Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship

The Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship contends that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare. Though literary scholars reject all alternative authorship candidates, including Oxford, interest in the Oxfordian theory continues. Since the 1920s, the Oxfordian theory has been the most popular alternative Shakespeare authorship theory. The convergence of documentary evidence of the type used by academics for authorial attribution – title pages, testimony by other contemporary poets and historians, and official records – sufficiently establishes Shakespeare's authorship for the overwhelming majority of Shakespeare scholars and literary historians, and no such documentary evidence links Oxford to Shakespeare's works. Oxfordians, however, reject the historical record and claim that circumstantial evidence supports Oxford’s authorship, proposing that the contradictory historical evidence is part of a conspiracy theory that falsified the record to protect the identity of the real author. Scholarly literary specialists consider the Oxfordian method of interpreting the plays and poems as autobiographical, and then using them to construct a hypothetical author's biography, as unreliable and logically unsound. Oxfordian arguments rely heavily on biographical allusions; adherents find correspondences between incidents and circumstances in Oxford's life and events in Shakespeare's plays, sonnets, and longer poems. The case also relies on perceived parallels of language, idiom, and thought between Shakespeare's works and Oxford's own poetry and letters. Oxfordians claim that marked passages in Oxford's Bible can be linked to Biblical allusions in Shakespeare's plays. That no plays survive under Oxford's name is also important to the Oxfordian theory. Oxfordians interpret certain 16th- and 17th-century literary allusions as indicating that Oxford was one of the more prominent suppressed anonymous and/or pseudonymous writers of the day. Under this scenario, Shakespeare was either a "front man" or "play-broker" who published the plays under his own name or was merely an actor with a similar name, misidentified as the playwright since the first Shakespeare biographies of the early 1700s. The most compelling evidence against the Oxfordian theory is de Vere's death in 1604, since the generally accepted chronology of Shakespeare's plays places the composition of approximately twelve of the plays after that date. Oxfordians respond that the annual publication of "new" or "corrected" Shakespeare plays stopped in 1604, and that the dedication to Shakespeare's Sonnets implies that the author was dead prior to their publication in 1609. Oxfordians believe the reason so many of the "late plays" show evidence of revision and collaboration is because they were completed by other playwrights after Oxford's death.


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