Was Shakespeare a pseudonym?

Disinterested replies only please.

It’s pretty well established that there was a 16th to17th century Englishman named William Shakespere, who is credited with authoring the plays under his name. Whether someone else really wrote them is a matter of speculation.

As I recall, William Shakespeare’s father was one John Shakespeare, so the name was real.

The only “unreal” thing about the name is the way it is spelled. Spelling was not uniform back then, and I recall reading that in no two of the surviving examples we have of Shakespeare’s signature is the name “Shakespeare” spelled exactly the same way. People agreed to spell it uniformly later, only as a convention.

All disinterested scholars agree that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. There is no good positive evidence that anyone else wrote the plays; just so-called negative evidence trying to show that a middle-class, lightly-educated actor from Stratford couldn’t have done so therefore someone else must have.

The positive evidence is summarized in How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts, by Tom Reedy and David Kathman

Here’s a very recent previous SDMB thread on the question. In it I give links to four additional earlier threads.

In that thread Little Nemo lists a number of books that try to make a case for another author. It’s telling, I think, that none of these, as far as I can determine, were written by professional English professors and scholars. This is not because there is a conspiracy to laud Shakespeare or because they have a vested interest in not allowing any challenges to succeed. It’s just that modern scholarship is a large and very specialized subject. Shakespeare’s works have been subjected to hundreds of the most minute evaluations of every conceivable kind, literally word by word. None of the anti-Shakespearean texts I’ve read have ever even acknowledged that this scholarship exists, let alone tried to challenge it or to duplicate it for their favorites. It’s much easier to allow supposition after assumption after might-have-been after sheer guesswork to pile up, so that nothing empirical need be said. Negative evidence can be persuasive in that way, because slogging through graphs of Elizabethan word usage frequencies is boring and difficult.

In the same way, trying to determine whether Shakespeare really wrote every word of every play credited to the name is beyond the capabilities of the challengers. Not to mention that it hurts their case by making their aristocrats mere penmen. However, most serious scholars acknowledge that several plays, especially later ones, had co-authors or other interpolations. Shakespeare is almost as difficult to credit as movie screenplays. This again, is where serious scholarship makes the pretend history more difficult to believe.

Some positive evidence of a different overall author would overwrite everything, of course. Until then, the positive evidence is extremely one-sided.

With the post by Exapno, and his linking to a current thread about this, I’ll close this one. I think the other thread covers this and more. Leaving this one open will only make things worse.

samclem GQ moderator