Why didn't Shakespeare get rich?

The myth of William Shakespeare

Wasn't the most important writer of all time who he said he was? Did someone else write the famous works like "Macbeth" or "Romeo and Juliet"? Even 400 years after his death, there are many myths surrounding William Shakespeare.

38 dramas, 154 sonnets and epic poems made William Shakespeare immortal. He is considered the most important writer of all time and an all-rounder: he wrote easy comedies as well as hard-to-digest tragedies. From "Hamlet" to "As You Like It" and "The Merchant of Venice" to "Romeo and Juliet": His works are still sold and performed in theaters around the world. But the author himself remains a myth. Even 400 years after his death, the life and work of the Englishman remain a mystery. Not much is known about the historical person.

Beginnings and private matters

When Shakespeare was born is not known for sure. The day of his baptism is known: on April 26, 1564 he was given the name "William Shakespeare" in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was the son of a glove maker who, according to some researchers, may have been illiterate.

William attended the small town Latin school for a few years but had no further education. At the age of 18 he married a farmer's daughter, Anne Hathaway, and had two daughters with her.

He made his way as a small actor and later became co-owner of a theater. Where he got the money from has never been clarified. From 1593 his works were printed and performed in London theaters with great success. Queen Elizabeth I even invited him to give a performance at court. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, also in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Strange: no manuscripts, no letters

Some circumstances in his life and estate attracted the attention of doubters: although his plays were celebrated, his death did not attract public attention. But when Richard Burbage, the most famous Shakespeare actor at the time, died in 1619, he was buried as a folk hero.

While Shakespeare left more than a million words in his dramas and sonnets for posterity, only 14 documents have survived, which he is said to have written in his handwriting. However, these are only scary variants of his name. Was it possible that he couldn't write properly at all?

Not a single manuscript has survived, not a single letter has survived, and there are only a few portraits of Shakespeare. It is also strange that his will mentions that his wife should inherit "the second best bed" in the house. But there is no question of any books or own works. There is no historical document that mentions Shakespeare's activity as a writer.

Such a vocabulary without education?

Does all of this suggest that Stratford-upon-Avon Shakespeare was a swindler, a front man for the real writer of those world-famous dramas? There is some evidence to support this theory. For how is the uneducated son of a craftsman who has never left England supposed to have acquired such a comprehensive vocabulary?

Experts have counted 29,000 different words in his writings, they thrive on tremendous ingenuity and pun. In addition, the author addresses topics from medicine, astronomy, art history, natural science and law. There are allusions to ancient mythology. Shouldn't Shakespeare have studied to have this knowledge?

For the skeptics it is therefore clear: William Shakespeare was just a pseudonym, the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon was not the author of the famous works at all. Almost 100 contemporary names have been named as the actual creators of "Macbeth" & Co. in the course of time. Among them are the author Christopher Marlowe, the philosopher Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford Edward de Vere and even Queen Elizabeth I.

For a long time, Christopher Marlowe was considered the most promising candidate: He was a poet in Shakespeare's time. In contrast to this he was educated, had studied in Cambridge and, among other things, toured Verona, which is described in "Romeo and Juliet".

However, Marlowe died in a knife fight in London in 1593 - two weeks before Shakespeare's first work was published. But some researchers believe that Marlowe was not really dead, but fled to India and from then on wrote under a false name. The reason for his deception: He was charged with heresy and homosexual - a serious offense at the time.

An earl as the most likely author

Or maybe Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, is behind the pseudonym. The theory that he is the true author of Shakespeare's works has the most supporters today among doubters. Sigmund Freud and the authors Mark Twain and Henry James believed in this.

De Vere wrote poems, but as a member of Elizabeth I's court was not allowed to publish them commercially. Perhaps that only gave him the choice of writing under a different name. The earl was educated and traveled extensively, including Italy, which plays an important role in many Shakespeare plays.

However, de Vere died too early in 1604. Important Shakespeare works such as "The Storm" were only created afterwards. The supporters of the De Vere authorship, also known as "Oxfordians", do not mind. They assume that the dramas were then written earlier than expected today.

A Bible with 200 annotations in his handwriting was found in de Vere's estate. Most of them refer to passages in the text that are also quoted in Shakespeare plays: Coincidence or a striking argument that de Vere is the real author? Another indication: His nickname is said to have been "Spear Shaker".

The Stratfordians are in the majority

But despite all the doubts and riddles: The majority of Shakespeare researchers hold on to the fact that the craftsman's son is actually the real author. The group of the so-called "Stratfordians" consider all other explanations to be mere conspiracy theories. They criticize the fact that a common man is not trusted to perform such art.

For many of the doubts there are, in their opinion, valid counter-arguments: Shakespeare does not have to have been educated, he resorted to familiar subjects and made them dramatic. He learned many facts through his close contacts with the court. And he made many mistakes, for example in geographical terms: For example, Shakespeare moved Bohemia to the sea, and he wrote that one could get from Verona to Milan by sea.

It is not uncommon that no Shakespeare manuscript has survived and that he does not mention any books in his will. No document has survived from many contemporary authors, such as Ben Jonson. And the most important thinker of his time, Sir Francis Bacon, does not mention a single book in his will either.

Another Stratfordian argument: Shakespeare's father wasn't just a craftsman. After all, he managed the finances of Stratfort-upon-Avon and was later even mayor. That speaks against the thesis that he could not read or write.

Doubts about Shakespeare's authorship for the works did not arise until the middle of the 19th century. This is also an indication for the researchers: If the actor had really appeared as a straw man, in their opinion there should have been some confidants. And would they have all really been silent during Shakespeare's lifetime and in the years after his death?