There is an ever-expanding body of scholarship and dedicated research from hordes of academics who appear to know for a fact that the plays of William Shakespeare were written by any number of people.
Strangely, it never seems to occur to these learned folk that the most likely person to have written Hamlet, Macbeth and 35 other plays in the canon is none other than the man accredited—William Shakespeare.
After all, it seems to have been generally accepted at the time that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, while the First Folio published only seven years after the purported playwright’s death also had his name on the title page.
Those few academics stupid enough to believe that the Bard of Avon really was the Bard of Avon and not a wealthy noble man, a dead Londoner or quite probably a small green alien visiting from Mars for a few years generally manage to put together quite a strong case to persuade others of that fact.
It seems very strange that, 400 years after the event, passionate unbelievers are still desperately trying to make the case for numerous other Jacobethans to have been the sole progenitors of the works of William Shakespeare.
This list is bound to be incomplete but, amongst others, Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Southampton, Edward de Vere, who was 17th Earl of Oxford, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Donne and last but by no means least Queen Elizabeth all have their advocates.
Once we get into these realms of fantasy, it is probably worth pointing out that the Queen Elizabeth in question is the first of that name, not the successor who died last year. The fact that the former passed away before many of Shakespeare’s plays were written seems a minor inconvenience to those who are convinced of her claim to the authorship.
While this list may seem long, it was not long enough for the latest team of academics.
A recent book suggests with great authority that all of these theories were incorrect. Instead, the man in question (and with the notable exception of Queen Elizabeth, it is generally a man) was Sir Henry Neville.
To quote from his advocates, “the case for Neville is based in part on the remarkable chronological mesh between his life and the accepted chronology of Shakespeare's works. Beginning about 1601 (and not before) the great Tragedies were written, starting with Hamlet in 1601 and Othello in 1602. The author had never written plays of this depths before, and this change in the writer's work accords with nothing in Shakespeare's life. However, in 1600 Neville was sent to the Tower for his role in the Essex rebellion, alongside the Earl of Southampton, his close friend. These plays are actually 'about' the Essex rebellion, with Othello and Desdemona based on Essex and Queen Elizabeth.”
If nothing else, Sir Henry Neville should be placed further up the league table than many of his putative competitors, since he was probably born the year before Shakespeare and at least had the decency to survive until 1615 and therefore was alive when all of the plays were written.
There seems to be a general consensus amongst Shakespearean scholars, let alone those who think that he was an impostor, that the man from Stratford may not have written the whole of every play associated with his name. Indeed, he may also have written parts of other plays attributed to the likes of John Marston. However, despite all the theories, there is very limited evidence to prove that William Shakespeare the playwright was not William Shakespeare the man.
In the 21st century, the chances of finding a definitive answer to a question that should never have been asked must be close to 0. Unless somebody unearths a cellar in Warwickshire and discovers some manuscript or other documents signed by QE1 or another competitor, the only realistic possibility would be to wait for H G Wells’s time machine to become a reality and head back to Shakespeare’s (or Neville’s) heyday to interview the relevant parties.
However, nothing will stop those who seek to make their name by discrediting Shakespeare and promoting one or other of his contemporaries. If it gives them some entertainment and maybe even a little hard cash or career uplift, perhaps this does no harm. Having said that, William Shakespeare would be fully justified in turning in his grave at the indignity of their efforts, although unlike Tutankhamen, the man (one hesitates to say playwright) from Warwickshire rather stupidly did not put a curse on anybody attempting to prove the impossible at his expense.
What all of these self-important academics always seem to forget is the plays themselves. They are unique and timeless works of great literature and it really doesn't make the slightest difference who wrote them, as long as they can be viewed, read and enjoyed.