“Would the real Will Shakespeare please stand up?”Here are 10 historical figures with a genuine claim to be History’s greatest writer.
We all know that Shakespeare was a glove maker’s son from Stratford Upon Avon. But was he really? Here are 10 other people with legitimate claims to be the Bard.
Edward De Vere — The Favourite
Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford is a possible contender for the job of ‘William Shakespeare’ and lived around the same time. The young Edward graduated from Cambridge aged 14 and would have known far more about high society than a glove maker’s son from Stratford Upon Avon.
The super-educated De Vere seems a much more likely candidate for blasting out classical illusions in his texts. There are also parallels between his life and the play Hamlet which could’ve been semi-autobiographical. His nickname at court was ‘Spear Shaker because he was very good at jousting and absolutely nothing to do with his penis whatsoever.
Those who think it was Steady Eddie holding the quill have one major inconvenient fact to explain away. Edward De Vere died in 1604 — and new plays were released for another decade.
You can’t write plays when you’re dead. At least it’s very difficult
Emilia Bassano Lanier — The Dark Lady
Emilia Bassano Lanier is known to history as ‘The Dark Lady’ and Shakespeare apparently composed a lot of sonnets in her general direction. She was well traveled, had a very good education and was an accomplished poet and writer. The character ‘Emilia’ in Othello is one of the first outspoken feminists in British theatre. There is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that she may have had a hand in writing this great tragedy.
Scholars have suggested that Emilia may have used ‘William Shakespeare’ as a front for her own writing. They suggest she penned the Dark Lady sonnets to herself and wrote plays with Shakespeare as a cover story. She lived in an era when being a female writer wouldn’t have been acceptable.
If it’s Emilia Bassano Lanier and Shakespeare was her cover story then it’s going to absolutely smash the historical glass ceiling.
George Peele — His writing buddy
George Peele was a writer born in London in 1558. He was from a good family and studied as an undergraduate and for a Masters at Pembroke College (Oxford). He very quickly established himself in the London scene as a writer.
His plays were performed in front of Queen Elizabeth long before Will Shakespeare even thought to pick up a quill. His famous play ‘Famous Chronicle of King Edward the first, sirnamed Edward Longshankes, with his returne from the holy land. Also the life of Lleuellen, rebell in Wales. Lastly, the sinking of Queen Elinor, who suncke at Charingcrosse, and rose again at Pottershith, now named Queenehith’, was printed in 1593. Presumably most of the play was the title.
However, this was around the same time Shakespeare began his own writing career. Many people believe that Peele contributed heavily to Titus Andronicus or may even have written the full text. He enjoyed blood and gore which isn’t usually a feature of Shakespeare’s work. Titus Andronicus does stick out as an oddity in the Shakespeare cannon. There may be a little too much-putting people in pies and a definite lack of brevity that reminds us more of Peele than of the Bard. If he wrote one, did he write them all? Probably not…..but hey, he’s got a horse in the race.
It could’ve been George, but he would definitely have needed to work on his titles and his weird human pie fetish.
Christopher Marlowe — The ghost from beyond the grave
Christopher Marlowe was an established playwright before Shakespeare began his career. In fact, Marlowe died in a pub brawl two weeks before Shakespeare’s first poem was published.
Some scholars have seized on this fact as evidence that the two were, in fact, the same person. Marlowe had likely been working as a secret agent for powerful members of the court. He was beginning to attract a lot of negative attention for being an outspoken atheist. What’s more, he had the means and the connections to fake his own death.
Would he do this only to spring up again with a new cover story and name? Marlovians have ye to explain why someone hiding from The Royal Court would choose to launch high profile writing career.
Christopher Marlowe was already famous and fabulous. I can’t imagine him taking a back seat and pretending to be someone else.
William Stanley — The initials match!
William Stanley, Earl of Derby. For starters, he has the same initials. The same first name even! In 1599 a spy report suggested that William Stanley was ‘busied only penning comedies for the common players.’ He was very well connected to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and counted many of its members as friends.
Because of his royal connections he needed to maintain a respectful distance from the world of theatre and playwriting. He was rich enough to have the various Folios of Shakespeare’s work published. All records of his involvement with the publishing were destroyed when he was killed and his castle ransacked in the English civil war in 1642.
I think the initials matching might be pushing it a little bit.
Sir Francis Bacon — The busiest man in the universe.
MP, privy councilor, Lord Chancellor, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. If there was a job going in the Golden age, chances are that Francis Bacon was either doing it or directly involved with it. He wrote under a selection of pseudonyms and had the educational background and life experience to write the works.
To top it off, he was often compared to Pallas Athena the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. Her nickname ‘The Spear Shaker’. The most compelling evidence comes in the form of a letter. The Tempest draws heavily from a confidential letter written by Virginia colonists in 1610. Bacon would definitely have had access to it.
It’s hard to believe that he could have churned out amazing works of literary genius though…. when on earth would he have had the time?
Henry Neville — A life less ordinary
Henry Neville’s claim to History’s Golden Quill is very much grounded in the similarities between his life and the general arc of the Shakespeare plays. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London between 1601 and 1603 which just happens to coincide with the sudden darkening in the tone of Shakespeare’s plays.
He was very well traveled, definitely visited Venice, Padua, and Verona the settings of famous Shakespeare plays. He was in France about the time that Henry V was written, had access to the same confidential letters as Francis Bacon.
The Winter’s Tale with its strong emphasis on fathers, daughters, and weddings came out the year both his daughters got married. Most compelling, his handwriting is documented to be incredibly similar to the writings attributed to Shakespeare.
If you’ve got a handwriting match, you’ve got reasonable doubt. Was he Shakespeare? I reasonably doubt it.
Mary Sidney — The most well connected woman in writing history
Another woman potentially hiding behind a pseudonym could have been Mary Sidney. She was probably the most educated woman in all England in this period. She was the sister of renowned writer Phillip Sidney and has strong ties to the literary world. For almost twenty years she was the head of a literary circle called the Wilton Circle.
Her ambition was to create great works of art in the English language. She had the drive and the connections and was the first woman to publish a play in English. Mary would’ve been very familiar with much of the source material for many Shakespeare plays, she wrote quite a lof it. It’s said that behind every great man there is a woman.
Behind almost every great man in this era stood the silently feminine figure of Mary Sidney. That would be an amazing twist in history if it turns out to be her!
Walter Raleigh — He did pretty much everything else, so why not?
Sir Walter Raleigh is a well-known name from this era. He was a prolific writer and was one of the best selling authors of the day but is better known as a soldier, sailor, explorer, scholar, philosopher, politician, chemist, historian, and astronomer.
All of these skills are referenced in Shakespeare’s plays. References to his voyages appear in many plays and some of his poetry appears in Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice. He was hated by James I and spent a large percentage of his life in the Tower of London.
He would definitely have needed a pseudonym and his wife’s cousin just happened to be married to Edward Arden Coincidence? Possibly. But when you’re spending a lot of time in prison, you’re going to get bored. Bored or executed. Raleigh eventually opted for the latter.
I can’t see Raleigh having the time to be honest. And he was definitely away on boats a lot. It’s a suspect claim
Sir Fulke Greville — Weirdest name, newest candidate.
Sir Fulke Greville is the newest candidate to throw his hat in the ring. His name was thrown into the ring in 2007. Unlike almost everyone else in this list Greville lived and worked in Stratford Upon Avon. He was friends with Ben Jonson, his crest was a swan and he was widely considered to be one of the best sonnet writers of the era. He was well connected and a member of most literary circles of the era.
He also claimed to be ’The Master of Shakespeare’ and claimed ownership of a lost play called ‘Antony and Cleopatra.’ There’s going to need to be more research on the enigmatic Sir Fulke Greville before a decision can be made.
The jury is still out on this one. What an absolutely fabulous name though.
The debates will continue to rage for some time about the real identity of William Shakespeare. This is a debate that has been raging for 200 years and is giving no indication it will slow down any time soon.
What do you think? Do you think he was a simple glove maker’s son from Stratford? Or have any of the other contenders grabbed your attention?
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