William Shakespeare is one of the greatest poets and playwrights from the Renaissance period. The Renaissance period spanned from 1485 to 1625. It was known for being the economic, political, and artistic rebirth of civilization creating a burst of creative expression. The Renaissance had a distinctive impact on literature, specifically involving the sonnet cycle and the influence of Greek and Roman tragedies. Arts flourished under Queen Elizabeth’s reign because she was a great “patron of the arts and science” (Schwartz 236). Her reign allowed writers such as Shakespeare to flourish with creativity giving rise to legendary works of literature that would make history. Since Shakespeare is the most famous writer of any time period, naturally conspiracy theories evolved. One of the candidates being Sir Francis Bacon due to the fact that many of his philosophies are instilled in some of Shakespeare’s work, causing many to question Shakespeare’s authorship especially due to his low education.
William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-Upon-Avon to a glove maker, which means he grew up middle class. He then got married at the age of 18 to Anne Hathway who was pregnant with his first daughter Susanna. She later on had twins, Hamnet and Judith in 1585, but unfortunately, Hamnet died in 1596 at the age of 11. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 152 sonnets and was one of the few playwrights to flourish in both comedy and tragedy (Schwartz 246). William Shakespeare began his career as an actor and later on emerged as a playwright. He was inspired by the Morality plays which did not involve a theatre. It consisted of groups of people acting from town to town (Shwartz 241). He even created a different rhyme scheme for his sonnets, called the Shakespearean sonnet. All of Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the Globe Theater which was built in 1599, and he acted in many of them (Schwarts 241). Although he is considered a legend in our time , he was not extremely popular until after his death. He died on April 23, 1616 and was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but did not become known as a popular playwright until the late seventeenth century.
Due to this popularity he gained, people wanted to know more, they were intrigued by the story behind it all. This is when conspiracy theories began to stir and many became skeptical about Shakespeares’ plays and sonnets. For starters, many argue that Shakespeare was born middle class to a glove maker, who never received a university education, making it impossible to receive such a high education. In fact, many records show that Shakespeare did not attend University, therefore making the vast vocabulary used in Shakespeare’s work a bit incredulous. Furthermore, many believe that both Shakespeare’s parents, and his children were illiterate. Now, why would a man of such prominent writings neglect his kids of an education? In addition, many claim that none of Shakespeare’s documents prove him as the author as said in biography.com, “They also note that none of the letters and business documents that survive give any hint of Shakespeare as an author, let alone a one famous during his lifetime. Instead, the written records detail more mundane transactions, like his pursuits as an investor and real estate collector” (Maranzani par 4). However, these are only a few of the many points that lead us deeper and deeper into knowing more.
One of the most popular theories is the assumption that Sir Francis Bacon penned Shakespeare’s work. As said in Shwartz’s textbook, Bacon was a government official, prose writer, and because of his high education at Cambridge University, made many contributions in both science and philosophy. However the big question here is how is he connected to Shakespeare’s work and why would he hide the fact that he authored it? Through lots of research and many breakdowns of Shakespeare’s work they discovered that many of Bacon’s philosophies can be found throughout his work. In addition, they seemed to have found concealed messages throughout his plays as said in biography.com, “They believe that Bacon provided clues behind for intrepid later scholars, concealing secret messages or ciphers about his identity as a kind of literary trail of breadcrumbs. Some have gone to even further extremes, arguing that Bacon’s ciphers reveal a larger, alternative history of the Tudor era” (Maranzani 8). Therefore, I believe that Bacon composed Shakespeare’s work, through the many crumbs that are left scattered throughout, including the fact that many find it hard to believe that Shakespeare could have shown these philosophical insights within his work with the limited education he had access to growing up.
Nonetheless, this leaves us with many doubts, such as why would he hide his identity as the playwright of such prestigious work. As said in health research funding, “The reason why Bacon would use Shakespeare as a ghostwriter of sorts is based on his position, according to theory supporters. If Sir Francis Bacon were to be identified as the author of those works, it would hinder his high office. He would be unable to serve in his eventual position as the Viscount St. Alban, a title granted in 1621.” (Baconian Theory Explained par 6). Society has always played a huge role in the lives of the people which leads many to believe that Bacon was terrified of the reputation he would receive and label that society would place him in from the plays he would write.
However, Polish Philosopher, Wincenty Lutostawski created what is now known as stylometry in the late 1800’s. This method allows us to view the characteristics of each writer, by observing the amount of times certain words are used, or the length of the sentences and paragraphs. Through the data gathered, no conspiracy candidates fall in the Shakespearian variance as said in the Ted talk serving as reliable evidence against these theories. (Did Shakespeare write his plays?)
In addition to the many claims that Shakespeare had no education, many think he was probably incapable of his works due to the facts there are no written letters or documents proving his authorship. However, as stated on vox.com, there are plenty of records that reference Shakespeare as a part owner of what started off as Lord Chamberlain’s Men which later on converted to the Kingsmen under James I’s rule. Not to mention the biggest piece of evidence: his name on each one of his plays (Grady par 9 and 10).
However, we can not blame these anti-stratfordians for what they have heard making it extremely important to know who is the root of the source. James Wilmot, a literary scholar, decided to write a biography about Shakespeare in 1781, and this is how the conspiracies were introduced. Sorting through evidence of authorship, while doing research of his hometown, and any records left, he was surprised when he encountered nothing, “What he found astonished him: There was no record anywhere to indicate that William Shakespeare of Stratford ever read a book or wrote a letter. No bits of Shakespeare’s handwriting scribbled in the margins of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, no Shakespearian signatures on the bottoms of old letters, no ‘property of William Shakespeare’ written on the endpapers of a Bible, nothing” (Grady par 6 ). However, Wilmot kept his assumptions confidential and supposedly only told his friend, James Cowell. Although there is no official verification that Wilmot’s story is true, Cowell began to make Wilmot’s suspicions public through his lectures. However, these lectures did not become popular until 1931, giving light to these conspiracies.
Although there is still no evidence to prove these conspiracies, they have persisted for over 400 years now. These conspiracy theories have become so popular that books have been written about them, such as The Philosophy of the Plays of William Shakespeare Unfolded by Delia Bacon written as early as 1857, and a more recent book written in 2012, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography by Diana Price. Although Delia Bacon has no direct relation with Sir Francis Bacon, she was the author of one of the first, most popular books out about this conspiracy theory. Her goal was to gather up as much information possible that connected Francis Bacon to Shakespeare’s work. Whereas Price’s book does not talk about specific candidates that could have written his work. Price preferably speaks on why she knows Shaskespeare is not the author of his work. Although it is hard to speak on a topic that provides no evidence, she does a great job by disregarding all emotional ties and stating powerful evidence that is just enough to answer the big question, why not shakespeare? (politicworm par 3). This book has gained so much popularity as to even be known as the “bible of anti-stratfordians”, creating a huge impact on this topic.
However, books like these are the reason that these theories persist. As human beings we are captivated by dramatic stories of the unknown, or unordinary. We read stories like these that come as early as the 19th century, and naturally as humans we are interested and philosophers like Price continue the chain. We grew up learning that our education is the foundation for our success, and knowing the education that Shakespeare received is intriguing, making us question the truth behind it. Is it so difficult to believe that someone can grow up with illiterate parents and end up becoming one of the most popular playwrights in our history? Books from almost 300 years ago support these conspiracy theories, which the next generations stem from, only helping these theories persist.