IN the realms of conspiracy theories, it is as enduring as questions over who really shot JFK and whether man actually landed on the moon.
Now, the discredited theory that William Shakespeare didn't write his own plays has been resurrected by two academics who will argue the greatest writer in the English language was simply an "astute businessman".
Scotland's leading Shakespeare scholar has shot down the claims as "the happy hunting ground of eccentrics" and said snobbery over Shakespeare's humble roots underpinned such beliefs.
The two academics claim modern theories on what makes a person a genius lend weight to the old argument that the Bard acted as a front for contemporary playwright Christopher Marlowe after the latter's death was faked. The convoluted theory has it that this would have allowed Marlowe's works to continue to be published under the name of William Shakespeare.
Christopher Carr, professor of corporate strategy at Edinburgh University's Business School, said Shakespeare's sudden production of top works did not tie in with current thinking that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to reach the top of any field.
"Shakespeare did just come like a bolt from the blue," he said. "The modern theories of what leads to amazing success would just laugh at the idea that somebody would disappear from school at the age of 15, think about becoming a blacksmith, disappear totally and then show up in London and suddenly produce the world's top poems and come out with these incredible plays."
Carr, who will present the theory with Professor Robert Ayres, of global business school INSEAD, also claimed Shakespeare would not have had time to produce his works.
"The disposition, character and traits of a businessman are totally different to what would be required to sit back and write some of the finest poems and some of the finest plays in the whole English language," he said.
"Shakespeare was terribly busy – in the morning he was being an actor, he was producing the plays in the afternoon, and in the evening he was a board member for the Globe Theatre and holding shares in it.
"All the traits of his character are those of a businessman. The time available to have written these plays somehow, in the evening as a part-time thing under candlelight, is really rather tricky."
Carr, who acknowledged the theory would be "provocative", said Shakespeare was used as a pseudonym for Marlowe, who was a secret agent for the government.
He argued that Marlowe did not die in 1593 but instead was secretly banished by the government, which subsequently controlled his output of works through Shakespeare.
Willy Maley, professor of renaissance studies at the University of Glasgow, described theories that Marlowe's death was faked as "hare-brained", but said it was now widely accepted that Shakespeare did not write every word of his plays himself as sections of many of the works were co-authored with friends and colleagues.
"There is all this snobbery around Shakespeare, that he was too low a social figure to be this great genius," he said. "That holds no truck with me, as very many people of low birth have written brilliantly – whether it was Edmund Spencer or Rabbie Burns. It doesn't stand that he couldn't have been a genius because he came from too modest a background."
However, Maley said it was an interesting idea to examine the issue from a business perspective and take into account the theories on how long it takes to become a genius. "Because the Shakespeare authorship question it is the happy hunting ground of eccentrics, lots of people put their hand to their forehead when it is mentioned," he said. "To me this sounds like a fascinating angle on it."
l The talk, "Were the works of Shakespeare his own or was he just an astute businessman?", will take place tommorow at 5.30pm at Edinburgh University's Business School