Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays?

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‘Tis true that very little is known about the greatest playwright of them all. Though the Bard’s legacy survives 400 years on, no one is particularly sure about who he really was. Or whether he chose to go by a pseudonym. Or whether he is the pseudonym. Or whether he wrote the plays.

All in all, it’s hardly surprising that the Bard remains a subject of scrutiny because of the cloud of mystery around his life and authorship. We decided to update ourselves with some of the more notorious (and centuries-old) theories about the greatest writer who ever lived:

The Marlovian Theory


This theory’s believers maintain that playwright Christopher Marlowe was the author of the plays. The Marlowians (as they like to call themselves) base their arguments on the peculiarities surrounding Marlowe’s death in a stabbing. They believe that Marlowe faked his own death since Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare’s first published work, was published within 2 weeks of Marlowe’s death. 

The Oxfordian Theory


The most popular alternative theory of Shakespeare’s authorship, this one puts the bard’s plays as being written by Edward de Vere, an earl who was also a playwright, poet, actor and jester. The Oxfordians reject actual historical evidence of Shakespeare scholarship and consider it to be a means of protecting the real author, viz. de Vere. This theory relies on autobiographical instances to put forth de Vere’s candidature. And since no plays survive under de Vere’s authorship, the theorists believe he was one of the more prominent pseudonymous authors in 16th and 17th century England. This theory was most recently illustrated in the movie Anonymous.

The Derbyite Theory


This theory claims that William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby, was the true author behind Shakespearean works. It is generally agreed upon that Shakespeare may have collaborated with other playwrights of his time, and Stanley may have collaborated on Love’s Labour Lost with Shakespeare. The play is set in Navarre, Spain, a little after Stanley visited the region.

The Baconian Theory


Philosopher, essayist and scientist Sir Francis Bacon was another contender, even though there is little evidence to link him with Shakespeare. This theory may have been stoked by the similarities between their plays. Folk argue Bacon’s rise to high office as Lord Chancellor may have proved to be antagonistic to his penmanship for the public stage, and hence his assuming the pseudonym of Shakespeare.

Other theories

Several other contemporary writers and aristocrats find mention as the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. Roger Manners, the 5th Earl of Ruthland was one, since he enveloped his own person and works in a shroud of mystery. He never chose to publish his works under his own name and was assumed to have co-written the plays with Sir Philip Sidney, his father-in-law. The big hole in this theory is that he was only 16 when Shakespeare’s first work was published in 1593.


Enough of men! Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, one of the first English women to be noted for her poetry, was one of the contenders as well. She led the Wilton Literary Circle, one of England’s most influential at the time, after taking over the mantle from her brother, Sir Philip Sidney. Shakespeare’s sonnets mention his affair with a youth who in turn had a tumultuous affair with a dark-haired woman, and Mary Herbert’s life bears a close resemblance to this entire saga.

Similarly, it is believed that Shakespeare must have used her play The Tragedy of Antonie as the source material for Antony and Cleopatra. And since women were invisible in the public sphere, it made sense for the author to have a male pseudonym, if at all.

Then there is the theory that a group of writers wrote the plays together. In 1848, Joseph C. Hart put forth the idea that the plays were written by different authors which was then supported vociferously by Delia Bacon in 1856 in her work The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded. Though unsubstantiated, the group theory too remains quite popular amongst the theorists.

So, which one do you believe?

Charles & Mary Lamb’s popular adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays are now available on Juggernaut here: http://bit.ly/2mmVM5L



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