We know more about the life of William Shakespeare than is commonly supposed—more than we do about any other playwright of his time apart from Ben Jonson. That doesn’t mean there is not a great deal we don’t know. The record, dating back to the last years of the 16th century and the first years of the 17th, is full of blanks and uncertainties. And undercutting everything else, there is the Big Question: did he write the plays and poems that have been attributed to him?
Such, at any rate, is what millions of people have been encouraged to think of as the Big Question. But in reality, it is no question at all. The most that can be said is that, like other Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, Shakespeare sometimes collaborated with colleagues. But the idea that William Shakespeare was not the man who wrote the works of Shakespeare flies in the face of both evidence and common sense. It is not even an interesting theory, but rather quite simply a delusion.
About the Author
John Gross is the editor most recently of The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes. His “Mr. Virginia Woolf” appeared in the December 2006 COMMENTARY.