William Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare 

William Shakespeare is one of the most revered English authors of all time, with hundreds of famous works all written in a relatively short time. Despite his status as arguably the most revered English writer in history, the evidence of his authorship is scant. Over the years, many have questioned the truth behind Shakespeare’s origins. Photo by Taha/Unsplash

I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but this one caught my eye. Despite his status as arguably the most revered English writer in history, the evidence of his authorship is scant. Over the years, many have questioned the truth behind Shakespeare’s origins. Mark Twain once asserted, “So far as anybody actually knows and can prove, Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.”  

The skepticism is not born from the desire to fuel conspiracy theories, but rather from the thin thread of evidence connecting William Shakespeare to the works that bear his name. His ostensible history is a concoction of conjectures, educated guesses and inferences woven together by biographers and scholars who strive to construct a coherent narrative around an elusive figure.  

What do we actually know? As recorded by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Shakespeare was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England to an illiterate glove maker. He married Anne Hathaway at 18, and by 21 he fathered three children, none of whom ever learned to even write their own name. He was credited with his first work in 1593 and supposedly retired in 1613, with his subsequent return to Stratford seeing him fade into relative obscurity before dying at age 52 in 1616. Beyond this skeletal biography, much remains uncertain.  

The astonishing material attributed to Shakespeare’s 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems and 1,700 new words and phrases leads us to wonder if a single individual could have generated this body of work in just over 20 years. Only two of his plays had been published at the time of his death. 

What further complicates this enigma is Shakespeare’s supposed extensive knowledge of classics and philosophy, which has perplexed his biographers. There is no concrete evidence that Shakespeare could even write a complete sentence. As far records suggest, his formal education consisted of only a few years of grammar school. Critics have long questioned how this modestly-educated young man from a small town materialized into the literary scene in London, churning out masterpiece after masterpiece. He utilized source texts that were not even translated into English and boasted a working vocabulary of 17,000 words, which was twice that of John Milton, the Secretary for Foreign Tongues by the Council of State of England. Curiously, Shakespeare never left southern England, yet his works exhibit an intricate understanding of Italian landscapes and the Dutch monarch’s life. It makes one contemplate whether Shakespeare was indeed an unparalleled genius or a historical fabrication. Jonathan Bate, a Shakespeare expert from the University of Warwick, located near Stratford, notes, “If Shakespeare hadn’t been metamorphosed into a god, nobody would think it was worth having an authorship controversy about him.” 

Descriptions of Shakespeare’s appearance are scarce. His only existing portraits were crafted centuries after his death, adding another layer of obscurity. Photo by Mike Bird/Pexels

Descriptions of Shakespeare’s appearance are scarce. His only existing portraits were crafted centuries after his death, adding another layer of obscurity. The only definitive copies of Shakespeare’s handwriting are six signatures on legal documents. No original manuscripts have ever been found, although it is worth noting that few letters or diaries of commoners from that era have survived. The scant legal documents offer little resemblance to the writings of a gifted and witty poet. Even his will lacked any mention of his literary works, as it left only his “second-best bed” to his wife.  

The absence of original manuscripts of his works leaves scholars with the tantalizing possibility that Shakespeare might have been a pseudonym. Could a committee of writers have collectively crafted the Shakespeare canon? Over the years, various contenders have been suspected as the potential authors of Shakespeare’s works, including Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe and even Queen Elizabeth herself. Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, has also emerged as a prominent candidate.  

14 years Shakespeare’s senior, de Vere was a refined and multilingual aristocrat with an extensive educational background. His adoption under William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s trusted advisor, provided him with access to a rich library, worldly experiences and a profound education. Though de Vere has his share of skeptics, many advocates of the Oxfordian theory argue that his high social status would have necessitated the use of a pseudonym for playwriting, a profession thought to be unbecoming for a nobleman. Many of Shakespeare’s plays such as “Hamlet” and “King Lear” contain elements parallel to de Vere’s life. Furthermore, the themes and intimate knowledge of royal courts and government bureaucracies depicted in Shakespeare’s works align with an aristocratic perspective, contrasting with his commoner status.  

The Shakespeare authorship question stands as a unique puzzle, filled with the same dramatic tropes and intrigues found in his plays. For those who dare to join me and embark on some historical detective work, the quest to uncover the true identity of the world’s most celebrated author continues. Shakespeare’s timeless works endure, but the elusive figure behind the quill remains one of literature’s most enduring riddles.  


  1. Hi Athena,

    Thanks for this great article – a really detailed look at the Authorship history. However, not sure if you’re aware but one of the main candidates is not on the list. There is a massive body of work and research stretching back over 150 years around Sir Francis Bacon, as among many things, the author of the Shakespeare Works. Here’s just one great resource for academic papers: https://aphoenix1.academia.edu/research

    There’s also a new filmic project in development about the Secret Life and Times of Sir Francis Bacon. The script is the culmination of over 30 years of historical research into this extraordinary and elusive man. It covers his enigmatic life and the secret aspects of his legacy.

    * The lost, last Tudor, son of Elizabeth the ‘Virgin’ Queen
    * The true author behind the immortal name Shakespeare
    * The leading light and inspiration behind the Rosicrucians, a secret fellowship devoted to a Universal Reformation of the Whole World.

    See the concept trailer here with Aussie actor Jonathon Freeman as Francis Bacon https://youtu.be/RNjPKX-1XPA

    If you’d like any more info please get back to us, always happy to help.

    Best wishes
    Spearshaker Productions

  2. Interesting. It reminds me of that other enigma, the Beatles authorship question:

  3. Now, just for a moment let’s examine in real detail just one of the many myths or rather fallacies about our Will Shakespere of Stratford-upon-Avon, namely that he was born and died on St. George’s Day, the 23rd April. Seriously folks, I’m no mathematician but the chances of anyone being born on England’s national festival in any one year and then at some future date, presumably the end of an average life span for the time, another mathematical variable has got to be around 365 million to one! Biographers and chroniclers of William Shakespeare’s life still incorrectly list his birth date and day of death as the 23rd of April (St. George’s Day) eg: Chamber’s Book of Days, Brewer’s Phrase & Fable, A Shakespeare Miscellany etc). Moreover, they sometimes enlarge upon this fundamental error by comparing Shakespeare to other celebrities who were born or died on the 23rd April, eg: Miguel Cervantes apparently died on the 23rd April, Spanish Gregorian time. This means that this basic discrepancy means that Shakespeare was actually born on the 2nd-3rd of May. That means that, according to Chamber’s Book of Days, that Shakespeare was actually born on “Holy Rood Day”(Christ’s Cross was discovered in AD 326 by St. Helena), at the same time as Niccolo Machiavelli was born and the same time that the Gunpowder conspirator and Catholic priest Henry Garnet, (well known for his tendency for equivocation) had died or rather been executed. Chamber’s does not list anyone else as having been born and dying on the same day. They are in error largely because England still used the Julian calendar which was some 10-11 days behind that of other parts of Europe, such as Spain, Italy and France who had adopted the Gregorian calendar. In advertising the general rule is if you’re going to tell a lie which is likely believable then it is better to tell a lie that is so outrageous, such a big fib that it could never be disproved or for that matter rejected as false! Now tell me whether you think this piece of biographical propaganda is true or false? The myth or legend of a “simple youth” who by dint of perseverance, self-reliance and ingenuity succeeds by becoming the greatest illustrious poet and playwright the world has ever known is more akin to the “American Dream”. To cast doubt on this ludicrous assertion is to deny the working class a “universal hero” to aspire to, applaud and to admire. Finally, the fact often quoted by “quackademics” that he was born and actually died on St. George’s Day is to perpetuate, without correctly dating, the Anglo-Saxon myth or legend grounding him forever in English culture as a “bucolic literary saint”. All this “pseudo-mallarkey” being peddled by Stratfordians despite the fact that England actually employed the Julian calendar during Shakespeare’s lifetime and right up until 1752. This means that he was actually born some eleven days after St. George’s day and similarly would have died eleven days after the celebrations on that Saint’s day making his birth and death hardly as memorable or significant by some strange coincidence.

    Dick Whittington & Shakspere
    Who Was William Shakespeare?

    A Literary Genius or Fraud?

    Here’s my current understanding of a “Shakspere Biography”
    “All Is True”, a Biography of William Shakspere, Part One
    Ever wondered what exactly we know about the biography of the pseudonymous “William Shakspere”? Qudos Academy attempts a realistic profile of the Man and his Life!
    best wishes,

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