home contact

Was Shakespeare Really Shakespeare?

For hundreds of years people were perfectly content to embrace the simple logic that William Shakespeare, respected actor, poet and dramatist, was, in fact, William Shakespeare. It had not occurred to anyone that this man, so well-known to his contemporaries, might be part of a conspiracy to conceal the truth that another penned his works. The authorship craze seems to have started in 1857, when American writer Delia Salter Bacon published The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, in which she argued that Lord Francis Bacon, among others, wrote Shakespeare's plays. Her bold assertions opened many imaginative minds, and soon the ring was full of contenders, including the Earl of Essex, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland, the Earl of Oxford, and even Queen Elizabeth I herself. The majority of those few people who still believe that Shakespeare's works were not his own credit the Earl of Oxford, although supporters of Bacon remain.

A common piece of evidence cited by proponents of Bacon is the so-called 'nonsense' word found in Love's Labours Lost - "honorificabilitudinitatibus." They claim that this is an anagram: "hi ludi F.Baconis nati tuiti orbi" or "these plays born of F.Bacon are preserved for the world." However, in reality, the word honorificabilitudinitatibus is the dative singular conjugation of a medieval Latin word. Dante actually used it more than once, as did other writers of the period. A translation of it would be "the state of being able to achieve honors."

There is a solid body of evidence to show that a real person named William Shakespeare wrote the poems and plays attributed to him and that this very Shakespeare became an actor in the company that produced the plays. No Elizabethan documents support the claim that Shakespeare's plays and poems were written by someone else, or that the actor Shakespeare was not the author Shakespeare. There is also no evidence to suggest that the name used by this man who crafted the plays, sonnets, and poems was a pseudonym. And, if we examine the lives of the other potential authors of the plays, we see that they were not associated with any of Shakespeare's contemporary actors or productions of the plays.

In the words of Margaret Drabble: "Over 200 years after Shakespeare died, doubts were raised about the authenticity of his works. The product largely of snobbery...they are best answered by the facts that the monument to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon compares him with Socrates and Virgil, and that Jonson's verses in the Folio identify the author of that volume as the 'Sweet Swan of Avon.'" (The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985 (891)).

Roland Emmerich's new movie, Anonymous (2011), is sure to bring some brief attention to the matter.

For more on the controversy, please see my article, Was Shakespeare Italian?

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Was Shakespeare Really Shakespeare? Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

Related Articles

 What Did Shakespeare Really Learn at School?
 Shakespeare's Last Descendant
 The Top 10 Questions About Shakespeare
 Shakespeare's Contemporaries: Top Five Greatest

 Shakespeare's Audience in His Day
 Going to a Play in Shakespeare's London
 London's First Public Playhouse

 The Globe Theatre
 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time
 Theatre Closures Due to Disease
 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 Shocking Elizabethan Drama

 The Greatest Actor of Shakespeare's Day
 Edward Alleyn: Master of the Elizabethan Stage
 William Kempe: Shakespeare's Clown

 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
 Shakespeare Characters A to Z
 Pronouncing Shakespearean Names
 Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
 Quotations About William Shakespeare

 Why Shakespeare is so Important
 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels

 Shakespeare Timeline: Part 1 (1558-1599)
 A Shakespeare Timeline: Part 2 (1600-1604)
 A Shakespeare Timeline: Part 3 (1605-1616)
The merging of the Stratford Bust and the Droeshout Engraving. From William H. Chapman's Shakespeare the Personal Phase, 1920.