The International

The overwhelming favourite. The vast
majority of Shakespeare academics
express no doubt that William
Shakespeare––Stratford businessman,
actor, theater company share-holder––
wrote the plays and poems attributed
to him. Quartos and anecdotes from
his lifetime suggest that at least some  
contemporaries believed he was the
author, but Shakespeare's biography
creates serious doubts.
William Shakespeare
Problems with the Stratford case

William Shakespeare of Stratford has a lot of evidence on his side. His name is on many quartos of
plays as the author, his name is on the 1623 First Folio of
The Complete Works of Shakespeare as the
author, Ben Jonson and a handful of other writers add their testimony to the case for Shakespeare,
and it appears that some of his contemporaries believed that he was the author as well.

With all of this evidence, it seems preposterous to voice concerns. And yet, when we look closely at
the man, we are struck by the image of someone very unlike the man revealed in the works.
Shakespeare stands revealed as a hardscrabble businessman who parlayed his involvement in the
theater industry into a profitable share of the gate receipts.

There is no evidence he attended school, although his success as a businessman
suggests he did. He
did not attend university, but the Shakespeare plays display learning equivalent to a university
education. He demonstrated no interest in his works, as if they only had value as commodities.

When he died, there was no mention in his will of anything suggesting an interest in literature or
culture. Shakespeare does not
sound right, in spite of the fact that his name is on the documents.
Stephen Greenblatt called the striking difference between the biographical and literary Shakespeare
his "double consciousness." The other possibility––one which Shakespeare scholars rarely consider––
is that the author and the man were in fact two different people.
More about

From The Marlowe-
Connection Blog

Stratfordian Absurdities
By Sam Blumenfeld

William Shakespeare,
Businessman - Forgotten
By Anthony Kellett

The Stratford References
in the Taming of the
By Peter Farey

Anonymous Death: A
response to two of
Jonathan Bate’s attempts
to explain Shakespeare’s
“anonymous death."
By Anthony Kellett

Jonathan Bate on “The
Rape of Lucrece” and
Clopton Bridge
By Daryl Pinksen

From the Marlowe-
Society Research
Volume 06 2009

The Clue in the Shrew
(Revised): A Tumbling
By Isabel Gortazar
The major candidates - Shakespeare, Oxford, Bacon, Marlowe
The mystery of Shakespearian authorship exists because, unlike nearly every major author
from Virgil to Spenser, Shakespeare rarely presents himself.
Cheney, Patrick. 2008. Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship. United Kingdom: Cambridge
University Press. p.11

In the history of Western literature, Shakespeare’s self-concealing authorship may indeed
be unique. From Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, to Dante, Petrarch, and Chaucer, to Sidney,
Spenser and Marlowe, we can find nothing else like it.

Cheney, Patrick. 2008. Shakespeare’s Literary Authorship. United Kingdom: Cambridge
University Press. p.

As a writer, Shakespeare seems to have been a late starter. . . . He is first heard of as a
writer in 1592, when he was 28.
Wells, Stanley. 2006. Shakespeare and Co. London: Allen Lane (an imprint of Penguin
Books). p. 4

There’s no way that Shakespeare could have bought or borrowed even a fraction of the
books that went into the making of his plays. Besides his main sources for his British
histories and Roman tragedies, which he probably owned—Holinshed’s Chronicles and
Plutarch’s Lives—he drew on hundreds of other works. From what we know of
Shakespeare’s insatiable appetite for books, no patron’s collection—assuming that
Shakespeare had access to one or more—could have accommodated his curiosity and
Shapiro, James. 2005. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare. New York, NY: Harper
Perennial. p.190-1

The case of William Shakespeare, however, is singular in more than one sense. None of
his contemporaries made their departure from wives or children. It was in fact almost
unprecedented for a young man to leave behind his young family. It was unusual even in
aristocratic households.
Ackroyd, Peter. 2005. Shakespeare: The Biography. Vintage Books: London p. 103

Shakespeare himself seems never to have valued his scripts as highly as his poems. He
sold them to the company, which did with them whatever the team decided, with little sign
of the author himself contributing.
Gurr, Andrew. 2004. The Shakespeare Company. Hertfordshire: Oracle Publishing Ltd. 1996.
Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. p.14

Even though as a poet, Shakespeare dreamed of eternal fame, he does not seem to have
associated that fame with the phenomenon of the printed book.
Greenblatt, Stephen. 2004. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New
York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company. p. 194

Shakespeare was a master of double consciousness. He was a man who spent his money
on a coat of arms but who mocked the pretentiousness of such a claim: a man who
invested in real estate but who ridiculed in Hamlet precisely such an entrepreneur as he
himself was.
Greenblatt, Stephen. 2004. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New
York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company. p. 155

Again and again in his plays, an unforeseen catastrophe … suddenly turns what had
seemed like happy progress, prosperity, smooth sailing into disaster, terror, and loss. The
loss is obviously and immediately material, but it is also, and more crushingly, a loss of
identity. To wind up on an unknown shore, without one’s friends, habitual associates,
familiar network—this catastrophe is often epitomized by the deliberate alteration or
disappearance of the name and, with it, the alteration or disappearance of social status.
Greenblatt, Stephen. 2004. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New
York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company. p. 85

And what of Shakespeare’s works? To our eyes he had been shockingly negligent about
the preservation and publication of his scripts. . . . Unsettling as the thought is, he may not
even have cared about his works being handed down.
Wood, Michael. 2003. Shakespeare. New York: Perseus Books Group. p. 341

For a man who made his living from words, he left a shockingly thin written record. He left
no journal and not a single letter. There are some hints of him to be found on a few
property records and in some exceedingly dull testimony in someone else’s lawsuit.
Nolen, Stephanie. 2002. Shakespeare’s Face. Canada: Alfred A. Knopf. p.70

His retirement in 1610 to a quiet (and very affluent) last few years in Stratford reflects the
then-minor nature of his fame. It took the next three centuries to make him into England’s
greatest poet; he never pushed his claims to be a poet in the way that his peers
Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson did. Despite his company’s success in 1603, his
fame seems much too limited to have promoted anyone to have commissioned an official
Andrew Gurr, “Picturing Shakespeare in 1603,” p.59 – 75 in Nolen, Stephanie. 2002.
Shakespeare’s Face. Canada: Alfred A. Knopf.

William Shakespeare was unusual among fellow playwrights in that he wrote exclusively
for one company for most of his career, acted in its offerings, and invested in its
playhouses. He was therefore also unusual in having a direct stake in his company’s
Knutson, Roslyn Lander. 2001. Playing Companies and Commerce in Shakespeare’s Time.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.48

Even as a ‘sharer’ in the Queen’s and Strange’s Men – and possibly Pembroke’s – his
name was not recorded, and yet, as we saw in chapter 2, there is little doubt of his
Duncan-Jones, Katherine. 2001. Ungentle Shakespeare. London: Thomson Learning. p.60

Shakespeare was not an autobiographical poet, at least not in any simple, direct sense.
Anything but. He remains, in fact, the most anonymous of our great writers – we seem
always to glimpse only the back of his head as he slips around the corner.
Kernan, Alvin B. 1995.  Shakespeare, The King’s Playwright. New Haven CT: Yale University
Press.p. 179

Among the strongest indications that Shakespeare thought of himself as above all a theater
man is the fact that he seems to have had remarkably little concern for the appearance of
his plays in print. Only about half of them were printed in his lifetime; none of these has an
author’s dedication, or any of the panoply of preliminary epistles, dedicatory poems, and
the like of which Elizabethan authors were accustomed to adorn their publications.
Wells, Stanley. 1994. Shakespeare: A Dramatic Life. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. p.3

Though it is often said that we know very little about Shakespeare’s life, it would be closer
to the truth to say that we know quite a lot, but what we know includes very little of what
we should most like to know. We have virtually no direct information about his private life,
no accounts of his childhood or of his relationship with members of his family or with
colleagues, no love letters—no manuscript letters of any kind written by him—no diaries,
no working notebooks, no manuscripts. The information that has come down to us derives
largely from public, especially legal, records.
Wells, Stanley. 1994. Shakespeare: A Dramatic Life. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. p.4

His plays and poems … are the work of a writer with a classical education, not only full of
local allusions to gods, goddesses, mythological figures, and the heroes of antiquity, but
more deeply permeated with the techniques of the classical rhetoricians.
Wells, Stanley. 1994. Shakespeare: A Dramatic Life. London: Sinclair-Stevenson. p.12

Jonson was now at the height of his fame as a masque-maker, a much more lucrative
occupation than writing plays for the public theatres. It is a field in which Shakespeare
seems to have offered no competition, and I find this hard to explain. He had, to be sure, a
tolerably stable income, but he had never any aversion to adding to it, and I simply do not
believe that he was too high-minded to wish to soil his genius with ephemeral pieces
designed to suit the purposes of aristocrats.
Thomson, Peter. 1992. Shakespeare’s professional career. Great Britain: Cambridge University
Press. p. 188

Shakespeare appears to have placed little value on being monumentalized; the famous
epitaph on his gravestone … bears no name.
Shapiro, James. 1991. Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson and Shakespeare. New York, NY:
Columbia University Press. p. 135

Unlike the overwhelming majority of his fellow playwrights and poets … Shakespeare (to
the best of our knowledge) never wrote a dedication, elegy, or epitaph for another writer.
Shapiro, James. 1991. Rival Playwrights: Marlowe, Jonson and Shakespeare. New York, NY:
Columbia University Press. p. 134

Nothing in this [Droeshout] engraving would lead one to suppose that Shakespeare was a
poet. He appears to be a prosperous, confident Jacobean gentleman. Apart from the hint
of a smile, the smooth unmarked face is quite nondescript.
Riggs, David. 1989. Ben Jonson: A Life. Cambridge Mass. and London: Harvard University
Press. p.278

As a result of his independent reading, he was coming abreast of the University wits
dominating the literary scene; in fact, he was tending to approximate to them, almost as if
he had been to the University himself.
Rowse, A. L. 1988. Shakespeare: The Man. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. First published
1973. p. 45

It is as though Shakespeare is beyond authorship. . . . “Shakespeare” is present as an
absence – which is to say, as a ghost.
Garber, Marjorie B. 1987. Shakespeare’s Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality.
London: Methuen & Co. Ltd. p.11

If Shakespeare was indifferent to the ultimate fate of the plays that immortalized him, he
showed no similar nonchalance about assembling and passing down his intact estate.
Schoenbaum, Samuel. 1977. William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. New York,
NY: Oxford University Press. p.220

University training was a professional one in medicine, law or divinity, rather than a
continuation of the liberal arts taught in schools . . . . If Shakespeare did begin his career in
this way, as an articled clerk to an attorney, it would account for his remarkable
knowledge of the law, legal terms and procedure.
Halliday, F.E. 1961. The Life of Shakespeare. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd
(reprinted with revisions 1964).p. 37,39-40

So far as I am aware, no writer on the Sonnets has remarked upon the fact that
[Shakespeare] who is commonly supposed to have been indifferent to literary fame and
perhaps only dimly aware of the magnitude of his own poetic genius, has written more
copiously and more memorably on this topic [poetry as immortalization] than any other
Erne citing Leishman, 1961, 21–2 in Erne, Lukas. 2003. Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shakespeare’s lack of book learning was a blessing. When he needed a simile or an
image, he found it in his own experience and not in his reading.
Harrison, G. B. 1939. Introducing Shakespeare (Third Edition: revised and expanded 1966).
London: Penguin Books. p.168-9

If ever there was a poet with a supreme faculty for conceiving situations into which
experience had never brought him … that poet … was Shakespeare.
Verity, A. W. 1886. The Influence of Christopher Marlowe on Shakespeare’s Earlier Style.
Folcroft PA: The Folcroft Press, Inc. p. 41
What Scholars say about Shakespeare:
If Shakespeare did not
write the plays attributed
to him, we do not need to
look far to find a good

here to read what
scholars say about the
influence of Marlowe in
the Shakespeare plays.