How Did Shakespeare Spell His Name?

Shakespeare’s signature appears on only 6 documents, and he spelled his name differently on each one. Not once did he spell it “Shakespeare”:
shakespeare_signatures_labelled1Willm Shackper
William Shakspear
Wm Shakspea
William Shackspere
Wllm. Shakspere
(by me William) Shakspear.
And there are no “Shakespearean” scripts in his handwriting.


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The Shakespeare We Don’t Know – Part 1

The world has put Shakespeare on a pedestal, but beyond the plays we know little about the man. For example, he spent most of his adult life in London, but nobody knows where, while his family stayed in Stratford-upon-Avon–a 3+ day journey away in those times. What kind of father and husband could he have been? And he raised his daughters as illiterates. Makes me wonder about his character.william-shakespeare-leaving-home-the-farewell
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The First Feminist Poetic Treatise

thSalve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Praise God King of the Jews) is a long poetic volume by Amelia Basanno Lanier. It has stylistic similarities to several Shakespearean plays. She was the first female poet published in England and one of the world’s earliest feminists–long before the term was coined.

This poetic volume is dedicated to the leading, most progressive woman of the Elizabethan era. It challenges Church dogma on it’s suppression of women’s aspirations and for castigating them for Eve’s “original sin.”

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Five myths about William Shakespeare…and Bardolatry

Here’s an interesting Washington Post article by Ari Friedlander defending Shakespeare’s authorship and discussing some of the “myths”–adding perspective to the debate.

Thanks to Marley Kabin for passing it along.

Five Myths About Shakespeare

There are many. many great comments on this article. Peruse them for different perspectives.


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The Mysterious Mr. Shakespeare

Did Shakespeare have the wherewithal? 
Cogan University Professor Stephen Greenblatt makes the point in Harvard Magazine
that the litt5d56a7a5123e334caffdd05d13c6a7cele we know about Shakespeare’s life (e.g., being the son of a small town glover, the illiteracy of his wife and daughters, his Stratford real estate transactions, church records, and last will and testament) coupled there being no trace of any books he might have owned, diaries he might have written, or scripts in his hand, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to connect him with “the greatest body of imaginative literature in the English language.” He wonders how Shakespeare’s “seemingly ordinary existence yielded such astonishing plays.”

c32e33c1362a62ace5578cb110930cd8Which makes the case of Amelia Bassano Lanier, an extraordinary Venetian-English Jewish woman, that much more plausible. There are too many links to her life to ignore, which inspired the novel.

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Those who question Shakespeare’s authorship are known as Anti-Stratfordians. They argue that he was a front man to hide the identities of the true author(s), who wished to or had to remain anonymous for whatever reason. Perhaps it was politically risky for them to ShakespeareCandidates1receive pub
lic credit. Or, perhaps, societal or business barriers prevented them fr220px-Emily_Bassanoom breaking through on their own merits—much like today’s “glass ceiling,” only far lower. Amelia Bassano Lanier would have been one such constrained person, as portrayed in Shakespeare’sConspirator and in John Hudson’s scholarly works, partly summarized in his YouTube video: –Amelia, however, found a way to make her voice heard through a compelling poetic volume, Salve Deus Rex Judæorum.
Many claim Shakespeare’s education, aristocratic knowledge, familiarity with foreign cultures and languages, and limited access to royal court was insufficient (or absent altogether) to pen such sophisticated scripts. Delve into this fascinating topic and judge for yourself.

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The Christopher Marlowe Controversry

Some literary theorists believe Christopher Marlowe wrote many of Shakespeare’s plays, and the two men were thought to be rival playwrights. One problem with this controversial theorthy is that Marlowe was killed in a knife fight on May 30, 1593, fairly early in Shakespeare’s career. ‪ (However, some people believe Marlowe faked his murder, since he was on the verge of being arrested for spying.)

At the time of Marlowe’s recorded death, no more than 7 of the 37 plays credited to Shakespeare had been performed. Marlowe, the premier English playwright from 1587 until his death—more so than Shakespeare during that time—is one of the intriguing and mysterious characters in Shakespeare’s Conspirator. His anti-Semitic play, The Jew of Malta, has a pivotal role in the novel.

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Curiosities About Shakespeare

For a man so famous, we actually know very little about Shakespeare’s personal life. We know approximately when he was born, when he died, when and who he married (Anne Hathaway w5d56a7a5123e334caffdd05d13c6a7ceho was 26 at the time while he was 18), the names and birthdates of his three children (Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith). We also know where he went to grammar school (until he was 14), and the contents of his will. Eleven of his 52 years of life (1578-82 and 1585-92), known as the “Lost Years” are unaccounted for. And we don’t know where he lived when in London. Is there another famous historical figure about whom we know so little?

Shakespeare is credited with writing 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Curiously, not one copy of an original scripts is in his handwriting, including those in the First Folio. There is no physical evidence of his authorship of any, except for three pages in a lengthy unpublished play about Sir Thomas More—which was primarily written by others. Shakespeare’s signature only appears on six legal documents.

Shakespeare’s plays include nearly 2000 musical references, many of which it seems could only be imagined by a musician. Yet he did not play an instrument and had no known musical training. Nor is he known to have had close relationships with musicians—with the possible exception of Amelia Bassano Lanier. She played the lute, harpsichord, the virginals, and possibly other instruments. Additionally, her father was a musician for the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and her uncles were musical instrument makers. Could it be she had a hand…or more than a hand…in writing many of Shakespeare’s scripts?

Roughly 50% of Shakespeare’s 37 plays are set outside of England but he never set foot outside of the country. Have you ever wondered why or how he could learn so much about other cultures and their history…during a 23 year writing career?

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The Debate: Shakespeare Believers, Skeptics, and Contrarians

The question of whether Shakespeare wrote all, some, or none of his famous plays has been raging for centuries. There is even an organization, The Shakespearean Authorship Trust, devoted to exploring this question. Its website includes a long list of candidates who my have authored or co-authored his scripts anonymously—each with their own reasons. The most prominent figures identified by the Trust include:

However, many are convinced the plays were all authored by Shakespeare, perhaps with contributions from members of his theatrical troupe. Others believe one or more of those listed above or someone else composed them. Some believe it was a combination of people which may or may not have included Shakespeare.

A few years ago, an intriguing new name emerged which The Shakespearean Authorship Trust added to its list of top candidates: Amelia Bassano Lanyer (or Lanier), 1569-1645. She, along with Christine de Pizan, were perhaps the first literary feminists.

Literary scholars who have studied this authorship mystery tend to fall onto three camps, which I have labeled Shakespeare Believers, Skeptics, and Contrarians. Each is described briefly below.

The Shakespeare Believers

In the course of research for my novel about Amelia Bassano Lanier and then exploring other ways to dramatize the authorship controversy, I have heard from a number of academics who believe the question has long been settled. Here are two representative comments:

“There is no real scholarly debate over the fact that a historical person named William Shakespeare existed and that he wrote the plays attributed to him, sometimes in collaboration with other playwrights and always in coordination with an acting company. There is a mass of documentary evidence and no compelling reason to doubt it.”–Bradley D. Ryner, Associate Professor, Department of English, Arizona State University

“We know who wrote Shakespeare’s works: Shakespeare—in collaboration with the members of his company. It’s not a mystery. It’s been picked over pretty completely.”–Jared Sakren, Producing Artistic Director, Southwest Shakespeare Company

These experts, who have taught Shakespeare at the university level, firmly believe that Shakespeare was the driving creative force behind his plays and had help composing the scripts by actors in his company. Their positions are representative of many in academia. Yet, there are reasons to question their assertions. Certain facts seem difficult to explain away as delineated here:

There is no evidence Shakespeare traveled outside of England, yet over half of his plays are set in foreign locations. Many of Shakespeare’s plays demonstrate detailed knowledge of court life, falconry, music, and ancient Jewish texts, yet no one can explain where or how he acquired such knowledge.

Shakespeare had no known musical education, did not play an instrument, and had no close associations with musicians; yet his plays contain nearly two thousand musical references—some that could only have been written by someone well versed in music.

Shakespeare lived in a very male-dominated society, yet he features many strong female characters. Many Shakespearean verses have a distinct feminine style and employ feminine imagery, which was unusual for his time.

Phrases in Vèneto-influenced Ladino, the inside language of Sephardic Italian Jewry, appear in one play and English translations of lines from Dante’s Divine Comedy, written in Italian, are in others. But there is no evidence Shakespeare wrote or spoke Ladino or Italian, and Dante’s works were not translated into English until 1814—two hundred years after Shakespeare died.

There are curious linguistic structures to Shakespeare’s prose and verse, suggesting fluency in romance languages. Why would Shakespeare, a man with an ordinary background, write in such an extraordinary way?

The unanswered question: Did any members of Shakespeare’s companies have such knowledge, expertise, or predispositions? We do know that Shakespeare did not attend school after age 14, came from a working class family, and married an illiterate woman, Anne Hathaway. What could possibly have prepared him to write such masterworks?

The Skeptics  

I was a member of this camp until I began research on Amelia Bassano Lanier for the novel Shakespeare’s Conspirator, which turned me into a contrarian.

Here’s what Mark Rylance, a trustee of The Shakespearean Authorship Trust writes on its website: “The majority of people agree that it was the actor from Stratford who wrote the plays and poems attributed to Shakespeare. But also, the majority of people have not looked very closely into the history. For many years, some people have doubted, from what we know of the actor’s life, that he would have been able to write the plays and poems, and may therefore have served as a ‘front’ for a hidden author, or collaborated more extensively than we imagine. Suggestions of other authors and doubt actually begins during Shakespeare’s life. Today, exactly how the plays were crafted is by no means agreed and whoever you believe wrote the plays, the authorship enquiry yields much provocative research into their craft and meaning.”

If you’d like a different slant on the issue, I, along with Mark Rylance, recommend watching the YouTube video by Keir Cutler of The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition and reading the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt,” which you can find at 

The Contrarians

Perhaps nobody has done more research and thinking about alternative Shakespearean playwrights than John Hudson, Artistic Director of The Dark Lady Players. He has written numerous articles on the topic and a well-researched nonfiction book, Shakespeare’s Dark Lady: Amelia Bassano Lanier: The woman behind Shakespeare’s plays? As a scholar, he has an M.A. in Shakespeare and Theater, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham. A 15-minute video summation of his conviction that Shakespeare could not have written all of his plays can be found at Who Wrote Shakespeare? – The Dark Lady Discovery.  His “New Shakespeare Theory” article in The Oxfordian also details the essence of his compelling case. His key points include:

  • The unlikelihood that Shakespeare could have gone from speaking in a distinct regional accent to writing in standard English almost immediately.
  • That some of Shakespeare’s early plays include puns and allusions in Italian and Hebrew, yet he came from a small town, Stratford-upon-Avon, where learning those languages would have been improbable.
  • That many of the names in Shakespeare’s plays (e.g., Amelia x 3, Bassanio, Johnson, Willoughby, Baptista, Alonso) are identical or variations of Amelia Bassano Lanier’s own or people important in her life.
  • Changes were made to Othello after Shakespeare’s death that expanded the role of Amelia.
  • Shakespeare’s plays include nearly 2000 musical references, yet Shakespeare had no musical education. Lanier came from a family of accomplished Venetian musicians.
  • The work of Christine de Pisan (1364-c.1430), a Venetian-French proto-feminist writer, is employed in Lanier’s poetic volume, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, and in some Shakespearian plays (e.g., A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It) but not elsewhere in English literature. How could Shakespeare have known about her or read her untranslated work. Yet Lanier could.
  • Striking similarities in the vocabulary and style of Lanier’s Salve Deus and Shakespeare’s scripts.

Hudson is not alone. Many have raised questions about Shakespeare’s authorship.

Mark Anderson, author of Shakespeare by Another Name (the basis of the 2011 movie Anonymous)advances the idea that Edward DeVere composed them as did J. Thomas Looney, in the 1920s. They believe that de Vere, using the pseudonym William Shakespeare, wrote many of The Bard’s scripts.

Looney’s book, Shakespeare Identified in Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, describes parallels between DeVere’s life and Shakespeare’s plays. His hypotheses became known as the Oxfordian Theory and has strong adherents. It focuses on DeVere’s personal knowledge of the aristocratic classes, his suitable education, and similarities between his poetry and work attributed to Shakespeare. Nonetheless, many academics have vigorously have rejected it for multiple reasons. Among them are that DeVere died in 1604 and twelve Shakespearean plays were written after that date.

Anderson also points out that there was little in Shakespeare’s background that would prepare him to write such monumental works. He was the son of a leather worker. There is no record of him studying the many subjects his plays cover or Greek, Italian, Spanish and French, with which the playwright was well acquainted or fluent in.

Nor was Shakespeare steeped in the protocols of the royal court, the sciences, military affairs, and legal matters. There is also no evidence he possessed in-depth knowledge of history, geography and foreign lands—all of which are contained in various plays.

Amelia Bassano and Edward DeVere are but two examples and cases have been made for all of the others listed earlier in this blog—some stronger than others. I’ll write more about them in future posts.

In my mind, these points are compelling and the question of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is an open one that should be the subject of incisive research and vigorous debate. Nobody knows for sure who wrote, over a course of 23 years, the 37 scripts attributed to Shakespeare. No modern playwright or novelist (without a writing and research staff) is as prolific, even with all the advantages of the Internet and modern writing technology.

May the debate ensue.

Comments and perspectives on all sides of this issue are welcome in this space. Guest blog posts are also welcome. To propose or submit one, please click here for the Guest Blog page. A healthy debate can shed a lot of light and give us all food for thought. I’ll also be adding my own insights in future posts.

Steve Weitzenkorn

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