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Who was Shakespeare? Show more Show less

"What's in a name?" one of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers asked. When it comes to the identity of the greatest writer in the English language, a great deal. That mantle has long been bestowed on a glover's son from Stratford-Upon-Avon. But since the 19th century, there have been doubts over William Shakespeare's identity as the writer of the works attributed to the playwright. Was the Bard from Stratford a front for another writer? Was he just one participant in a collective group of writers? Or was he a she?

The anti-Stratfordian position Show more Show less

William Shakespeare did not write the works that bear his name.
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The case for Edward de Vere

Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, wrote Shakespeare's collected works.
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Perhaps the most popular contender for authorship of Shakespeare’s works, the case for the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, gained significant traction in the 1920s. It was recently revived after the release of the 2011 film, Anonymous, which promotes the idea that de Vere wrote Shakespeare’s plays.

The Argument

Edward de Vere composed, directed and acted in plays in the Elizabethan period. He managed a troupe called the ‘Oxford Boys’ and was embedded in the theatre community. He would also have had access to court and the necessary education to write at length on the subjects present in Shakespeare’s plays. His status as a nobleman in Elizabethan England would have meant that he could not be seen putting his name to written works. Aristocrats were not expected to write. They could manage troupe and finance performances, but writing plays was not considered a worthy pursuit of the nation’s noble stock. His writing style closely resembles Shakespeare’s. The pair are the only two Elizabethan poets to use a six-line pentameter stanza. [1] De Vere’s nickname was also “Spear Shaker”. It stemmed from his athletic prowess in tournaments and his coat of arms, which featured a lion brandishing a spear. He also lived near Shakespeare on the banks of the River Avon in Bilton Hall. Therefore, he would have been familiar with the Warwickshire area and the local landmarks that litter Shakespeare’s plays. The chronology also lines up. De Vere published several poems under his own name, then stopped. Soon afterwards, Shakespeare began publishing work under his name. The evidence is circumstancial, but when considered alongside everything else, it begins to paint a picture of the real author.[2] Hamlet is Autobiographical The story and narrative arc of Shakespeare’s masterpiece align with events and relationships in Oxford’s own life. Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister, is strikingly similar to Polonius. His children, Robert and Anne, bear resemblance to the characters of Laertes and Ophelia. Oxford was unhappily married to Anne and believed she had been having affairs behind his back (so much so that he doubted his paternity of their daughter). He, therefore, becomes Hamlet. Hamlet and Oxford are both athletic and poetic. Both loved the theatre, both were captured by pirates, both had fought in sea battles and both had a trusted friend named Horacio (Horace Vere was Oxford’s closest cousin). In one scene, Hamlet tells Polonius, "Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive”, a clear nod to his paternity suspicions.[3] Given that Hamlet was such a clear expose of Elizabethan court, the fact that Shakespeare wasn't executed for treason indicates that many in the upper-echelons of Elizabethan society likely knew that he wasn't the play's author.[4]

Counter arguments

Edward de Vere died in 1604, the year King Lear was written and before the Tempest, Macbeth, Coriolanus and a Winter’s Tale were penned or staged.[5] The dating of the plays would have to be false for de Vere to have been the author of all of Shakespeare’s plays. "You can’t write a hip-hop masterpiece before hip-hop has been invented. And you can’t write A Midsummer Night's Dream until English secular comedy has come into existence."[6] This would be highly unlikely, if not impossible. The storm which many believe inspired Shakespeare to write the Tempest didn’t take place until 1609.[3] There are also lines in Shakespeare’s plays that would have been utterly inconceivable for an Earl like de Vere to write. Think of the scene in the histories where Shakespeare refers to the pestilence of fleas that gather in the corner of taverns where patrons relieved themselves between drinks. There is no way an Earl would have been exposed to that aspect of Elizabethan society and those that inhabit it.[5] To say that their writing styles are similar also does not address the fact that, like Bacon, de Vere’s poetry is not on the same level as Shakespeare’s sonnets. While de Vere is undoubtedly a better poet than Bacon, he is still some way off the Bard’s word craft.



[P1] De Vere was better educated and had more access to court giving him the necessary experience and skillset to write the plays. [P2] Hamlet was also likely autobiographical and its narrative aligns with de Vere's own life. [P3] Therefore, de Vere could have been Shakespeare.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] But the timeline does not add up. De Vere died before many plays were written. [Rejecting P2] There is nothing to indicate Hamlet was biographical. [Rejecting P3] De Vere did not write the plays and sonnets attributed to Shakespeare.


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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 29 May 2019 at 20:41 UTC