Shakespeare's Timeline at The Globe. Picture by Dysanovic


In fact, no one really argues with the basic consensus.

There have been graduate dissertations which have attempted the odd daring revision of the order of the early plays or have suggested hitherto undiscovered collaborations. There is some sputtering, unenthusiastic debate over small issues, such as whether Cymbeline or The Winter's Tale came first but on the whole, scholars have been reasonable happy with chronology for quite a long time. Recent contributions using computers to assist the art (or science) of stylometry have greatly improved the detailed support for the development of Shakespeare's art. However, the chronological order of the plays in the Edwardian Windsor Shakespeare, published in 1910 by Caxton, has them in much the same order as the latest edition of The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. 

Not a source of much controversy, then.

All of the heat in the issue comes from Oxfordians who, reasoning backwards again, are forced into a dating argument by De Vere's death in June 1604. No one can say whether the number of unwritten plays was 10 or 11 when The Earl was buried in Hackney, as the parish registers confirm, on 6th July 1604. As there is some flexibility, scholars aren't too dogmatic about moving a single play a year or two, here or there. It might be 10 or it might be 11. However, it flies in the face of hundreds of years of common sense, history and scholarship to claim, as Oxfordians do, that none at all were written after De Vere's death.

The dating part of the Oxfordian argument closely resembles the weakest argument in offered by creationists who claim that 'scientists disagree over the Theory of Evolution and so do we' as if the creationists and scientists were saying almost the same things instead of the polar opposites. Oxfordians do the same thing.

Their argument goes 'academics do not agree on the dating of Shakespeare's plays, therefore there is no agreement.' Bad as this non sequitur is, they then add another. 'Since there is no agreement among academics, no one can disagree with any date I might propose'.

In fact, there is resounding, 100% agreement amongst academics (and logicians) that both of these statements are absolute nonsense. 

It must be accepted that plays cannot be performed before they are written. Likewise, they must be written after any historical events to which they refer. That's a dating yardstick. The Elizabethan theatre kept reasonably good records of performances, even if the playwrights themselves did not.

Secondly, you cannot argue that early work was written after later work when there is a clear development in style over a writing career spanning more than 20 years. That's another yardstick. If you look at the work of the Beatles or Beethoven, it illustrates this point perfectly. Early work can be distinguished from late work without the aid of a calendar or a commissioner for oaths, without even the need of much expertise.

Thirdly, the theatre itself underwent a revolution during the 20-year timeline of the plays' performance. Changes in taste, genre, format, the move to indoor theatre can all be accurately chronicled. Plays written in 1610 look and sound different to plays written in 1590. That's another yardstick.

Ultimately, this argument is too grossly at odds with the available documentary record and stylometric numbers for Oxford to be a plausible claimant.

Fourthly, the English language underwent its greatest transformation in the 20 years Shakespeare was active. This is also reflected in the timeline of the plays. That's a fourth yardstick. 

Study and scholarship have used these four yardsticks (and lots more) to achieve a consensus on the dating of the plays which cannot be dislodged.

Not by Oxfordians. Eva Turner Clark produced an Oxfordian Dating scheme which fitted the Oxfordian facts as she saw them. Oxfordians seeking to defend the Earl from the onslaught of stylometry in the 1990's dropped it like a hot brazier as it made no sense whatsoever. So far, since Clark's ideas were torn to tatters, no new comprehensive chronology has emerged. A sound chronology requires the forging of solid links. Oxfordians now concentrate on picking small holes here and there, preferring to tackle one existing anomaly at a time rather than risk creating new ones by trying to produce a consistent alternative theory. Why risk being torn to shreds by anyone with access to a calendar and Google? Again.

There is no doubt that Shakespeare's career as a writer extends at least 8 years beyond Oxford's death.

None whatsoever.




On 29 May 1600 the clerk turned to a fly leaf of Register C and began a list headed "my lord chamberlens menns plaies Entred." Following a "viz," he listed two titles: A moral of 'clothe breches and velvet hose'and Allarum to London. Though he left room, no more titles were entered. On this authority rests the existence of the play, Cloth Breeches and Velvet Hose and its assignment to the repertory of the Chamberlain's men (illustrated below by Greg BEPD 1.15).


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