Off the Shelf: Will the real Bard please stand up

The Shakespeare authorship question is the argument over whether someone other than the Bard wrote the works attributed to him.  

 The question of Shakespeare's authorship of his plays is debated in “Shakespeare” by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere

 The question of Shakespeare's authorship of his plays is debated in “Shakespeare” by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere

The Shakespeare authorship question is the argument over whether someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote the works attributed to him.

Those who believe this is the case contend that the name Shakespeare was a front to shield the identity of the real author or authors, who for some reason did not want or could not accept public credit.

This debate first arose in the mid-19th century, but continues today, with the publication of several new titles, and a recent film, Anonymous.

––  Anonymous and the Shakespeare Authorship Question: The Theories, the Contenders, and the Evidence (2011).

This official tie-in to the recent film Anonymous (soon to be on order at the Okanagan Regional Library) provides a balanced overview of the authorship debate, including a summary of the various Shakespeare authorship theories and contenders (Edward de Vere, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Mary Sidney, and more).

–– Contested Will:  Who Wrote Shakespeare by James Shapiro (2010).

Shapiro examines the authorship controversy and its history in a broader sense, explaining what it means, why it matters, and how it has persisted despite abundant evidence that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays attributed to him.

This is a brilliant historical investigation that will delight anyone interested in Shakespeare and the literary imagination.

–– The Truth Will Out:  Unmasking the real Shakespeare by Brenda James (2005).

Evidence is brought forward for a new candidate in the Shakespeare identity discussion: Sir Henry Neville, a well-educated nobleman who spent four years travelling Europe, and thus was familiar with the background of many of the plays.

–– “Shakespeare” by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare by Mark Anderson (2005).

The author is only the latest to champion Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, as the author of Shakespeare’s works. The hypothesis rests chiefly on the charismatic de Vere’s eventful life and times.

The “Oxfordian” theory is a strong one, but it is up to the reader to decide whether or not to believe it.

–– The Shakespeare Code by Virginia M. Fellows (2006).

October 1623, Sir Francis Bacon describes a new and ingenious method for writing in code. November, 1623, one month later, the Shakespeare First Folio is published.

Coincidence? For over 250 years, the Word Cipher, concealed in the plays of William Shakespeare, remained undiscovered — until the late 1800s. Fellows reveals an explosive story of secret marriage, children of Elizabeth I, Virgin Queen, and Francis Bacon as the true author of Shakespearean plays.

–– Shakespeare Thefts by Eric Rasmussen (2011).

The first edition of Shakespeare’s collected works, the First Folio, published in 1623, is one of the most valuable books in the world and has historically proven to be an attractive target for thieves. Of the 160 First Folios listed in a census of 1902, 14 were subsequently stolen, and only two of these were ever recovered.

In his efforts to catalog all these precious First Folios, renowned Shakespeare scholar Rasmussen embarked on a riveting journey around the globe, involving run-ins with heavily tattooed criminal street gangs in Tokyo, bizarre visits with eccentric, reclusive billionaires, and intense battles of wills with secretive librarians.

Although not directly related to the authorship debate, this literary detective story has much of the same appeal.

–– Maureen Curry is the chief librarian of the Vernon Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library. Her column appears bi-weekly in The Morning Star.