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Who wrote Shakespeare? Explore in four weeks.

Did William Shakespeare actually write the plays that were attributed to him? A new MOOC from the University of London allows you to join the investigation.

Written by Keith McDonald |

Senate House Library, Shakespeare 400 Metamorphosis Exhibition, Staircase Mural
The University of London celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 2016. But was he the author of his plays?

William Shakespeare is broadly celebrated as one of the most popular writers in English history. In 2016, festivals and events marked the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death.

However, ongoing scholarship in attribution studies is investigating the extent of Shakespeare’s collaboration with fellow playwrights. Some now question whether Shakespeare the 'author' exists at all.

'Crisis' or worthy question?

The question over Shakespeare’s authorship is not a new one.

The investigation has involved the use of statistical software on digitised texts to detect elements or 'strings' of other authors' writing.

But the methods for this are contested among Shakespeareans, some of whom believe that computer-generated results do not tell the whole story of authorship.

The New Oxford Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's works (2017) claims that over one third of Shakespeare's plays (17 of 44) were written in collaboration with his contemporaries, including Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Middleton.

The claim prompted uproar from Professor Sir Brian Vickers FBA, Senior Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, who has called for a Committee for the Protection of Shakespeare's Text to halt what he describes as 'a crisis for our discipline'.

Yet, even the editors of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, describe the authorship debate as a 'complex intellectual phenomenon well worthy of objective consideration' that has been too easily dismissed by the scholarly community.

This investigation extends far beyond the text itself and explores evidence and counter-evidence from Stratford-upon-Avon as well as prefatory texts and testimonials that imply personal familiarity with the Bard.

Investigate for yourself

As the authorship question gathers momentum among scholars and general interest groups, you have an ideal opportunity explore it for yourself with a new short course available on Coursera.

The four-week online course is presented by Dr Ros Barber, Lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London, and author of Shakespeare: The Evidence: The Authorship Question Clarified.

Explore both sides of the argument, including the evidence of identity, local evidence from Shakespeare's home town, and how the critically important First Folio of 1623 contributes to the debate.

Sign up today.