Hephaestus's Blog

Word of the Month: Anti-Stratfordian
December 26, 2014, 14:34
Filed under: Shakespeare, Words of the Months

Etymology: anti-, Greek prefix meaning against, + Stratford, referring to Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare’s home town, + -ian, a Latin-derived suffix used to make adjectives.

Meaning: An Anti-Stratfordian is someone who believes, or tries to propagate the belief, that the plays of Shakespeare were written by some other person.


Anti-Stratfordians come in many and varied groups, each with their own proposed author and supporting evidence, but the most popular are these four:

Oxfordian: The Oxfordians contend that the true author is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. The beginning of this claim can be traced to J. Thomas Looney’s book Shakespeare Identified. One of their main claims is that the plays contain semi-autobiographical characters that fit Oxford’s life story. Their most fascinating and far-fetched claim is that the Earl of Southampton, to whom two of Shakespeare’s poems and a number of his sonnets are dedicated, was the illegitimate son of Oxford and the Queen of England. A  competing claim is that he himself was the Queen’s son. The fact that he died prior to the appearance of twelve of the plays is circumvented by saying they were completed by others or else simply performed posthumously.

Baconian: The Baconian school of Shakespeare authorship contends that his works were written by Francis Bacon, one of the principal figures behind the invention of the scientific method. This one has been so popular over the years that documents making this claim have been forged. The earliest verified appearance of this claim is that of Delia Bacon (no relation to Francis), whose claim (published in 1857) also implicated Sir Walter Raleigh in a plot to distribute a philosophy via the medium of drama. By the late 1800s, the Baconian Orville Ward Owen constructed a machine called a “cipher wheel”, which was a three hundred meter-long strip of canvas on two spools, with Shakespeare’s works and those of others glued onto it. He published a book in 1895 claiming that Bacon had hidden his autobiography in Shakespeare via a series of ciphers, and it revealed that he was a son of Queen Elizabeth and had created the works for the sole purpose of concealing the secret history of the Elizabethan era. It goes without saying that this is one of the more ludicrous anti-Stratfordian claims. In 1916, film producer William Selig sued prominent Baconian George Fabyan, saying that Fabyan’s claims threatened the profits of Selig’s upcoming Shakespeare film. Fabyan’s assertion that Bacon wrote the works won the case and he was awarded $5,000 in damages. Most prominent Anti-Stratfordians, including Mark Twain, were/are Baconians.

Marlovian: The Marlovians contend that the author was Christopher Marlowe, a famous Elizabethan poet and dramatist. The biggest flaw in this theory is that Marlowe was murdered in May 1593, considerably before all but the very first Shakespearean poems were written. Marlovians suggest that Marlowe faked his own death, possibly to escape being persecuted for atheism, and then went on to publish his continuing writings under the name Shakespeare. Marlowe was already a prominent creator of the type of work now commonly associated with Shakespeare, so it is not impossible that he could have gone on writing them in secret.  The first Marlovian claim of Shakespeare authorship was put forward in Wilbur G. Ziegler’s 1895 novel It Was Marlowe. One of the earliest Marlovian claims is actually in reverse, as someone in 1819 proposed that Marlowe was a pseudonym for Shakespeare.

Derbyite: The Derbyites’ preferred author is William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby. The Derbyite theory first appeared in 1891, when James H. Greenstreet claimed that some old letters, apparently written in a somewhat disapproving tone, saying that Derby was writing plays, were evidence that he had been secretly writing under an assumed name. (This one seems a bit tenuous.) The claims were expanded in the first half of the 20th century by a Frenchman, Abel Lefranc, who put forth that Love’s Labour’s Lost contained an account of events witnessed by Derby in France. He also claimed that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written for the occasion of Derby’s marriage, (to Oxford’s daughter, Elizabeth de Vere) and that characters in Hamlet and As You Like It were autobiographical. (Sound familiar?) The Derbyite theory is not a particularly popular or well-known one, but there was a play written about it in 1998.



Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: