The consummate poet, epitome of high art and culture, the fount of knowledge, the biggest contributor to modern English language, the master dramatist whose 400-year-old plays are performed, read and appreciated today, every day, in many languages, is Shakespeare. The Shakespeare professor or expert, however, would have you believe that a man with scant education, no evidence he could write (other than a crude signature), and no evidence during his lifetime that he was in fact a professional writer, was the same erudite, witty and super-brilliant wordsmith, Shakespeare. Left with so few facts about his personal life and literary career, the very best that the expert can do for the great author, the creator of so many gorgeous verses, and fascinating, lovable and psychologically complex characters, is to make guesses. Nothing but endless speculations and fantasies are offered to explain how England’s greatest author reached the pinnacle of literary achievement.
But does the professor look at the historical record? Apparently, he does not. If he did, he would see how obvious it is that his man, the Stratford Man, was not the great author, Shakespeare. And with only a little extra effort he would also see that the concept of the Stratford Man as Shakespeare is a very old and well-orchestrated fabrication. He would see that the maker of this fabrication or myth was Ben Jonson, directed and sponsored by William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, and that their instrument was Shakespeare’s First Folio, published in 1623. This book of collected plays suggested for the very first time that “William Shakespeare” and an undistinguished businessman with a similar name who hailed from Stratford-upon-Avon were one and the same. The Stratford Man had been dead for seven years when the book was launched.
Jonson and Pembroke’s deception remained for the most part undetected for over two centuries. But by the time that unbiased observers were starting to catch on, the Shakespeare professor or expert had evidently become enamored with the idea that a boy with humble origins, little schooling and no connections had transformed himself into a polyglot, a polymath, a master of rhetoric, and a sophisticated, traveled, man of the world who could create timeless literary masterpieces. Any evidence that contradicted this picture was ignored, and that is the situation as it stands to this day.
Numerous good books and articles dispelling the case of the Stratford Man as the true author and showing that “William Shakespeare” was someone’s pen name have been written. But no matter how compelling the evidence and the arguments, the Shakespeare professor will entertain not one shred of a doubt about his Shakespeare. He and his peers comprise a tiny, elite minority who have become the rulers of Shakespeare opinion. But there are millions of Shakespeare fans all over the world that read and attend his plays, see the movies, buy biographies, and visit the “birth place,” Stratford-upon-Avon. They care about Shakespeare and want to know more about him but they are unaware that the so-called experts are keeping them in the dark.
Most devotees of Shakespeare do not know about the numerous problems surrounding his works and the experts’ inability to solve them. The experts do not know with certainty when any of the Shakespeare plays were written, their order of composition, or how many he wrote. Many early printed Shakespeare plays have bad text, and the experts are still trying to make sense out of a legion of unclear lines – why were his writings left in such a state? Many printers pirated Shakespeare’s works – why was this the case and why did the great author seemingly allow it? How are allusions to Shakespeare’s plays in documents and in print before he supposedly wrote them explained? These puzzles are discussed by Shakespeare professors at conferences and written about in academic journals but they have never been adequately explained or even disclosed to the general public. The identities of the people addressed in Shakespeare’s very intimate sonnets remain elusive. Who was the boy or young man, today referred to as the “Fair Youth,” that he had admired, and what was the nature of their relationship? He was obsessed with the “Dark lady” – who was she? The experts only put forth theories.
The lack of information about Shakespeare’s personal and artistic life is the most frustrating problem of all, and the mystery is not made any clearer by the few facts known about the Stratford Man. No one who knew him in Stratford-upon-Avon ever referred to him as the great author. He and the great author shared the same name but no fact during his lifetime connects him to a literary career. It is believed that he was an actor, and a skilled one, but we do not know when or how he learned his trade or know a single role he played.
If the Stratford Man was Shakespeare, then how did he acquire the extensive knowledge displayed in the plays, some of it only obtainable at a university, which the experts admit he never attended? What did the great author look like? Every painting proposed as a Shakespeare portrait is unauthenticated or has been proved a fraud. The two “concrete” images we do have – an engraving by Martin Droeshout and a sculpted bust – are significantly different, and both were rendered after his death. Despite these gaps, discrepancies and frauds, today’s Shakespeare experts maintain that there is nothing unusual about his biography. Shakespeare was the most prolific dramatist of his era, and the greatest, and was so acknowledged by his contemporaries – surely there should have been more solid information about him.
Are those who appreciate Shakespeare supposed to just meekly accept that there are no answers to any of these questions? Perhaps they would not if they knew that it is an unproven theory that William Shakspere, born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, was the great author, “William Shakespeare.” Independent scholars demonstrated over a century ago that this is the case. All documentary evidence gathered about the Stratford Man reveals a successful businessman and property owner with ties to the theater, but that is all. It is pure speculation that he wrote poetry or drama. Shakespeare lovers need to know that the Shakespeare expert or professor has been forced to invent the great author’s literary biography and dramatic career due to this lack of hard facts. He calls it biography but any critical reader would classify it as historical fiction.
Students of Shakespeare ought to note that, in the classroom, only the literary aspects of the plays are discussed. This is because nothing in the traditional Shakespeare biography is reflected in any of his works. Are we expected to believe that Shakespeare alone among all great poets and dramatists in history did not insert any of his life experiences in thirty-eight or more plays, or in his sonnets, which were written in the first person? This factor alone should raise doubts about the Stratford Man.
This book openly presents these problems to the reader and proposes new solutions for them based on contemporary evidence. The Shakespeare professor’s case for the Stratford Man as the great author is also examined; the reader will learn that the professor’s best evidence is posthumous. Meanwhile, the profile of the great author, as revealed in his works and as described by his contemporaries, sharply collides with the factual biography of the Stratford Man. The reader will learn from this book that “William Shakespeare” was the great author’s pen name, that he was a nobleman, that he suppressed his authorship during his lifetime and that it continued to be suppressed after his death. The reader will also learn that some in the literary world knew this and very discretely expressed it in print. This book will also attempt to answer the most important question of all – after his death, why was the true identity of the great author deliberately concealed behind the bland face of the Stratford Man?
If the reader is intrigued by this introduction he may wish to know immediately the answer to the other big question: Why didn’t the great author, whoever he was, claim or get credit for his own works? The quick response: the great author did not claim authorship during his lifetime because he was a nobleman. Generally speaking, those of high rank who wrote poetry or drama did not seek publication or compensation for what they wrote. After their death, however, the stigma of print would disappear, and their friends or descendants could openly publish their work with their names. But for some reason – some very important and unusual reason – this courtesy was not extended to the great author.
The short answer for the Stratford Man is that he never claimed the Shakespeare authorship because he was not the great author. The Shakespeare authorship was “given” to him after his death, or as Shakespeare would say, greatness was thrust upon him, and this book will provide an explanation why. This issue is a complex literary mystery – a series of puzzles – but it can be solved by looking critically and impartially at contemporary evidence and by looking at the absence of evidence. This book will not include as “evidence” the rumors and speculations about the great author that began a generation or more after he lived, many of which have now become accepted as fact.
The Shakespeare problems and absences presented in this book are not controversial – the experts recognize them – but they have not been able to understand or solve them because they have been hampered and constricted by the wrong model, the Stratford Man model, one that has failed to shed light on any aspect of the great author’s works or literary biography. Only with full information can the reader judge if there is indeed reason to doubt the Stratford Man’s authorship of Shakespeare.
After twenty-six years of studying the Shakespeare authorship question, I am certain, “as certain as I know the sun is fire” (Coriolanus, 5.4.49), that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), is the nobleman in question behind the pen name, “William Shakespeare.” Fourteen years older than the Stratford Man, Oxford’s extensive education (private tutors, university and law school attendance), European travel (especially Italy), and involvement in literature and the theater has been preserved in the documentary record. Many details and events of his life are paralleled in the Shakespeare plays, and almost every problem or puzzle associated with Shakespeare can be explained with Oxford as the true author. This book, however, will not present his case for the Shakespeare authorship.
The question that must be resolved first is about the Stratford Man – is he the great author, aye or nay? There is no point arguing for Oxford, pro or con, until this point has been settled. And if the Stratford Man was not the great author, then why did he get the credit? How and why did the two identities become one? And finally, why was the great author’s death not noted in the literary world when it had occurred? The answers to these questions are the keys to unlocking the mysteries surrounding Shakespeare and his works.