Shakespeare: The Authorship Controversy

Famous Doubters and Critics of the Orthodox Stratfordian Story


and the
Shakespeare Authorship

by Robert Sean Brazil © 2007

Friedrich Nietzsche and the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy
By Robert Sean Brazil -- copyright © 2002 and 2007
All rights reserved. Do not copy text from this web page for re-use on the web
or in any media.
To cite this article properly for your research paper click here

Part One

The Shakespeare authorship question is rooted in peculiar events, documents, and publications of the late-16th and early-17th centuries. As a topic for intellectual discussion and debate, the "Authorship Problem" only began to emerge -- as a rarely-discussed and little-known issue -- in 18th century England.

"Anti-Stratfordianism" only became a popular fad and movement in the 19th century, fueled, in no small part, by some very zealous Americans.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) became aware of the Shakespeare authorship phenomenon in the 1860s, '70s, and '80s at a time when the candidacy of Francis Bacon was being touted rather vigorously on both sides of the Atlantic. By the time Nietzsche weighed in on the problem, he was following the lead of many other astute independent thinkers. To understand how Nietzsche could have arrived, no later than 1887, at his heretical position on Shakespeare, it will be valuable to look closely at the material available to readers in the world press appearing in the 40 years that preceded Nietzsche's written confessions of doubt about the identity of Shakespeare.

Recapping key events in Shakespeare Doubt from 1847-1907:
[Don't skip this part; there is much new material below!]
Or, if you insist, proceed now to page two, with Nietzsche's statements on the authorship problem.

1847: Charles Dickens, while working a clerk at Grays Inn, wrote, in a letter to his friend William Sandys (June 13, 1847):

" I have sent your Shakespeare extracts to Collier. It is a great comfort to my thinking that so little is known concerning the poet. It is a fine mystery; and I tremble every day lest something should come out. If he had a Boswell, society wouldn't have respected his grave, but would have had his skull in the phrenological shop windows."

1848: The Romance of Yachting by Joseph C. Hart. Amongst nautical anecdotes, Hart intersperses speculation about the Shakespeare authorship problem. Hart proposed Ben Jonson as author of the Shakespeare plays.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was an early Shakespeare questioner. Emerson wrote in his journal:

"Is it not strange, that the transcendent men, Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, confessedly unrivalled, should have questions of identity and of genuineness raised respecting their writings?")

There were definite opportunities for Hawthorne to learn from Emerson. Hawthorne was first a neighbor of Emerson in Concord from 1842-1845 (Emerson had settled in Concord in 1834). Hawthorne and Emerson visited the Shaker Community together in 1842. In the same year, Hawthorne and his wife, Sofia, moved into a Concord, Massachusetts, house called "The Old Manse."


Over the next three years in Concord, Hawthorne penned a series of tales that were collected as "Mosses from an Old Manse," published in 1846. It is this book that entranced Herman Melville (1819-1891).

On August 5, 1850, Melville and Hawthorne met in person at a picnic. It is said that a brief but intense friendship developed between the two men. They had something else in common. They both had worked in government houses. Hawthorne toiled at the Boston Custom House in 1839 and at the Salem Custom House in 1846.

In 1852 the Hawthornes returned to Concord at "The Wayside," purchased from the Alcotts. The Hawthornes were neighbors again to Emerson, and to Henry David Thoreau (whose cabin on Walden pond was on Emerson’s property.

Hawthorne was a crucial player in the early "Shakespeare Doubt" movement, though I believe that he himself did not, ultimately, doubt the Stratford story. Despite the fact that Hawthorne sponsored Delia Bacon's book, he found her theory unsupported by evidence and dismissed her conclusion. Delia wanted Hawthorne to remove his critique from the front of her book, but he refused, as he was paying for it.

1850: "Hawthorne and His Mosses" by Herman Melville, [Literary World, #7]. As for Mosses from an Old Manse, I have crawled through this collection several times, and there are some very subtle insinuations about the truth hiding behind the legends of poets, all couched in allegorical language. Yet Melville saw in Hawthorne’s musings a great revelation. In his essay, Melville wonders if all authorial names are suspect, especially among the greatest:

"Would that all excellent books were foundlings, without father or mother, that so it might be we could glorify them, without including their ostensible authors."

“I know not what would be the right name to put on the title-page of an excellent book, but this I feel, that the names of all fine authors are fictitious ones, far more than that of Junius*,-- simply standing, as they do, for the mystical, ever-eluding Spirit of all Beauty, which ubiquitously possesses men of genius. Purely imaginative as this fancy may appear, it nevertheless seems to receive some warranty from the fact, that on a personal interview no great author has ever come up to the idea of his reader. But that dust of which our bodies are composed, how can it fitly express the nobler intelligences among us?”

* Note: “JUNIUS” is not a familiar name to modern readers, but was a familiar reference in the 18th and 19th centuries. “Junius” was the pen name of a veiled writer who published a series of letters in the Public Advertiser (London) from 1769 to 1772. The unknown writer published other material as The Letters of Junius in 1772. Why Junius? The same author had penned other pseudonymous letters under the names of Lucius and Brutus. The three names together yield Lucius Junius Brutus, the name of the founder of the Roman Republic and the first Consul, circa 509 BC. "Junius" may also connect to the Roman satirist JUVENAL who is thought to have been named Junius. So when Melville invokes this name, it carries some interesting baggage with it.

The British pseudonymous writer "Junius," based on his writings, was an Anglophile Whig who was interested in educating both Americans and their supporters as to the good qualities of their English inheritance and to advocate a reversal of the complaints that were leading up to the American revolution. He was addressing both the colonists and the aristocracy and royalty of England. He wished for a restoration of the bounteous all-inclusive bosom of Britannia. Interestingly, the identity of “Junius” has never been resolved. He must have been a highly placed and historically famous Englishman, yet he was so careful and deliberate in his protected anonymity that this Junius "nut" has never been convincingly cracked. Elaborate cases have been made, however, for dozens of candidates. Perhaps the most intriguing possibilities are: Edmund Burke, Lord George Sackville, William Pitt (The Elder), and Thomas Paine, who was in England during the requisite time (and later changed his opinions by 180 degrees).

1852: The Edinburgh Journal, August 1852, publishes an anonymous article, "Who Wrote Shakespeare." Therein it is suggested that in order to pull off the trick, the man from Stratford must have "kept a poet."

1856: Putnam's Monthly, January 1856, contains Delia Bacon's first entry into the Authorship lists, "Shakespeare and His Plays: An Inquiry Concerning Them." This article's placement was arranged by Emerson.

1857: Delia Bacon's The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded. Nathanial Hawthorne wrote the preface for the book (which is much more cogent than Delia's extravagant and breathless prose meanderings within, and is actually critical of Delia's proposal). Hawthorne made the connections to get Delia's book published, under pressure from Emerson and Delia, herself. He ended up paying for the whole publication. Delia Bacon's book is mostly musings, supposition, and rhetoric. While many assume Delia Bacon was, at the outset, an advocate of Lord Bacon (no family relation), the fact is that in The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded Delia proposes that a group wrote the plays, and the head of that group was Sir Walter Raleigh.

In this imagined “Shakespeare” group Delia named several courtiers involved the authorship of the Shakespeare plays and the list included Edward Earl of Oxford. This appears to be the first instance in modern times that the 17th Earl of Oxford was directly suggested as having something to do with the creation of the Shakespeare plays. The year is 1857. That's 63 years before J.T. Looney claimed (1920) to be the first ever to suggest Lord Oxford was involved in the Shakespeare canon. But Delia achieved nothing more with her lucky guess about Oxford. In fact, it wasn't even a guess as much as a crib. She was just loosely quoting from the anonymous The Arte of English Poesy, 1589.

In Delia's view this is how it went with Raleigh and Company:

"He became at once the centre of that little circle of high born wits and poets, the elder wits and poets of the Elizabethan age, that were then in their meridian there. Sir Philip Sidney, Thomas Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, Edward Earl of Oxford, and some other, are included in the contemporary list of this courtly company, whose doings are somewhat mysteriously adverted to by a critic, who refers to the condition of the Art of Poesy at that time."

Now here’s the precise quote from, The Arte of English Poesy 1589, page 49.

“In Queene Maries time florished aboue any other Doctour Phaer one that was well learned & excellently well translated into English verse Heroicall certaine bookes of Virgils Aeneidos. since him followed Maister Arthure Golding, who with no lesse commendation turned into English meetre the Metamorphosis of Ouide, and that other Doctour, who made the supplement to those bookes of Virgiles Aeneidos, which Maister Phaer left vndone. And in her Maiesties time that now is are sprong vp an other crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen of her Maiesties owne seruantes, who haue written excellently well as it would appeare if their doings could be found out and made publicke with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford. Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Walter Rawleigh, Master Edward Dyar Maister Fulke Greuell, Gascon, Britton, Turberuille and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for enuie, but to auoyde tediousnesse, and who haue deserued no little commendation.”

a portion of page 49 from the 1589 original

The anonymous author of Arte of English Poesy was himself reaching back to William Webbe’s Discourse of Englishe Poetrie, 1586, where appeared this paragraph:

“I may not omitte the deserved commendations of many honourable and noble Lordes, and Gentlemen, in her Maiesties Courte, which in the rare devises of Poetry, have beene and yet are most excellent skylfull, among whom, the right honourable Earle of Oxford may challenge to him selfe the tytle of the most excellent among the rest. I can no longer forget those learned Gentlemen which tooke such profitable paynes in translating the Latine Poets into our English tongue, whose desertes in that behalfe are more then I can utter.”

1884: Walt Whitman publishes, "What Lurks Behind Shakspere's historical plays" in The Critic (Sept. 27, 1884):

"Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism--personifying in unparallel'd ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering sprit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation)--only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselve, or some born knower and descendent, would seem to be the true author of these amazing works." … “I am firm against Shaksper. I mean the Avon man, the actor."

1887-1888: Friedrich Nietzsche pens comments about the Shakespeare authorship, which are published later in two different books, both in the years following his 1900 death. Details here.

1891: Hermann Melville completes Billy Budd featuring "the Captain, the Honorable Edward Fairfax "Starry" Vere." Melville then dies, in New York, New York, September 28, 1891.
[Billy Budd was begun around 1886. It was as good as lost until the manuscript was discovered among Melville's papers in 1924 and published for the first time that year.]

1892: James Greenstreet, in The Genealogist, proposed that William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby as author of the Shakespeare plays.

1892: The pseudonymous "Our English Homer" posits a group theory for the writing of Shakespeare’s works, including Marlowe, Greene, Peele, Nashe, Lodge, Bacon, and others.

1895: It Was Marlowe: A Story of the Secret of Three Centuries by Wilbur Ziegler (a novel). The book proposed that Marlowe, Raleigh, and Rutland jointly were “Shakespeare.”

1903: Henry James, in a letter, writes:

“I am ‘a sort of’ haunted by the conviction that the divine William is the biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patient world.”

1909: Is Shakespeare Dead? by Mark Twain, Harper & Brothers 1909.

CLICK HERE for part 2:
Nietzsche's views of the Shakespeare authorship controversy.

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Friedrich Nietzsche and the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy by Robert Sean Brazil -- copyright © 2002 and 2007
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