The Shakespeare Authorship Question
There are many conspiracy theorists who believe that there was no playwright named William Shakespeare, but that Shakespeare was a nom de plume for an aristocrat who did not wish to be associated with theatre work. There is little to document Shakespeare's early life. We know that he grew up in a sleepy community, had an unremarkable education and few experiences with the subjects written about in his plays. In addition to those who seriously dispute his authorship, many more people aren't really concerned about the truth of his identity but have fun speculating about who else it could have been.
Experts often cite Christopher Marlowe as an influence on the aspiring William Shakespeare. All of Shakespeare's later writings seem to have developed from a style similar to Marlowe's poetry and plays. Coincidentally, Marlowe was stabbed to death in 1593, just as William Shakespeare was becoming known as an actor and starting to write his first plays. Many people believe that Marlowe faked his death in order to avoid debtors. Still more intriguing is the theory that Marlowe was employed by Queen Elizabeth as a spy. In order to carry through with his espionage, his death was faked but he continued to write under the pen name of William Shakespeare.
Already a prolific writer under his own name, Bacon is often put forward as a candidate in the Shakespeare authorship debate. He was well educated and some references can be found in his work that may be clues or may just be coincidences. His writing style was quite different from Shakespeare's however some believe that he used the Shakespeare name when he wanted to deviate from his usual work and style.
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford
The Earl spent his youth experimenting with writing but eventually stopped producing new work. He was a worldly man who understood the royal courts and politics and also spent time travelling. People often point to similarities between Shakespeare's characters and people who were influential in the Earl's life. For example, his Guardian and mentor, William Cecil, was very similar to the character of Polonius in Hamlet. However Edward de Vere grew up in the English court, surrounded by well-known figures. It is likely that his life and Shakespeare's writings drew from the same source.
William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby
Like his father-in-law, Edward de Vere, William Stanley had the court connections that suggested familiarity with the nobles that were thought to be the basis of some Shakespearean characters. As well, he travelled to Navarre, France, the setting of Love's Labour Lost. His wedding to Elizabeth de Vere was believed to be the inspiration for A Midsummer Night's Dream and the play was first performed at their wedding celebration.
William Stanley shared initials and a first name with William Shakespeare. The writings of a sixteenth century Jesuit noted that Stanley was "busye in penning commodyes for the common players" and at the same time was financing two drama companies in London, suggesting that he was writing plays for the London Theatres.
Queen Elizabeth I
While it's doubtful that Queen Elizabeth would have had the time or the privacy to secretly be responsible for the works of Shakespeare, her name is still put forward regularly as a candidate in the Shakespeare authorship question. Elizabeth was undoubtedly one of the greatest minds of her time. She was well educated, highly literate and had a magnificent imagination. In her youth she was the subject of much intrigue and was the victim of jealousy, betrayal, espionage, and ill-fated love. It can be pointed out that she certainly had the life experiences that fueled Shakespeare's plays. Shakespeare himself came from a rustic community and has not been connected in his personal life to the experiences of the characters he wrote.
Many of Shakespeare's plays serve as propaganda to promote the Tudor dynasty, which is believed to support the theory that the real author was Elizabeth herself. However it could be just as likely that William Shakespeare's material was influenced by Elizabethan courtiers who sought to support works that honoured their Queen. The most obvious difficulty in accepting Elizabeth as the real Shakespeare is that she died thirteen years before the Bard and several of his greatest plays did not appear until after her death.