Who Was William Shakespeare Essay, Research Paper
Who was William Shakespeare
This research paper takes a look at the controversy surrounding the validity of
Shakespearean authorship. I must tell you that before performing this research, I had no
idea that this topic was such a debate in the world of literature. My goal in writing this
paper is to hopefully bring some insight and knowledge to those who read it.
Who was the man we call William Shakespeare? William Shakespeare was a
man who wrote more than 36 world-famous dramas portraying the range and depth of
human nature. Surprisingly, we know very little about the man who created these
dramas, a man often referred to as the greatest literary genius in history. Shakespeare did
not in his own day inspire the mysterious adoration that afterward came to surround his
Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in April of 1564, the son of a
glover. When he was 18 years old he married Anne Hathaway and they had 3 children by
the time he was 21. There are a number of references to Shakespeare as an actor and
author by those who would have known him. However, there is not a single word of the
plays or the poems that is definitely in Shakespeare’s handwriting. There are only six
remaining legal documents containing his signature, which I might ad contain different
spellings of his name.
Since the mid 19th century, a large group of disbelievers have argued that
someone other than the Stratford man created the poems and plays presented as the
works of William Shakespeare. Since 1856 there have been 17 different proposed
substitutes for Shakespeare including the Earl of Oxford, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher
Marlowe, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland, Sir Walter Raleigh and even Queen
Elizabeth I herself.
Assuming that Shakespeare of Stratford did not write the plays, Charlton Ogburn,
author and scholar, believes that a well educated man by the name of Edward de Vere,
Earl of Oxford fits the description as the author.
The author who wrote Richard III, and Hamlet had a vocabulary in excess of
20,000 words, and also had a first hand knowledge of the customs of the Danish Court
and of French and Italian cities. He used more than 100 musical terms as well as the
names of 200 plants. There is no documentation that William Shakespeare had access to
this type of information. Shakespeare may never have left the southeast of England.
Oxford on the other hand, had traveled to Paris, Venice and other foreign countries
described in the plays.
It has been implied that William Shakespeare from rural Stratford was humble,
much too limited, too uneducated and far too common to have had the capability to write
most of the plays containing such advanced vocabulary and worldly knowledge.
Shakespeare’s first six published plays appear with no author names. Mr.
Ogburn’s explanation of the use of Shakespeare’s name is that the Earl’s noble rank and
closeness to the throne did not allow him to be known as the author. His works would
have been subject to more harsh censorship than if written by a common man. So,
Edward de Vere found a willing stand in; William Shakespeare, who pretended to be the
author. Ogburn points out that the name William Shakespeare was not alluded to in print
until 1598. The only recorded mention of him in his lifetime by anyone in the world of
letters was by a man called Ben Jonson.
The most difficult obstacle to clear in considering Ogburn’s candidate, is the
insistence that the author of the plays must have been a nobleman simply because of the
plays treatment of kings and nobles and high life in general.
Nearly all of Shakespeare’s theatrical contemporaries were middle class men.
Other authors, even far lesser ones than Shakespeare, a man who is thought of as the
greatest creative genius of all times, can convincingly capture lives, scenes and
experiences other than the ones they were born to.
Many authors have stated that what writers write about is themselves. But what
Shakespeare tells us of himself in his plays and sonnets, of his background, interest and
character is completely different from Shakespeare as he appears on the record.
There are questions surrounding Shakespeare’s last will and testament.
Shakespeare left a very detailed will down to listing pieces of furniture. Some ask why
there is no mention of leaving his plays to anyone. From my observation it was common
for an acting company to own the dramas that it produced. Shakespeare like other
playwrights of his time, had no plays to leave to his heirs.
There is not convincing evidence that the Stratford man did not write the plays,
but if he didn’t the most convincing substitute would have to be Ogburn’s choice.
Despite 200 years of scholarly attempts to establish the Stratford man’s
credentials, doubts of the author’s identity will not go away. The very abundance of
candidates proposed in substitution for William Shakespeare of Stratford defines the
difficulties a growing number of people find in accepting his authorship.
The question of the Shakespeare authorship came before a court of law for the
first and only time in 1964 in England . Mr. Justice Wilberforce, the presiding Judge,
found that the evidence in favor of the Stratford man “is quantitatively slight” and that
“there is a number of difficulties in the way of the traditional ascription”.
Towards the end of this research I had to ask myself does it matter who William
Shakespeare was? The world should be grateful that his works carried on. What
difference could it possibly make to find out the man who wrote Romeo and Juliet was
not named William Shakespeare. It obviously matters a great deal to those who consider
his works to be man’s highest achievement in literature. After all, academic careers have
been built on the premise that the Stratford man wrote these plays. It seems to be a
matter of elementary justice that the man responsible for the tremendous achievement
should receive the credit for it. There is also a great interest in knowing about the kind of
man who could have written as William Shakespeare did.
We do know that Shakespeare was at least a shareholder in the Globe Theater and
later in Blackfriars.
No one before or since has so enriched the English language with new words.
The number of words he used once and never used again comes to 50 percent more than
are used in the entire Old Testament in the King James translation.
In conclusion, I would like to say that it was very interesting to find out that one
man contributed so much to the English language. Shakespeare introduced words and
phrases never before known to man. If you have ever used phrases like “It’s Greek to
me” or “I refuse to budge an inch” or “for goodness’ sake” whether you realize it or not
you are quoting Shakespeare.