Position Statement on Shakespeare

Return to authorship page.

William Shakespeare was baptized on 26 April 1564. On 15 March 1595, when he was nearly thirty-one, his name occurs outside Stratford-upon-Avon for the first time (so far as we know). A royal Exchequer Declared Account officially connects William Shakespeare with two of the most famous actors and theatrical entrepreneurs of his day, Will Kemp and Richard Burbage; with the Lord Chamberlain's company; and with comedies performed 26 and 28 December 1594 before the queen.

Nine years later, on 15 May 1604, five men designated as players received scarlet cloth for the entry of James I into London: these were William Shakespeare, Augustine Phillipps, Lawrence Fletcher, John Heminges, and Richard Burbage, members of the company re-licenced as the King's men following Elizabeth's death in March 1603.

In 1605 Edmond Tylney, Master of the Revels, submitted his accounts for the 1604 Christmas season. Tylney reports over his signature that "Mesur for Mesur," "The Plaie of Errors," and "The Marchant of Venis" were performed at court by "his Maiesties plaiers," and that the "poet" of these plays was Shakespeare.

On 4 May 1605 Augustine Phillips made death-bed bequests to his "ffellowe William Shakespeare" and to six others whom he also named as his fellows, including Robert Armin, Henry Condell, and Nicholas Tooley - all members of the King's men. [Phillips's executors included John Heminges, Richard Burbage, and William Slye, also members of the King's men.]

On 11 May 1612 "William Shakespeare of Stratford vpon Avon" testified that he had boarded with the Mountjoy family of London in and about the year 1604.

In 1616 William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon bequeathed 26s 8d each to his fellows John Heminges, Richard Burbage, and Henry Condell.

These legal and royal documents solidly connect William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon with the London theatrical company called the Lord Chamberlain's men under Elizabeth and the King's men under James, and with the authorship of Measure for Measure, Comedy of Errors, and The Merchant of Venice. The documents cover the years 1594 to 1616.

Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were published in 1593 and 1594 with the name William Shakespeare attached to their letters of dedication. In 1598 three plays appeared in print with the name William Shakespeare on their title-pages: Richard II, Richard III, and Love's Labor's Lost. Many more followed, culminating in the First Folio of 1623.

Shakespeare's literary talents were recognized in print as early as 1594, when Henry Willobie linked "Shake-speare" with "poore Lucrece rape." In 1598 Francis Meres's Palladis Tamia named Shakespeare as the author of Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, and "sugred Sonnets among his priuate friends," and as the best for both comedy and tragedy. Meres also reported the titles of twelve of Shakespeare's plays. In the "Parnassus" plays performed at Cambridge from approximately 1598 to 1603, and in one of these plays published in 1606, Shakespeare is mentioned as poet, playwright, and rival to Ben Jonson.

In 1616 Ben Jonson named William Shakespeare as one of the original actors of Everyman in his Humor, first acted in 1598, and Sejanus, first acted in 1603. The 1623 First Folio lists Shakespeare's name first among "The Names of the Principall Actors in all these plays." In his commendatory poem for the First Folio Jonson called Shakespeare "Sweet Swan of Avon." Jonson subsequently recalled his personal associations with Shakespeare the playwright in a private journal entry published after his death in 1637.

In his personal copy of Speght's 1598 edition of Chaucer's Works, Gabriel Harvey remarked:

The younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeares Venus, & Adonis: but his Lucrece, & his tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, haue it in them, to please the wiser sort. ...
Harvey then named Shakespeare a second time, as one of "owr florishing metricians."

Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels from 1610, inscribed his copy of the first edition of the anonymous play George a Greene, published in 1599:

Written by ............ a minister, who ac[ted]
the pin{n}ers part in it himself. Teste W. Shakespea[re]

Ed. Juby saith that this play was made by Ro. Gree[ne]
George a Greene, last performed 21 January 1594 at the Rose, was followed the very next day by Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare advised Buc that the author of George a Greene had acted the title-role in his own play - inside information recalling Shakespeare's own vocation as both actor and playwright.

Richard Burbage and William Shakespeare are mentioned in John Manningham's private diary of 1602, and Shakespeare is listed as author of his works in private inscriptions by Francis Davison editor of A Poetical Rhapsody (1602), Queen Elizabeth's nephew Sir John Harington, Edward Alleyn the actor, the author and bibliophile William Drummond of Hawthornden, and John Rous librarian of the Bodleian Library.

Humphrey Dyson, a contemporary of Shakespeare's, was personally acquainted with Henry Condell, Nicholas Tooley, and playwright and sometime servant of the earl of Oxford Anthony Munday; he was also the son-in-law of Thomas Speght, editor of Chaucer's Works (1598). Between 1623 and 1633 Dyson inscribed his personal copy of Troilus and Cressida (1609) (boldfacing indicates Dyson's hand-written addition to the text of the printed title-page)

Written by William Shakespeare and printed amongest his workes.
Dyson clearly accepted the attribution of both Troilus and Cressida and the First Folio to the historical William Shakespeare.

William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon was commemorated after his death by a monumental bust in his home parish church. A Latin inscription celebrates his membership in the company of Nestor (Pyleus), Socrates, and Virgil (Maro), concluding (I translate from the Latin): "Olympus [the mountain sacred to the muses] has him." The First Folio, compiled by John Heminges and Henry Condell of the King's men, takes for granted the reader's knowledge of this very "Stratford Monument."

The proposition that the plays and poems in the Shakespeare canon were written by William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon is fully supported by documentary evidence interpreted by generally accepted historical methods. The fact that the same evidence fails to open a window into the author's heart is regrettable but beside the point.

Return to authorship page.