1. Historical evidence?
The historical record is unmistakeable in assigning the authorship of the Shakespeare canon to a William Shakespeare. In addition to the name appearing on the title pages of poems and plays, this name was given as that of a well-known writer at least 23 times during the lifetime of William Shakespeare of Stratford. Several contemporaries corroborate the identity of the playwright as an actor, and explicit contemporary documentary evidence attests that the Stratford citizen was also an actor under his own name.
2. Contemporary legal recognition
Both explicit testimony by his contemporaries and strong circumstantial evidence of personal relationships with those who interacted with him as an actor and playwright support Shakespeare’s authorship.
3. Recognition by fellow actors, playwrights and writers
Actors John Heminges and Henry Condell knew and worked with Shakespeare for more than 20 years. In the 1623 First Folio, they wrote that they had published the Folio “onely to keepe the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow aliue, as was our SHAKESPEARE, by humble offer of his playes”. The playwright and poet Ben Jonson knew Shakespeare from at least 1598, when the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed Jonson’s play Every Man in His Humour at the Curtain Theatre with Shakespeare as a cast member. In addition to Ben Jonson, other playwrights wrote about Shakespeare, including some who sold plays to Shakespeare’s company.
4. Shakespeare’s Death
Shakespeare’s will, executed on 25 March 1616, bequeaths “to my fellows John Hemynge Richard Burbage and Henry Cundell 26 shilling 8 pence apiece to buy them [mourning] rings.” Numerous public records, including the royal patent of 19 May 1603 that chartered the King’s Men, establishes that Phillips, Heminges, Burbage, and Condell were fellow actors in the King’s Men with William Shakespeare; two of them later edited his collected plays.
5. Evidence from his works
Shakespeare’s are the most studied secular works in history. Contemporary comments and textual studies support the authorship of someone with an education, background, and life span consistent with that of William Shakespeare.
If you haven’t yet, read the prosecution case to help you decide was Shakespeare the biggest literary hoax of all time?