In the nineteenth century, just as Shakespeare’s reputation as the greatest writer in the English language seemed undeniable, doubts began to creep in regarding whether Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was really the author of the plays and poems attributed to his name. Theories began to circulate, speculating that Shakespeare may have served as a front for another author who could not publicly take credit for their work. So-called “Anti-Stratfordians” are skeptical that the son of a tradesman who had so little education could have written the complex and wide-ranging works attributed to him. They cite Shakespeare’s spotty biographical record as another point of suspicion, as well as the fact that his will neglects to mention any papers or unpublished manuscripts. Despite shared skepticism, however, there remains no consensus about who the “real” writer is. Some eighty candidates have been put forward, though the most favored candidates include the philosopher and statesman, Sir Francis Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. Some also believe that Christopher Marlowe was the real Shakespeare. In proposing different candidates, Anti-Stratfordians frequently rely on circumstantial evidence, such as biographical similarities with characters. They also identify hidden codes they believe to be embedded in Shakespeare’s writing and cite these codes as evidence for their claims.
Most modern scholars reject the claims of Anti-Stratfordians, citing historical and documentary evidence as sufficient proof that Shakespeare of Stratford really is the author of the plays and poems that bear his name. Additionally, there is no evidence of skepticism among any of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, including other poets, playwrights, actors. Although most scholars believe Shakespeare is the real Shakespeare, there is also increasing recognition that other writers contributed in various ways to the plays historically attributed solely to him. In Elizabethan England, playwrights frequently collaborated in order to produce new plays as quickly as possible. Such may have been the case with some of Shakespeare’s early plays. For instance, modern scholars who have carefully analyzed the writing style suggest that Henry VI,Part 1, may have been written by a team of collaborators that included Shakespeare and the political satirist Thomas Nashe. Likewise, Shakespeare may have either cowritten Titus Andronicus with George Peele or else revised an earlier version by Greene. We also know that at the end of his career Shakespeare adopted an apprentice, John Fletcher, with whom he cowrote Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen. However, few scholars think such collaborations undermine Shakespeare’s overall credibility.