For more than a century, a debate has raged over the true identity of William Shakespeare. The historical record provides little information on the man, and some scholars doubt his existence. Mark Twain and many others claimed there was no Elizabethan playwright by the name Shakespeare. In this activity students will review the recent history of the debate to learn about the period of English history during which Shakespeare's plays were written.
Students will go to the Shakespeare Mystery Web site to read about the debate over Shakespeare's identity. After reading an overview of the debate, students will read an article by David Bevington, who maintains that Shakespeare really did write the masterpieces that bear his name. Students will then write their own essay, expressing their opinions on the debate about the identity of Shakespeare.
- Students will be able to review and summarize a historical debate.
- Students will be able to apply what they have learned to write their own essay arguing about the identity of Shakespeare.
Student Web Activity Answers
- People have doubted the ability of a sixteenth-century English commoner to gain the knowledge and skill required to write Shakespeare's plays.
- Some have suggested that Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, or Christopher Marlowe was the real William Shakespeare.
- According to Looney, Shakespeare was the pen name of Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Looney claimed de Vere had used a pen name because writing plays was beneath a man of his social stature. Also, given the comments in Shakespeare's plays about royalty and the nobility, Looney suggests that it would have made it unwise for de Vere to write under his own name.
- Critics of Looney have said that de Vere could not be the author because he died before some of the plays were written.
- Students' essays will vary but should include appropriate information from their textbooks, the Web site, or additional research.
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