Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Photo of the Week

Jesus, joy of our desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.

- from an English rendering of v. 1 of Martin Janus' 17th-century hymn (often heard alongside the music of Bach's famous tune inspired by a version of the same hymn, known in English as "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring").

Monday, May 30, 2016

Quote of the Week

"Here indeed is appeasement without weariness; here never-quenched thirst for knowledge, without distress; here eternal and infinite desire which knows no want....He himself is the reward of them that love him, the everlasting reward of an everlasting love."

- Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th-century monastic leader

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fourth Letter to Basil

Saturday Salutations  - to see more letters, click on the "Saturday Salutations" tag in the sidebar menu labeled "Topics"

(Painting: "Saint Luke," by Andrea Mantegna, 1454)

Fourth Letter to Basil, in response to Basil's Letter 14

Basil, 


I very much enjoyed reading your reflections on the special place of quiet repose that God had given you in Pontus, where the mountains and rivers and forests all joined together to bear for you "the fruit of tranquility." I think we all need places like that in our lives--a quiet getaway, a moment to remember that we are connected to the natural world, both as "the dust of the earth" and as the reigning high priests over God's creation. But, my friend, if you thought the distractions of urban life in Asia Minor of the 4th century were challenging, I wouldn't wish upon you America of the 21st! Not only do we have multitudinous sources of noise and interruption from the city streets, as has always been the case, we now carry devices in our pockets that bring us those distractions every single place we go. In effect, we are choosing to fill up our every waking moment with idle diversions that displace our attention from the simple act of remembering who we really are. 

Like you, I've found that I need a place of calm reflection, out in the wild, and in most of the places I've lived (even in very large cities), I've always managed to find such a place. In my present place in life I've found another such spot, very much like yours, where I feel mysteriously more alive than almost anywhere else. It begins with a quiet walk through a coastal forest, bristling with pine and spruce and maple, where the ground is soft with waves of moss and blankets of old conifer needles. And then, as the trees begin to thin, and you see the high blue dome above you, the wind begins to pick up, and you can smell the zest of sea-salt and hear the distant susurration of tidal waves. Finally, you break out of the forest atop a seaside cliff and are met with the vastness of the ocean, the beautiful boldness of the rocky coast, and the sheer delight of being so favored by God as to lay eyes on one of his treasures. Birds of a hundred different kinds fill the air, the trees, the water, and sometimes you can even see the frolicking of seals and the fluking of whales out in the unending blue. It is a place, strangely, where I feel both small and great, insignificant and kingly. I am dwarfed by the incomparable vastness of God's creation--the sky, the forest, and the sea--and yet I feel a part of them, a witness and a priest of their unending worship of God. It is a place where I experience just a taste of God's joy in the beauty of his creation; where the peace of the endless, patient cycle of simply being is so clear and so evident as to make a mockery of my harried list of daily tasks; where I can rest from the endless round of trying--sometimes accomplishing, sometimes failing--and simply be a part of God's world, much beloved by Him. 

Your friend in Christ,
Matt

Friday, May 27, 2016

Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays?

I don't tend to give a lot of credence to conspiracy theories. However, every once in a while, a historical mystery (or a conspiracy theory of a historical nature) can pique my fancy. One of the most prominent historical/literary conspiracy theories out there is the argument that William Shakespeare (of Stratford-upon-Avon) did not actually write the plays and poems attributed to him. This is usually suggested because the external evidence of Shakespeare's life that we have available to us, scant though it may be, does not exactly match up with the portrait of the sort of author we might have expected to find based on the content of the plays and sonnets themselves. So, for the past century and a half, amateur historical sleuths have taken it upon themselves to search out other possible candidates. At one point in the early 20th century, the US Supreme Court even ruled in a mock trial that Francis Bacon, not Shakespeare, was the real author of Shakespeare's plays! It is now possible to find books making historical arguments for many different Elizabethan-era figures as the authors of Shakespeare's plays.

Last year, I did my own research project on this subject (just for the sheer fun of it), and read books both for and against the traditional attribution, including works dedicated to proving that the plays were written by Edward de Vere (the Earl of Oxford), Mary Sidney (a noblewoman of high literary stature), Francis Bacon (a Renaissance-man polymath), Henry Neville (a politician), Amelia Lanier (a writer and female companion to several prominent men), and Christopher Marlowe (a rival playwright, whom conventional history assumes to have died shortly before Shakespeare's emergence). This by no means exhausts the list of potential candidates, but these were the ones about whom I was able to discover the most.  

Below are two sets of study notes I created as my assessment of the evidence for and against Shakespeare, and then a comparison of the argument for each candidate (reading a quick overview of each character from Wikipedia might help you make better sense of that list). If you've got a lot of time to waste, go ahead and read them all. Or, if you just want the bottom line, scroll down to the end of the post. Have fun.

Accusations Commonly Made by Anti-Stratfordians
Responses Commonly Given by Stratfordians
The only writing in Shakespeare’s own hand that we have is six signatures on legal documents (unless the manuscript collaboration in Sir Thomas More can be verified); fairly sparse for such a famous and productive writer.
Although we do possess handwritten manuscripts, letters, and notations from most other writers of the time, it is still not surprising that the notes of Shakespeare, who apparently put very little effort into the publication and preservation of his works for posterity (his focus seems to have been exclusively on the writing/acting end of things), would vanish from the historical record. Unless preservation of such things is a personal priority of the writer, they will not survive the vagaries of four centuries.
Shakespeare’s education (as much as we can tell) is not nearly at the level one would expect for the vast erudition apparently evident in the plays.
Shakespeare probably attended his local grammar school, which would have given him literacy and a foundation in Latin and the classics. From that point on, it’s true that we can’t make any solid conjectures, but we ought not to doubt the capacity of genius for self-education, especially in a society where books, though valuable, were available for study even through means open to a common playwright (such as at publishers’ shops and the personal libraries of influential friends or patrons).
For someone who valued literacy as much as Shakespeare clearly did, even among women (as shown in his plays), it’s odd that his daughters seem to have been illiterate (just as his own father was).
It must be remembered that Shakespeare was in London, not in Stratford, during much of his children’s growing-up years; girls in that society would not have been expected to learn reading and writing as a rule; and once he was back in Stratford they would have been old enough to make any such tutelage towards literacy vastly more difficult.



Shakespeare uses such a vast array of sources that it broaches on absurdity to suggest that he had easy access to all of them; most troubling is the fact that some of the sources seem to have been only available in foreign languages (French, Italian, and Spanish) at the time that the plays were being written, and there is no evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford knew any of these.
We simply don’t have enough evidence of Shakespeare’s life to know what kind of access he would have had to source materials; nor do we know if he ever had occasion to learn foreign languages. He seems to have boarded with a Huguenot family for awhile, where he could have conceivably learned French (and from there, Italian and Spanish are not much of a stretch to someone with an ear for languages). It’s also possible that he might have had access, from one of his publisher friends, of draft versions of the English translations of such sources, even before they were released. We simply don’t know enough about him to conjecture one way or another on this point.
Someone with such a subpar education could not reasonably be expected to master the immense vocabulary Shakespeare wielded.
Many of the numbers and ratios referenced for Shakespeare’s vocabulary over against that of, say, a modern college graduate, are inflated and based on poor research. Though Shakespeare does seem to have used significantly more vocabulary than most of us would in our writings, one cannot, once again, rule out the exceptionality of a literary genius, regardless of his level of education.
There are no surviving letters to or from Shakespeare (aside from one unsent one asking for a loan, which mentions nothing about Shakespeare as a writer); an oddity in a copiously literary circle and age. Specifically, there are no letters extant in places where one would clearly expect to find such letters—such as in the surviving correspondence of Philip Henslowe, a theater manager who corresponded with numerous writers and who even put on several Shakespearean plays; but nowhere does he interact with Shakespeare nor even suggest in his rigorous accounts that the Stratford man is a writer.
Shakespeare apparently made little effort to preserve his own documents, so there is no reason to be surprised that none have survived. As for the missing letters in others’ correspondence, this is an argument from silence.
There are no surviving anecdotes about anyone meeting Shakespeare of Stratford which make any indication that he was known to be a writer.
This, like most of the lefthand column, is an argument from silence, and therefore difficult to substantiate.
While it’s true that there are a handful of literary allusions which reveal that “Shakespeare” was known to be the writer of the plays and poems attributed to him, nothing written within his lifetime connects the name within anything else personally known about the man from Stratford. That is, none of these allusions seems to indicate that their writers knew Shakespeare and his work personally, which leaves open the possibility that he was merely a front man.
This is an argument that merely opens up room for baseless conjectures. Further, it is clear from later anecdotes that Ben Jonson knew him personally, and though those anecdotes make no explicit reference to writing, and though Jonson also knew him personally as an actor, he does make reference to Shakespeare’s (poor) facility in Greek and Latin, which would make more sense as a comment about a writer than merely an actor.
There is also the strange evidence that although we now consider Shakespeare’s plays to be perhaps the greatest literature ever written, and his works were even highly regarded in his own day, there are a number of literary litanies which ought to have included Shakespeare, but did not. William Camden does not mention him among the important people of Stratford (1607). (And in fact, an extant copy of the book from someone living in the Stratford area shortly after Shakespeare’s time, has Shakespeare’s name penciled in at that spot, and labels him “our very own Roscius”—Roscius was, in Roman times, a famous actor—not a writer). Nor do mentions of Shakespeare appear in George Wyther, Thomas Lodge, or the author of The New Metamorphosis include Shakespeare among their (often long) lists of the best writers of the day. Nor, further, does Ben Jonson mention Shakespeare as a recommended author when writing in 1640, though he himself had written of “Shakespeare” as “the soul of the age” and “the star of poets” in the dedicatory verse in the First Folio.


These are surprising, yes, but hardly anything close to conclusive—mere arguments from silence. Though Jonson may have regarded Shakespeare’s work highly at times, we also have him on record as critiquing the overblown style of Shakespeare’s dialogue, so it’s no surprise he didn’t make Jonson’s top cut.
We have no evidence whatsoever that Shakespeare was ever acknowledged by a literary patron. Though he dedicates his early poems to Southampton, this was a common method of “fishing” for patronage employed by writers. No document of Southampton’s shows that he ever knew Shakespeare existed (much less had an intimate personal relationship with him).
This is true as far as it goes, but it is once again an argument from silence. It is certainly possible that the ascription in the early poems could indicate genuine patronage rather than merely a hopeful future alliance. Also, as part of a theater company, many of Shakespeare’s plays would have been under indirect patronage (first as “the Chamberlain’s Men,” then as “the King’s Men”).
We have no record of anyone from his family or hometown (though some records from both do exist) that Shakespeare was known to be a writer.
Another argument from silence. It’s worth noting that he was given a very prominent burial by Stratford standards, and that his headstone contains a poetic epigram (though, admittedly, it is rather simplistic poetry).
The earliest evidence we have of Shakespeare’s monument (an engraving of it as it looked in the 1600s) shows him to be holding a bag of wool; only much later was it changed to a pen and paper. Once again, this suggests that Stratfordians did not know him to be a writer.
It’s worth remembering once again that Shakespeare’s literary career was pursued largely, if not entirely, in London; and thus most of the contacts his Stratford neighbors would have had with him would have been as a local wealthy man involved in trade and property.
The authenticated documentation that exists for his life does not paint a very nice picture: he is suing neighbors for small sums and being questioned for hoarding malt in time of famine and for evading taxes. In his will, he bequeaths to his wife his “second-best bed.”
We would be most unjust if we think we could recreate a man’s character based on a few scraps of legal writ. There may be good reason behind the lawsuits, not mere miserliness; the affair of the malt was not at all uncommon in Stratford of his day (hoarding malt was apparently a town project). In the matter of the will, we cannot expect that Elizabethan wills were quite the same as our own; nor, of course, since we have no knowledge of the use or station of Shakespeare’s best bed, can we extrapolate his character from the bequeathment of his second best one. Even if such things did shed light on his character, we can call on any number of examples of great authors, artists, and musicians, who created works of towering beauty and yet had deep personal flaws.


We have no record anywhere that Shakespeare ever owned a single book—none are mentioned in his will, and no books inscribed to him have ever appeared; odd in an age when such valuable possessions were clearly demarcated in ownership.
It’s not necessarily to be expected that a will would mention books; it was common practice to list such items on another document. Further, Shakespeare need not necessarily have actually owned a collection of books to have had access to them for research.
So far as we can tell, Shakespeare had no significant interactions in the world of royal court, aside from performing plays there. Yet his plays betray the perspective of an insider, who is concerned almost exclusively with people of title (people, that is, unlike himself). He also seems to have a detailed knowledge of the minutiae of courtly life.
The world of Elizabethan London was the world of court, in the same way that America is the world of celebrity culture. Anyone can write about the lifestyle of celebrities, because it is the air of the popular culture that everyone breathes. Further, it is not surprising that Shakespeare would make courtiers his leading characters, in the same way that it is unsurprising that modern fantasy writers often choose to write about kings rather than peasants—that’s where the action was, and that’s what people wanted to see.
So far as we know, Shakespeare never traveled out of England, and yet he shows deep interest in, and almost intimacy with, certain locations in continental Europe (particularly certain cities of Italy). For instance, he knows specific local Italian jargon about Venice which was not available in any print source in England at the time.
Though such information may not have been in print, London was beginning to be a cosmopolitan “world city,” and Shakespeare could easily be imagined as running into people from Italy and other locations with whom he could gather such local knowledge.
Shakespeare wrote absolutely nothing which survives outside of his poems and plays—no dedicatory verses for others, no letters, no eulogies. Perhaps most astonishingly, Shakespeare’s work appears on the stage almost fully-formed. His first poems make him justly famous, and even his early plays are masterpieces. Where is the “juvenilia” that we would normally expect to find, especially for a writer starting at the relatively late age of 30?


Once again, Shakespeare apparently made little effort to preserve any of his own documents, and he may have been a person of such temperament that he kept himself out of the limelight of the celebrity sphere (thus, no attempts to throw out random poems at national events and personages). Further, it is not unknown in the history of literature for a writer’s first works, even at a late age, to be regarded as masterpieces.
We do have records of Shakespeare being paid as an actor, and we have records detailing numerous property shares and purchases of his (which add up to quite a bit, more than any other writer of his time was making, even though many of them produced more plays). But there are no records of him being paid for writing or publishing plays. Ought not the detailed records in the outlay to raise questions about the lack of records in the income? (It leaves the door open for the suggestion that he did not write plays, but was instead paid handsomely—above even what writers make—to be a front man.)
Another argument from silence. Shakespeare was clearly one of the very best writers of his day, and may have been paid as such. Further, his plays would have become the property of his acting company, not himself, and so the documentation at this more private level of interaction might not be expected to remain in such detail as the records of publishers’ houses.
Although Stratfordians take the ascription of the works to Shakespeare on the title pages of the Quarto and Folio editions as evidence of his authorship, they ignore the fact that Shakespeare’s name similarly appeared on the title pages of a number of other plays which are not now considered canonical (such as Sir John Oldcastle, A Yorkshire Tragedy, The London Prodigal, Locrine, and Thomas Lord Cromwell). Either a title ascription denotes authorship, or it doesn’t—you can’t have it both ways.
In some cases, it is not the author whose name would appear on the title page, but the actor or proofer or scrivener who had prepared another person’s manuscript for publication; it is possible that Shakespeare filled this role from time to time. Further, it is now accepted among most scholars that Shakespeare, like his contemporaries, was not at all opposed to doing collaborative projects, and so there may be a number of plays in which Shakespeare had a hand, but the work as a whole is not really “Shakespearean” because of the influence of the other authors.
Another odd silence is the fact that, on Shakespeare’s death, there were no eulogies or dedicatory verses from his contemporaries, something that was practically a rite of passage for a recently-deceased poet or playwright in that age, even for a writer of a distinctly lower standing than Shakespeare. This oversight is extremely strange.
This silence is a statistical anomaly, yes, but it’s not unheard of (Thomas Middleton also received no commendatory verses, nor Marlowe nor Kyd—though it would have not been expected for the latter two, given the political and legal circumstances around their deaths). Further, the publication of the First Folio just seven years later, together with lavish praise in dedicatory verses from other poets (to say nothing of another, smaller compendium of Shakespeare plays four years earlier), amply fills this gap.

When Shakespeare applied for a coat of arms in order to be a gentlemen, the legal documents not only record that he obtained his coat of arms “under false pretenses,” but he is also referred to as “Shakespeare the player” (that is, actor). This is in 1602, the height of his writing career.
Once again, this legal anecdote is scant evidence to say anything about Shakespeare’s character, and the ascription of him as an actor is not surprising, because, in addition to being a playwright, he certainly was very well known as an actor.
Many Shakespeare plays first appeared anonymously, and some later ones simply as “corrected by W. Shakespeare,” giving the impression that they were the work of some other author, who perhaps later employed Shakespeare as a scrivener or front man.
In point of fact, the anonymous ascriptions were not at all out of the ordinary for Elizabethan plays—many were anonymous. Further, this trend illustrates how unnecessary hiring a “front man” would be—if someone wished to hide their identity, the best thing to do would simply be to do what most playwrights did—allow their works to be issued without putting their name to it. There is no evidence that anyone in Elizabethan England wrote under a pen name or employed a front man for publication.
There is no evidence that Shakespeare was ever anything other than heterosexual, both in his own family and in the later anecdotes about his one-night stands. Yet the Sonnets seem to resonate with homosexual identity. Even if so, though, it would have been shocking in that day for a nobleman of Southampton’s stature to have had a homosexual affair (possibly an open one, given that the Sonnets were published and dedicated, perhaps, to him) with a commoner.
Shakespeare may have been bisexual; we simply don’t know enough relevant data. Even if not, the major error of many such arguments about the Sonnets is the assumption that such poems in that age and culture would be autobiographical. This was not a cultural expectation—most published poems were the narrations of fictional characters, not the author. Since there is an anecdote telling us that Shakespeare was known to write sonnets for his circle of friends, it may be that he has written in their voices and situations into these poems rather than his own.



 






A Known Playwright or Poet?
Shakespeare
Possibly – no documentary evidence of a writing career aside from his name on title pages and a few references from other writers, many of which thus could be taken as referring to the person behind the pen name rather than to the actor.
Oxford
Yes – a known and celebrated poet who may have also written plays; he was a patron of the theater and had his own theater company
Sidney
Yes – one of the great writers of the age, skilled in verse translations and closet dramas; she also was a patron of a family theater company
Bacon
No – a prose writer of great brilliance, but no   discernible   poetic gifts
Neville
No – possibly a reputation as a skilled writer, but no evidence of poetry or plays (was known for his skill in math)
Lanier
Yes – the first English woman to publish a book of original poetry, Salve Deus, which may align with some hypothetcal anti-Christian allegories in Shakespeare’s work, but whose style is generally agreed to be poorer than Shakespeare’s (it should be noted that the anti-Christian stance of both Lanier and Shakespeare is disputed, since it is so highly veiled that at times it’s difficult to tell whether it’s the author’s intent or simply an erroneous gut instinct of the interpreter.)

Marlowe
Yes – a rival playwright of Shakespeare’s
Connection with the works of Shakespeare
Shakespeare
Published in his name; published Quarto versions of the plays still contain slip-ups in which stage directions for characters are written with the name of the actors from Shakespeare’s company, rather than the character for which they played. (This, however, is not conclusive proof, since the Quarto versions of such plays were often unauthorized publications sold to publisher by actors who reconstructed the texts from memory or cue-cards.)
Oxford
Circumstantial – the themes of Shakespeare’s work match the known great themes of de Vere’s life (especially Hamlet, which can be taken as autobiographical)—the themes of mistaken identity, concealed identity, loss of status, and so on are important here—and he traveled to the areas that feature in the plays; he also shares one of the few attributable uses of the stanza-form in which Shakespeare’s first major poem, Venus and Adonis,  was written in.
Sidney
Shakespeare’s first Folio was dedicated to her two sons; other evidence is circumstantial—she had familial connections with the history plays and with the genre-forms of both the sonnet and the historical drama; family members traveled to the areas of the plays
Bacon
Bacon’s name appears prominently on a strange cover-document, known as the Northumberland Manuscript, which may have been in Bacon’s possession, and which also records several spellings of Shakespeare’s name and titles of his plays
Neville
Neville’s name also occurs as a header on the Northumberland Manuscript; a “Tower Notebook” possibly written in his hand has notes which may correspond to the stage directions for Henry VIII; he also traveled to the areas of the plays; he may have been known by his friends as “Falstaff”
Lanier
Some scholars have suggested her as the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets. She was also the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, the Queen’s Chamblerlain, who oversaw all theaters and plays, and whose acting company included William Shakespeare. There are many details of Lanier’s early life that match well with themes, locations, and events of the plays, including Shakespeare’s apparently intimate knowledge of Bassano, Italy (Lanier’s ancestral hometown). Her family is known to have produced the music used in Shakespeare’s plays.

Marlowe
Shared themes and shared turns of phrase; his wordplay, imagery, plots, and dramatic instincts are all held to be major inspirations for Shakespearean plays by most scholars.
The Name “Shakespeare”
Shakespeare
Shakespeare never spelled his own name consistently, and it may have been pronounced “Shaksper”; this is not necessarily a mark against him, though, since variances in spelling of all words, even proper names, were common, and hyphens or an extra “e” would often be added by typesetters so as not to “break the font” (which k and s were known to do).

Oxford
De Vere may have independently struck upon the name as a pen name, because of the reference to Athena/Minerva and because in his own life story he has several early occasions in which he is addressed as a “spear-shaker”; thus the connection with Shakespeare himself may have been an accidental coincidence
Sidney
Sidney herself probably put out her plays anonymously, and they were attached to Shakespeare’s name through his work as a play-broker and manuscript correcter (possibly with her knowledge, or possibly surreptitiously claiming authorship on the knowledge that she would not be able to publicly contest the claim); an alternate possibility is that he was employed as a front man
Bacon
Bacon may have used Shakespeare as a front man.
Neville
Neville employed Shakespeare as a front man, possibly because of a distant kinship between the two
Lanier
Lanier may have come up with the name as a pen name for her two long poems, then persuaded the actor Giliulemus Shaksper to utilize the variant spelling of his name that matched, in order for him to be a play broker and front man.
Marlowe
Marlowe (or his well-connected friend and patron, Sir Thomas Walsingham), employed Shakespeare as a front man, shipping his new plays from in hiding to be published and put on stage
Education
Shakespeare
Possibly attended the local grammar school in Stratford, at which he would have learned Latin and possibly been exposed to the works of Ovid; apparently did not attend university; we have no record that he could understand any other foreign language (Ben Jonson pokes fun at his poor grasp of Latin and not much Greek)

Oxford
An education of the highest degree—familiarity with all great works of Western literature and fluency in major European languages
Sidney
An education of the highest degree—familiarity with all great works of Western literature and fluency in major European languages
Bacon
An education of the highest degree—familiarity with all great works of Western literature and fluency in major European languages
Neville
An education of the highest degree—familiarity with all great works of Western literature and fluency in major European languages
Lanier
Though born into a family of commoners (emigrant Marrano Jews from Italy), she was placed at seven in the household of the noble Willoughby family, from which she gained the full court education given to young noblewomen.
Marlowe
Though from a poor family, well-educated because of receiving a scholarship to the Cathedral charter school in Canterbury, followed by undergraduate and a Masters degree at Cambridge
Why Not Claim the Works for Oneself?
Shakespeare
N/A
Oxford
Edward de Vere was a very prominent courtier, intimately connected with the queen. It is suggested as a possibility, because of oblique hints in Elizabethan gossip (open to multiple interpretations) and unexplained variances in chronology and in the behavior of court officials, that de Vere may have been the child of Elizabeth herself as well as her later lover, with whom she conceived another child, the Earl of Southampton. De Vere was unable to publicly claim authorship because his plays cut too close to the heart of his own situation, and may have endangered the royal claims of himself and his son.

Sidney
Writing for the public stage was not considered appropriate for a nobleman or person of high social standing; the plays also had subtle but clear criticisms of the courtier class. Further, it was considered highly inappropriate for women to publish original works of literature (translations, however, were permissible). Also, her ungrateful sons, who were rising courtiers with high aspirations, would have had their careers injured by their mother’s work if it became publicly known.
Bacon
Writing for the public stage was not considered appropriate for a nobleman or person of high social standing; the plays also had subtle but clear criticisms of the courtier class
Neville
Writing for the public stage was not considered appropriate for a nobleman or person of high social standing; the plays also had subtle but clear criticisms of the courtier class; further there was another, related, Henry Neville also in high society, so a pen name or front man may have been used just to avoid confusion
Lanier
It would not have been considered appropriate for a woman to be engaged in writing plays for the public stage. Further, Lanier may have been worried that her subtle anti-Christian allegories might actually be parsed and publicized, in which case she could be executed for heresy.
Marlowe
Marlowe was supposed to be dead, having been (apparently) murdered in 1593; his murder would have been a ploy to extricate himself on severe charges of heresy and disrespect for the crown, on which he was presumably about to be executed; any revelation that he was alive would have endangered both himself and his allies in the cover-up.
Chronology
Shakespeare
A perfect fit for the publication of the plays, though there are “lost years” from the 1580s where nothing much is known about what Shakespeare was doing; a few early plays appear with his name on them, though they are not accepted in the canon as genuinely Shakespearean; the one weakness of his chronology is that it seems that Shakespeare emerges into the world fully-formed as one of the greatest poetical geniuses the world has ever seen at the relatively late age of 30.
Oxford
Some explanation is required to make de Vere’s chronology fit. He is younger than Shakespeare, and so his early writings can be taken as a series of “juvenilia” which has been missing from Shakespeare’s published, fully mature works. It is notable that Oxford’s known works disappear strangely from the literary scene at about the time Shakespeare’s are emerging. However, the real difficulty is that de Vere dies in 1604, with 11 plays yet to come out according to the conventional dating (only three of which were actually released in quarto version, however; the others were unreleased plays as part of the First Folio). This can be explained away by positing that the plays were all written beforehand and only published later by associates, but it still runs into the difficulty of the apparent presence of a knowledge of contemporary events (i.e., after 1604) in those late plays.
Sidney
Overall, a very good fit for the plays, the hiatus between the final publication and her death is explained by her long trip to the continent with her lover during those years; her death fits intriguingly well with what is known about the printing of the First Folio, with the first few plays, initiated before her death, taken from proper authorial “fair copies,” and the remaining plays after her death apparently pieced together from a lower standard of manuscript.
Bacon
Bacon lives on quite a bit longer than the final publication of the plays, so some explanation is needed as to why he gave up the art so soon.
Neville
A nearly perfect fit for the chronology, including an interesting pause in the production of a play, and the introduction of several new ones all at once, just at the time when Neville was returning to England from France.
Lanier
A possible fit, although she lives well more than a decade beyond the end of Shakespeare’s plays, so the question might arise as to why she stopped writing plays. Some Lanier fans take this extended life as a point in her favor, however, claiming that there is evidence that the original author was active in revising the plays right up to the 1623 publication of the First Folio, meaning that neither Shakespeare nor Oxford could be the author.
Marlowe
A possible fit only if we assume (as all Marlovians do) that Marlowe faked his own death in 1593 and continued writing thereafter. The chronological highlight of this proposition is that Shakespeare’s works start appearing for the first time only shortly after Marlowe’s presumed death.
Personal Attributes
Shakespeare
From documentary evidence, Shakespeare is known to have been a businessman, and perhaps with a somewhat miserly streak. Married to an older woman, with whom he had three children in Stratford, though he lived most of his grown life away from them. He is also implicated in a few anecdotes as having one-night stands or affairs. Though literate himself, his parents and his children were apparently illiterate.

Oxford
The refined sensibilities of a courtier, but from anecdotes of the time he seems to have been a serious jerk, outright violent at times
Sidney
The quintessential Renaissance woman; praised for being wise, moderate, gentle, and understanding. She gathered a literary circle around her in an attempt to create a generation of English literature that would rival the great works of the classical world. Many scholars have noted the shocking stance of Shakespeare’s work in terms of its understanding of women (and even making heroes of them). She is rumored to have had an irregular sex life, but Is generally regarded as having been very pious.

Bacon
Bacon was probably the smartest person in England of his generation; he was also known to be gay (often guessed to be true of Shakespeare also because of the clearly male-directed Sonnets)
Neville
Neville was smart, wealthy, and a leading figure in a political movement which sought to question some of the accepted relationships between monarchy and government (a prominent theme in the plays); however, he was also known to be a faithful puritan, which does not match well with some of the plays’ bawdier themes.
Lanier
The daughter of an emigrant Marrano Jewish family from Italy who were the most notable court musicians of the age. Having grown up under the foster beneficence of a noble court family, been given as a young mistress to one of the most well-connected Tudor statesmen of the age, and later having been reduced to the role of common housewife, she matches the Jewish, Italian, court, musical, sexual, and common-man aspects of Shakespeare’s work.
Marlowe
A great playwright who also served (apparently) in Queen Elizabeth’s spy agency, making the suggestion of a faked death and a hidden identity not entirely impossible. He was known as a bit of a hothead and very outspoken, making the charges of blasphemous heresy against him (and, perhaps, even the report of his death in a strange “tavern brawl”) entirely believable.
Access to source materials
Shakespeare
Unknown; one of the great obstacles of his position is explaining how Shakespeare apparently made use of foreign books from multiple languages that were not yet available in English translations; as well as being party to the private Virginia Company letter that probably was a source for The Tempest; no record of Shakespeare owning any books has ever come down to us (though Stuart-era wills were somewhat different in matter and tone than what we expect in our day).

Oxford
Because of his social position, de Vere would have had access to a large personal library and easy access to many other collections, as well as the necessary fluency in foreign languages; his tutor Golding was a famous translator of Ovid (though some Oxfordians suggest that the Golding’s translation was in fact done by de Vere)
Sidney
It has been documented that Sidney owned (and even made notes in) almost all of the known works used in Shakespeare’s plays; her family even had personal relationships with many of the authors of these works; and she was a member of the Virginia Company who would have had access to its private letter; also, “Shakespeare” seems to have changed elements of the source-stories in a “feminine” direction—erasing incidents of violence and incest, and adding feminine loyalty and heroism.

Bacon
Because of his social position, Bacon would have had access to a large personal library and easy access to many other collections, as well as the necessary fluency in foreign languages
Neville
Because of his social position, Neville would have had access to a large personal library and easy access to many other collections, as well as the necessary fluency in foreign languages
Lanier
Had plausible access to any and all source materials, especially in the noble households of her early career; obtaining such sources later on (but still through most of the production of the Shakespearean canon) would probably have been somewhat more difficult; but she remained a woman of some means and may have had resources to buy her own books.
Marlowe
Because of his travels, Marlowe would have had access and fluency to engage some of the foreign-language sources; he would have also become familiar with many of the main sources during his time as a student at Cambridge (when he was already writing plays)
Connections to the Sonnets
Shakespeare
A backstory has had to be created to explain the sonnets; apparently Shakespeare was on incredibly intimate terms with the Earl of Southampton (possibly a patron of his work, though the evidence here is extremely slim); on the other hand, it would be shocking in that day for a commoner like Shakespeare to have addressed an earl in such language, much less to have had an intimate relationship with him. The dedication, to “Mr. W.H.,” is often assumed to be the switched initials of Henry Wriothesley, the proper name for Southampton. An alternate possibility is that these are the initials of the procurer of the manuscripts, possibly a known publisher’s agent by the name of William Hall. A number of candidates have been proposed as the “dark lady,” but this remains obscure. A contemporary writer did refer to the fact that Shakespeare (or, of course, the person behind Shakespeare as a  pen name) was known for writing sonnets for his circle of friends.

Oxford
The sonnets fit de Vere’s story (but only if read chronologically backwards). The “procreation sonnets” are written to Southampton to encourage him to marry and bear an heir (so as to keep de Vere’s hidden line of Tudor royalty going); many of the sonnets portray the raw angst of de Vere’s position as a discarded incestuous lover of his own mother, who will not acknowledge him as her own. The dedication, to “Mr. W.H.,” is assumed to be the switched initials of Henry Wriothesley, the proper name for Southampton.
Sidney
The sonnets fit Sidney’s story remarkably well. Her brother Philip, whom she adored, had invented the poetical conventions for the sonnet (and scholars have long agreed that Shakespeare owes a large literary debt to Philip Sidney). The early procreation sonnets are written to Philip, her beloved brother and a reigning earl of several estates; his lack of heir would have indeed been a source of anxiety for the family. The famous poem “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” fits well as a goodbye-poem to Philip, matching several important details about his death. The other sonnets also match Sidney’s story well—especially since it is known that she had a longstanding relationship with a younger man (an estate doctor, after her own husband had passed away), and at one point actually did suspect (untruthfully, as it turned out) that her lover was having an affair with her niece, who had dark hair and eyes. Further, the dedication to Mr. W. H., made by the publisher rather than the author, could be to her son William Herbert.
Bacon
The male-oriented direction of the romantic sonnets fit with Bacon’s homosexuality.
Neville
Neville was associated with Southampton and Southampton’s foster father, Lord Burghley, who was attempting to make a match between his own daughter and the young earl. Neville may have been hired by Burghley to write the procreation sonnets to Southampton. The dedication, to “Mr. W.H.,” is assumed to be the switched initials of Henry Wriothesley, the proper name for Southampton. Neville is assumed to have had a close personal relationship with Southampton because they were both held as prisoners in the Tower for an extended time after the failed Essex revolt. Some of the sonnets refer to betrayal (matching the fact that Southampton offered the evidence condemning Neville after the Essex revolt), and many complain of disgrace and loss of station, which fits Neville’s political career.
Lanier
She is thought by some to be the “Dark Lady,” so some of the sonnets are taken to be autobiographical, while others are written in the hypothetical voice of the pen-name character and some in the voice of the real Will Shakespeare (whom she did not think much of, apparently). The entire sonnet sequence is interpreted by some to be a parody of Spenser’s famous sonnet sequence. A romantic relationship with Southampton is suggested, but no proof exists.
Marlowe
Living as he was in posthumous exile, much of the anguish in the sonnets about lost identity, etc., fit well. It is also fairly easily established that his relationship with Sir Walsingham was that of lovers, so the homosexual-love angle of the sonnets is likewise explained. The dedication, to “Mr. W.H.” is understood to be the initialized form of Walsingham’s name when hyphenated, as many names were printed thus at the time (Walsing-Ham).
A Change in Tone of the Plays in early 1600s (from comedy / history to tragedy)
Shakespeare
The most likely explanation is that at this time, Shakespeare and his company were making the move to a new theater in Blackfriars, which allowed him a different angle on playwriting, and a different (more discerning) sort of attender, thus bringing forth a headier sort of drama. Further, some of the dramas seem to be prompted by historical events, such as the Guy Fawkes’ Affair and the plot of Macbeth. Some also suggest that the change in tone may have to do with Shakespeare’s sorrow and disillusionment on the arrest and conviction of his patron (and lover?) Southampton following the Essex revolt; more likely, it simply shows changing interests and maturation as a writer
Oxford
No consensus opinion on this question; the bigger difficulty for Oxfordians is that de Vere dies in 1604, while the plays continue to be published for nearly another decade—the supposition is that the plays were all written beforehand, since many publications before the First Folio seem to be unofficial and may have been brought forward by someone other than the author
Sidney
Sidney suffered a series of tragedies during those years, mostly having to do with the deaths of family members.
Bacon
No explanation known
Neville
Neville was arrested as part of the Essex plot and imprisoned in the Tower of London for several years
Lanier
Lanier’s chronology comes a bit too late for this to be an outworking of her depression at having gone from a lady at court to an ordinary housewife, though this lingering tension may have had something to do with it. The experience of menopause, it is suggested, may also be partly to blame.
Marlowe
It may be that the strain of Marlowe’s exile was weighing on him after an initial enjoyment of life abroad
Specialized knowledge or areas of
interest
Shakespeare
Acting, business, property law, and moneylending
Oxford
De Vere, as a nobleman, would have shared interest in falconry and lawn bowling, which are prominent sources of Shakespearean imagery, as well as a decent experience of some of the legal knowledge evidenced in the plays.
Sidney
Sidney matches the specialized knowledge and interest shown in the Shakespeare canon in the areas of falconry, alchemy, gardens and herbs, lawn bowling, needlework, and kitchen activities (though it may be the case that a noblewoman of such status would have had little to do with the kitchens); she also matches the fact that although many of the plays include fighting and battle, the writer shows almost no interest in the action of the fighting itself or the tactics of battle
Bacon
Bacon would have been familiar with most high-class entertainments evident in the plays, as well as an unimpeachable knowledge of law, science, and politics.
Neville
Neville, as a nobleman, would have shared interest in falconry and lawn bowling, which are prominent sources of Shakespearean imagery. He also would have had some specialized knowledge in the “New Astronomy,” as evidenced in the play, gathered when Neville was touring Europe and visiting scientists with his college professor; he also matches well with necessary knowledge in the legalities of real estate and local governance.
Lanier
This is the center of the case for Lanier. Mostly because of her experiences with the Willoughbys and Lord Hunsdon, she can be shown to have plausibly had a greater direct background in the specialized areas of Shakespearean imagery than almost any other candidate—falconry, generalship, Italy, Denmark, Scotland, the Tudor line, rare herbs and gardening, sexuality (as a mistress in the Venetian courtesan tradtion), legal matters, needlework, and kitchen activities—and a nearly exclusive claim to expertise in the areas of Jewish themes/Hebrew and music.

Marlowe
Acting, espionage, and nonconformist views on religion
Personal Connections to the History Plays
Shakespeare
None; it is odd that he would not have been arrested after the staging of his politically inflammatory play Richard II just before the Essex revolt (unless, of course, it was known that he wasn’t the true author)
Oxford
Many of de Vere’s relatives (both from his Tudor family and his foster family, the Oxfords) appear in the plays; the great themes of dynastic succession are the themes of de Vere’s own personal struggle
Sidney
Almost all of the main characters in the history plays are related to Sidney (there are overlaps with some members of the Neville family); some of the historical accounts have been amended in the plays to remove offense from, or give inflated roles to, her relatives


Bacon
None known
Neville
Special attention seems to be given to a number of characters who are in Neville’s family line (there are overlaps with the Sidney family); the history plays having to do most with France were written during the years that Neville was ambassador to France

Lanier
Lord Hunsdon, whom she served as a mistress for a decade, was the cousin of Queen Elizabeth and thus a member of the Tudor clan, with whom most of the history plays are concerned.
Marlowe
None known
Personal Connections to the Other Plays
Shakespeare
None known, though many possible parallels can be drawn. This is not a mark against his case, though, since it was not expected in the literature of the time for such works (perhaps any works) to be autobiographical in any way.
Oxford
The characters in Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, and Antony and Cleopatra all contain searing satires of Queen Elizabeth (his mother?); so apparently does the first major Shakespearean work, the poem Venus and Adonis. Hamlet itself is nearly autobiographical, including specific personal details (like being beset by pirates and landing naked on the shores of England)
Sidney
Sidney herself wrote a verse translation, Antonie, which is a major source and inspiration for Antony and Cleopatra; Titus Andronicus fits with some of the personal tragedies in her life; All’s Well that Ends Well matches the biography of her relationships; and Love’s Labour Lost fits with the image of her literary circle as an “academie”



Bacon
None known
Neville
Neville either owned or was well acquainted with several of the areas in the plays (such as Windsor, the only English locale, and many of the foreign locations which he had visited in his student days); the political themes of Coriolanus fit well with Neville’s career under the Stuart reign.
Lanier
Autobiographical references may occur in many plays, such as All’s Well that Ends Well; the theme of odd wedding arrangements and poor marriages matches her personal experience as a housewife; there are also highly specific references in Othello to her ancestral hometown of Bassano, Italy.
Marlowe
The play As You Like It may contain a reference to Marlowe’s own “death”: “It strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.” Some of the other plays make reference to the myth of Hero and Leander, the subject of one of Marlowe’s best-known epic poems.
The First Folio
Shakespeare
The collection is titled to show that it was put together by two of Shakespeare’s fellow actors from the Globe theater (though even conservative Shakespeare scholars doubt that they alone could have done the task).
Oxford
The vague and enigmatic dedicatory verse by Jonson seems to indicate that there is perhaps a hidden author behind the name Shakespeare.
Sidney
The printing begins in the last few months of Sidney’s life (and the first few plays show evidence of being made from high-quality documents); printing stops for a couple months after her death, only to resume with apparently less access to the author’s own final proofs. Sidney’s son William is the royal official who oversees the publication of plays at that time; he and her other son are the two dedicatees. Ben Jonson’s prefatory verse, while famously obscure, refers to Shakespeare as the “sweet swan of Avon,” and in fact the swan was one of the symbols of the Sidney family and their Wilton estates were on a river named Avon. Further, the verse may hint at the poor nature of Sidney’s two sons and their mixed motives in publishing her work, using the example of a “bawd” and a “whore” (accurate descriptions of the two) putting forth something to shame a matron.

Bacon
No connections known
Neville
One of the dedicatory verses was written by Leonard Digges, a half-brother of one of Neville’s kin who also happened to be connected to Shakespeare of Stratford.
Lanier
Some supporters claim that it is demonstrable that the original author was still making revisions to the First Folio plays up to 1622. Lanier fits this by being alive and active at the time. Lanier advocates agree with the Sidney case in holding that Ben Jonson’s verse clearly indicates that he knew the actual author was a “matron.”
Marlowe
One of the dedicatory verses, written by an unknown “J.M.,” uses the metaphor of an author’s works living on to hint at the possibility that the author has “died” and yet really does live on.
The Evidence for Collaboration with Other Playwrights
Shakespeare
This is perhaps the strongest case for Shakespeare’s authorship. Many scholars have made convincing arguments that at least a handful of Shakespeare’s plays were collaborative efforts with other playwrights (sometimes around a 50/50 partnership), whose names are known and whose stylistic contributions are discernible. Shakespeare is the only one of the candidates who can be imagined working side-by-side with members of the known playwriting class in such an intimate way. We may even have around 150 lines in Shakespeare’s own handwriting from a collaborative play about Sir Thomas More, which was never finished and left unpublished because of Puritan efforts to shut down the theaters. 

Oxford
None known or posited; however, he did have close associations with some other known playwrights, especially John Lyly.
Sidney
None known or posited; however, she did employ a group of players and so would have had contact with other playwrights; and she was known to have encouraged other writing endeavors from people in her household and employ.
Bacon
None known or posited
Neville
None known or posited
Lanier
An early collaboration (or major influence) from Marlowe is posited, together with a romantic relationship. Unlike most of the other authorship candidates, she would not have been prohibited by class from working closely with other playwrights. However, the fact that she was still a secret author would make such collaboration far more difficult, and far more dangerous for the front man Shakespeare to keep up the ruse.
Marlowe
None known or posited; it would have been dangerous for him to try a collaboration when he was pretending to be dead.


Verdict:
The evidence for Shakespeare is certainly not beyond legitimate question. But, with the growing analysis of his collaborative writings, which is more easily imagined for him than any other authorship candidate, as well as the fact that most of the case against him is based on arguments from silence, we still have to rule in his favor. Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays and poems attributed to him. In gauging the plausibility of the other candidates, I would give second place to Mary Sidney, followed by Amelia Lanier. After them, I hold significant reservations about the cases for Oxford, Marlowe, and Neville, and give almost no credence to the Baconian possibility.