Shakespeare Beyond Doubt

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Published April 2013This is an invitation for you to join our free webinar called ‘Proving Shakespeare’ which takes place on Friday 26 April at 6.30pm (British Time). It’s been kindly sponsored by Cambridge University Press and the occasion for it is the publication of a new book, the cover of which illustrates this blog. I’ll be chairing a discussion for an hour with Stanley Wells and we are delighted to be joined by our special guest, Ros Barber, author of The Marlowe Papers: A Novel in Verse. If you sign up you’ll be able to listen to the webinar live and submit questions during the discussion. You can sign up by clicking here.

Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare, and why should we care? In October 2011 The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust started its Shakespeare Authorship Campaign. Our catalyst was the film Anonymous, but the Shakespeare authorship discussion crops up in and around the five Shakespeare Houses we care for and among students who attend the courses at The Shakespeare Centre. But our campaign was also prompted by the fact that at least two universities are running courses which promote doubt about Shakespeare’s authorship (Brunel and Concordia University, Portland, Oregon). One of our intended outcomes was always a collection of essays by international contributors about the Shakespeare authorship discussion. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy is published in the middle of next month and is bound to ruffle a few feathers.

There are three sections. The first is ‘Sceptics’. There you will find essays on the most popular alternative nominees for the authorship, namely Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford. These have been produced by world experts on those three subjects (Alan Stewart, Charles Nicholl, and Alan Nelson), all of whom set out authoritatively to demonstrate how none of those nominees could have written, or indeed were capable of having written, the works of Shakespeare. The ‘unreadable’ work of Delia Bacon is re-appraised by Graham Holderness and Matt Kubus has contributed a piece about the many other ‘unusual suspects’ who have been nominated over the years.

Section two, ‘Shakespeare as Author’, presents the evidence for Shakespeare and includes an essay which considers how we construct early modern biographies by Andrew Hadfield and an overview of all the allusions to Shakespeare up to 1642 by Stanley Wells. John Jowett shows how we know Shakespeare collaborated (thereby making a nonsense of any ‘cover-up’ story), and Mac Jackson shows what we can learn from stylometric tests for different authorial hands. James Mardock and Eric Rasmussen look at what the textual evidence of the printed works tells us about their author, and Dave Kathman finds Warwickshire writ large across Shakespeare’s work. Carol Rutter demonstrates that the whole of Shakespeare was written by someone who attended grammar school but who did not need to have attended university, and Barbara Everett shows how absurd it is to read the works as truthful windows onto Shakespeare’s own life.

The third and final section, ‘A Cultural Phenomenon: Did Shakespeare Write Shakespeare?’, includes articles by Kate McLuskie on conspiracy theories, by Andrew Murphy on the clash between professional academics and amateurs with regard to Delia Bacon, and by Paul Franssen on how the authorship discussion has been treated in works of fiction. Stuart Hampton-Reeves critiques the anti-Shakespearian ‘Declaration of Reasonable Doubt’ and Douglas Lanier critiques the film Anonymous. My contribution is a piece about the so-called ‘Shakespeare Establishment’ and the authorship discussion. The volume closes with an ‘Afterword’ by James Shapiro and ‘Further Reading’ by Hardy Cook.

I hope you can make the webinar. Please register by clicking here. In the meantime you might like to find out more about the Shakespeare authorship discussion by reading a free e-book called Shakespeare Bites Back, or by logging on to 60 Minutes With Shakespeare.

In the meantime, a big ‘thank you’ to Cambridge University Press for making this webinar possible!

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • UncleJoe223

    Your use of the phrase, “sole;y on a grammar school education,” betrays either extreme prejudice on your part or a complete lack of understanding what a “grammar school education,” meant at the time. You anti-Shakespearians have been fooling a gullible and uniformed public for years with that one.

  • UncleJoe223


  • Puck

    Dude, can you please stop being so sickeningly anti-Shakespeare?

  • Puck

    I totally agree. They give the theory far too much credence and actually entertain some of the theories in order to break them down. A REALLY balanced approach would be to simply shoot them down in flames from the get go

  • H1

    God damned Holocaust denier

  • mahood

    There are no serious spokesmen for other candidates. That’s like talking about serious spokesmen for the Tea Party.

  • Cathy

    Both sides in this debate should enjoy “The Killing of Hamlet”, a brilliant whodunit by Ann Morven available at Amazon and other sellers. Her fictional solution to the identity puzzle beats all the rest. (Sorry, I just couldn’t avoid puffing a book that gave me much amusement!!!).

  • Humphrey

    The only difference between pro and anti oxfordians is that the anti are willing to change their minds if any hard evidence is actually found whereas the pro are stuck in an eternal denial of the existing verdict on the basis that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

  • Howard Schumann

    Your claim that Alan Nelson is an “expert” on Edward de Vere indicates that no one involved with this project is serious about examining the issues. Nelson’s book on Oxford is a full scale attack on his personal character and not an academically objective examination of the issues.

    You are not fooling anyone with your project when it is obvious that you refuse to debate the real issues with serious spokespeople for the other candidates. It seems as if your primary interest is not the truth, but the preservation of the reputation of Stratfordian academics and the tourist money collected by The SBT.

  • Sonja Foxe

    I’m an astrologer and have been working out the relationship of deVere and the Acting Bard — I’ve begun to think of the relationship as structural to Brit Empire as the Lion & the Unicorn and look forward to the evidence you’ve collected on the collaborative nature of the relationship.

    I’m working on a scenario regarding above AND the murder of Marlowe: Consider the epilogue to Faustus … I believe it was written by deVere about Marlowe — who was assassinated because along with his mighty line, he was revealing state secrets on stage (a la second city caricatures … evidence for this in Faustus … the Wagner character is Marlowe insofar as his first name (in the 1587 German version) was Christophe.

    In fact, I think Shakespeare of Stratford had a pretty wit — first came to attention when he did a take on Euphues in some lord’s company late 1580’s and amused the Queen as a take on Oxford.

  • Anka Z

    Would I be naive to assume that your webinar will be free of all ad hominem attacks upon those you so blithely refer to as “conspiracy theorists”? Will the term “flat-earther” be thrown about? Can we have your assurance that Oxfordians will not be compared to Holocaust deniers? Will you bring up the unfortunately named J. Thomas Looney and offer his surname as an indication of his mental state? Will you yet again stoop to malign poor Delia Bacon? Will you ensure that the correct pronunciation of your man will be used throughout? (It’s SHACK spere, not SHAKE speare, by the way.) Will you refrain from using the dates usually applied to the plays as either proof of, or against, authorship since these all-but-arbitrary dates are based on faulty scholarship and/or pure conjecture? Finally, would it be too much to ask that those in the Stratford camp avoid using the specious words “could have,” “surely must have,” “conceivably,” “assuming,” “all indication are,” “according to tradition,” etc., etc., etc.? After all, any discussion should be based on rigorous scholarship based on fact, not mythology, should it not?

  • Truet that your Skeptic

    This was not a reply to Michael’s post above. This was a statement that the above forum does not fairly represent that is is reasonable to doubt and consider that there are many academics studying the legitimate and ever more potent questions about Shakespeare Authorship. That the SBT is taking an ad hominem approach most of the time, only shows that they have no real case or a faulty case in response to the academic proofs presented them in peer-reviewed early modern journals and books. All authorship people have problems with “Anonymous.” It is fiction, and most people realize that! You have to star of “Shakespeare in Love” which is certainly not historically accurate, but fun too, on your cover. One fiction is better than another. Okay. That is a matter of taste. We should agree to disagree about what we really know about Shakespeare and get on with it. Authorship scholars and our friends who doubt but also are interested because of the power of the works are definitely not anti-Shakespeare. We are just pro-truth. Why be so divisive? We all love the works–we just want to understand them better. Saying it does not matter who wrote the works is a cop out of those who do not really want to think critically or learn what a house of cards the traditional biography is. We may not solve this issue in our lifetimes or ever, but people should not bury their heads in the sand about the questions that do exist. This defensive does not in the least forward our knowledge of our greatest works of English literature.

  • Michael Dudley

    It is tiresome to have to point this out but nobody who doubts the traditional attribution of the works is “anti-Shakespeare.” We are, in fact, passionate about Shakespeare. What we are is anti-Stratfordian — unwilling to accept without question biographical scholarship that has for centuries been constructed around endless variations of “must have” and “it is reasonable to assume” in the absence of actual evidence. What is “anti-Shakespeare” is downplaying the Author’s genius by claiming it could have been written based solely on a grammar school education.

  • Truer that your Skeptic

    So much for a balanced approach!

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