THE AUTHORSHIP DEBATE
The debate whether William Shakespeare of Stratord-on-Avon (1564-1616) was the author of the poems and plays published in London between 1593 and 1623 (as well as a contributing author to Two Noble Kinsmen, a play published for the first time in 1634) has generated both sound and fury, as well as heat and light. The latest contender for the authorship honors is Edward de Vere (1550-1604), the 17th Earl of Oxford; there are a number of Web sites devoted to the controversy, where one can gain a general introduction:
http://ShakespeareAuthorship.com/ (defending the Stratford thesis)
http://www.shakespeare-oxford.com/ (defending the Oxford thesis)
http://www.sourcetext.com/sourcebook/index.htm (an eclectic site that leans to Oxford, with many documentary references)
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/Shakespeare.html (a dialogue that summarizes the main arguments for Stratford)
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shakespeare/reactions/murphylett.html ---which should be read together with
(both giving solid reasons for the Stratford thesis, and explaining much
of the attraction for the alternative hypotheses)
In 1998, Foothill Theater Company in Nevada City sponsored a mock trial on the subject. It was tried by a real judge, before an audience of theater-goers, from whom a jury was selected. The materials on this site (which will be expanded when possible) were prepared in connection with that trial.
The case was cast in the form of a hypothetical suit for declaratory and injunctive relief brought by the Mayor and burghers of Stratford-on-Avon against the City of Castle Hedingham, to prevent the latter from usurping the former's claim to be the true place of Shakespeare's birth. Actors portrayed William Shakespeare of Stratford, Ben Jonson, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and the "Dark Lady" of the Sonnets, who were each called as witnesses. In addition, one expert witness testified for each side.
The jury's verdict upheld Shakespeare of Stratford as the only author of the plays published under that name. Nevertheless, the exchanges were fast and lively, and not all of the audience was convinced of the correctness of the verdict. Because the Oxfordians are notably efficient in making their materials accessible on the Web, I have collected for publication here some of the materials showing the strengths of Stratford's case, and the arguments to which (in my view) they have yet to provide responses that will withstand thorough historical (or literary) analysis. The reader is encouraged to use this material, and that gathered at the sites linked above, to arrive at his or her own judgment in the matter.
The first document is a summary of the historical
evidence, both internal as well as external to to the plays, that tends
to show Shakespeare of Stratford, and not the Earl of Oxford, was their
author. (This was prepared by the expert who testified for Stratford---Prof.
David Haley, of the University of Minnesota. See his summary
of Shakespeare's life and works here.) The Oxfordians have a
huge barrier to surmount in that their candidate died in June 1604, almost
twelve years before the Stratford author. No less than twenty-three
out of the thirty-seven plays in the Shakespeare
canon (not counting Two Noble Kinsmen) were first published
after Oxford's death, and at least three of those refer to external events
after Oxford's death. Additional external evidence
testifies to the fact that two of the plays were new when they first appeared,
again after Oxford's death. (The Oxfordians thus need to explain
how their candidate was able to produce entirely new plays, adapt to new
trends and styles, and include allusions to contemporary events, for up
to ten years following his decease.) The most definitive historical
evidence of all, however, is provided by the Folio, which was edited by
two of Shakespeare's fellow actors, to whom he left a legacy in his will.
Additional documents will be provided as I have time to edit them for appearance on the Web.