Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare? Debunking the usual suspects

As with all conspiracy theories, the proponents of the Shakespearean Authorship Debate put their theories forward as ‘questions’, questions that are easily refuted.  



What’s in a Name? Shakespeare’s Literacy
The Name on The Title Page Shakespeare and Henslowe
Shakespeare the Businessman William Shakespeare ‘Gent’
The Man and The Play Shakespeare the Plagiarist
The Mind Behind the Works

Every couple of years or so, a new book is released claiming to expose the ‘real’ William Shakespeare, thus adding another spoke to the Great Shakespearean Authorship Debate.

A host of contenders have been named over the years. The most popular are Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford and Christopher Marlowe. Other candidates include William Stanley Earl of Derby, Roger Manners Earl of Rutland, Sir Henry Neville, John Florio, Michelangelo Crollalanza, Queen Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh, Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton, Mary Sidney Countess of Pembroke, Anne Whately and King James I. (see Did Shakespeare Write Shakespeare? The Authorship Contenders)

The question of who really wrote the Shakespearean canon is one of the oldest and most persistent conspiracy theories we know and the one which has engendered the greatest number of written words.

As John Michell writes in his book Who Wrote Shakespeare? ‘Lives and careers have been devoted to it. It would need a great library to accommodate the thousands of books, let alone the countless pamphlets, journals and articles which the debate has generated.’ We can now add millions of websites, blogs and online forums that continue to sprout in the fertile soil of the internet. Put the question ‘Who Wrote Shakespeare?’ to Google and you’ll get 64,000,000 citations (as of August 31, 2021).

The theory’s adherents, the Anti-Stratfordians, claim that William Shakespeare, the uneducated son of a small-town businessman of Stratford-upon-Avon, could not possibly have had the breadth of knowledge and depth of soul to have written the Shakespearean canon. Someone else of aristocratic descent, university educated and of noble spirit must be the real author of the canon and, unable to write openly for the commercial playhouse, allowed William Shakespeare, an unscrupulous actor and entrepreneur, to publish the canon under his own name. Shakespeare’s only contribution, if he made any at all, may have been to add a few earthy lines for laughs.

However, as the well-respected Shakespearean scholar, James Shapiro, points out in his book Contested Will, this scenario makes little sense. In an age when plays were staged and books, plays and pamphlets were often printed anonymously or under a pseudonym, if the real author of the plays had wanted to remain anonymous, he could easily have published under a fictitious name or no name at all. There was no need for him to publish under the name of someone who would have been as well-known around theatrical circles as William Shakespeare.

Nonetheless, as with all conspiracy theories, such straightforward objections gain little traction with its adherents. The questions keep coming. How could this man who was probably illiterate or grammar school educated at best, have had the breadth of knowledge that is evident in the plays? He is not known to have travelled outside England, yet his plays display firsthand knowledge of Italy, France and Denmark. Why did Robert Greene and Ben Jonson hint that he was a plagiarist who stole other people’s work? Why was he buried with no fanfare and as a businessman rather than a playwright? Why is it that, despite all the scholarship devoted to studying the Shakespearean canon, no parallels have ever been found between the writer’s life and his work?

While these objections might seem profound, they can be easily debunked with a few facts and a little logic.

What’s in a Name?

The name of Shakespeare is poetic in its own right, and has of itself given rise to many discussions in the Authorship debate. For example, one of the clues claimed for the Earl of Oxford’s authorship is that the crest for one of his minor titles shows a lion holding a spear. It is also maintained that if the name is printed as Shake-speare, the hyphen indicates that the reference is not to the man known as William Shakespeare. However, when we examine how the name of Shakespeare came about, we can see that such theories are totally spurious.

When the man we know as William Shakespeare was christened in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, his name was recorded in the parish register as William Shakspere. As Michell points out, not only was the name common in Warwickshire, in an age before English spelling had been codified, there were a myriad of spellings for the name (Michell identifies 57 variants) including: Shaxper, Shaxberd and Shakispere.

While there was no standard spelling in Elizabethan England, neither was there standard pronunciation. Even today there are strong regional accents in Britain in which the pronunciation of vowels differs widely from the standard. For example, in northern accents, the difference between long and short vowels is not distinct and the pronunciation of ‘shek’ and ‘shake’ are very close. So, to an Englishman of the time, the pronunciation of ‘Shakspere’ would be little different to the pronunciation of ‘Shakespeare.’

However, the transition may have had nothing to do with variations in spelling or pronunciation. It most likely occurred when the name was printed for the first time.

As David and Ben Crystal point out in The Shakespeare Miscellany, in the cursive font used at the time the ‘k’ and ‘s’ were rather elongated, one to the right and the other to the left. If they were placed together there would have been an unsightly space in between. Filling this space with an ‘e’ would have resolved the problem. Once having made this change, it would be most tempting to change the ‘spere’ to ‘speare’ and from plain old Shakspere make the much more poetic Shakespeare. As the curve was even more pronounced in italics, compositors needed to add a hyphen as well as an ‘e’ to fill the gap.

Shakespeare’s Literacy

Most of the arguments against William Shakespeare’s authorship hinge on the assumption that he was illiterate based on questionable evidence:

  1. there are no records that he attended school
  2. all his alleged signatures are different
  3. his daughters were illiterate
  4. he included no books or papers in his will

Point 1 — No records at all have survived from Shakespeare’s day from the King’s Free School, the Stratford grammar school young Will would have attended, so the fact that there is no record of his attending it is immaterial. However, although the records have not survived to prove the case one way or the other, the balance of probabilities is that Shakespeare would have attended the school.

As an alderman of the town, William’s father, John Shakespeare, had the right to send his sons to the school which was financed by the town corporation. Since it would have cost him very little and he was an ambitious self-made man, it is inconceivable that he would not have taken advantage of these benefits to send his eldest son to school. Furthermore, we know that William’s younger brother Gilbert became a London haberdasher, a profession for which a basic education was required. It is hardly likely John educated his second son and not his eldest.

The point is also often made that, before starting grammar school at about the age of seven, Elizabethan boys were required to have the rudiments of literacy which they learned at home or petty school. However, as Shakespeare’s parents were illiterate and there was no petty school in Stratford, it is claimed that Shakespeare could not have learned to read so would not have qualified to attend the grammar school. However, though he might have been illiterate himself, John Shakespeare was certainly affluent enough to pay a tutor to teach his son to read. As Eric Sams points out in The Real Shakespeare, there is evidence that Shakespeare learned to read from the Bible, in particular from Genesis and Matthew, respectively the first books of the Old and New Testaments, in the Latin Vulgate version. Young Will may have been taught to read by a local clergyman before attending the grammar school.

In all events, many biographers agree that it is unlikely that William finished grammar school, for when he was about twelve, his father fell on hard times and certainly by the time he was fifteen, if not earlier, William had  probably been taken out of school to help in his father’s business. He was certainly not included in the list of able students his schoolmaster was obliged to send to his local bishop.

The evidence would lead to the conclusion that, while Shakespeare might not have finished school, it is more than likely that he did attend and learned to write and read well enough to do the reading that is demonstrated in the plays such as such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Plautus’s plays and Holinshed’s Chronicles.

Point 2 — There are only six surviving examples of William Shakespeare’s signature. These are appended to a deposition taken in 1612, the purchase deed and mortgage for the purchase of a property in Blackfriars in 1613 and his will made on his deathbed in 1616. All these documents are held in the British Public Records Office and, when they published them in 1985, they had to concede that the signatures on them were all different and could not have been written by the same hand.

This, of course, is meat to the Anti-Stratfordians who claim it is proof of his illiteracy, that Shakespeare did not sign the documents because he could not.

However, scholars of Elizabethan law and history agree that it was common practice in Elizabethan times for notaries to sign documents for their clients in their absence. So, even if someone else signed the documents, it cannot be taken as proof that Shakespeare was illiterate.

It must also be noted that these signatures all come from late in Shakespeare’s life when, after a lifetime of writing by hand with quill and ink, he may have been suffering from ‘scrivener’s palsy’ or what we would call RSI, Repetitive Strain Injury. In the case of his will, he may have been too ill to write his signature at all.

Point 3 — It is also claimed that since Shakespeare was a writer and advocated for women’s education in his plays, it is inconceivable that he did not educate his own daughters. In the documentary Much Ado About Something, one Marlovian, John Baker, imagines a quaint scene which should have taken place: William, sitting by his fireplace writing a play, asks his daughters to read it aloud with him. What Baker ignores is that, whether their father was a writer or only an actor, Shakespeare was in London throughout most of their young lives.

While Shakespeare was away his daughters were in their mother’s care in Stratford-upon-Avon. Although he might have returned to Stratford occasionally it would only have been for short visits. He is not believed to have spent any length of time in Stratford until after 1603 when his daughters were well grown. It would have been Anne Hathaway who had command of their education and as an illiterate woman herself, she might not have seen literacy as necessary for her daughters.

However, as Germaine Greer points out in Shakespeare’s Wife, in Elizabethan times, reading was not tied to writing as it is today and most of the people who could read could not write. While we know that Judith and Susanna could barely write their names, it does not necessarily mean that they, or their mother, for that matter, could not read.

Point 4 — The fact that Shakespeare did not list any books or personal papers in his last will and testament is cited as evidence that he owned no books or manuscripts and therefore he had never read or written any. That there were no books or papers mentioned in Shakespeare’s will is not peculiar. As Shapiro points out, the wills of other contemporary authors also lacked lists of books. If Shakespeare did have books to leave, they could have been included in the ‘household stuffe’ he left to his daughter Susanna and her husband John Hall and may have been listed in the inventory that Hall took to London when proving the will and which has since been lost.

As for personal papers such as letters and diaries, their survival would have been precarious and dependent on their being deliberately preserved down the generations. However, as we shall see later, Stratford-upon-Avon came under strong Puritan influence and in such an environment, Shakespeare’s family would have had every incentive to destroy any incriminating personal papers he might have left.

The Name on The Title Page

Half the plays included in the First Folio had never been printed before, while the rest had been published in quarto, sometimes anonymously, and sometimes in a text so different to the First Folio version that they have been dubbed ‘Bad Quartos’. (see Bad Quartos and the Myth of the Memorial Reconstruction) On the other hand, several plays and poems that have since been proven not to have been written by Shakespeare, either alone or in collaboration, were published either under the name of William Shakespeare, or his initials ‘W.S.’. It has been argued that, since Shakespeare did nothing to stop any of this, it raises doubts about his own authority to publish the plays attributed to him.

However, such a line of reasoning ignores the conditions for play writing and publishing during Shakespeare’s lifetime. There were very practical reasons why Shakespeare did not publish his plays himself or have any recourse when others did so.

Neither copyright laws nor royalties as we know them today existed in Shakespeare’s time. Ownership of the text did not reside in the creator of the manuscript but in the person who possessed it and that ownership was outright. The only way a playwright could make money from a play was to sell it to a playing company. Once it was sold, the playwright had no further claim on it. If Shakespeare retained any ownership in his plays, it was as a shareholder in his company, rather than the playwright.

As the outright owners of the plays, the playing companies had the right to on-sell the manuscripts to stationers who would then have full and exclusive rights to publish. Before the First Folio could be printed in 1623, Condell and Hemminge had to negotiate with the current holders of the copyright on Shakespeare’s plays, and there were several, in order to publish it, which explains why it was not published for several years after Shakespeare’s death. As for those plays falsely attributed to Shakespeare, these appeared in the early 1600s, once Shakespeare’s reputation had been established, and most likely the stationers were making the attribution fraudulently in order to cash in on his fame.

Nor can it be said that Shakespeare did nothing about these cases. There would be no evidence of the times Shakespeare made personal approaches to stationers with his complaints, but several plays originally published anonymously were later re-published with better texts and under Shakespeare’s name. And, as the Crystals tell us, there is one occasion where there is some evidence that Shakespeare did protest.

In 1612, the stationer William Jaggard, who, ironically, was later to publish the First Folio, published The Passionate Pilgrim, an anthology of poetry attributed in full to Shakespeare, although only a few of the poems were his. The protest came indirectly through Thomas Heywood, the unacknowledged author of some of the poems, who wrote complaining of the injury done to his own reputation and that Shakespeare was ‘much offended’ by the publication. Shakespeare’s name was removed from the remaining unsold copies.

Shakespeare and Henslowe

Anti-Stratfordians make much of their claim that too few references are made to Shakespeare amongst his contemporary theatrical and literary fraternities. Shakespearean scholars dispute this claim and can cite many obscure references. However, Shakespeare is not mentioned by name in the one document where some might expect to find him: in Henslowe’s Diary, the most important extant document about the Elizabethan theatre. (see The Secret of Henslowe’s Diary)

Despite the fact that performances of some of Shakespeare’s plays are listed in his diary, there is no record of Henslowe’s making any payment to Shakespeare for play scripts. Anti-Stratfordians claim that this proves he did not write those plays. However, once again this claim is spurious. There was no occasion for Henslowe to ever pay Shakespeare as they would have had no dealings with each other.

Philip Henslowe was the owner of The Rose playhouse and ran it in partnership with Edward Alleyn from February 1592. In the first few months covered in the diary, the playing company in residence was Lord Strange’s Men led by Edward Alleyn. After the reorganisation of the London companies in 1594, the Lord Admiral’s Men which Edward Alleyn had since rejoined, took up permanent residence at The Rose. Meanwhile, across the Thames, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, led by Richard Burbage, took up residence at The Theatre. Except for a short joint season to mark the beginning of this arrangement, these two companies were independent of each other and in competition.

During their short stint at The Rose, Lord Strange’s Men had two Shakespeare plays in their repertoire, Henry VI, Part 1 and Titus Andronicus. There is reason to doubt that Shakespeare had any involvement in the writing of this first version of Henry VI, Part 1 while Titus Andronicus would have been purchased by Lord Strange’s Men before they came to The Rose. Thereafter, Shakespeare was a sharer and member of Lord Chamberlain’s Men, for whom he wrote exclusively. There would have been no reason for him to sell any of his writings to his company’s major rival.

Shakespeare the Businessman

It was not until the eighteenth century that biographers went beyond recording local legends about William Shakespeare and began combing the archives for documents pertaining to his life and work. Little has been discovered even now, but the first few examples that were unearthed detailed his mundane financial dealings in Stratford-upon-Avon and cast him as a tight-fisted, money-hungry, small-time businessman.

These discoveries led to the growth of a conviction among some of Shakespeare’s most devoted adherents that Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon could not possibly be the noble-minded poet who wrote the canon. They began casting about to find who this other man might be and the Great Shakespearean Authorship Debate was born. However, a closer reading of the evidence might suggest that Shakespeare was not as materialistic as the Bardolators feared.

As well as naming the Shakespeares in a land dispute with their cousins the Lamberts, the documents show that in 1598 Shakespeare was purchasing substantial supplies of malt and grain, and, given his later pursuit of a debt for the purchase of barley, dealing in it as well. In the previous year, 1597, Shakespeare had acquired a substantial house, New Place, for £60. However, his largest investment was made in 1605 when he paid £440 for a share in the lease in tithes on land to the north of the town. Only two years later in 1607 he purchased 107 acres of farmland for £320 together with its tenant farmers.

Yet, while Shakespeare was accumulating wealth and property in Stratford-upon-Avon, he was leading a hand-to-mouth existence in London. Although he was a sharer in his playing company and with the Burbages in their theatre holdings, unlike other sharers in the company, Shakespeare owned no real estate in London. Various records indicate that he moved several times, living in rented rooms, and he was twice recorded as defaulting on his tax liabilities.

It was not until 1613, just three years before his death, that he bought his first property in London, a rooming house in Blackfriars. However, the purchase proved inauspicious. If he had hoped to pay off the substantial mortgage with income from The Globe, his timing was disastrous as the playhouse burnt down only three months after he signed the contract. The mortgage was not paid off in his lifetime and he was not included among the sharers of the rebuilt Globe.

Given Shakespeare’s lack of financial acumen or acquisitiveness in London, it seems strange that he was prospering so well in Stratford. It is more than likely, therefore, that Shakespeare’s earnings in London were being invested in Stratford, but who was taking care of these investments while he worked in the theatre? Even if he did travel to Stratford whenever he could, he would have been unlikely to make the arduous two- or three-day journey more than once or twice a year. Purchasing and dealing in malt and barley would have had to be pursued on a daily basis, especially if said products were being used in ale-making. Furthermore, Germaine Greer suggests that, given the low price paid for it, New Place was not a residence fit for a gentleman, but a run-down house in need of restoration which the owner would have to be on site to supervise.

Perhaps it was his father John Shakespeare who took care of his business affairs, but he died in 1601, long before the more substantial investments were made. However, there is one clue to who the manager of Shakespeare’s financial affairs might have been.

Also in 1601, Thomas Whittington, one of Anne’s father’s shepherds, wrote a will in which he left 40 shillings to the poor of Stratford that was ‘in the hand of Anne Shakespeare, wife unto Master William Shakespeare, and is due debt unto me, being paid to mine executor by the said William Shakespeare or his assigns’. As he stated that the money was in Anne’s hands rather than lent to her, it is more likely that, rather than it being money Anne borrowed, it was money Whittington had given her to hold on his behalf, as one would place money with a bank.

Although this clause names William Shakespeare as the legal holder of the money, the fact that it names Anne first indicates that she was the de facto holder. This suggests that Anne was financially acute and honest enough to be trusted to hold and protect another’s hard-earned cash. The inclusion of William’s name also tells us why Anne’s name does not appear in any other documents pertaining to the Shakespeares’ business dealings. As a married woman, Anne had no legal standing of her own, but was subsumed into her husband’s legal identity. While it may have been she who was actually conducting the Shakespeares’ business affairs, as far as the law was concerned it was her husband. As a consequence, whenever Anne undertook any business or legal transaction, even if her husband was far away in London, those transactions would have to be conducted under his name.

Anti-Stratfordians also point to Shakespeare’s will which makes no personal references to a ‘dear’ wife or ‘beloved’ children, but is a practical and austere businessman’s will. Again, we must remember that the will was taken when Shakespeare was on his deathbed and may have been written entirely by his lawyer based on Shakespeare’s instructions. Given the above, it may also have been dictated in large part by Anne Shakespeare who, after all, may have made a major contribution to accumulating the wealth being distributed therein.

So the picture that now emerges is not that of a hard-headed businessman, but of a man who had no interest in money or property himself and was content to let his wife manage his affairs for him. In other words, we see the very epitome of the unworldly poet the worshipers of the Divine Bard look for.

William Shakespeare ‘Gent’

Much is also made of the fact that William Shakespeare was buried in Stratford-upon-Avon without any fanfare or acknowledgement of his literary achievements. In the parish register he was called simply ‘gent’, a reference to his landholdings rather than his career as a poet. He was buried in a grave that does not even bear his name and the famous monument was not erected until several years after his death. (see The Mystery of the Stratford Monument) This is claimed as proof that not only was he not the true author of the plays, but he was not even a writer.

However, there is a simple reason for his low-key burial. As the Crystals record, in 1603, Stratford’s Puritan aldermen banned the performance of any plays in the town and discouraged visits by players. In such an environment, it is perfectly understandable that his family would not want to admit to Shakespeare’s theatrical history.

It might also explain why his death was not publicly mourned by London’s literati. By that time, the only literate remaining member of his family was his son-in-law, John Hall, a Puritan whose faith would have led him to abhor the theatre and all who worked in it. Neither he, nor his wife or mother-in-law, would have wished to notify the London theatre fraternity of his father-in-law’s death and thus risk drawing attention to themselves from, or evince any association with, such circles.

The fact that Shakespeare’s grave bears no laudatory epitaph, in fact, not even his name, might also suggest that his family not only did not want to draw attention to his grave, but was actually ashamed of his theatrical career, be it as player or playwright.

On the other hand, an examination of the grave made in 2015 using ground penetrating radar shows that the skull of the body buried there has been removed, suggesting that relic hunters had robbed the grave. Perhaps there originally was an engraving on the tombstone, but this may have been broken in the robbery and, to avoid further unwelcome attention, it was replaced with a plain stone bearing only a curse on any future graverobbers.

The Man and The Play

Another objection to Shakespeare’s authorship of the plays made by Anti-Stratfordians is that no trace of Shakespeare’s life can be found in them. Again, this is a spurious argument on two counts.

First, we must remember that Shakespeare did not write plays for personal expression, but as his profession. Shakespeare was writing plays for the commercial theatre, an exercise we must equate not with the writing of novels or poetry today, but with the writing of screenplays for mass market movies and television. We would not expect to trace the personal life of screenwriters in these productions. They are written to entertain and to make money. More often than not they are based on existing sources such as previous movies, books, comics and stage plays.

Shakespeare was writing under the same circumstances. Even his most devoted scholars acknowledge that he drew for his plays on earlier plays, histories, stories and novels. Read any close study of Shakespeare’s plays and much of it will be discussing the written sources of the play’s plot, sub-plots and characters.

Furthermore, we have so little evidence of Shakespeare’s private daily life, that even if there were personal elements in the plays, we would not be able to recognise them. Without knowing more about his life, we could never know which scenes, incidents, locations or characters in his plays were based on his own experience.

Sonnets, on the other hand, are much more likely to be a personal expression, and scholars have tried to extrapolate a narrative of Shakespeare’s love life from them. However, The Sonnets present an interesting case which I might address elsewhere.

Shakespeare the Plagiarist

Another argument made by Anti-Stratfordians is that Shakespeare was accused of plagiarism by his contemporaries Robert Greene and Ben Jonson, thus demonstrating that it was well-known, even by his contemporaries, that he did not write the plays but appropriated other writers’ works.

Even Stratfordians acknowledge that Ben Jonson was caricaturing Shakespeare in his poem On Poet-Ape.

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own:
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours;
He marks not whose ’twas first: and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool! as if half eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece?

However, as we have seen Shakespeare did indeed base his plays on existing sources, so this poem is not uncovering some deep secret, as the Anti-Stratfordians would have us believe. Instead, one should read this poem as an expression of an ongoing debate between two generations and two different approaches to the art of play writing, a debate we might equate to that between practitioners in the commercial film industry and the makers of low-budget, independent art-house films. Ben Jonson here is an advocate of originality, railing against a practitioner of an older generation who has sold out his art for financial security.

In his diatribe A Groatsworth of Wit, Robert Greene accuses an ‘upstart crow’ of stealing other men’s work without giving them due recognition. However, as I write elsewhere (see The Upstart Crow in Borrowed Feathers), there is a strong argument to be made that Greene was not referring to Shakespeare at all, but to a man who was much more famous and powerful at the time: the actor and theatrical entrepreneur, Edward Alleyn.

The Mind Behind the Works

Perhaps the Anti-Stratfordians’ most convincing argument is the unlikelihood that the man from Stratford could have had all the knowledge and experience experts in a wide variety of fields have attributed to him. In order to acquire this knowledge, they claim, he would have had to be not only a professional actor, but also a Cambridge university graduate devoted to the study of the classics as well as contemporary European languages and literature, a practising lawyer, a veteran of both the army and the navy, a member of the aristocracy with a penchant for hunting, angling and all country sports and a doctor well-versed in psychology, medicine and the medicinal properties of plants together with their names in both English and Latin.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that a well-educated aristocrat, who went to university, travelled extensively, served in the military, took part in government and court life and loved hunting and the theatre, may have acquired all the necessary knowledge in his lifetime, but it is hard to believe it of a glover’s son from Stratford-upon-Avon.

To account for this discrepancy, Stratfordians argue that Shakespeare spent his ‘Lost Years’ (the undocumented years between the conception of his twins and his first appearance in London) acquiring practical knowledge through a variety of jobs such as tutor, a lawyer’s clerk or a soldier serving abroad and that he picked up the rest through extensive reading. (See Much Ado about Nothing)

However, this romantic view does not take into account the realities of the Elizabethan period. It was not a time when men popped in and out of various professions. It was a time when every profession required long apprenticeships. Even actors began their careers as young boys. It is conceivable that Shakespeare may have been recruited to serve as a citizen soldier in an overseas military campaign where he could have picked up a smattering of army and navy jargon, but it would have been a coolheaded recruit who could take all that in on his first experience of war.

The claim that he acquired the rest through extensive reading is also questionable. Books were very expensive in those days and they would not have covered all the fields Shakespeare is believed to have mastered. Would there have been a glossary of Cambridge University jargon, or guides to angling available in the late sixteenth century?

However, here even the Stratfordians take a narrow view which assumes that Shakespeare was working in total isolation with only his books for company. Would it not have been possible that, just as Shakespeare drew on written sources, he might also draw on living sources, friends and acquaintances who could furnish him with the facts and language he needed?

How he could have known such people is a question I might pursue in a follow-up to this article.


© Pauline Montagna 2021



Crystral, David & Ben, The Shakespeare Miscellany, Penguin Books (2005)

Greer, Germaine, Shakespeare’s Wife, Bloomsbury (2007)

Michell, John, Who Wrote Shakespeare? Thames & Hudson Ltd, London (1996)

Rubbo, Michael, Much Ado About Something, The Helpful Eye/FFC (2001)

Sams, Eric, The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Early Years, 1564-1594, Yale University Press (1995)

Shapiro, James, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? Simon & Schuster (2010)


Back to Top