The Ongoing Obsession with Shakespeare’s True Identity

I’ve never been all too keen on Shakespeare authorship conspiracy theories, and I find students often get distracted by their belief that the default way to get the “right answer” about literature is to look for connections between the author’s life and the author’s work. For example, I was disinterested in “Shakespeare in Love” because it depicted Will’s creative genius as if it were held hostage to events in his life. This LitHub essay does a good job addressing the delightful weirdness of Shakespearean authorship conspiracy theories, which I find amusing when exploring on my own time, but mostly a distraction in the classroom.In every department and every cafe, it seemed there was a scholar with a new take on Shakespeare and his work.

In this milieu I encountered several breeds of Stratfordians (those who accept the standard Shakespeare biography) and a multitude of anti-Stratfordians (those who reject it): Baconians, Oxfordians, Marlovians, Derbyites, Rutlanders, Groupists. One sub-species was especially well represented. Monash was home to the world’s richest concentration of Nevillians: people who think Sir Henry Neville wrote Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Landing in this parallel universe of unorthodoxy was an unsettling experience. Finding out you’re surrounded by Shakespeare skeptics is like discovering all your friends are Scientologists, or swingers.

Though the heretical factions have little regard for each other, they are united in their belief that “Shakspere” of Stratford cannot have written Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Each faction has a defining affiliation with one or more “true author” candidates. —Stuart Kells, LitHub

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