William Shakespeare is one of the most celebrated writers in history. Despite having died long ago, the writer and wordsmith is still studied as if he were still alive, brought back to life across the world with a series of retellings and revivals. Shakespeare might be the most famous figurehead in historical literature and yet, there seems to be more about the man that at first you might suspect. Over time, a number of alternative figures have come to light, believed to be the real William Shakespeare. Similarities in the works of other writers have led historians to wonder whether Shakespeare existed at all or rather, if he was merely an amalgam of a number of different people. Could this be the biggest hoax of historical literature?
- Edward de Vere
Perhaps the most popular choice in the hunt for the “real” Shakespeare, Edward de Vere is a figure that pops up time and again in the conspiracy theorists’ hunt for the truth. The 17th Earl of Oxford, de Vere spent much of his time writing poetry or interacting with the royal family. His education led him to areas in Italy and France for which Shakespeare was well known, giving him a great understanding of the literary world in the writer’s works. While he did pen a number of his own works, he never published them for fear they were too autobiographical. Some believe he used Shakespeare’s name to get the information out there, saying what he couldn’t before.
- Sir Francis Bacon
Despite being a celebrated philosopher and scientist in his own right, Francis Bacon might also have been behind some of the greatest literature in history. Theorists who believe in Bacon have spotted a number of similarities between the two men’s writing styles and claim that Bacon’s own knowledge would have permitted him to write things in the style of Shakespeare. While it is impossible to prove, this theory proves ever popular, even today.
- Christopher Marlowe
When he was working as a writer, Christopher Marlowe was held with just as much esteem as Shakespeare himself. Why, they, would he hide behind another pen name? While Marlowe is documented to have died at the age of 29, many people believe that it was just a way for the writer to escape the public’s attention. The theory goes that Marlowe faked his own death to begin writing the works of Shakespeare, a fact that can be hinted at in a number of ciphers in the texts.
- Emilia Lanier
Women had very few rights during the time of Shakespeare and it should come as no surprise that many believe the writer himself was merely a guise for a female behind the act. While there are a number of female suspects out there, few are quite as popular as Emilia Lanier. Living life as the mistress of Queen Elizabeth’s cousin, Lanier was no stranger to controversy in her life. While she is known to be one of the first female professional poets in England, many believe that her talents run far deeper. Certain quotations appear in both Shakespeare’s and Lanier’s works, leading many to assume that they were one and the same.
- Sir Fulke Greville
A noble and politician, Sir Fulke Greville spent a great deal of his time in Queen Elizabeth’s court. As well as serving as both a judge and spy, Greville was known to love poetry and literature, even trying his hand at a bit of writing on the way. In his biography, Greville published the telling fact that he wanted to be known “to posterity under no other notions than of Shakespeare’s master”. Such a statement has led many to question whether or not he was the man himself, responsible for his entire output of work.