An article by Roger Stritmatter (vice chairman of the Shakespeare Fellowship and a professor of English at Coppin State University) rehearses the doubts as to Shakespeare's authorship:
Mark Twain quipped that every relevant fact known about the Stratford author would fit on a postcard, and another century of literary biography hasn't changed that. Shakespearean professionals begin by noting that there is a Shakespeare monument in Holy Trinity Church at Stratford and go on from there to imagine almost everything else. They have to. They have a monument without a man.
Outside the university, though, populist resistance to the author from Stratford has persisted for two centuries. Skeptics have been divided on their support for one candidate or another -- Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth I or Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford -- but we all believe that the real author was forced to conceal his identity and allow his works to be published under another man's name.
We are not just unrepentant conspiracy theorists who lie awake at night concocting unverifiable historical scenarios and contriving pseudoscientific cryptograms while ignoring the undeniable facts of Shakespeare's career. We're struck by the fact that all the speculation the biographers engage in to fill the gaps in our knowledge of Shakespeare reveals a man who contradicted the literary thumbprint of his creation in every way. Their author was a huge commercial success -- but "Hamlet" satirically inveighs against buyers and sellers of land. Their author never left England -- but 16 of the plays are set in Italy or the Mediterranean. There is no evidence that their author owned any books -- but the man who wrote Shakespeare clearly devoured all the most important books of his generation.
"Shall I set down the rest of the Conjectures which constitute [Shakespeare's] giant Biography?" Twain wrote in 1909. "It would strain the unabridged Dictionary to hold them." In 1984, Richmond Crinkley, the late director of educational programs at the Folger Shakespeare Library, acknowledged that "doubts about Shakespeare arose early. They have a simple and direct plausibility." Henry James was blunt: "I am 'sort of' haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practiced on a patient world."
The list of skeptics reads like a Who's Who of the English-speaking world: Washington Irving, James Joyce, Sigmund Freud, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Helen Keller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Malcolm X, Leslie Howard, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, Michael York, Jeremy Irons, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and many more. And the ranks keep growing.
But modern Shakespearean studies are founded on the undeviating principle that rational authorities -- i.e. "Shakespeareans" -- do not discuss the authorship question. Beyond this, we seem to be deeply invested in a view of the Bard as a creator in our own image. Born to a comfortable middle-class existence, he evades the stark class realities of Elizabethan society and conquers the literary world through Will-power, re-creating the lives of kings, queens and courtiers simply by deploying his superabundant imagination.
Stritmatter believes that the true author was Edward de Vere:
An article by Stanley Wells (chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and author of Shakespeare & Co.) argues that Shakespeare was indeed the true author:
Since 1920, when Englishman John Thomas Looney wrote "Shakespeare Identified," a clear solution to this enigma has been staring orthodox Shakespeareans in the face: Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, a man known for his disregard of class protocols and his passionate devotion to the theater, was Cecil's ward and later his unhappy son-in-law. He was a man with the means, the opportunity and, above all, the motive to write "Hamlet." Frustrated in his political ambitions at court, he spent a lifetime selling off his vast inherited estates to pay his creditors and pursue his literary ambitions. Like the misanthropic Jaques in "As You Like It," he literally sold his own lands to see the lands of other men.
The most "Italianate" Englishman of his generation, he toured the Tuscan cities that are featured so prominently in Shakespearean plays, and built a house for himself in Venice only blocks from the Jewish ghetto. His life, in myriad ways, illumines the Shakespearean oeuvre and becomes the touchstone for grasping the meaning of many obscure passages in the plays.
The debate about Shakespeare's authorship has been going on for some time, and the articles don't raise any new arguments, but they are nevertheless an interesting summary of the debate.
The nonsense started around 1785. That was the year a Warwickshire clergyman fantasized that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was not the author of the works everyone had until then supposed he had written. In doing so, he laid the foundations of the so-called authorship question, which has grown into an immense monument to human folly.
Shakespeare by then had been dead for 159 years, and was acclaimed as the author of 37 plays, two long narrative poems, 154 sonnets and a handful of other poems. No one up to then had doubted that he wrote them; nor was there any reason to. There were numerous printed references in his lifetime and soon afterward to William Shakespeare as the author of the poems and plays acted and published as his. Most of the references were in books or manuscripts by writers whose names are known nowadays only to scholars, but it doesn't make them any less believable. . . .
Then there are Shakespeare's own published works. His full name appears on the dedications of the two long poems, in 1593 and 1594, and on their title pages. It is printed on the title pages of many of his plays from 1598 onward, on reprints of the poems (which were very popular), and on the first edition of the Sonnets, in 1609. In that book, another poem, "A Lover's Complaint," is also printed with a separate statement that William Shakespeare wrote it. And seven years after he died, his collected plays were printed in the great book called "Mr William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies," now usually referred to as the First Folio. It includes an engraved portrait of the author.
So there are many references to William Shakespeare in his lifetime and soon afterward as the man who penned the plays and poems, and there is nothing to suggest that he did not write them. People who question his authorship often say, "Ah, yes, but there's nothing to prove that he was the William Shakespeare of Stratford," and then go on to invent conspiracy theories that somehow Shakespeare (if they admit that he existed) was the pen name of writers who were so modest that they not only concealed the fact that they had written the greatest plays ever, but also were so generous as to allow an obscure actor to take all the credit. . . .
The most common arguments that Shakespeare of Stratford could not have written the works are that he is not known to have traveled overseas, that he was of relatively humble origins and that he came from a small provincial town where he could not have received a good enough education to have written the plays. The facts are that the works show no knowledge of countries that could not have been obtained from books or from conversation, that you don't have to be an aristocrat to be a great writer -- Jonson was the son of a bricklayer, Marlowe's father was a cobbler -- and that Stratford had a good grammar school whose pupils received a far more rigorous education in the classics than most university graduates today.