The William Shakespeare Authorship Question: Fact or Fiction

Ultimately, the question of whether William Shakespeare existed or not may not be the most important one. Regardless of who the true author of Shakespeare's works may have been, the plays and poems that bear his name have had a profound impact on literature and culture over the centuries.

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William Shakespeare is undoubtedly one of the most famous playwrights in the world. His plays have been performed countless times, translated into numerous languages, and studied extensively in literature courses. However, despite his enduring legacy, there has been a long-standing debate over whether Shakespeare actually existed or not. Some scholars have put forth the theory that the name “William Shakespeare” was merely a pseudonym for another writer or group of writers. In this article, we will explore the evidence for and against the existence of the man behind the name.

The Case for Shakespeare’s Existence

The primary evidence for William Shakespeare’s existence comes from historical documents. There are baptismal records from the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon that show the baptism of William Shakespeare on April 26, 1564. There are also marriage records that show the marriage of William Shakespeare to Anne Hathaway in 1582. In addition, there are numerous legal and financial documents that refer to a William Shakespeare as a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a theatrical company that performed Shakespeare’s plays.

Furthermore, there are contemporary references to Shakespeare as a playwright. In 1598, the playwright and critic Francis Meres referred to Shakespeare as “mellifluous and honey-tongued.” Ben Jonson, another contemporary playwright, referred to Shakespeare as “the soul of the age.” These references suggest that Shakespeare was a well-known and respected figure in the theatrical world of his time.

The Case Against Shakespeare’s Existence:

The primary argument against William Shakespeare’s existence is based on the lack of personal documents. There are no letters, diaries, or manuscripts in Shakespeare’s own hand that have survived to the present day. This has led some scholars to question whether a man of such immense literary talent would not have left behind more personal writings.

In addition, some scholars have argued that the works attributed to Shakespeare show a level of knowledge and experience that is inconsistent with the life of a man from a small provincial town. For example, many of Shakespeare’s plays are set in foreign countries and feature characters from different social classes and professions. It is difficult to imagine how a man from Stratford-upon-Avon could have acquired the knowledge and experience necessary to write such works.

The Alternative Candidates

Given the lack of personal documents and the apparent inconsistencies between Shakespeare’s life and his works, some scholars have suggested that the name “William Shakespeare” was merely a pseudonym for another writer or group of writers. Over the years, several candidates have been put forward as possible authors of the works attributed to Shakespeare.

One of the most popular candidates is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Advocates of the Oxfordian theory argue that de Vere was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays, and that he used the pseudonym “William Shakespeare” for various reasons, such as to avoid political repercussions or to distance himself from the theater.

Another candidate is Sir Francis Bacon, a philosopher and statesman who was known for his literary works. Proponents of the Baconian theory argue that Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays as a way to disseminate his ideas and to advance his political agenda.

A third candidate is Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary playwright who was killed in a tavern brawl in 1593. Some scholars have suggested that Marlowe faked his own death and continued to write plays under the name “William Shakespeare.”


In conclusion, the question of whether Shakespeare existed or not is one that may never be fully resolved. While there is certainly evidence to support the existence of a man named William Shakespeare who was a playwright and actor in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, there are also valid arguments against his existence. The lack of personal documents and the seeming inconsistencies between his life and his works have led some scholars to question whether Shakespeare was a real person or whether his name was a pseudonym.

The alternative candidates that have been put forward as the true authors of Shakespeare’s works are also the subject of much debate and speculation. While the Oxfordian, Baconian, and Marlovian theories all have their supporters, none of them have been definitively proven.

Ultimately, the question of whether William Shakespeare existed or not may not be the most important one. Regardless of who the true author of Shakespeare’s works may have been, the plays and poems that bear his name have had a profound impact on literature and culture over the centuries. They continue to be performed and studied today, and they remain a testament to the power of language and the enduring human spirit.

Overall, the debate over William Shakespeare’s existence may never be fully resolved, but it is clear that the plays and poems attributed to him continue to captivate and inspire audiences around the world.


  • Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.
  • Shapiro, James. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.
  • Schoenbaum, S. Shakespeare’s Lives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Wainwright, Martin. “Shakespeare: the authorship question.” The Guardian, August 13, 2010.


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