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Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1575) unknown artist after lost original, National Portrait Gallery, London

An Oxfordian is someone who supports the Oxfordian Theory of Shakespeare Authorship, i.e., that the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford — including some of the greatest plays in the English language — were actually written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, an Elizabethan nobleman who lived between 1550 and 1604. Oxford has been the leading alternate candidate, since first being proposed in the 1920s.

According to early authorship doubters, Shakespeare of Stratford's documented biography appeared to be in contrast to his reputation as a writer, spawning theories he might not have been the original author. Supporters of alternate authorship theories, known as anti-Stratfordians, maintain Shakespeare of Stratford's lack of education, and the author's intimate knowledge of politics, science, law, medicine and royal pastimes, provide doubts he did not write the works ascribed to him. In addition to Oxford, numerous alternate candidates have been proposed, including Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby.

Mainstream Shakespeare scholars discount the Oxfordian theory, noting that, according to their own chronology, several of Shakespeare's works postdate Oxford's death in 1604.[1] Oxfordians, however, maintain none of Shakespeare's works have been proven to have been written after 1604, and note that the standard chronology was developed to match the years of the Stratford man.[2] The debate has continued into the 21st century.

History of the Oxfordian Theory

Like most issues about the debate over Shakespeare's authorship, documenting the history of the Shakespeare authorship question is often contentious. There is no agreement, academic or otherwise, as to when the debate was first proposed or alluded to. Stratfordians (those who follow the standard attribution) assert that during the life of William Shakespeare and for more than 200 years after his death, no one suggested that anyone other than Shakespeare wrote the works.[3] However, most Oxfordians believe that several 16th and 17th century Elizabethan works hint that the Shakespearean canon was written by someone else,[4] and note that the first generally accepted allusions to Shakespearean authorship arose in several 18th century satirical and allegorical works.[5]

Edward de Vere

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, has been the strongest alternate candidate for the past 90 years,[6] After being proposed in the 1920s, Oxford rapidly overtook Bacon to become the most popular alternative candidate.[7]

Oxfordians point to the acclaim of Oxford's contemporaries regarding his talent as a poet and a playwright, his reputation as a concealed poet, and his personal connections to London theatre and the contemporary playwrights of Shakespeare's day. They also note his long-term relationships with Queen Elizabeth I and the Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, his knowledge of court life, his documented education, academic and cultural achievements, and his wide-ranging travels through France and Italy to what would later become the locations of many of Shakespeare's plays.

The case for Oxford's authorship is also based on perceived similarities between Oxford's biography and events in Shakespeare's plays, sonnets and longer poems; parallels of language, idiom, and thought between Oxford's personal letters and the Shakespearean canon;[8] and underlined passages in Oxford's personal bible, which Oxfordians believe correspond to quotations in Shakespeare's plays.[9] Confronting the issue of Oxford's death in 1604, Oxfordian researchers cite examples they say imply the writer known as "Shakespeare" or "Shake-speare" died before 1609, and point to 1604 as the year regular publication of "new" or "augmented" Shakespeare plays stopped.

The conservative columnist Joseph Sobran, formerly with National Review magazine, subscribed to the theory that de Vere wrote Shakespeare's plays.


  1. Schoenbaum, S. (1991). Shakespeare's Lives (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp 433-4. ISBN 978-0-19-818618-2.
  2. Anderson, Mark. "Shakespeare" by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, The Man Who Was Shakespeare. Gotham, 2005 (expanded paperback edition 2006). pp. 400-405
  3. Bate, Jonathan (1998). The Genius of Shakespeare. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512823-9. p. 73;
  4. Price, Diana. Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography (2001), 224-26.
  5. Friedman, William F. and Elizebeth S. The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined (1957), pp. 1-4, quoted in Shakespeare and His Rivals, George McMichael, Edward M. Glenn, eds. (1962) pg. 56
  6. Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford entry at Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, 2007 | url=http://concise.britannica.com/ebc/article-9374297/Edward-de-Vere-17th-earl-of-Oxford; Satchell, Michael, Hunting for good Will: Will the real Shakespeare please stand up?, U.S. News & World Report, 2000-07-24 | url=https://www.usnews.com/usnews/doubleissue/mysteries/shakespeare.htm; McMichael, George and Edgar M. Glenn. Shakespeare and his Rivals: A Casebook on the Authorship Controversy. Odyssey Press, 1962. p. 159.
  7. Wadsworth, 121.
  8. Fowler, William Plumer. Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Peter E. Randall, 1986.
  9. Stritmatter, Roger A."The Marginalia of Edward de Vere's Geneva Bible: Providential Discovery, Literary Reasoning, and Historical Consequence" (PhD diss., University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2001). Partial reprint at The Shakespeare Fellowship.