The Shakespeare Authorship Page

Dedicated to the Proposition that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare

NEW

On October 28, 2011, the movie Anonymous opened; it flopped at the box office, but there was considerable discussion of the film at the time. Here is David Kathman's review. Spoiler alert: William Shakespeare is a character in the movie, but the central character is Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, who is, among other things, the son of Queen Elizabeth, the lover of the same Queen Elizabeth (some years later), and the real author of the works commonly attributed to William Shakespeare. The film is NOT meant to be a comedy. There is, of course, no reason to credit the earl with even one line of any work that has traditionally been attributed to William Shakespeare (for more information about this matter, please see the essays on this site), but many entertaining movies have been based on historically dubious material. The official blog for the movie offers links to the Shakespeare authorship page, so it's only fair that we repay the favor. Here are a few links related to the film: A new site that may be of more lasting interest is "60 Minutes with Shakespeare," which was put up by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. "60 Minutes" comprises brief answers to 60 questions about Shakespeare and the authorship of his works; among the 60 are Roland Emmerich, James Shapiro, and our own David Kathman. You'll have to register to see the page, but registration is free and painless. You can also find Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells's e-book Shakespeare Bites Back as well as remarks about Anonymous by Alan Nelson.

Contents


Introduction

Many books and articles have been written arguing that someone other than William Shakespeare, the glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote the plays and poems published under his name. There exist sincere and intelligent people who believe there is strong evidence that Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, was the author of these plays and poems. Yet professional Shakespeare scholars -- those whose job it is to study, write, and teach about Shakespeare -- generally find Oxfordian claims to be groundless, often not even worth discussing.

Why is this? Oxfordians claim that these scholars are blinded to the evidence by a vested self-interest in preserving the authorship of "the Stratford Man," and some more extreme Oxfordians claim that there is an active conspiracy among orthodox scholars to suppress pro-Oxford evidence and keep it from the attention of the general public. The truth, however, is far more prosaic. Oxfordians are not taken seriously by the Shakespeare establishment because (with few exceptions) they do not follow basic standards of scholarship, and the "evidence" they present for their fantastic scenarios is either distorted, taken out of context, or flat-out false.

This web site is for the intelligent nonspecialist who doesn't know what to make of these challenges to Shakespeare's authorship. Oxfordian books can be deceptively convincing to a reader who is unaware of the relevant historical background and unused to the rhetorical tricks used by Oxfordians. Our aim is to provide context where needed, expose misinformation passed off by Oxfordians as fact, and in general show the nonspecialist reader why professional Shakespeare scholars have so little regard for Oxfordian claims. We know from experience that we are not likely to convince any Oxfordians to change their views, but we hope that other readers will find something of value here. We will be updating and adding new material as time permits, and we welcome any comments or suggestions.



How We Know that Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare

Antistratfordians try to seduce their readers into believing that there is some sort of "mystery" about the authorship of Shakespeare's works. They often assert that nothing (or at most very little) connects William Shakespeare of Stratford to the works of William Shakespeare the author, or that the evidence which exists is "circumstantial" and subject to some doubt. These are astounding misrepresentations that bear little resemblance to reality. Indeed, abundant evidence testifies to the fact that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works published under his name, and this evidence is as extensive and direct as the evidence for virtually any of Shakespeare's contemporaries. In their essay How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts, Tom Reedy and David Kathman summarize the extensive web of evidence that identifies William Shakespeare of Stratford as the man who wrote the works of William Shakespeare.


Featured External Site: Tom Veal's "Stromata Blog"

When the Shakespeare Authorship page began 12 years ago, it was the only site on the Internet dedicated to countering claims that someone other than William Shakespeare wrote the lion's share of the works professional literary historians have always assigned to Shakespeare. We have more company now (as you can see from the sites listed in our Bardlinks area below), and we'd like to direct your attention to Tom Veal's blog, which contains some of the best recent commentary on the authorship of Shakespeare's works.


To the New York Times

The Times published a strongly pro-Oxfordian piece on February 10, 2002, that fell far short of the standards we expect from the "paper of record." See our response to the Times.


A Letter to Harper's

In April 1999, Harper's magazine published a group of ten essays collectively entitled "The Ghost of Shakespeare." Five of the essays were by Oxfordians, arguing that the Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare, while five were by Shakespeare scholars arguing that William Shakespeare was the author. David Kathman promptly wrote a letter to Harper's, pointing out some of the many factual errors and distortions in the five Oxfordian articles and outlining the major reasons why Shakespeare scholars do not take Oxfordians seriously. Harper's elected not to publish the letter, instead publishing a group of short and superficial responses which failed to address the main issues. However, we're posting David Kathman's letter here in order to provide a concise summary of the serious problems with Oxfordian arguments.

Critically Examining Oxfordian Claims

The following essays were posted to the newsgroup humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare, and are presented here in edited form. The original impetus for most of these essays was an Oxfordian article by Mark Anderson entitled "Shake-speare's Good Book," posted to the newsgroup by Mr. Anderson under the nom de net "E of O." (Interested readers can see this article at http://www.everreader.com/bible.htm --- but be sure to return here!) I posted a quick initial response to the article, to which Mr. Anderson replied with a further posting in which he made several more points, the substance of which should be clear from my responses. I wrote and posted the next eight essays, each of which deals with a specific Oxfordian claim, in response to both the initial posting and the follow-up. They are informal in tone, but I tried to make them as accurate and factual as possible. The next two essays were written later, as parts of longer essays in progress on Shakespeare's death and education. The last essay was written in response to Mark Alexander, one of the Oxfordian regulars on the newsgroup. Mark has always been a highly articulate and intelligent opponent, and he has often forced me to think through my own positions more thoroughly than I would otherwise have done. In this post, I address some of the broader issues involved in the Shakespeare authorship debate, and try to articulate the major reasons why I find the Oxfordian approach fundamentally flawed.


The Spelling and Pronunciation of Shakespeare's Name

The most obvious evidence that William Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him is that everyone at the time said he did: he was often praised in writing as a poet and playwright, he was named as the author of many of the works while he was alive, and seven years after his death the First Folio explicitly attributed the rest of the works to him. Oxfordians try to account for this evidence by claiming that the man from Stratford was actually "William Shaksper" (or "Shakspere"), a man whose name was spelled and pronounced differently from that of the great poet "William Shakespeare," and that nobody at the time would have thought to confuse the two. Needless to say, such claims bear little resemblance to reality. To see just how badly Oxfordians have misrepresented the name issue, read David Kathman's essay on the spelling and pronunciation of Shakespeare's name, accompanied by the complete lists (in original spelling) of all contemporary non-literary references and literary references to William Shakespeare.


Shakespeare's Education and Social Background

Two assumptions are almost universally held by antistratfordians: the author of Shakespeare's plays must have been a well-educated aristocrat, and William Shakespeare of Stratford could not possibly have had the education or social connections to have been that author. To those who are familiar with Elizabethan society in general, and with William Shakespeare's life in particular, neither of these assumptions comes close to holding water. In this section we present two pairs of articles, the first pair dealing with the aristocrat/class issue, the second dealing with the education issue.

Were Shakespeare's Plays Written by an Aristocrat?

In this
essay based on a series of posts from the humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare newsgroup, David Kathman addresses the common Oxfordian assumption that the author of Shakespeare's plays must have been an aristocrat who was intimate with the corridors of power. He points out that nobody in Shakespeare's day or for centuries afterward thought that the plays displayed an accurate knowledge of royal courts (in fact, the opposite was the case), and that modern social historians familiar with 16th-century court life have come to a similar conclusion.

Shakespeare's Stratford Friends

Oxfordians mercilessly attack the character and background of William Shakespeare, depicting him as an "unlettered boob" and Stratford as a densely ignorant backwater bereft of any culture. As usual, the Oxfordians are guilty of twisting facts and ignoring any evidence that they don't like. David Kathman's
essay illustrates that Shakespeare's closest friends in Stratford were actually a rather cultured lot, and that their hometown bore little resemblance to the cesspool depicted by Oxfordians.

Shakespeare's Knowledge of Italy, the Classics, and the Law

Paired with Oxfordians' insistence that the author of Shakespeare's plays must have been an aristocrat is their insistence that he must have had lots of formal education. As usual, though, the antistratfordians are badly mistaken in some key elements of their arguments. In Shakespeare's Knowledge of Italy, the Classics, and the Law, David Kathman focuses on three areas where antistratfordians have often claimed that the plays exhibit knowledge beyond the ability of William Shakespeare of Stratford: Italy, the classics, and law. In each case, he responds directly to claims by Oxfordians, showing that they have greatly overestimated the extent of Shakespeare's knowledge and greatly underestimated the resources available to any intelligent Elizabethan who wished to learn about virtually any subject.

Shakespeare and Richard Field

Since William Shakespeare did not have much formal education, he must have been a voracious reader on many subjects. Oxfordians like to ridicule this very reasonable inference; where, they ask, could Shakespeare have gotten the books he would have had to read? But in fact, Shakespeare was particularly well-positioned in this regard. Richard Field, who grew up down the street from Shakespeare and in very similar circumstances, became one of the leading publishers and booksellers in London. More importantly, he published many of the works his townsman Shakespeare relied on most heavily in composing his plays. Find out more about the connections between these celebrated sons of Stratford in David Kathman's Shakespeare and Richard Field.


Dating the Works

Barksted and Shakespeare

Some Oxfordians are not satisfied with claiming that Shakespeare's works could have been written before Oxford's death in 1604; they try to turn the tables and argue that the author of Shakespeare's works was actually dead many years before William Shakespeare's death in 1616. One of their favorite pieces of "evidence" for such a scenario is William Barksted's poem Mirrha, which appears to refer to Shakespeare in the past tense. Since Barksted's poem was published in 1607 -- after Oxford's death but before Shakespeare's -- some Oxfordians regard it as a prime piece of evidence for their theory. The problem with such an argument is that it completely ignores the context of Barksted's use of the past tense, both within the poem as a whole and in comparison with other contemporary praise of living poets. When looked at in this context, there is nothing at all unusual about Barksted's usage. Learn more about Barksted, Mirrha, and the meaning of the past tense in Terry Ross and David Kathman's essay Barksted and Shakespeare.

Dating The Tempest

The biggest stumbling block for the idea that Edward de Vere could have written Shakespeare's plays is the fact that he died in 1604, before about a third of the plays were written, according to the standard chronology. Oxfordians reply by claiming that this chronology is mistaken, and that the plays were actually written much earlier than orthodox scholarship supposes. Such a wholesale redating raises a host of questions and ignores strong evidence that several of the later plays, at least, were written well after 1604. Don't take our word for it, though: read David Kathman's essay on dating The Tempest, which presents the remarkably extensive evidence that Shakespeare, in writing this play, was heavily influenced by written accounts of events in Bermuda that happened in 1609-10, at least five years after Oxford's death.


Shakespeare's Eulogies

One of the most common features of antistratfordian arguments is a claim that the death of William Shakespeare of Stratford went unnoticed in England, in supposed contrast to other prominent men of letters. But this Oxfordian claim, like so many others, is based on a distortion of the facts combined with an ignorance of the necessary context. Contrary to Oxfordian assertions, only socially prominent people such as noblemen were the subject of printed eulogies soon after they died; eulogies for poets and playwrights generally remained in manuscript, often for decades. In Shakespeare's Eulogies, David Kathman compares Shakespeare with the most prominent playwrights and poets of the day, and concludes that William Shakespeare was actually the best-memorialized English playwright until Ben Jonson more than 20 years later.


Images of Shakespeare

There are only two portraits of Shakespeare which we can reasonably take as authentic: the monument in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church, and the engraving by Martin Droeshout on the title page of the 1623 First Folio. Antistratfordians have seen all kinds of shady doings and hidden meanings in these portraits, as well as in other "Shakespeare" portraits with less claim to authenticity. Yet these claims, like so much other antistratfordian rhetoric, turn out to be founded on ignorance, misunderstanding, and pure conjecture.

Shakespeare's Stratford Monument

Shortly after Shakespeare's death, a monument was erected to his memory in his home town of Stratford. However, many Oxfordians believe that the monument originally depicted Shakespeare holding a sack, and that it was subsequently altered to depict him as a writer. Their basis for thinking this is an engraving of the monument which appeared in William Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire in 1656, and which depicts a monument significantly different from what we see today; Charlton Ogburn writes in The Mysterious William Shakespeare that "there seems scant room for doubt that the subject of the original sculpture was not a literary figure but a dealer in bagged commodities" (p. 213). However, the evidence is overwhelmingly against the Oxfordian scenario. First, read M. H. Spielmann's detailed discussion of the monument, and his demonstrations of the many errors and inconsistencies to be found in seventeenth-century engravings. Then read David Kathman's discussion of 17th-century references to the monument, which shows that it was always seen as representing a famous poet and not a grain dealer. We have also put up illustrations of both the Stratford monument and Dugdale's rendition.

The Droeshout Engraving: Why It's Not Queen Elizabeth

Antistratfordians since the mid-1800s have found something fishy about the famous Droeshout engraving that graces the title page of the First Folio. In 1995, Lillian Schwartz tried to put a scientific gloss on such speculations when she wrote an article for Scientific American which used computer modelling to suggest that the Droeshout portrait is actually of Queen Elizabeth. But as Terry Ross shows in this article, Schwartz's methods left a lot to be desired, and although her very tentative conclusions have been accepted as gospel by eager antistratfordians, a fresh look shows just how different Shakespeare and Elizabeth were.

The Ashbourne Portrait: Why It's Not the Earl of Oxford

More than half a century before Schwartz, Oxfordian Charles Wisner Barrell wrote another article for Scientific American, in which he attempted to use X-rays to show that the so-called "Ashbourne Portrait," often taken to be of Shakespeare, is actually a painted-over portrait of the Earl of Oxford. Yet even though Barrell's results were conclusively debunked more than 20 years ago, they're still accepted uncritically by many antistratfordians. Read David Kathman's brief article for the full story.


Manuscripts and Publication

Tudor Aristocrats and the Mythical "Stigma of Print"

Oxfordians claim that Edward de Vere could not have been named as the author of Shakespeare's works because doing so would have violated the Elizabethan social code, which prohibited aristocrats from having works published under their own names. However, as Steven May points out in his essay, "the alleged code, handy and time-honored as it has become, does not square with the evidence." As May demonstrates, "Tudor aristocrats published regularly." The "stigma of print" is a myth. May does concede that there was for a time a "stigma of verse" among the early Tudor aristocrats, "but even this inhibition dissolved during the reign of Elizabeth until anyone, of whatever exalted standing in society, might issue a sonnet or play without fear of losing status." This essay first appeared in Renaissance Papers.

The Survival of Manuscripts

Oxfordians find it suspicious that the original manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays have not survived. They darkly hint that this is evidence of a coverup, and have even gone so far as to x-ray the Shakespeare monument in Stratford because of a suspicion that the manuscripts may have been hidden inside. (They weren't.) But there is nothing the slightest bit suspicious about the absence of Shakespeare's manuscripts, since virtually no playhouse manuscripts from that era have survived at all. Read The Survival of Manuscripts by Giles Dawson and Laetitia Kennedy-Skipton (taken from their 1965 book Elizabethan Handwriting) for the opinion of two scholars who spent decades examining documents from Shakespeare's era.

Shakespeare's Hand in Sir Thomas More

Even though the original manuscripts of Shakespeare's canonical plays have not survived, there is strong evidence that three pages of the manuscript play Sir Thomas More are in Shakespeare's hand. This evidence, which cuts across handwriting, spelling, vocabulary, imagery, and more, has persuaded many Shakespeare scholars, but is generally ignored or ridiculed by antistratfordians because accepting it would be a crippling blow for their theories. Read David Kathman's summary of the evidence for Shakespeare's hand and judge for yourself.


Oxford the Poet

The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford was a recognized poet in his own day, and Oxfordians make the most of this fact in their attempts to prove that he actually wrote the works of Shakespeare. However, most Oxfordian work in this area involves highly selective use of evidence, and often reveals a distressing lack of knowledge about Elizabethan poetry in general. In this section we critically examine Oxford's surviving poetry and the conclusions Oxfordians have tried to draw from it.

Oxford's Literary Reputation

Oxford was praised in print as a poet and playwright when he was alive, a fact which Oxfordians understandably try to use to their advantage. In doing so, though, they quote this praise selectively and present it out of context, leading unwary readers to a greatly inflated view of Oxford's reputation as a poet. Terry Ross's essay looks at Oxford's reputation in the actual context of the times, and shows that while Oxford's work had its admirers, nobody seems to have considered him a great poet or playwright.

Puttenham on Oxford

If Oxford did indeed write the works of Shakespeare, why did he never acknowledge them? Oxfordians claim that the works contain dangerous political allegories, and that Oxford could not safely allow them to appear under his own name. Hence, he used the name "Shakespeare." To support this claim, Oxfordians cite George Puttenham's 1589 book, The Arte of English Poesie. However, a close examination of Puttenham's work shows that Oxfordians have relied on doctored evidence, and that Puttenham's actual words contradict the Oxfordian claim. Find out for yourself What Puttenham Really Said About Oxford, and why it matters. This case study of the Oxfordian misuse of evidence was written by Terry Ross; it appeared on the humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare newsgroup, and has been revised for this forum. Parts of the essay criticize the PBS Frontline program "The Shakespeare Mystery," and Frontline has issued a response to which Terry Ross has replied. We have made available the texts of the Response from Frontline -- and a Reply. We have also made the relevant portions of Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie available.

Shakespeare, Oxford, and Verbal Parallels

Oxfordians have consistently defended the quality of Oxford's poetry, arguing that it is not inconsistent with his later having written the Shakespeare canon. Joseph Sobran has recently gone further, claiming that the verbal parallels he has found constitute proof that the poetry of Oxford and Shakespeare were written by the same person. In Shakespeare, Oxford, and Verbal Parallels, David Kathman examines Sobran's claim and finds it seriously defective, reflecting ignorance of both attribution studies and Elizabethan poetry.

Was the Earl of Oxford the True Shakespeare?

The Shakespeare Clinic, under the direction of Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza of Claremont-McKenna College in California, was a project which compared Shakespeare's poetry with the work of other contemporary poets by means of various objective tests. The goal was to see if any of the claimants' poetry matched the Bard's, and none did; furthermore, the Earl of Oxford was one of the poorest matches for Shakespeare out of all the poets tested. Read Elliott and Valenza's article on Oxford's candidacy, originally published in Notes and Queries.

The Verse Forms of Shakespeare and Oxford

Oxfordians from J. Thomas Looney onward have noted that some of the verse forms used by Oxford were also used by Shakespeare, and they have seized upon this coincidence as support for their theories. In The Verse Forms of Shakespeare and Oxford, Terry Ross looks at this issue in detail and shows how badly Oxfordians have distorted the facts in an attempt to exaggerate Oxford's similarity to Shakespeare and his role in the history of English poetry.


Oxfordian Myths

Belief in the Oxfordian story that Shakespeare's works were written not by Shakespeare but by the seventeenth Earl of Oxford requires not merely suspending the rules of evidence that would normally be used to establish the authorship of a body of work, but also accepting a set of Oxfordian myths -- tales that are presented as fact but that research shows are simply not true. Some of these myths have been repeated and handed down from Oxfordian to Oxfordian for decades, without any attempt being made to verify them. Here are three essays, each exposing an Oxfordian myth and demonstrating that the Oxfordian faith in them has been misplaced.

First Heir of My Invention

Shakespeare referred to Venus and Adonis as the "first heir of my invention." Many antistratfordians have been puzzled by the phrase, and have suggested that by "invention," the author must have meant "pseudonym"; and thus arose the myth that the phrase means something like "the first product published under my assumed name." The phrase would not have puzzled Shakespeare's contemporaries, however, as Terry Ross points out in his essay, since they were familiar with the contemporary habit of referring to works as one's children. Moreover, contemporary writers never used "invention" to mean "pseudonym"; the word referred to the writer's wit or imagination. Far from suggesting the use of a pseudonym, Shakespeare's use of the phrase "first heir of my invention" tells us that he wrote Venus and Adonis by himself and as himself.

The Question Marks in the 1640 Poems

In John Benson's 1640 edition of Shakespeare's Poems, question marks appear in places where one would expect exclamation points. From this, Oxfordians have decided that Benson must not have thought that Shakespeare was really Shakespeare. Terry Ross has looked at the evidence, however, and shows that in Benson's time question marks were often used as exclamation points. Moreover, Benson nowhere expresses any doubt that the author of the poems was the William Shakespeare whose plays were collected in the First Folio and who died in April of 1616.

Burghley as "Polus"

For fifty years Oxfordians have contended that strong evidence that the character Polonius in Hamlet was based on Lord Burghley is that Burghley's nickname was "Polus." In this essay Terry Ross traces the "Polus" myth to its sources and reveals that it is absolutely without foundation. He also outlines a fifty year history of Oxfordians parroting and even embellishing the myth without their ever checking to see whether it was true.


Reviews

Shakespeare IN FACT

Irvin Leigh Matus's Shakespeare, In Fact (Continuum, 1994) is a good book-length examination of the authorship question, containing thorough demolitions of many Oxfordian claims. Even if you've read the book, check out Thomas A. Pendleton's review, which originally appeared in The Shakespeare Newsletter. Not only does Pendleton cogently summarize Matus's arguments, he also adds an excellent discussion of the vast scope of the conspiracy that would have been necessary to conceal Oxford's authorship of the Shakespeare plays.

This Star of England

In 1953, Dorothy Ogburn and Charlton Ogburn Sr. published This Star of England, a 1300-page Oxfordian tome which was a precursor to their son Charlton Jr.'s The Mysterious William Shakespeare thirty years later. Giles Dawson's review of this book for Shakespeare Quarterly provides an excellent summary of the shoddy scholarship and questionable methods which typify so much Oxfordian work.

Why I'm not an Oxfordian

Charlton Ogburn's book The Mysterious William Shakespeare is generally considered the most thorough exposition of the Oxfordian case; it is certainly one of the most passionately argued. However, Ogburn has a distressing tendency to brush aside facts which he finds inconvenient, and to invent or distort other "facts" to suit his purpose; he employs a blatant double standard in evaluating evidence which makes his thesis unfalsifiable. David Kathman's article Why I'm Not an Oxfordian, which originally appeared in The Elizabethan Review, looks in detail at some of the many problems with Ogburn's book and explains why academic Shakespeareans do not take Ogburn and his Oxfordian brethren seriously.

Joseph Sobran's Alias Shakespeare

In 1997, Joseph Sobran's book Alias Shakespeare introduced many newcomers to the Shakespeare authorship question. Written in an accessible style without the bitterness that characterizes some Oxfordian writings, Sobran's book presented a superficially plausible case for Oxford's authorship of Shakespeare. Unfortunately, beneath the glossy surface lies a mass of distortions, half-truths, and contradictions which renders Sobran's book no better as a historical account than other Oxfordian works. David Kathman has written a number of responses to reader queries which discuss some of the major problems with Sobran's book.

Here Comes Everybody

John Michell's Who Wrote Shakespeare? marks a rebirth of the "groupist" view of Shakespearean authorship. Michell thinks that just about everybody ever proposed as a candidate for authorship had his oar in the Avon. Bob Grumman's review describes Michell's approach, exposes his loose way with the evidence, and corrects several common antistratfordian misreadings.

The Oxfordian Hamlet: The Playwright's the Thing

In this essay, excerpted from a talk delivered at the Library of Congress, Irvin Matus, the author of Shakespeare IN FACT, discusses the common Oxfordian claim that Hamlet is actually a thinly veiled autobiography of Edward de Vere. Matus points out the weaknesses of the Oxfordian case, and also argues that the Oxfordian approach to the play seeks to diminish its power as a work of art, reducing a profound exploration of the deepest issues that concern us as people to a petty expression of pique.


The Code That Failed: Testing a Bacon-Shakespeare Cipher

Until the 1920s, Francis Bacon was the favorite candidate of those who doubted that Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems that have been attributed to him. The Oxford faction is today the more numerous, but there are still Baconians around. In The Code that Failed, Terry Ross examines the methods of one Baconian, Penn Leary, who claims that he has found cryptographical proof that Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare. We have also made available Penn Leary's reply to the piece, as well as Hiawatha's Cryptographing, Terry Ross's response to him. In addition we have put up the texts of some UNIX and Perl scripts that were used to test Leary's methods.


Funeral Elegy

The 1612 Funeral Elegy by "W.S." has been in the news in recent years, as scholars and other interested readers argued whether it had been written by William Shakespeare; the current scholarly consensus is that the poem was written by John Ford. The case for Shakespeare's authorship was made in Donald Foster's 1989 book Elegy by W.S., and in subsequent articles by Foster, Richard Abrams, and others. Time and space do not allow us to present the arguments over the poem's authorship here but we can provide the text of the Funeral Elegy itself. There was spirited debate over the elegy's authorship on the electronic Shakespeare conference SHAKSPER, and on the newsgroup humanities.lit.authors.Shakespeare. Much of the new evidence which convinced Foster that the Elegy was Shakespeare's comes from his lexical database SHAXICON. He wrote an article for the Summer 1995 Shakespeare Newsletter, which, while it did not specifically deal with the Elegy evidence, described the workings of SHAXICON in some detail. Also, read David Kathman's 1996 post to the humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare newsgroup, responding to early Oxfordian criticisms and clearing up some common misunderstandings about Foster's work on the Elegy, as well as a 2002 post on the matter.

A number of candidates were proposed as the real author of the Funeral Elegy, including George Chapman, an unnamed member of "a stable of elegy writers", a country parson, Simon Wastell, Sir William Strode, William Sclater, and the 17th Earl of Oxford. John Ford was first suggested in 1996 by Richard J. Kennedy on Shaksper, but it was not until 2002 that the case for Ford was generally considered to be stronger than the case for Shakespeare.

The principal arguments in favor of John Ford's authorship may be found in

After Monsarrat's essay appeared, Foster and Abrams conceded that the case for Ford was now stronger than the case for Shakespeare.

Ward E.Y. Elliott and Robert J. Valenza have put their own account of the matter online: "So Much Hardball, So Little of it Over the Plate: Conclusions from our 'Debate' with Donald Foster."


Bardlinks Elsewhere on the Web


Thanks to Seven Wonders for naming the SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP Home Page the Site of the Day on April 23, 1996.
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