The Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship holds that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays conventionally attributed to William Shakespeare.
Oxfordians prefer to distinguish between Shakespeare, which they consider a pen name for the author of the plays, and Shaksper the actor from Stratford who also lived at the approximate time that the plays were written. Those who hold that the Stratford actor was also the author of Shakespeare's plays are called Stratfordians.
First proposed by John Looney in 1920, de Vere is presently the most popular of several anti-Stratfordian candidates for the real Shakespeare. Oxfordians base their arguments on striking similarities between de Vere's biography and events in Shakespeare's plays, the acclaim of his contemporaries regarding de Vere's talent as a poet and a playwright, de Vere's closeness to Queen Elizabeth and Court life, underlined passages in de Vere's Bible that correspond to quotations in Shakespeare's plays, and de Vere's extensive education and intelligence.
According to Stratfordians, the most convincing argument against Oxford's authorship is that ten of Shakespeare's plays are probably dated after Oxford's death in 1604, and several of them specifically refer to events following his death. For example, The Tempest alludes to a 1609 shipwreck in Bermuda. Supporters of the standard view further dispute all of the contentions in favor of the earl of Oxford. The supposed connections between Oxford's life and the plots of Shakespeare's plays is conjectural at best, for instance, and the acclaim of Oxford's contemporaries for his poetic and dramatic skill was distinctly modest. The passages marked in de Vere's Bible seem - to Stratfordians - to bear small connection to Shakespeare's plays. Indeed the annotator seems most interested in passages advocating charitable concern for the poor, not a powerful theme in Shakespeare's work. Near contemporaries, such as John Dryden, indicated that Shakespeare got many details wrong in his depiction of life at court, which suggests that Oxford's court connections do not support the case for his authorship very strongly.