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'Anonymous' delves into Shakespeare conspiracy

Did William Shakespeare write his own works?

By Erin Bell
On October 26, 2011

  • Rhys Ifans stars as The Bard in Roland Emmerch’s film about the true identity of Shakespeare, “Anonymous.”. Photo from

"What if I told you that Shakespeare never wrote a single word?" It is a question asked by renowned British actor Derek Jacobi in the new Roland Emmerich film, "Anonymous."

In the film, Emmerich questions whether the most well-known playwright of all time did in fact write the plays and sonnets that are attributed to him. The director of "2012" and "Independence Day" guesses instead that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, wrote such plays as "Hamlet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" but had another man publish them since writing plays would have been improper for a member of a royal court.

This is but one conspiracy theory surrounding the true authorship of Shakespeare's plays. Some believe that Shakespeare's plays were written by one or more than one of his contemporaries, such as Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe.

Those who believe Shakespeare did not exist or did not write his plays do have questions that cannot be answered so easily. In a promotional video Emmerich released on the web to promote "Anonymous," he states ten reasons that he believes Shakespeare was a fraud (all while throwing quills at darts at a cartoon statue of Shakespeare). Emmerich's reasons include the fact that there are no records of Shakespeare receiving a higher education, attending court in London or even traveling out of the country, which is strange considering his apparent mastery of the English language and knowledge of court traditions and foreign cities as written in his plays.

Adjunct theatre professor and self-professed Shakespeare enthusiast Daniel Yates said he believes Shakespeare was real and did indeed write his plays.

"I have always found the conspiracy theories very annoying," Yates said. "There is no credible proof that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the plays."

Yates is not alone in his disbelief of the conspiracies. According to a poll conducted by the New York Times in 2007, 82 percent of undergraduate college professors surveyed thought there was no good reason to question Shakespeare's authenticity; 61 percent thought the theories were without convincing evidence and 32 percent thought them a waste of time and a classroom distraction.

Yates, who recently directed Seton Hall's production of Shakespeare's comedy "Twelfth Night," recommended James Shapiro's "Contested Will," saying the book explains how many of the conspiracy theories were started.

"There is so much confusion surrounding the practice of playwriting during [Shakespeare's] time," Yates said. "It's very easy to dupe people because they just don't know much about the culture, history or even how people spelled words in those days."

Erin Bell can be reached at

Follow Erin on Twitter @belle0090

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