Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Samantha. Samantha Wonders, “Did Shakespeare really write his plays?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Samantha!

“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Have you ever heard that line before? If so, you know it was spoken by Juliet. It’s from one of the most famous plays in the world: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Many people say William Shakespeare was one of the greatest writers of all time. With nearly 40 plays and over 150 sonnets to his name, that’s hard to argue with. In fact, the body of his work is often called the greatest in the history of the English language.

But should Shakespeare get the credit? That is the question that some historians and scholars have asked since the mid-19th century.

This is called the “Shakespeare authorship controversy.” It began when people started to ask whether Shakespeare really wrote the works that bear his name. Some believe he didn’t. This includes a few well-known people. Some examples are Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, and Charlie Chaplin.

Why do people question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays? There are a few reasons. First, records of Shakespeare’s life are quite scarce. People have found records of his marriage to Anne Hathaway. There is also evidence of the birth of their children and a signed will. A few business papers have also been found.

These records may be enough to prove that Shakespeare existed. But no papers have been found to prove that he wrote his plays and sonnets. Many historians have searched over the years. No one has ever found any handwritten notes or manuscripts by Shakespeare.

Additionally, some doubt exists that a person with Shakespeare’s humble origins could have written the works credited to him. Most historians believe that Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. He was a commoner who was educated at a free school. He then moved to London and became a writer and an actor. Critics don’t think it likely that he could have written about the complex topics in his plays.

Shakespeare died in 1616. For over two centuries, no one questioned his authorship. In fact, the first time it was suggested was in 1848—and it was a joke. It came from a Lutheran scholar named Samuel Schmucker. He compared efforts to cast doubt on the existence of Jesus to someone arguing that Shakespeare never lived. Nevertheless, questioning Shakespeare’s authorship caught on. It has continued ever since.

If Shakespeare didn’t write his plays, then who did? More than 70 other people have been suggested as the “true” author. This includes Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe. However, there’s one favorite candidate among those who support this theory. His name is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. He would have had knowledge of life in the English court, which is important in many of Shakespeare’s plays. People who support this theory say de Vere hid his identity because writing plays was seen as a lowly occupation.

William Shakespeare’s supporters are known as “Stratfordians.” They say the controversy is nothing more than a conspiracy theory. They point out that some of Shakespeare’s most famous works were published after Edward de Vere’s death in 1604.

They also note that Shakespeare’s name is on all of his works. Many plays during Shakespeare’s time were written anonymously. If the author wanted to hide who they were, why would they claim to be Shakespeare? They could have easily published their work without a name.

Stratfordians also note that Shakespeare was a well-known writer and actor during his lifetime. Other writers at the time wrote reviews of his works. They mentioned him by name as one of the best authors of his era.

Will the Shakespeare controversy be solved? Not without a major discovery. But don’t worry! No matter which side of the debate you fall on, you can still enjoy the many works of Shakespeare . . . whoever he may have been!

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day twists and turns and even walks down stairs!