Great Debates: The Truth Behind the Bard

Who Wrote Shakespeare's Works?

By Claire L. Burgess


Act I

sp10cov_shakespaperSince the 19th century, skeptics have questioned the authorship of William Shakespeare’s works, asserting that the lower-middle-class son of a glove-maker couldn’t possibly be the poet and playwright celebrated as the best writer in the English language. These “Antistratfordians” argue that “Shakespeare” was a pen name adopted to protect the true author from the plays’ bold, controversial politics.

But Shakespeare scholar and UAB English professor Rebecca Bach, Ph.D., says that in the academic world, there is no credible opposition to the idea that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. “The main proponents in the late 20th century are people who believe they can trace their ancestry to the candidates they promote,” she says. “They would love to be related to Shakespeare. But tough luck—they aren’t.”

Act II

A main argument by Antistratfordians is that Shakespeare never experienced court life, served in the military, or traveled overseas to the settings for his plays. There is no record of him attending a university to learn history, philosophy, and classical literature. So how did he write about them?
Old-fashioned research, Bach says. The sources for almost all of Shakespeare’s plays are known; in fact, scholars have traced some of the language in the history plays back to historical chronicles from his era. Besides, Bach says, “if writers had to directly experience everything they write about, that would eliminate the fields of science fiction and fantasy literature.”

Act III

Antistratfordians also find the scarcity of Shakespeare’s biographical information to be suspicious. His name appears in only a handful of legal documents and a few vague references by his contemporaries.
But Bach explains, “most writers in the English Renaissance are a mystery, because history was not written to record the deeds of people who were not nobility. There was no blogosphere—nothing gave day-to-day information about normal people.” She adds, “There is plenty of proof to support that Shakespeare was a man in England who wrote plays and poetry under his name, and he was an actor, and his literary reputation grew over his lifetime.”

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