Since at least the middle of the nineteenth century, certain writers, scholars, and amateur sleuths have questioned whether William Shakespeare, the actor and son of a glovemaker from Stratford, really could have written Shakespeare’s plays. Possible alternatives posited by Shakespeare skeptics have included the philosopher Francis Bacon and the courtier Edward de Vere (The Earl of Oxford). A recent article in “The Atlantic” suggested a poet Emilia Bassano as another possible candidate. In this Conversation, Paul Cantor explains the history of this controversy, reviews the evidence, and explains why the author of Shakespeare’s plays was none other than Shakespeare from Stratford, himself! Cantor argues that behind this search for an alternate author lies a disbelief that such an individual could possess an astonishing ability to imagine and portray the full variety of human types, whether aristocratic or common, male or female. And yet, this ability to transcend oneself and imagine other people, times, and possibilities is a true mark of literary genius. As Cantor puts it, “There’s no way to explain [Shakespeare’s genius]. It’s just one of the great miracles.”

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