Shakespeare authorship question

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The Shakespeare authorship question is the argument that someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works traditionally attributed to him, and that the historical Shakespeare was merely a front to shield the identity of the real author or authors, who for reasons such as social rank, state security or gender could not safely take public credit.[1] Although the idea has attracted much public interest,[2] all but a few Shakespeare scholars and literary historians consider it a fringe belief with no hard evidence, and for the most part disregard it except to rebut or disparage the claims.[3]

Scholars contend that the controversy has its origins in Bardolatry, the adulation of Shakespeare in the 18th century as the greatest writer of all time.[4] To 19th-century Romantics, who believed that literature was essentially a medium for self-revelation,[5] Shakespeare's eminence seemed incongruous with his humble origins and obscure life, arousing suspicion that the Shakespeare attribution might be a deception.[6] In the intervening years the controversy has spawned a vast body of literature,[7] and more than fifty authorship candidates have been proposed, including Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, Christopher Marlowe, Mary Sidney, the Earl of Derby and the Earl of Rutland.[8] Proponents believe that their candidate is the more plausible author in terms of education, life experience and social status, arguing that William Shakespeare of Stratford lacked the education, aristocratic sensibility or familiarity with the royal court they say is apparent in the works.[9]

Those Shakespeare scholars who have responded to such claims hold that biographical interpretations of literature are unreliable in attributing authorship,[10] and that the convergence of documentary evidence for Shakespeare's authorship—title pages, testimony by other contemporary poets and historians, and official records—is the same as that for any other authorial attribution of the time.[11] No such supporting evidence exists for any other candidate,[12] and Shakespeare's authorship was not questioned during his lifetime or for centuries after his death.[13]

Despite the scholastic consensus,[14] a relatively small but highly visible and diverse assortment of supporters, including some prominent public figures,[15] have questioned the traditional authorship attribution.[16] They campaign through publications, organizations, online discussion groups, and conferences to gain public acceptance of the authorship question as a legitimate field of academic inquiry and to promote one or another of the various authorship candidates.[17]

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