters Say: Bacon was probably too preoccupied with his numerous other duties to craft an entire canon for another author (along with a cipher to be included in it) in his spare time

Origins of Controversy: Proposed by Delia Bacon in 1845


Christopher Marlowe

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

English poet and playwright

Marlowians Say: Marlowe was an established playwright who created “Shakespearean” blank verse drama years before Shakespeare.

Doubters Say: Marlowe died in 1593—twenty years before the last Shakespeare play was written… (Or did he? Conspiracy theories abound.)

Origins of Controversy: Proposed Wilbur G. Zeigler’s 1895 novel It was Marlowe.


Edward de Vere

Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604)

English nobleman

Oxfordians Say: As a nobleman, de Vere was well-versed in history, literature, philosophy, theology, and classics, which scholars claim the grammar school-educated William Shakespeare could not have known well enough to incorporate into his plays. He was also a noted poet and playwright (though none of his reported comedies survive).

Doubters Say: de Vere died in 1604, five years before the shipwreck on which The Tempest is based and the opening of the theatre for which the play’s stage directions are designed.

Origins of Controversy: Proposed by J. Thomas Looney in 1920.


And the More Outlandish…

Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

Last Tudor Queen of England and Ireland

Elizabeth I died in 1603, making it very difficult for her to write Macbeth, “The Scottish Play,” a celebration for her successor, or any of the other Jacobean plays.


Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)

Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright

The lost Shakespeare play The History of Cardenio (1613) was most likely based on an episode from Don Quixote. However, it’s very unlikely that he spoke, let alone composed metric poetry in, English. Carlos Fuentes first proposed this theory in 1976.


King James I of Scotland

King James I (1566-1625)

First Stuart King of England and Ireland

Malcolm X argued Shakespeare did not exist because if he had, King James would have commissioned him to write the King James Bible.


Cardinal Wolsey

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530)

English political figure and cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church

Wolsey was the main antagonist of Henry VIII. However, the real Wolsey also died more than half a century before many of the important events represented in the plays.


What do you think of these contenders? Plausible or outrageous?! Tell us your thoughts below!

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