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Shakespeare: A Question of Authorship, Research Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1464

Research Paper

There is a long debate among literature research experts regarding the Shakespeare authorship question: “whether or not he wrote all the plays attributed to him?”. The below paper is attempting to investigate the different theories and proofs brought up in both sides in order to determine if there is a straightforward answer to the above question. While the main approach of the question is historical, the aspects of style, philology and literature also have to be taken into consideration when researching Shakespeare’s authorship.

THEORIES OF SHAKESPEARE’S AUTHORSHIP

There are various theories published in the past two hundred years regarding the thesis that some of the poems and plays written in Stratford-on-Avon, originally attributed to William Shakespeare were the work of another author. (La Belle 23) Most of the theories are based on the fact that negative evidence exists; there is no proof that Shakespeare actually completed the works. The life of a play-writer or poet was not a public interest, therefore, we know very little about the plays and poems he worked on from time to time. Some other theories state that the person who wrote these plays had to have an extensive knowledge about everyday life, military and even sea navigation that it is impossible that the person we know as William Shakespeare acquired such details to put into his plays. Another theory states that because Shakespeare borrowed most of his scenes and plots from other authors or had a team working for him, and he might have purchased the basis of plays to adjust to the taste of the 16th Century public. (La Belle 24)

Sir Francis Bacon. The most famous theory states that Shakespeare indeed was created in the 19th Century, stating that “the Shakespeare canon was written by the sly and mighty Elizabethan politician and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon”. (La Belle 25)

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. De Vere was suspected of the authorship because he had a good education at the Cambridge Queen’s college, studied and traveled in Europe and had a great interest in Italian language and literature. Some of his poems survived, and he received literary praise from contemporary and 18th Century critics. (Seletsky et al. 3)

Christopher Marlowe. He, despite his father being a shoemaker received a good education at the King’s School after getting a scholarship and later attended a Cambridge college. He studied play-writing and poetry, as well as translation. Some theorists state that Shakespeare indeed was Christopher Marlowe who went into exile and continued writing under the name Shakespeare. (Seletsky et al. 1)

Apart from the above candidates named as authors of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, there are over fifty different individuals mentioned in the literature so far, according to Cutler. (17)

THE EVIDENCE

There is, as stated above, no evidence that Shakespeare wrote all his plays. There is no evidence that he did not either. The real problem is that the identity of the author itself is questioned by several authors. Cutler (18) for example states that not one single book is referenced by the real historical Shakespeare’s will. The plays, however, would certainly have required reading some classical works and Italian books. The extensive knowledge of Greek, Italian, Latin, French and other European languages confirm that the person who wrote Shakespeare’s plays was well-educated, well-read and well-traveled.

Smith (628) also confirms that there are problems with the historical identification of Shakespeare as a person in Stratford and the person who wrote the plays. Without really knowing who the historical figure was, it is hard to decide on a debate whether or not all the works should be credited to him. Indeed, there are some stylistic and vocabulary differences between works, not to mention the different references and details in the plays like Henry V. Some scenes are depicted in a way that the author should have experienced them in real life, claim the doubters of Shakespeare’s authorship.

Word Length and Style Analysis. Seletsky et al. (2) look at the analysis of different works from a statistical point of view to decide whether or not all works were created by the same author. Shakespeare used more 4-letter words than 3-letter words, however, his statistics of usage were similar to the works remained by Marlowe. The writing style of Marlowe and Shakespeare also showed a significant difference. Bacon is an even less likely candidate based on word length and the proportion of unique words. Still, comparing the word length, usage and distribution of Shakespeare’s works (those attributed to Shakespeare) and Edward de Vere showed a definite similarity. This, combined with some of the events we know about in the life of de Vere featured in plays of Shakespeare provide a valid ground for doubting that Shakespeare wrote all his works. (Seletsky et al. 4)

One of the most valid arguments against the theory that the historical William Shakespeare, who, at the most, had maximum of a grammar school education has written all the works is based on the vocabulary of the writings. Shakespeare’s canon contains over 29.000 different words, according to Cutler. (17)

THE DEBATE

The debate of Shakespeare’s authorship has been going on for centuries and still has not ended. There are certainly different approaches to question the sole authorship of the canon, as well as claims that the real author did employ a team of writers to complete his works. Some of the theories attribute all the works to another person and claim that the real Shakespeare was this or that individual.

The Shakespearean Authorship Trust (3) looks at the question from a historical point of view and summarizes the debate as it stands in 2005. Some theories state that there was indeed collaboration between the “real” Shakespeare and Marlowe, him being a front man for an author who remained anonymous (4) and even copying. Quoting the conference, the document states that professor Mark Rylance pointed out the difference between the first two and the last three acts’ style, vocabulary and structure in Pericles. The real debate today is based on whether the works credited to Shakespeare are a result of a collaboration, an anonymous well-educated aristocrat’s writing under someone else’s name, or the organization and editing skills of the real historical Shakespeare who employed writers to put his ideas on paper.

CONCLUSION

While there is still no agreement among scholars whether all the works of Shakespeare were written by the same author, the real question is: how do we know who the writer is? There is so few historical references remained regarding Shakespeare’s identity and life in Stratford-on-Avon that it is likely that the question will never be answered. The most believable and grounded theory remains that the works of William Shakespeare are the result of a collaboration; either there was one person who had a good imagination and theatrical knowledge like the historical figure of Shakespeare and he commissioned writers to put the plays into words, or there was an aristocrat hiding behind the identity of William Shakespeare.

There are some discrepancies that certainly should not be neglected when reviewing the debate. First of all: if William Shakespeare only received grammar school education and never left the country, did not have a library of classic plays, he certainly could not have created the works. There is a difference between a genius and a skilled linguist who speaks and reads several languages, knows about countries in Europe, cultures and aristocrats. Secondly, there are evident discrepancies within plays, for example Pericles. Whether or not the author wrote the first few acts at an earlier date and the end of the play later, or indeed he commissioned another writer to do the work for him is hard to decide on.

While statistical and computerized analysis and comparisons have provided an indication that the writing style of de Vere’s works and Shakespeare’s show a strong similarity, it still does not provide a proof strong enough to doubt Shakespeare’s authorship.

Another question is that if there is evidence that plots and scenes were borrowed from other writers in Shakespeare’s plays, is it possible that he was a genius who did not write, just stylized and edited the works of others? If he was an actor, familiar with the public taste, he must have developed an expert knowledge of  “what sells”.

As a conclusion, it is very likely that the complete Shakespeare canon is a result of multiple collaborative authors, however, the identity of these collaborators is not possible to be determined.

Works Cited

Cutler, K. The Top Ten Reasons Shakespeare Did Not Write Shakespeare. The Oxfordian. Volume XII. 2010. Print.

La Belle, Jenijoy The Authorship Question; or, Will the Real William Shakespeare Please Stand Up? Engineeling & Science/Fa11 1991. 23-29 1991. Web.

Seletsky, Oleg, Huang, Tiger, Henderson-Frost, William. The Shakespeare Authorship Question. n.d. Web.

Smith, Emma. The Shakespeare Authorship Debate Revisited. Literature Compass 5/3 618-632 2008. Print.

The Shakespearean Authorship Trust. Third Annual Conference, July 2005. 2005. Web.

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