Portrait of William Shakespeare, from the First Folio.

Dear Dr. Boli: A friend of mine says that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays. I thought everybody knew that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare. But when I looked on line, I found all sorts of other theories—some people say Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare, and others that it was Sir Thomas Bodley, or King James I, or the Earl of Salisbury, or Cardinal Wolsey, or Mary Queen of Scots, or Sir Thomas More, or the Earl of Derby, or the Earl of Essex, or the Earl of Rutland, or the Countess of Rutland, or Sir Philip Sidney, or Baron Brooke, or Sir Francis Drake, or the emperor Constantine the Great. So who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, anyway? —Sincerely, a Professor of Literature at the Pennsylvania University of California.

Dear Sir or Madam: Dr. Boli clings to the old-fashioned opinion that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s plays, even though it causes children in the street to laugh at him as he passes by. (At least he assumes that his opinions on the Shakespeare question are the cause of their laughter, since it is well known that American children are full of unreasonable prejudices on questions of English literature.) He might bring forward any amount of literary evidence to support his unfashionable theory, but instead he argues from quantity rather than quality.

A gentleman of the nobility might amuse himself by writing two or three plays, and perhaps even having them produced on the stage; he would, of course, follow classical models and adhere strictly to the Aristotelian unities. But only a man whose continued existence depended on producing the next play would have written such a prodigious quantity of plays. Setting all questions of style and content aside, the mere number of Shakespeare’s plays tells us that we have here a man who wrote for a living. Dr. Boli is of the opinion that literary critics ought to consider the word count before they attempt to attribute such a mass of literary labor to a nobleman whose days were filled with affairs of state. As is so often the case in English literature, the critic’s most effective tool is a pocket calculator.


  1. Jared says:

    It is perfectly well established that the chief proponent of the Oxfordian theory was a Looney.

    Besides, how could the Earl of Oxford have found time to write under the Stratfordian pseudonym when he was so busy writing under such other noms de plume as Christopher Marlowe, Arthur Golding, Edmund Spenser, John Lyly, and Philip Sidney?

  2. Greybeard says:

    Makes me wonder if Literary Criticism isn’t rooted in Biblical Criticism. If it can be shown that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, then it becomes easier to prove that John didn’t write his Gospel or Peter his Epistles or Isaiah his Prophecy.

  3. Bobo says:

    Shakespeare did not write his plays. They were actually written by another man with the same name.

  4. some guy on the street says:

    My own impossible curiosity is: if Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, what DID Shakespeare write?

  5. There’s a big difference between Shakespeare conspiracy theories and Biblical Criticism. Whoever wrote Shakespeare’s plays, they’re still good plays, still enjoyable to watch and read, still worthy of study, still the foundation of so much of English literature and western culture. And they’re still fictional, of course.

    Regardless of who wrote the various books of the Bible, they are still the same mix of great literature and painfully boring lists of who begat who, still the same mix of high moral philosophy and bloodthirsty tyranny, still the same mix of eloquent imagery and transparent fraud. But one set of purported authors includes the possibility that, bizarre and horrific as certain bits may be, they may be the actual Word of God, and thus we’re stuck in that crazy, mixed-up universe where angels breed with human women to beget giants and wearing poly-cotton blend T-shirts was once rightly considered a capital offense…while any other set of possible authors makes it quite clear that it’s just a book, written by just people, and much like one of Shakespeare’s History Plays, while some of the cast and events may be based on actual people and events, most of them are as fictional as Frodo Baggins.

  6. RepubAnon says:

    What if Shakespeare simply outsourced his writings, much as modern publishing houses pay anonymous authors to create works to be published under a pseudonym?

    Could it be possible that William Shakespeare simply asked each of his friends to contribute one work, to each of which Mr. Shakespeare signed his name? Each author, knowing nothing of the others, would not realize that they were part of an early exercise in establishing a “brand”.

  7. So what you’re saying is, the plays of Shakespeare were all written by Carolyn Keene?

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