You are here:

Shakespeare/Shakespeare authorship


Hi. I'm very interested in pursuing the Shakespeare authorship question from the skeptical point of view. In other words I am skeptical of claims that he was not the author of his plays. First of all, I am no Shakespeare expert. I'm familiar with about about eight of his plays. Sometimes I have heard the De Vere authorship theory, with its premise that there are things in the plays that S could not have known certain details about. That S was isolated from society and knowledge in his early years seems dubious to me, considering that his father was a tradesman, land owner and minor office-holder, which indicates that S was far from insulated. So, to start me off, can you give an example of some detail in his plays that S "could not have known" about? Maybe some language usage, or something - that no book, school learning or social contact - could have imparted to him, that he could never have heard about, unless he was brought up in that special social circle.  Much appreciated!

Hi, David,

I’m sorry to make you wait for an answer; I’ve had more health challenges lately, and I’ve not been able to get online for a while.  Please forgive.

Yes, the Oxfordians’ contention that William Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him has been gathering attention lately, much more than in previous decades.  I’m not sure why.  I don’t think it’s because there is any more cogent an analysis and argument now than has ever been, but I admit that I am a thoroughgoing Shakespearian--that is to say that I believe that the man named William Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him.  I figure I should admit my bias up front, just to be fair.

But I will try to answer as objectively as I can the questions you’ve asked.  Since I’m not an Oxfordian, myself, I can’t give you the details that perhaps an Oxfordian would give.  But I can direct you to the main site (that I know of) devoted to this subject at The DeVere Society, where there are summaries of their positions and also bibliographies of further readings, and give you a thumbnail sketch of what little I know about their positions on your questions.

The essence of the argument you’re citing--“things that Shakespeare could not have known about”--is listed by the Oxfordians as such things as knowledge of proceedings at court, understanding the way courtiers banter to one another at court, understanding and interest in the pasttimes and activities of titled nobles (falconry, sailing, international travel), knowledge about the courts of Italy. They contend that, since all but one of his plays are set at a royal court, how did he learn to write the language and courtesy spoken at court as he displays in these plays? They claim that there are no records showing his appearance at the courts of Elizabeth or James. Consequently, they argue, the lower-class characters in the plays are the least convincing, while the upper-class and noble or royal characters are the most natural and believable:  how is it that a man from Stratford-upon-Avon could know enough about nobles and their lives, language, and pastimes to write in this way?

The Oxfordians claim that the real William Shakespeare was obviously illiterate, since no letters or manuscripts of his own have survived, and since his daughter Judith signed her will with a sign instead of a signature.  Further, his Warwickshire accent would have made him untelligible to Londoners.

Further, there is nothing extant from the time period that claims that William Shakespeare was a writer, while on the contrary there were many poems and plays written by Edward de Vere published at the time, and he was well-known to be a poet and patron of the arts.  (Sorry, but I can’t resist this:  we have many poems and plays written by the Earl, yes.  They are mediocre at best and, at worst, well, hideous. Any successful playwright did not want his plays to be published, since that could prevent the readers from going to the theatre, which is where the playwright made his money; publication also meant that any other acting company could present the play, since there were no copyright laws at the time.)  This “William Shakespeare” shamefully allowed his plays to be pirated, while he was apparently a zealous debt collector when it came to people who owed him money, say the Oxfordians.

The Oxfordians contend that the plays contain allusions to events in deVere’s life, while the “Stratfordians” (their name for those like myself; we prefer "Shakespearians") look in vain for any allusions to Shx’s own life in the plays.  There are many allusions throughout the plays to the Geneva Bible, and deVere’s own interlined copy of the Geneva Bible is on display for all to see that many of the quoted lines in the plays are underlined in this copy of the Bible.

A major claim lies simply in the fact that William Shakespeare was educated only in the grammar-school in Stratford, since his name does not show up on any of the entrance lists of the universities, while Oxford was not only educated but also had access to his estate’s holdings of books. The Stratfordian man would not have had access to the education that shows up in the plays.

There have been some books written by various Oxfordians, and these may contain much more detail than what I know by reading the DeVere Society pages and by remembering what I have read in the past.  But what I’ve written here is a summation (I hope) of their position on what’s in the plays that the man William Shakespeare could not have known.  They have many further arguments, of course.

As you may guess, I have voluminous arguments against these positions and against the other positions that the Oxfordians have taken, but I won’t include them here, since you didn’t ask for them.  I suspect you want to find your own arguments?  Go for it!

Dr. T.


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Dr. T.


I can answer questions about Shakespeare's life and times, his plays and poems, the history of criticism and critics' responses to Shakespeare's works, other authors of the time period, the audiences of the time period, Queen Elizabeth I, women of the Renaissance or Early Modern age, history of rhetoric, British drama, etc.


I have taught Shakespeare, Early Modern literature, Early Modern women's literature, the history of rhetoric, Arthurian literature, and related general literary subjects and many others in university classrooms for more than 25 years.

Renaissance Society of America, South-Central Renaissance Society, John Donne Society

3 books with University Presses, 1 book with HarperCollins Press; articles with: Continuum Press, DLB, Gale Research Shakespearean Criticism and Shakespearean Criticism Yearbook, College English journal, Studies in English Literature journal, CEA Critic journal, Renascence journal, Texas Papers on Language and Literature journal, several others.

Ph.D. in British Renaissance Literature and Rhetoric; M.A. in English; B.A. English and Theatre

Awards and Honors
I was editor of a scholarly journal for 10 years; Recipient of my university's Recognition Awards for Research, Teaching, and Service; two Sabbatical awards; graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude

Past/Present Clients
Panelist/Reviewer for National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, DC, 2001, 1997, and 1993; Referee for College Literature, Yale University Press (numerous editions of Shakespeare’s plays), College English, Harper/Collins (1992 to 1995: full-length book manuscripts, including the complete manuscript of The HarperCollins World Reader, Volume I.); Dramaturg for local Little Theatre, 2001–03 (including productions of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Dangerous Liaisons); Dramaturg for various productions in Theatre/Dance Dept at my University (including As You Like It, Midsummer Night's Dream, Measure for Measure, The Tempest)

©2016 All rights reserved.