By Meriem Cherif
If you’ve been in any high school english class, chances are you know good ol’ Shakespeare—his contemplation about the afterlife, tragedies between star-crossed lovers, and nasty plots for revenge make the playwright a legend in European drama and literature. However, is there a chance that William Shakespeare never wrote his plays, maybe even that a ‘William Shakespeare’ didn’t exist?
To understand the skepticism behind Shakespeare’s authorship, one must learn where the doubt began. The Anti-Stratfordian movement materialized in the 19th century, and rapidly gained ground in the century that followed. Supporters of the movement cite multiple supposed inconsistencies in Shakespeare’s life, the strongest surrounding his background. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on an April day in 1564. Anti-Stratfordians argue that he grew up in an uneducated and poor household to a glove-maker father and the daughter of a farmer. With the incredible vocabulary and syntax of Shakespearian plays, how could these words come from a penniless commoner?
There lie the two flaws of the sentiment behind Anti-Stratfordians: classism and utter inaccuracy.
Proponents of the movement often credit the work of Shakespeare to multiple different men: Edward de Vere, an heir to the earldom; Walter Raleigh, an English aristocrat; or Francis Bacon, an attorney general. The basis of their argument builds upon the notion that excellent prose, poetry, or plays could only be written by those in the top ranks of British society, and no one else.
In reality, records of Shakespeare’s education prove otherwise. As a young child, the playwright enrolled in King’s New School, receiving an enriching—albeit, middle class—education that taught Latin, Greek, and English writing. Multiple actors credited Shakespeare after his death, and many officials in his time verified the authorship of his plays. In addition, ideas about the “real” Shakespeare are unfounded: Edward de Vere died in 1604, although over ten Shakespeare plays were known to be written years after.
With the current information known about Shakespeare, we can conclude that most Anti-Stratfordian arguments are simply conspiracies—they lack evidence and contradict well-known information about Shakespeare’s life.
So, what does this mean for highschoolers? Next time you try to convince your teacher Shakespeare isn’t worth reading, spare the long-winded argument that he doesn’t exist. After all, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”