Early Shakespeare Authorship Doubts (book excerpts)

Early Shakespeare Authorship Doubts, 2019

Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 3007393

146 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2019 Last revised: 23 Mar 2021

Date Written: July 26, 2017


This paper contains excerpts of the author's 2019 book, including the Preface, Part I (Introduction), Part II, Table of Contents of Part IV (outlining specific items of early doubt discussed), Part V (Conclusion), the Bibliography, and the Index. Omitted here are Part III and most of Part IV (the bulk of the book, discussing the early doubts in detail). This paper also includes (before the excerpts) a summary of key quotations and two tables of key information.

Defenders of the traditional ("Stratfordian") theory of Shakespeare authorship are deeply invested in the demonstrably false (yet widely repeated) claim that nobody had any doubts about the author's identity until hundreds of years after Shakespeare's time. But Professor Wildenthal, building on work by other scholars, shows that authorship doubts were far from a 19th-century Victorian or Romantic-era innovation. The Shakespeare authorship question (SAQ) is not a mere modern preoccupation.

On the contrary, such doubts and questions were an integral part of the time and culture that produced the Shakespeare canon. Dozens of items expressing doubt, or pointing to some author other than Shakspere the player from Stratford, were published before he died in 1616.

This documentary evidence goes back as early as 1589, more than 30 years before the Stratfordian theory itself was first posthumously published (in very ambiguous and suspicious form) in the First Folio of 1623. Much of this evidence points to the author "Shakespeare" being an aristocrat, and some points specifically to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, thus corroborating the vast array of other evidence supporting the Oxfordian theory published by J. Thomas Looney in 1920.

Five publications between 1605 and 1615 indicate the author "Shakespeare" was already dead, years before 1616, consistent with Oxford’s death in 1604, which thus does not pose any "problem." There are, instead, far more puzzling Stratfordian 1604 and 1616 problems.

The refusal by most Shakespeare scholars and many leading journalists to acknowledge or discuss this evidence, except on rare occasions, and often to distort it when they do, is an academic and intellectual scandal of the first order.

Why is it that one of America's leading Shakespeare "experts" declares he would flunk any student who raises authorship questions? Why do some go so outrageously far as to slander authorship doubters by comparing them to Holocaust deniers? Do they protest too much?

Keywords: William Shakespeare, Shakspere, Stratford, Authorship Question, Authorship Doubts, Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Elizabethan England, Jacobean England, English Literature, Pseudonyms, Anonymous Publications, Sonnets, Groatsworth

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Wildenthal, Bryan H., Early Shakespeare Authorship Doubts (book excerpts) (July 26, 2017). Early Shakespeare Authorship Doubts, 2019, Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 3007393, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3007393

Bryan H. Wildenthal (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

701 B Street
Suite 110
San Diego, CA 92101
United States

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