According to Daniel Swift,
. . .It is often claimed that we know little about Shakespeare's life, but this is untrue. We have many life records. The picture they paint, however, is of a man we are unwilling to recognize. He was baptized and buried; he bought malt, houses and land; he sued people who owed him money, and he failed to pay his taxes; he gave legal testimony in a lawsuit over the financial settlement of a marriage, and his will is formulaic and businesslike. According to one seventeenth-century account, he was "not a company keeper," and when asked to a party, he excused himself with a headache. How did this money-worried little capitalist, who conducted his life in a flurry of land deeds and small business ventures, write Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet?. . . .
I confess I've never understood the supposed urgency of this question. All of the controversy about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays has been cooked up by people who don't want to think that an otherwise ordinary, even nondescript man from the provinces could have written what have turned out to be the most accomplished and compelling works of literature in the English language. Putting aside those who adopt such a view purely from class prejudice, what exactly is it about Shakespeare's character and circumstances that would have prevented him from becoming a great literary artist? To take the two plays Swift mentions: Why would it have been impossible for someone from Stratford, through an empathetic imagination and great feeling for language, to convey the inner torments of characters struggling against the constraints of family dysfunction and social convention, against the impositions of "outrageous fortune"? Hamlet in particular is almost entirely an internal drama; what advantages did his more externally eventful life provide Edward de Vere such that we would conclude he was more likely to portray this inner drama more adeptly than William Shakespeare?
So what that de Vere was "a warrior and a playboy; bisexual, promiscuous, generous, dashing; 'a brilliant and troubled man with whom one might enjoy sharing a beer but loathe sharing a house.'"? That he "spent a lot of money on clothes, and threw great parties"? That he "killed a man, by mistake, in a duel"? Even if one accepts that some of the events in Shakespeare's plays could have been taken from the life of someone like de Vere, to assume that de Vere must therefore have written them amounts to an account of literary art by which "Shakespeare's imagination becomes no more than a mechanism for reproducing biographical experience," as Swift himself puts it. We know that an insurance lawyer from Hartford, Connecticut wrote the great poems attributed to "Wallace Stevens." But will some clueless "scholar" four hundred years from now be claiming that the insurance lawyer could not have been the author of these poems, that they must have been written by, say, Errol Flynn?
Swift concludes that "If there is a lesson to be learned from the mismatch of Shakespeare's life and works, it is that we must clear a space for wonder." Presumably the "wonder" is that the "Stratford man" and "William Shakespeare" the playwright are one and the same, that Shakespeare is indeed Shakespeare. But why should this be a wonder? Surely the injunction that one must "live" in order to write does not mean that only warriors and playboys can be writers. It means only that the aspiring writer must pay attention, must learn from his/her experience no matter how mundane it might sometimes seem to be. If you think William Shakespeare could not have learned profound things about life from the apparently commonplace course his own life took--although the Elizabethan theater actually must have been rather uncommon--you don't have much appreciation for the vicissitudes of either life or literature.