Shakespeare and the Authorship Question: Part 2

The first chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare (2012) is titled “Authorship,” and is written by research academic, literary scholar, Renaissance literature expert, and computational stylist, Professor Hugh Craig.

Hugh Craig 2

Craig begins his chapter with section 1.”Kinds of Authorship.” In the first paragraph of this section Craig writes:

While most of the people who go to ‘Shakespeare’ plays and read ‘Shakespeare’ works accept that William Shakespeare wrote them, as do almost all the scholars who are professionally concerned with these texts, there are some who doubt the connection and will argue that some other person or persons is responsible. For these people this is the Shakespeare authorship question. (p. 15)

On the internet, I have found many articles (too numerous to list here) about and by anti-Stratfordians (supporters of alternative candidates in the authorship debate), as well as articles about and by people who subscribe to the Oxfordian Theory that Edward de Vere (1550-1604), 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the Shakespeare plays; and I have also found articles by some others who have bought into the argument, or who believe it possible that someone other than William Shakespeare was the real “Shakespeare”.   People who do not accept that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote “Shakespeare” have offered all sorts of arguments as to why the person William Shakespeare of Stratford was not the author of the works attributed to “Shakespeare.”

to be or not     monkeysmysterious shakespeare


To make it clear from the outset: even though he considers the Shakespeare authorship question  in his book chapter, “Authorship,” Professor Hugh Craig is not into anti-Stratfordian argument, and  he does not contribute to the Oxfordian Theory, and in no way is he into Pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or Marco Polo games as it were, either.  Rather he is into linguistics and the appreciation of literature. He is an advocate for the use of digitised stylistics in the study of language and literature, and for ease of correct analysis of literary texts. His special interest is with Renaissance literature and the works of Shakespeare, and computational analysis in research in his field.

sh book     sh poems 2    sh old book

Hugh Craig’s  computational analysis has two applications in the field of literature: One, it can help authenticate authorship that is unknown or suspected to have been wrongly attributed, and it can help determine authorship contribution in the most disputed of Shakespeare’s works, and it can help determine authorship in Shakespeare’s works where collaboration is suspected, and where these works have gained significant attention from academic Shakespeareans and literary historians as to warrant further investigation, and are deemed worthy of serious consideration.  Two, it can be used to build a profile of or define a writer’s particular style, and which is of great importance to  scholarship.  [i]

Professor Craig’s unusual techniques in computer-assisted analysis of language can also show the way in which language works; his research indicates how the study of  computational linguistics can be applied in the health sphere. He says:

Computational analysis is not only applicable to the work of great writers. It can be used just as effectively to identify the idiosyncrasies of any individual’s language.

The miracle of language is that we all make something individual out of a common resource. Computer analysis allows us to detect those word patterns more accurately than simply relying on intuition.

We are looking at how people’s language changes with ageing but there are other researchers using the techniques to investigate how people’s language changes with the onset of Alzheimer’s. This could in turn lead to early detection if you could find a way to pick up on those changes in language use.

Craig’s ground-breaking research techniques herald a new era in the study of language, and in correct analysis of literary texts, and which is necessary to the appreciation of literature.  To my mind, his research findings (which I will discuss in a later blog) have huge ramifications for the body of  principles and practices used by scholars in the research of literature and authorship attribution, to make their claims about the world  as valid and trustworthy as possible, and to make them known to the scholarly public. In turn, this has implications for the related academic fields. As I see it, Professor Craig’s research findings present a clear indication that the inclusion of his methods, techniques, and use of digitised stylistics in the methodologies currently employed in the study of language and literature would enhance scholarship and further knowledge in these areas. It is quite possible that Hugh Craig’s unusual research techniques and methods of computational analysis could ultimately prove to be of use in other areas as well.

To return now to an earlier paragraph in this blog,  “Hugh Craig’s  computational analysis has two applications in the field of literature,” one of which is that “it can be used to build a profile of or define a writer’s particular style”:  building a profile of or defining a writer’s particular style  relies on correct analysis of the pertinent literary texts, and is vital to  scholarship, and an important  teaching tool and a part of the modelling technique used in teaching students how to write. Through studying the styles of authors selected for the purpose in hand, the aspiring writer can gain insights into ways to approach the task, and discover a treasure trove of writing techniques and methods to sort through and adapt to their own use.

Correct analysis of literary texts and Shakespeare’s works is extremely important also to theatre, and the performance of plays in knowing which plays to put on and where, and when. This, not only for ethical and legal and financial reasons (such as financial backing and box office sales, for instance), but also in the interests of play companies honouring their names (and so ensuring their on-going success and employment); and, as well, in educating the public as theatre-goers, and in the interests of audience participation, enjoyment, appreciation, relaxation, and furthering knowledge.

As Ben-Ze’ev explains: We are creatures of human emotions, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”– “the comparative aspect of emotions is personal, the comparative nature of emotional meaning implies that emotions go beyond the information given; hence, it involves an imaginary aspect” (Ben Ze’ev 2000, p.p. 4, 19-20). When we view a work of art  [either as a reader or as theatre audience] that interests us, “its higher degree of reality in the sense of its being vivid generates intense emotions,” and we indulge a willing suspension of disbelief. By seeing “life through the eyes of those directly involved” in the fictional situation, “we adopt their perspective and feel emotionally close to them; consequently, intense emotions are generated,” and “we bring our own emotional reality to bear on” the fictional (and therefore safe) situations depicted, allowing us “to empathise with characters in the fiction” and learn from the imagined lives and situations of others and gain greater insights into and an increased knowledge of life whilst truly enjoying ourselves (Ben Ze’ev 2000, p.p. 126-30).

globe theatre sh old book

In a way, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre can be cited as one example of how this is evidenced in practice: audiences love and thoroughly enjoy “Shakespeare.” Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre plays to full houses. The Globe only puts on plays by “Shakespeare,” and is never short of an informed, intelligent and interested audience. The Globe theatre-going crowds are a mix of locals, nationals, and overseas visitors from countries all over the world.

Most people know the name “Shakespeare,” most people also know of “Shakespeare’s” works, and a great many people are drawn to “Shakespeare” plays. In part, this is could be because Shakespeare’s works cross the temporal and social and cultural bounds. For instance, as the Bell Theatre Company has proved with their modern day performances of Shakespeare, even though Shakespeare’s plays were originally set in and around the sixteenth-century–written for the audiences of the day–and even though hundreds of years have passed since then, his plays are still pertinent to today’s audiences: Shakespeare’s plays  can be set in the modern day, and with the players in modern dress, and not one word or line is reduced in importance or meaning, or lost on the audience.  Shakespeare’s plays bear testimony that Shakespeare was a shrewd observer of people, and a clever writer who knew the human psychology and understood human behaviour, and was aware of how humans behave and talk in certain situations, for he portrays these aspects of life and human behaviour in his plays in such a way that we cannot but help recognise the behaviours we all know or recognise in ourselves or in our family members or in unrelated others, or see or hear or learn about in every day life. Shakespeare shows the audience to itself as it were; he portrays intimate and wider human relationships in family matters and situations, political situations, friendship and enmity, the good and evil capabilities in people, and the various types of human love including romantic love, and the many different aspects of marriage.

Shakespeare is profound, and he uses language in such a way that what he says is both witty and funny and yet serious, and has truth. What he says he means, and what he says has meaning; and what he says we can relate to in one way or another. Moreover, he puts words together that would not otherwise fit together, and his words are put together in such a way that his sayings and lines carry a complexity of meanings (some have many meanings,) that one cannot miss the import and nature of. In fact, many of the sayings we have today, and many of the things we say in the course of everyday life, come from “Shakespeare.”

As Hugh Craig notes in his chapter, “Authorship,” for most people the name “Shakespeare” is synonymous to the works commonly attributed to the playwright and poet William Shakespeare, the much celebrated man from  Stratford-upon-Avon. In England the name “Shakespeare” is a matter of national and cultural pride, and is tied to literary identity–a pride and a literary identity that somewhat extends to Anglo-Australia, and also to America in some ways. It could be said that the name “Shakespeare” and its connotations extends to all English speaking cultures. It is reasonable to assume that through one means or another, in countries where English is spoken or that have been influenced by England at some point in history (during or post-Elizabethan times, of course) , most people know or have heard of the name “Shakespeare,” and most would know or have heard of Shakespeare’s works. Further to this, works by Shakespeare, and other things Shakespeare,  are of interest  to the scholarly sector and academia the world over.

In the first paragraph to the concluding section (“V. Conclusion”) to his chapter “Authorship, Professor Craig notes:

It is hard to exaggerate the cultural prestige that is invested in Shakespeare as an author. His works are invoked to guarantee the richness of the resources of the English language, to anchor English pride, and as touchstones for the power of the literature itself. They are read, performed, and studied to a degree that makes him outstanding even among the select band of national poets. A poem that is accepted as Shakespeare’s is analysed with unparalleled intensity; the same poem, no longer attributed to Shakespeare, instantly loses its lustre. As a creator Shakespeare is both exceptional and representative. Defining him either as an independent author, or as essentially a member of a theatrical collective, affects the picture of literary creation in general. For many beyond the academy, questions about his identity, his moral character, and his politics must be resolved in a satisfactory direction to sustain general beliefs about humanity and culture. (p.p.29-30)



[i]  Here, by scholarship, I mean the body of  principles and practices used by scholars to make their claims about the world as valid and trustworthy as possible, and to make them known to the scholarly public.  In this context, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary ( ) defines “Scholarship” as:

2: serious academic study or research of a subject

learning; erudition; a fund of knowledge acquired by study; the academic attainments (qualities and skills) of a scholar; serious academic study or research of a subject

knowledge, learning, erudition, scholarship mean what is or can be known by an individual or by humankind. knowledge applies to facts or ideas acquired by study, investigation, observation, or experience <rich in the knowledge of human nature>. learning applies to knowledge acquired especially through formal, often advanced, schooling <a book that demonstrates vast learning>. erudition strongly implies the acquiring of profound, recondite, or bookish learning <an erudition unusual even in a scholar>. scholarship implies the possession of learning characteristic of the advanced scholar in a specialized field of study or investigation <a work of first-rate literary scholarship>.

Works cited 

Ben-Ze’ev, Aaron. The Subtlety of Emotions. “A Bradford Book.” Cambridge, USA: Massachusetts Institute Technology P, 2000. Print.

Craig, Hugh. “Authorship” in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare. Ed. Arthur F. Kinney.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. p.p. 15-30 Print.

Scholarship | Definition of scholarship by Merriam-Webster   Web. (accessed 1 Oct. 2015)


This discussion to be continued next blog in Shakespeare and the Authorship Question: Part 2, continued…























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