Was William Shakespeare just a nom de plume? The question is usually dismissed as boring, only of interest to snobs and cranks. Clever people, like the Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate, know better. But the old authorship debate has been given new life of late, thanks to the energetic writer Alexander Waugh, who is adamant that Shakespeare was not a poor boy from Stratford, but the aristocrat Edward De Vere. At a debate at Ye Olde Cock Tavern in London on Wednesday, Waugh and fellow author Ros Barber roundly thumped Professors Duncan Salkeld and Alan Nelson.
The ‘anti-Stratfordians’, as Waugh’s side are known, are on a roll. On Sunday, it was reported that Prince Philip had joined their ranks. The scholar Stanley Wells was quoted in the Mail on Sunday as saying he had ‘crossed swords’ with the Duke of Edinburgh, who reportedly believes that diplomat Sir Henry Neville is the mastermind behind Shakespeare’s works. Meanwhile, Professor Jonathan Bate has revealed that Prince Charles, president of the Royal Shakespeare Company, ‘wanted some arguments to put in front of his dad.’
So if the man from Stratford did not write the plays, who did? At the packed tavern on Wednesday, almost everyone was willing, by the end, to concede that the Shakespeare Authorship Question deserves to be studied in schools and universities.