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< Back to question Who was Shakespeare? Show more Show less

"What's in a name?" one of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers asked. When it comes to the identity of the greatest writer in the English language, a great deal. That mantle has long been bestowed on a glover's son from Stratford-Upon-Avon. But since the 19th century, there have been doubts over William Shakespeare's identity as the writer of the works attributed to the playwright. Was the Bard from Stratford a front for another writer? Was he just one participant in a collective group of writers? Or was he a she?

The Post-Stratfordian position Show more Show less

William Shakespeare did not write the works that bear his name.
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Shakespeare’s detailed will makes no mention of books or literature

Shakespeare’s will was meticulous in its details and he seemed to divide all of his materialistic possessions between his children. However, not a single book, manuscript, or instrument was mentioned, though, his supposed writings were filled with them.
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Wills often provide a glimpse into a person’s life. Depending on what they left to whom, it can reveal not only who was important to the deceased but also what. It would be reasonable to expect that an author of Shakespeare’s prowess would have a passion for literature and reading. But his will does not indicate this.

The Argument

Shakespeare was meticulous in his will. He laid out exactly who should receive his property (down to his “second best bed”). However, startlingly, there was not a single book left to anybody.[1] This is highly irregular for a playwright that refers to rare and elusive literary works in his plays, including several texts in Italian and French that had not yet been translated into English (the plot of Othello comes from an Italian text that had not been translated into English). Also, startlingly, he did not leave a single musical influence, despite his plays featuring more than 300 musical terms and featuring more than 26 instruments. Additionally, his will reveals that he did not place significant importance on the education of his children. He neglected his daughters' education and appears to have not even taught them to read and write. One daughter signed his will with a “mark” (typical for someone that was illiterate), and the other with a signature that was “painfully formed.”

Counter arguments

An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Yes, it is strange that there are no books in his will. However, this is not evidence for anything other than Shakespeare didn’t give away any books in his will. Using this to cast doubt on his authorship falls into the realm of conjecture.[2] Additionally, many prominent and educated Elizabethans made no mention of books in their last will and testament. Francis Bacon did not leave any books in his will, nor did Richard Hooker, one of the most educated theologians of the Elizabethan period. Reginald Scott, the author of The Discoverie of Witchcraft, also left any mention of books out of his will.[3]


[P1] Shakespeare's will makes no mention of any books or literature, despite being meticulous in its contents. [P2] This does not sound like the will of one of the greatest playwrights that has ever lived. [P3] Therefore, it is unlikely that Shakespeare wrote those plays.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] An absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. [Rejecting P2] Actually, this was quite common for prominent Elizabethan academics and writers.



This page was last edited on Thursday, 4 Jun 2020 at 18:33 UTC

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