List of Shakespeare authorship candidates

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The First Folio (1623), published seven years after Shakespeare's death, includes all of his extant plays with the exception of Pericles, Prince of Tyre and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Claims that someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works traditionally attributed to him were first explicitly made in the 19th century, though supporters of the theory often argue that coded assertions of alternative authorship exist in texts dating back to Shakespeare's lifetime.[1] Typically, they say that the historical Shakespeare was merely a front to shield the identity of the real author or authors, who, for reasons such as social rank, state security, or gender, could not safely take public credit.[2] Although these claims have attracted much public interest,[3] all but a few Shakespeare scholars and literary historians consider them to be fringe theories with no hard evidence, and for the most part disregard them except to rebut or disparage the claims.[4]

The basis for these theories can be traced to the 18th century, when, more than 150 years after his death, Shakespeare's status was elevated to that of the greatest writer of all time.[5] Shakespeare's pre-eminence seemed incongruous with his humble origins and obscure life, arousing suspicion that he was not the author of the works attributed to him.[6] At the same time, the influence of biblical higher criticism led some authors to take the view that Shakespeare's works could be the product of the collaborative efforts of many authors.[7] Public debate and a prolific body of literature date from the mid-19th century, and numerous historical figures, including Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe and the Earl of Derby, have since been nominated as the true author.[8]

Promoters of various authorship theories assert that their particular candidate is more plausible in terms of education, life experience, and/or social status to be the true author of the Shakespeare canon. Most candidates are either members of the upper social classes or are known poets and playwrights of the day. Proponents argue that the documented life of William Shakespeare lacks the education, aristocratic sensibility, or familiarity with the royal court which they say is apparent in the works.[9]

Mainstream Shakespeare scholars maintain that biographical interpretations of literature are unreliable for attributing authorship,[10] and that the convergence of documentary evidence for Shakespeare's authorship—title pages, testimony by other contemporary poets and historians and official records—is the same as that for any other author of the time. No such supporting evidence exists for any other candidate,[11] and Shakespeare's authorship was not questioned during his lifetime or for centuries after his death.[12]

Despite the scholarly consensus,[13] a relatively small but highly visible and diverse assortment of supporters, including some prominent public figures,[14] are confident that someone other than William Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him.[15] They campaign to gain public acceptance of the authorship question as a legitimate field of academic inquiry and to promote one or another of the various authorship candidates through publications, organizations, online discussion groups and conferences.[16]


This list of 87 candidates is in alphabetical order of surname, so that aristocrats appear under their family name, rather than their title (e.g. "De Vere, Edward" rather than "Oxford, Earl of"). Monarchs appear under their regnal names.



Rhys Ifans played Edward de Vere in the 2011 film Anonymous


Encounter with authorship candidates in a dream. Left to right: William Shakespeare, Anne Hathaway, Christopher Marlowe and Sheik Zubayr. The Dreaming: Waking Hours (2020)






See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edmondson & Wells 2013, p. 2.
  2. ^ McMichael & Glenn 1962, p. 56
  3. ^ Wadsworth 1958, p. 65
  4. ^ Kathman 2003, p. 621: "Professional Shakespeare scholars mostly pay little attention to it, much as evolutionary biologists ignore creationists and astronomers dismiss UFO sightings."; Alter 2010 quotes James Shapiro: "There's no documentary evidence linking their 50 or so candidates to the plays."; Nicholl 2010, p. 4 quotes Gail Kern Paster, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library: "To ask me about the authorship question ... is like asking a paleontologist to debate a creationist's account of the fossil record." Chandler 2001 argues however in an anti-Stratfordian on-line journal that: "while Oxfordians have sometimes attacked the academy for ignoring them, the fact is, on the whole, that 'mainstream' Shakespeare scholarship has shown more interest in Oxfordianism than Oxfordians have shown in 'mainstream' Shakespearean scholarship."; Nelson 2004, p. 151: "I do not know of a single professor of the 1,300-member Shakespeare Association of America who questions the identity of Shakespeare ... Among editors of Shakespeare in the major publishing houses, none that I know questions the authorship of the Shakespeare canon."; Carroll 2004, pp. 278–79: "I am an academic, a member of what is called the 'Shakespeare Establishment,' one of perhaps 20,000 in our land, professors mostly, who make their living, more or less, by teaching, reading, and writing about Shakespeare—and, some say, who participate in a dark conspiracy to suppress the truth about Shakespeare.... I have never met anyone in an academic position like mine, in the Establishment, who entertained the slightest doubt as to Shakespeare's authorship of the general body of plays attributed to him. Like others in my position, I know there is an anti-Stratfordian point of view and understand roughly the case it makes. Like St. Louis, it is out there, I know, somewhere, but it receives little of my attention."; Gibson 2005, p. 30
  5. ^ Law 1965, p. 184; Kroeber 1993, p. 369
  6. ^ Shapiro 2010, pp. 58–60 (53–54); Bate 2004, p. 106; Dobson 2001, p. 31: "By the middle of the 19th century, the Authorship Controversy was an accident waiting to happen. In the wake of Romanticism, especially its German variants, such transcendent, quasi-religious claims were being made for the supreme poetic triumph of the Complete Works that it was becoming well-nigh impossible to imagine how any mere human being could have written them all. At the same time the popular understanding of what levels of cultural literacy might have been achieved in 16th-century Stratford was still heavily influenced by a British tradition of Bardolatry (best exemplified by David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee) which had its own nationalist reasons for representing Shakespeare as an uninstructed son of the English soil …"
  7. ^ Shapiro 2010, pp. 69–75
  8. ^ Shapiro 2010, pp. 2–3 (3–4): McCrea 2005, p. 13
  9. ^ Dobson 2001, p. 31: "These two notions—that the Shakespeare canon represented the highest achievement of human culture, while William Shakespeare was a completely uneducated rustic—combined to persuade Delia Bacon and her successors that the Folio's title page and preliminaries could only be part of a fabulously elaborate charade orchestrated by some more elevated personage, and they accordingly misread the distinctive literary traces of Shakespeare's solid Elizabethan grammar-school education visible throughout the volume as evidence that the 'real' author had attended Oxford or Cambridge."
  10. ^ Schoone-Jongen 2008, p. 5: "in voicing dissatisfaction over the apparent lack of continuity between the certain facts of Shakespeare's life and the spirit of his literary output, anti-Stratfordians adopt the very Modernist assumption that an author's work must reflect his or her life. Neither Shakespeare nor his fellow Elizabethan writers operated under this assumption."; Smith 2008, p. 629: "Perhaps the point is that deriving an idea of an author from his or her works is always problematic, particularly in a multi-vocal genre like drama, since it crucially underestimates the heterogeneous influences and imaginative reaches of creative writing. Often the authorship debate is premised on the syllogistic and fallacious interchangeability of literature and autobiography."; Nelson 1999, p. 382 writes of "the junk scholarship that so unhappily defaces the authorship issue"; Alter 2010 quotes James Shapiro: "Once you take away the argument that the life can be found in the works, those who don't believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare don't have any argument left."
  11. ^ Love 2002, pp. 198–202, 303–07:298: "The problem that confronts all such attempts is that they have to dispose of the many testimonies from Will the player's own time that he was regarded as the author of the plays and the absence of any clear contravening public claims of the same nature for any of the other favoured candidates."; Bate 1998, pp. 68–73
  12. ^ Bate 1998, p. 73: "No one in Shakespeare's lifetime or the first two hundred years after his death expressed the slightest doubt about his authorship."; Hastings 1959, pp. 486–88: ". . . no suspicions regarding Shakespeare's authorship (except for a few mainly humorous comments) were expressed until the middle of the nineteenth century (in Hart's The Romance of Yachting, 1848). For over two hundred years no one had any serious doubts."
  13. ^ Dobson 2001, p. 31: "Most observers, however, have been more impressed by the anti-Stratfordians' dogged immunity to documentary evidence, not only that which confirms that Shakespeare wrote his own plays, but that which establishes that several of the alternative candidates were long dead before he had finished doing so."
  14. ^ Nicholl 2010, p. 3
  15. ^ Nelson 1999, p. 381: "the astonishing hypotheses generated by the endlessly fertile brains of anti-Stratfordians."
  16. ^ Niederkorn 2005
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw Elliott & Valenza 2004, pp. 331–32
  18. ^ Churchill 1958, p. 99
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i Churchill 1958, p. 122n
  20. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 45, 47
  21. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 34–35, 70–74
  22. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 97–98
  23. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 52
  24. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 115
  25. ^ Wadsworth 1958, p. 134
  26. ^ a b Churchill 1958, p. 49
  27. ^ Churchill 1958, p. 77
  28. ^ Wadsworth 1958, p. 84
  29. ^ a b Kathman & Ross
  30. ^ Churchill 1958, p. 75
  31. ^ Fuentes 1988, pp. 69–70
  32. ^ a b c d e Churchill 1958, pp. 45–46
  33. ^ Dente 2013, p. 252
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Churchill 1958, p. 44
  35. ^ Garber 1987, p. 3
  36. ^ a b c Churchill 1958, p. 43
  37. ^ Falk 2014, p. 178
  38. ^ Wadsworth 1958, p. 139
  39. ^ Venton 1968, p. 8
  40. ^ Hackett 2009, p. 168
  41. ^ Wadsworth 1958, pp. 156, 161
  42. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 111–12
  43. ^ Dente 2013, p. 251
  44. ^ Wadsworth 1958, p. 143
  45. ^ Saunders 2007. But see Lang 2008, p. 98
  46. ^ Alberge 2007
  47. ^ a b Churchill 1958, p. 54
  48. ^ Dobson & Wells 2001, p. 220
  49. ^ Wadsworth 1958, p. 132
  50. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 34, 45–46
  51. ^ a b Churchill 1958, p. 52
  52. ^ Honig Friedman 2008
  53. ^ Posner 2010
  54. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 52, 105
  55. ^ James & Rubinstein 2005, statesman
  56. ^ Romei 2011
  57. ^ Iske 1978
  58. ^ Kowalick 2021
  59. ^ Churchill 1958, pp. 70–74
  60. ^ Wadsworth 1958, p. 135
  61. ^ "The Shakespeare-Shapleigh Entanglement". The Atlantic. 1887-05-01. Retrieved 2024-02-15.
  62. ^ "A Shakespeare Joke Which is Often Regarded as Truth". The Akron Beacon Journal. October 1, 1904. p. 8.
  63. ^ Hannay, Kinnamon & Brennan 1998, p. 35
  64. ^ Craig 2012, p. 17
  65. ^ Bate 1998, p. 65
  66. ^ Churchill 1958, p. 122
  67. ^ McMichael & Glenn 1962, pp. 145–46
  68. ^ Ghazoul 1998, p. 9. According to Ormsby 2003, Khulusi's version claimed that Zubayr was "the lone survivor of the shipwreck of an Arab merchant vessel washed up on the shores of Elizabethan England and made his way, wet, bedraggled, and famished, to the nearest village where he found hospitality and shelter. Establishing himself, there our mariner quickly mastered English and in short order was churning out remarkable poems and dramas."