For the vast majority of Shakespeare scholars, there is no 'authorship question'; they agree that the works of William Shakespeare were written by William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon (allowing for some collaboration), and tend to ignore or dismiss anyone who claims otherwise.
In the following pages I will try to explain, from the perspective of a Shakespeare scholar, why the Stratford Shakespeare's authorship is so generally accepted by historians, and why those historians do not take seriously the various attempts to deny that attribution. I realize from experience that this explanation is not likely to convince many committed antistratfordians, but at the very least I hope to correct some misconceptions about what Shakespeare scholars actually believe.
For the purposes of argument, we can distinguish among three main strands of William Shakespeare's biography, which I will call Stratford Shakespeare, Actor Shakespeare, and Author Shakespeare.
Stratford Shakespeare was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, married Anne Hathaway in 1582, had three children with her, bought New Place in 1597 and various other properties in and around Stratford over the following decade, and was buried in there in 1616.
Actor Shakespeare was a member of the Lord Chamberlain's/King's Men, the leading acting company in London from 1594 on, and an original sharer in the Globe and Blackfriars playhouses.
Author Shakespeare signed the dedications of Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594), and over the next twenty years was named on title pages as the author of numerous plays and poems, and was praised by such critics as Francis Meres and Gabriel Harvey. In 1623 his collected plays were printed in the First Folio, with a famous dedication and preface by John Heminges and Henry Condell, and several commendatory poems.
Standard biographies treat these strands--Stratford Shakespeare, Actor Shakespeare, and Author Shakespeare--as different but intertwined aspects of a single person's life. Antistratfordians, on the other hand, claim that author Shakespeare is a different person from the other two, and some radical antistratfordians, such as Charlton Ogburn Jr., have also tried to claim that Stratford Shakespeare is distinct from actor Shakespeare--in other words, that the Stratford man was neither an actor nor a playwright. (1)
In fact, however, a strong, tight web of cumulative and interconnected evidence shows that the Stratford resident, the actor, and the author were indeed one and the same person, and various antistratfordian attempts to weaken or dispute this evidence involve misleading, false, or distorted claims. It's true that no one single document states categorically that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote Hamlet and King Lear, but then no such document exists for any other playwright of the time either.
The most straightforward evidence for the Stratford Shakespeare's authorship is the fact that the name 'William Shakespeare' appeared on various printed plays and poems during his life-time. The dedications to Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) are signed 'William Shakespeare,' as noted above, and a few years later that name (or close variants) began appearing on the title pages of printed plays, starting in 1598 with Richard H (by William Shake-speare), Richard III (by William Shake-speare), and Love's Labour's Lost (by W. Shakespeare). In 1601 a poem in Robert Chester's Loves Martyr (now known as 'The Phoenix and the Turtle') was signed 'William Shakespeare,' and in 1609 Shake-speares Sonnets was published, including the narrative poem 'A Lover's Complaint', attributed on the first page to 'William Shake-speare'. Various other writers also referred to a poet and playwright named 'Shakespeare', most famously Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia (1598), who attributed a dozen plays to Shakespeare and praised his 'sugared sonnets among his private friends'. (2) This only includes references from Stratford Shakespeare's lifetime, and does not include the 1623 First Folio or the many other posthumous references.
It's true that these references do not by themselves prove that Stratford Shakespeare and author Shakespeare were the same person, but surely a person's name on so many contemporary title pages and similar documents is significant evidence, subject to confirmation by other means? Antistratfordians have typically responded to this evidence by claiming that the Stratford man's name was not actually 'Shakespeare', but rather 'Shaksper' or some variant thereof, with the first syllable pronounced like 'shack' rather than 'shake.' Unfortunately this claim, which is treated as an article of faith by many anti-stratfordians, does not stand up to objective scrutiny. Back in 1996, I compiled a list of all known written references to William Shakespeare of Stratford during his lifetime (nonliterary references), and a separate list of all known written references to William Shakespeare the writer during the same period (literary references). There is considerable spelling variation in both lists, but 'Shakespeare' was by far the most common spelling used both for the Stratford resident and the author, and 'shake' spellings in general (with the first 'e') are far more common than 'shak' spellings (without the first 'e') in both lists. There is no evidence that 'shake' and 'shak' spellings were pronounced differently, and considerable evidence to the contrary; for example, in the 1592 quarto of the anonymous play Arden of Feversham, the name of the character Shakebag is spelled indifferently with or without the medial 'e'. (3)
Some antistratfordians also claim that hyphenation was used in Elizabethan times to indicate a pseudonym, and that since Shakespeare's name was sometimes hyphenated (e.g. on the title page of Richard II in 1598), this is evidence that people recognized it as a nom-de-plume. (4)
But the idea that hyphenation has anything to do with pseudonyms is completely unknown outside of antistratfordian literature, and completely unsupported by any evidence. The names of numerous real people of Shakespeare's day, such as Charles Fitzgeoffrey and the printer Edward Allde, can be found hyphenated on title pages. The most famous pseudonym of the day, Martin …