• There is a date for his baptism – with his name recorded in Latin as "Gulielmus" – and then it’s a case of working back a few days.
       It’s an educated guess. And much of the endless debate about the identity of the author of Shakespeare’s plays is because so much of the presumed life story is educated guesswork.
       But a new book – William Shakespeare Beyond Doubt – wants to put the record straight once and for all, as a forthright counterblast against those who question his authorship.

    • But why have there been so many questions about the identity of the author?
       "I think the phenomenon goes down partly to snobbery; to a feeling of resentment, even anger, that someone from a relatively humble background should have been able to create such works of genius," says Prof Wells. 

    • Co-editor Paul Edmondson, head of research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, says the authorship attacks are part of a wider culture of conspiracy theories.
       There is a constant curiosity to show that "reality is not what it seems".

    • A Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identity of William Shakespeare has gathered prominent signatories, with the claim that there is insufficient unambiguous evidence to link the man from Stratford and the plays attributed to his name.
       And a movie, Anonymous, fanned the embers of the idea that the Earl of Oxford was the true author.

    • But Prof Wells and Mr Edmondson say there is nothing strange or mysterious about the shortage of documentation or lack of information about parts of Shakespeare’s life.
       Their book lists the contemporary mentions of Shakespeare, showing that he did live and work in the theatrical world of London, and there were no challenges either to his identity or his authorship of the plays.

    • William Leahy, of Brunel University, is convenor of an MA degree in Shakespeare authorship studies – and he defends the legitimacy of approaching the identity of the playwright as an open question.
       Dr Leahy rejects the claims of Oxford, Bacon and Marlowe, but he does not accept the idea of a single author. 
       Instead he believes the plays were the work of six to eight different writers, including Shakespeare, who contributed to plays in a way that was "complex and messy".

    • Shakespeare lived in a dangerous and secretive era. In the church in Stratford-upon-Avon where he is buried, the altar stone had been buried and hidden for safekeeping during the upheavals of the Reformation.
       Shakespeare’s story looks set to be dug up on many more occasions.

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