10 Authorship Answers

Regardless of your position on the Authorship question, sometimes it’s fun to learn new things.  I had no idea that there were at least 10 candidates for authorship.  Oxford’s on there, of course. Bacon and Marlowe, Mary Sidney and Emilia Bassano.  But I heard some new names as well – Roger Manners?  Who’s that? 

It’d be funny to research 9 of these 10 to the point where you could defend them in a debate, and then just attack the bejesus out of the Oxfordians from all directions until they cry. 

11 thoughts on “10 Authorship Answers

  1. James Shapiro's CONTESTED WILL (2010) will give you the tools to do just that. He completely disseminates all evolving arguments and debunks each "theory" apropos of the authorship debate. His research revealed key documents in the Oxfordian/Baconian positions were falsified.


    Now, can we please find Rolland Emmerich and beat him en masse with cod-pieces and sturgeons?

  2. Shapiro's Contested Will DID NOT disseminate all evolving arguments and DID NOT debunk anything! HE only gave those who already want to believe in the Stratfordian theory a plausible reason to believe in it, and some extremely simplistic justifications for these same people to NOT examine competing theories. So for those Stratfordians unable or unwilling to think for themselves his book was very comforting. But those of us that are actually well-read in anti-stratfordian evidence it looked like an embarrassment to the scholarly community. If you're uncomfortable with comparing the pro and con evidence on this subject, then go ahead and keep his book under your pillow. And Micah, someone actually has suggested Queen Elisabeth as the real Shakespeare, not that the evidence for her is very compelling.

  3. Out of curiosity, UnfoldYourself, which of the Authorship camps do you subscribe to? Oxford certainly gets the most press these days, but you don't come out and mention him so I'm wondering if you prefer a different candidate.

    I have no read Contested Will, but it was my understanding that Shapiro's position was (a) that 'writing from life', where your creation was inherently biographical in nature, simply wasn't done at the time and therefore this whole "story X mimicks person Y's life, therefore person Y must have written it" argument is just us reading too much into it….and (b) that everything was a collaboration, regardless of who the primary author was, so we really need to get over this idea of a single genius Author who deserves all the credit. That could be a gross oversimplification, of course.

  4. Duane,
    I'm a Baconian. Regarding Shapiro's position (a) of your comment, it doesn't seem logical to me. Now, I don't think most Baconians today put a lot of emphasis on Baconian biography as authorship evidence, even though I think there's a fair amount there. It just isn't necessary. Neither are codes or ciphers which Shapiro, Wells, etc try to paint Baconian theory. Still, putting one's own life events in one's stories started with someone. And if Shakespeare, whoever he was, had the great imagination that Shapiro tells us he had, then why couldn't he be the first to use his own life in his stories? I think Shapiro and all just want to use that argument, regardless of its merit, as another attempt to sweep Oxfordian theory away without doing the dirty work of putting out a logical refutation of Oxfordian theory. Regarding point (b) of collaboration, from my perspective of Baconian theory, some collaboration can fit into it. But how much and where would be the question. And could some of the other author's contributions have taken place after Bacon gave the play in question away to Shakspere? Also, Bacon has documented accounts from his time of his ability to mimic other writers. He didn't have one set style that some stylometrics algorithm can pin down. Plus, there is plenty of other evidence which I feel would bury the stylometrics arguments. I'm fine with getting over the single genius argument. I feel that I'm a sucker for evidence and logic. I wouldn't be a Baconian if I hadn't found the evidence to stand up to the toughest scrutiny and easily outshine the competitors. Thanks for the questions.

    For evidence and some proofs favoring Francis Bacon as the true author see either of these sites, they have different formats:

  5. Duane:

    You are somewhat oversimplifying, I'd say. "Contested Will" is a quick read, and a good one. I enjoy the fact it eschews cheap jokes and gives the competing authorship theories a fair (some might say more than fair) hearing. Ultimately, Shapiro does offer convincing rebuttals to the anti-Stratfordian positions, but he never rejects them out of hand.

    Shapiro never says "everything was collaboration." What he does point out is that somewhere around 50% of extant early modern plays are attested collaborations. Thus, the amount of plays we attribute to Shakespeare's sole authorship is anomalous. Hence the suggestion that some plays we now think of as entirely by Shakespeare have another hand in them–a reasonable claim, in light of the fact that more collaborative works (like Edward III) are being identified through textual analysis to this day.


    What I find the most convincing argument against the Baconian theory (or any theory that locates the playwright outside of the theatrical community) is Shapiro's point that the author was clearly immersed in the world of the playing company. Witness him accidentally referring to characters by the names of their actors (as in "Kempe" for "Peter" and "Dogberry.") Witness the repeated winking references to the playing spaces the company used: "…make a sop of all this solid Globe," in Troilus and Cressida, or "The most convenient place that I can think of for such receipt of learning is Blackfriars," in Henry VIII. The nature of the plays change too, after the King's Men begin performing in the Blackfriars–clearer act divisions (see the stark breaks between Act 3 and 4 in Pericles and Winter's Tale) gave time for musical interludes and the trimming of the candles, which was not necessary in the outdoor space of the Globe. All in all, I think there's enough textual evidence to firmly link the author of the plays to the playing company that performed them, not to an academic outside the world of the stage. And really, is that surprising? Why shouldn't the world's most well-regarded playwright be one whose life and livelihood were based on consistently producing high quality plays?

  6. I've just been catching-up with
    the authorship webinar hosted by Stanley Wells and Paul Edmonson.
    I believe they give the figure
    for putative authors as 77!..and
    growing…no wonder there are
    degrees for authorship studies.

  7. Alexi,
    One of the challenges with this authorship question, as with many questions, is the temptation to go with "common sense" or "what seems obvious". My favorite analogy is the "common sense" that the sun revolves around the unmoving earth. The idea that the earth revolved around the sun was considered absurd and the academics and clerics at the time wouldn't even look through Galilio's telescope!
    The idea that a playwright had to have been immersed in the theater is similar. It seems to be obvious. But there's other evidence to consider: Francis Bacon and his brother Anthony were said to have been involved in writing plays. Anthony lived in Bishop's Gate near several theaters and near where William came to live as well as the Burbages. Bacon was friends with Edward Alleyn. Measure for Measure was first played at Wilton House, belonging to Mary Sidney, the mother of the William and Philip Herbert. Bacon could easily meet the actors there as elsewhere, as in the Bishop's Gate district. Ben Jonson was one of Bacon's friends, along with the Earl of Essex and the Earl of Southampton. The playwright Arnold Bennet said that the technique of playwrighting is "crude and simple". Some of Shakespeare's stage directions seem very un-professional. In Troilus and Cressida there are some 30 unmarked entrances and exits.
    The 'theater immersion' topic is only one of maybe a dozen classes of evidence that need to be taken into consideration. And it may be the only one where Stratfordian theory can hold its own and compete.

  8. >>>>One of the challenges with this authorship question, as with many questions, is the temptation to go with "common sense" or "what seems obvious".<<<

    Isn't that otherwise known as Occam's Razor? The simplest explanation is often the correct one?

    >>My favorite analogy is the "common sense" that the sun revolves around the unmoving earth. The idea that the earth revolved around the sun was considered absurd and the academics and clerics at the time wouldn't even look through Galilio's telescope! <<

    This isn't a terribly accurate analogy, though, is it? In this case you're talking about a scientific fact that *was* true and *continues to be* true, and is scientifically testable and therefore provable. In the case of Shakespearean Authorship you're talking about an event in the past, which cannot be tested and will never have any proof.

    This puts the argument in the realm of religion or politics – it'll never be "I can prove I'm right," it'll at best be "I think my evidence is stronger than your evidence, so either we can agree to disagree, or I can tell you that you're wrong." I think it's that last bit that's the problem (for authorship, as well as politics and religion :)). If in the course of normal conversation I learn that somebody's a Marlovian (as you have, hear, as a Baconian), I can have a nice conversation on the topic and learn about that side of the argument. I don't expect it to sway me, but still. If, however, the lion's share of the discussion is my hypothetical Marlovian telling me I'm an idiot because I can't see why of course he's right, well, that's why nobody wants to discuss authorship. Or politics. Or religion.

  9. Duane, I find two of your points, addressing the situation as it stands, to be particularly germane.

    Occam's Razor: There never was a "Stratfordian Theory" until, if I'm not mistaken, some 250 years after Shakespeare's death. No one during his time questioned his authorship, as the written testaments to it indicate.

    Religion: Now "stratfordians" are the ones accused of making 'circular arguments' in order to "prove" his authorship. As with an argument created by a zealot who has no "proof" of the existence of God, the tact becomes one of demanding "proof" of God's non-existence by the one who disagrees. Since that cannot be done, the zealot then accuses the opponent of the very 'circular maneuvering' such a challenge by the zealot instigates in the first place. "You cannot "prove God does not exist, therefore God must exist."
    It's never of any help to point out to the zealot that they've ignored all logical rules of discourse; that they are the ones offering the circular arguments, and that the need for 'proof' has been created out of the wholesale cloth of protracted reasoning and conjecture. The 'argument' has become fruitless on BOTH sides. But the zealot continues in the spiral, offering as "proof", the now apparent fruitlessness of the opposing side, while seizing upon the opportunity to drag the opponent into ever more complicated, theoretical side arguments.

  10. from Wikipedia regarding Occam's Razor: "The razor's claim that "simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones" is amenable to empirical testing. The procedure to test this hypothesis would compare the track records of simple and comparatively complex explanations. The validity of Occam's razor as a tool would then have to be rejected if the more complex explanations were more often correct than the less complex ones (while the converse would lend support to its use). Put another way, any new, and even more complex theory can still possibly be true."

    So the authorship evidence is more complex than the simpler Stratfordian theory. But being simpler doesn't make it more accurate or true. So those that have taken the time and trouble to examine the complex evidence have found the simple orthodox theory weak, and other theories better.

    Regarding the Copernican analogy: I think the important elements are sufficient to make it germane: There was a common belief based on "common sense" observations. Someone (Galileo) challenged this common belief based on new evidence (which may or may not hold upon further analysis). He offered those in authority and power to examine his evidence. They wouldn't do so and continued to rely on their "common sense" observations and authority.

    The authorship question has no need to be in the realm of religion or politics. What we'd like to see is a panel of 'experts' in various relevant fields, that can look at all the available evidence. Discuss it. Throw out some. Examine some in greater detail. And then perhaps suggest further research on some pieces of evidence. Or perhaps even render a judgement, or a vote, for a candidate based on the strongest evidence. Or something along these lines. The feeling is that there's enough evidence and educated opinion that casts doubt on the traditional authorship attribution. And so this justifies the question itself becoming a legitimate subject of debate and research.
    I don't really think we'll be changing any opinions on any of these web comment areas or forums. There's just too much evidence and argument to review.
    JM – It's essentially a myth that no one questioned William's authorship during his lifetime. See the Hall and Marston Baconian evidence that shows Marston (in 1598) identified the author of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece by the motto 'Mediocra firma) which was Francis Bacon's heraldic motto.

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