Did Shakespeare Really Write His Plays?

In 1911, Orville Ward Owen uncovered a dark secret: William Shakespeare was a fraud Reading Philip Sidney’s “Arcadia”, Owen discovered a complex secret code hidden in the text

Deciphering it led to a shocking revelation Sir Francis Bacon was the real author of all Shakespeare’s work Owen built a cipher wheel using 10000 feet of cloth The contraption revealed there was a box at the bottom of the Wye River, containing proof that Bacon was the real genius behind the bard The story was featured in the New York Times, but not for making literary history

Owen dredged up the river When he got to the bottom, there was nothing but sludge This story is just one of hundreds that have emerged since Shakespeare’s death in 1616, questioning the authorship of his work We know a man called William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, worked as an actor in London, and returned to his hometown before his death But that’s all we can be sure of

A growing academic contingent, including scholars OJ Todd and William Rubinstein, claims the 37 plays, 154 sonnets and 5 poems he’s credited with, were actually someone else’s work So, have we been tricked for four centuries? Shakespeare’s plays are erudite and wide-ranging They show intimate knowledge of the Royal court, foreign nobility, exotic cultures and aristocratic sports So, can they really be the work of a glove-maker’s son from the suburbs? Estimates put Shakespeare’s vocabulary at up to 29,000 words – a huge amount even now With no university education, and no known record of his school attendance, how likely is it that he revolutionized the English language? More perplexing still, his works display technical knowledge almost unknown at the time

For example, the tragedy “Coriolanus” references the human circulatory system Then a scientific breakthrough, only those mixing in the most elite circles would have known about it Its mastermind William Harvey was none other than Francis Bacon’s best buddy And the play was first published after Shakespeare’s death; is this the key to unlocking the mystery? Might there have been some truth in Owen’s suspicions? Certainly, this theory isn’t just held by crackpots with too much time Cultural giants such as Walt Whitman, Orson Welles, Sigmund Freud and Charlie Chaplin all alleged Shakespeare’s legend was created after his death, with Bacon the most likely suspect

Tobie Matthew, one of Bacon’s closest aides, once wrote that he was known to the world as another name Could this be what he was alluding to? Contemporary theatre records only ever refer to Shakespeare as an actor Even his death records describe him as a “gent” rather than a playwright Could critic Delia Bacon have been onto something when she wrote that he was no more than a “stupid, illiterate, third rate play actor”? With only 6 surviving signatures, each a barely legible scrawl, can we even be sure that William Shakespeare had the dexterity to write one play, let alone 37? Yet, are these arguments motivated by baseless snobbery? It’s very likely that Shakespeare attended local King Edward VI Grammar School because his father held an official magistrate position The school gave an unusually rigorous education including Latin, classical texts and astronomy

Given this, his breadth of knowledge isn’t that surprising Then, there’s the Globe theatre Its deeds show its then owner – Shakespeare – was the same lad from Stratford Claims that he was only ever mentioned as an actor are not wholly substantiated: beyond the theatre it’s clear he received huge critical acclaim John Davies’ 1610 poem “The scourge of Folly” describes him as “our English Terence”, then another word for playwright

And the posthumous plays? Although not published till later, all of them had been performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime And by Shakespeare’s acting company Financial records survive showing Shakespeare was also an astute businessman His was an age known for its social disparities It’s very unlikely he would’ve had any real financial opportunities were he simply a jobbing actor

To be or not to be? That is the question that has baffled critics and scholars alike for centuries In 2012, Roland Emmerich directed “2012”, a movie suggesting Edward de Vere – the Earl of Oxford – was the real man at the heart of the mystery With so many possible contenders, and so few records, will we ever know the answer? With volumes of research dedicated to unraveling Shakespeare’s identity, and yet no consensus, there’s nothing solid disproving Will’s skills But, as Mark Twain wrote in “Is Shakespeare Dead”: ""So far as anybody actually knows and can prove, Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life"" And, with it looking unlikely definitive evidence will ever be found, there’s no urgency to rethink history as we know it just yet

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