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The Authorship Controversy

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As early as 1709, with the publication of Nicholas Rowe's edition of Shakespeare's works, the dearth of information about the life of William Shakespeare of Stratford was becoming apparent. Apart from several early minor accounts, the preface of Rowe's edition contained the first biography of Shakespeare. Rowe put forth eleven known "facts" about Shakespeare's life. By 1821, however, Edmond Malone in his edition of Shakespeare's works charged that eight of Rowe's facts were incorrect and one was doubtful. By the early twentieth century, a few more questionable "discoveries" had been made about Shakespeare's life and biographies that contained much conjecture were published. Given the paucity of biographical facts, speculation arose as to whether or not it was possible that a man with Shakespeare's background—since what is known regarding Shakespeare's life reveals little regarding his education or literary or courtly experience—could have authored the plays and poems ascribed to Shakespeare. This is the heart of the authorship controversy.

Orthodox teaching is centered on what John Micheli (1996) has referred to as the "twin pillars of evidence": the First Folio (1623), which lists Shakespeare as the author, and the inscription on the bust at Trinity Church, which states that "Shakspere" was the greatest writer of his age. Micheli explains that everyone connected with the First Folio—including printers, the actors who edited the manuscript, the two earls to whom it was dedicated, the four poets (including Ben Jonson) who wrote verses for it—all "openly or tacitly accepted the declared authorship." Essentially, despite the fact that much of Shakespeare's life remains a mystery, Stratfordians argue that there is no evidence against Shakespeare's claim of authorship.

Anti-Stratfordians focus on the discrepancies between the life of Shakespeare and the literary mind that created the plays and poems. These critics point to absences in public records and to the writings of literary figures, claiming that some reference to Shakespeare in a literary context ought to have been made at some point in his life. Anti-Stratfordian explanations of such silences urge that another person wrote the plays, a person with some motive concealing his or her own identity and using the Stratford actor, William Shakespeare, as a "frontman." Francis Bacon was the first of such candidates. In 1781, the Reverend James Wilmont noted some similarities between the ideas of Bacon and Shakespeare. By the mid-1800s, the idea was being advanced in America by Delia Bacon. The claim of Bacon has largely been dismissed, due in part, according to H. N. Gibson (1962), to the complicated cryptograms which some Baconians attribute to their candidate. (The validity of the cryptograms, which reportedly reveal Bacon as the true author of the plays, has since been disproved.) Other individuals who have been thought to be the true author have included Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and even Queen Elizabeth. The leading twentieth-century candidate remains Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford.

The parallels between characters and events in Shakespeare's plays and the people and experiences connected with Oxford were discovered by J. Thomas Looney and published in his "Shakespeare " Identified in Edward de Vere (1920). Tom Bethell (1991) has reviewed such parallels, occurring most prominently, he argues, in Hamlet. Bethell and other Oxfordians, including Charlton Ogburn (1984), agree that Oxford's motive for keeping his identity as author a secret was because it was not socially acceptable for a person of Oxford's elevated social stature to be associated with the theater. Furthermore, Oxfordians point out that based on the tone and content of the plays, the author appears to be disdainful of the lower classes and seems to possess knowledge of foreign lands, especially Italy, and of foreign languages. Shakespeare was born in a small town into the working class, the son of a glover; there is no evidence that he was educated beyond grammar school. Oxford, however, was well educated and possessed an intimate knowledge of the court and a familiarity with Italy, having traveled there. Although Oxford's death predates Shakespeare's death by twelve years, Oxfordians argue that the dates of many of the plays are uncertain and that they could indeed have been written during Oxford's lifetime.

Many Stratfordians question the re-dating of the plays proposed by anti-Stratfordians, and on dating alone disqualify the case of many claimants, including Oxford and Marlowe, among others. Louis Marder (1963) and S. Schoenbaum (1991) have both attacked the claims of anti-Stratfordians on the grounds of the dating of the plays and on the implausibility of other anti-Stratfordian arguments. Irvin Matus (1991) has addressed some of the issues raised by Bethell and other Oxfordians. On the issue of Shakespeare's education, Matus notes that many schools, including Stratford's grammar school, did not begin keeping admissions records until well after Shakespeare's death; Shakespeare is not the only person who cannot be tied to an educational institute due to lack of records. Matus also argues that there is little reason to believe that Elizabethans shared the modern elevated view of Shakespeare, which helps explain the absence of contemporary references to Shakespeare. Furthermore, Matus and Marder agree that there is little in the content of the plays that would have been beyond the access of a typical Elizabethan.

In addition to the controversy surrounding the authorship of the known plays and poems, two newly discovered poems have been attributed by some scholars to Shakespeare. "Shall I Die?" was presented by Gary Taylor in 1985 as being written by Shakespeare, and "A Funeral Elegy" was introduced to Shakespearean studies in 1989 by Donald Foster. "Shall I Die?" was attributed by an early anonymous scribe to Shakespeare, and "A Funeral Elegy" was signed with the initials "W.S." Taylor asserts that "Shall I Die?" must be accepted as Shakespeare's until evidence can prove otherwise. However, Foster (1987) argues that both internal and external evidence indicate that the poem is not Shakespeare's work. Richard Abrams (1996) has found in "A Funeral Elegy" signs of Shakespeare's authorship, including allusions to both the theatrical profession and to Shakespeare's works. Katherine Duncan-Jones (1997), conversely, has argued that "A Funeral Elegy" suggests that its author is a Puritan, perhaps a clergy man; she proposes William Sclater as the elegist.

Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians continue to attempt to prove the claim of their candidate and disprove that of the other party's candidate. While some Oxfordians may assert that they have shown beyond "a reasonable doubt" that Edward de Vere is the true author of the Shakespearean canon, it is likely that in the absence of any new evidence, the debate will rage on.


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John Micheli (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: "Doubts and Questions," in Who Wrote Shakespeare?, Thames and Hudson, 1996, pp. 67-112.

[In the following overview, Micheli outlines the authorship controversy, noting that while Shakespeare 's life is for the most part a mystery, there is no evidence against his claim as author. Micheli also illustrates the primary thrust of the anti-Stratfordian argument, that there exists a tremendous disparity between the life of Shakespeare and "the mind of the person" who authored the plays and poems.]

Shakspere as Candidate: The Pros, Cons and the Silences

The case for William Shakspere of Stratford has classical simplicity, giving it an initial advantage over the more complicated cases for all rival candidates. The name, with adapted spelling, appeared on the title-pages of plays and poems and, even though neither he nor anyone else in his lifetime clearly identified the actor with the author, no one openly challenged the attribution. Two of his poems were dedicated to the Earl of Southampton who never acknowledged the honour, but neither did he repudiate it. Shakspere's family and neighbours neither acclaimed nor disclaimed the great poet in their midst. His fellow actors and impresarios must have known whether or not he was the real author of the plays they were staging. They never expressed doubts about Shakspere's claim, and two of them, Heminge and Condell, certified his authorship of the plays in the First Folio.

The Folio of 1623 is one of the twin pillars of Stratfordian orthodoxy. The other is the poem inscribed below Shakspere's bust in Stratford's Holy Trinity church which was put there soon after his death, and records that Shakspere was the greatest writer of his age. No matter that the bust may have been changed or tampered with; the inscription beneath it is early and unequivocal.

Everyone concerned with the First Shakespeare Folio—the printers who saw the original texts, the two players who edited it, the two earls who received its dedication and the four poets, including Ben Jonson, who wrote verses for it—openly or tacitly accepted the declared authorship. Jonson addressed his poem. 'To the memory of my beloved, the Author. Mr William Shakespeare: and what he hath left us', and he was specific with his pun on the author's name ('shake a lance') and his 'Swan of Avon' epithet. Leonard Digges with his reference to Shakspere's Stratford monument plainly acknowledged his authorship of the Folio's contents.

The most powerful and compelling defence of William Shakspere is that none of the actors and theatre people who must have known him in London ever openly disputed his authorship of plays. This is a serious problem for the anti-Stratfordians, and their responses to it reveal a serious discrepancy in their argument. The true identity of Shakespeare, they say, was a close secret, known to very few people and thus easily maintained. Yet the conspiratorial group inevitably widens. Many cryptic references to the Authorship mystery by many contemporary writers are detected by the Heretics. If they are right, it would seem that almost every writer of the time was in on the secret, and in that case, if the secret was so widely known, it was really no secret at all. The idea of a concealed Shakespeare, someone other than the man from Stratford, is thus made ridiculous.

The orthodox teaching is that, although Shakspere's life is largely a mystery, there is no evidence worth looking at against his traditional claim to the Authorship. Shakspere's twin pillars stand intact. The Heretics may make mysteries, raise doubts and quibble as they please, but unless they can find proof for some other candidate, Shakespeare is respectably identified as Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon.

It is only when Stratfordians descend into the arena and argue the matter on the Heretics' grounds that perplexities arise. These are inevitably caused by the central paradox of the Authorship question, the discrepancy between the life of Shakspere and the mind of the person who wrote Shakespeare. On the one hand a bookless provincial trader, on the other a universal genius of refined education. How can the two possibly be matched?

This question splits the Stratfordians into two opposite camps, one of which includes the romantics and mystics. These make light of Shakspere's educational deficiencies. They follow Jonson's line, that though Shakspere was far from being a classical scholar, he could defeat the Romans at their own game and outdo all the ancient poets and philosophers. He was a born genius, a child of nature, and such people need no great stock of book learning to be capable of inspired writing, far exceeding anything that a mere pedant or scholar could produce. Shakspere's knowledge came to him directly through mystical channels.

The other, more modern approach to reconciling Shakspere with Shakespeare is by taking a high view of the education provided at the Stratford grammar school, while playing down the classical, legal and other types of rarefied knowledge found in the plays. The Stratford school syllabus has not survived, so if Shakspere went to that school, there is no telling what he might have learnt there. Nor is there any indication of where or what he might have studied during his the 'lost years' of his early manhood. This gap allows room for any amount of speculation, and Stratfordians can take advantage of it to explain any special knowledge attributed to the writer of Shakespeare. Aubrey claimed that Shakspere was once a country schoolmaster, and so he might have been; that would explain his familiarity with the classics. Then again, he could have worked in a lawyer's office, or served in a nobleman's household, studied medicine or theology, enlisted in the army, served in the navy, travelled in Italy. . . . Shakspere could hardly have done all those things, but it is not impossible that he did one or two of them in his early twenties, and with a certain amount of specialized knowledge combined with a quick ear for the characteristic speech of other social and professional types, he could perhaps have qualified himself as a versatile dramatist.

To most of the points raised by the Heretics the Stratfordians have managed to provide more or less reasonable answers. On other points they confess to being mystified. The status quo perpetuates their advantage. Unless their opponents can produce new, conclusive evidence, discrediting Shakspere or proving the claim of one or other rival candidate, Stratford has nothing to fear. Even in the barely imaginable event of such evidence coming to light, the Stratford cult is so gainfully established that Shakspere's home town would probably adapt itself to remaining the shrine of whoever was acclaimed as our National Poet.

The life of William Shakspere himself is the main reason why there is a Shakespeare authorship problem. A review of all the known, documented facts about his career gives a picture of a fairly successful local business man who dealt in land, property and rural commodities and arranged small loans upon security. He was also known on the London stage and speculated in the theatre. His will mentioned no books, manuscripts or any other sign of literacy. No one in Stratford ever acknowledged him as a writer, and he never pretended to be one.

There is nothing particularly disgraceful in this life. The anti-Stratfordians are often accused of wilfully denigrating Shakspere, and in some cases that is undoubtedly true. But the point is not that Shakspere was a bad man. Apart from his mysterious years in London, he lived much as his father had before him, and died as a respectable man of property in his own small town. Shakspere's known career was unremarkable, quite consistent with his birth and upbringing; but it is not at all consistent with his posthumous reputation as England's finest, most highly cultured poet and playwright.

This raises a paradox, and one way round it is to suppose that there was a conspiracy. It was designed to conceal the true authorship of Shakespeare by fastening it upon a former actor, living far from London in obscure retirement, who died forgotten and uncelebrated in 1616. Ben Jonson, of course, took part in that conspiracy, and also in it or aware of it were Shakspere's fellow actors and many of the leading people in literature and state affairs.

This idea has several obvious drawbacks. Conspiracy theories have a bad reputation, and respectable people are often unwilling even to consider them. Moreover, in this particular case there are such difficult questions as who organized the conspiracy, why it was necessary in the first place and how it was so efficiently kept secret.

Since there is no agreement on who Shakespeare really was, the chief player in the alleged conspiracy is unidentified. If he was a powerful nobleman or statesman, silence might have been necessary to protect his reputation. Writing plays for public performance was not a respectable occupation for such a person. That does not really explain why and how, if the authorship was a secret, that secret was so effectively maintained. A possible reason is that Shakespeare's plays had a hidden meaning and purpose, and that some group or movement used them as a means of instilling their influence secretly into the public mind. The Rosicrucians have been suspected, so have the Jesuits, and some have seen Shakespeare as conveyor of government propaganda.

The greatest difficulty with the conspiracy theory is that many people must have been in the secret, yet no one ever spoke out about it and no reference to it has been found in any private, official or state document. In dealing with this, the theorists emphasize the dangers of free speech in the days of Queen Elizabeth. Theatres, plays and players were all licensed and subject to strict control. Plays were more or less the 'media' of the time; they were censored and made to reflect government policy. Writers and dramatists were constantly under threat of imprisonment or painful death for anything in their works that might be thought seditious. In 1597 Thomas Nashe was sent to the Fleet prison for his part in writing a 'slanderous' play, The Isle of Dogs; all copies of it were destroyed and the theatre that showed it was closed. Marston and Chapman, Kyd, Jonson, Daniel and others were arrested on similar charges. It was far easier to enforce silence on a forbidden topic in Elizabethan London than it has ever been since, even in Stalin's Russia.

One way of perpetuating a secret is by the destruction of tell-tale documents. A significant feature of Shakspere's life-history, which has often been commented on, is that virtually all the records that would have referred to him have mysteriously vanished. That is why so little is known about him. No scrap of his own letters or manuscripts has survived, nor have the records of his school years, his theatrical tours or anything he ever said to anyone. The deeds of his Stratford properties are missing, and so is that part of his son-in-law John Hall's diary covering his lifetime. Time and again, as Charlotte Stopes found when she combed the public records in London for evidence of Shakspere's acting career, there are gaps in the record just where his name might be expected to appear. The suspicion is that someone or some agency, backed by the resources of government, has at some early period 'weeded' the archives and suppressed documents with any bearing on William Shakspere and his part in the Authorship mystery.

Then there are the silences, most disconcertingly Philip Henslowe's. According to his biographers, Shakspere probably made his name in the theatre by writing and acting for Henslowe, owner and manager of the Rose and other playhouses. It was therefore an exciting moment when Malone at the end of the eighteenth century discovered Henslowe's working diary, a folio manuscript covering the years 1592 to 1603 with memoranda from before and after those dates. Recorded in it were details of all his theatrical enterprises, his receipts from performances and the sums he paid to dramatists. There were frequent entries for payments to Jonson, Dekker, Chetile, Marston, Middleton, Drayton and a dozen others among the leading theatre-writers of the time, yet Shakspere received not a single mention. This was at the height of Shakespeare's literary career. Henslowe bought and staged a number of plays with the same titles as those later printed in the Shakespeare Folio, including Titus Andronicus, Henry V, Henry VI, King Lear, Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew, but none of these was attributed to Shakespeare, nor did William Shakspere receive money for them. For Troilus and Cressida Henslowe recorded two part payments to Thomas Dekker and Henry Chetile whom he took to be its co-authors.

Equally silent was Edward Alleyne, Henslowe's stepson-in-law and business partner. He was an educated actor, a theatre owner and the founder of Dulwich College. In his notes and papers he wrote down the names of every notable actor, poet and dramatist of Shakspere's time, and he noted every payment to and transaction with everyone connected with his theatre enterprises. Yet here again, the name of Shakspere or Shakespeare is entirely absent.

Another unexpected silence was Michael Drayton's. Born the year before Shakspere, in the same county of Warwickshire, he was his contemporary in the London theatre world, a poet, dramatist and writer of sonnets. While Shakspere was in Stratford, Drayton often stayed with friends at Clifford Chambers, a village only two miles away. He certainly knew Shakspere's family, for he was a patient of Dr John Hall, who once treated him for a 'tertian' (fever) by dosing him with syrup of violets. Drayton wrote many letters to and about other literary figures, made verses to his fellow poets and received their verses to commend his own works. He should have known Shakspere, but he gave no sign of it and, during the lifetime of his Stratford neighbour, never mentioned his name. Finally in 1627, when Shakspere was many years dead, he produced four lines of tepid, impersonal praise in the Elegies which ended his poem, 'The Battaile of Agincourt'.

SHAKESPEARE, thou hadst as smooth a comic vein,
Fitting the sock, and in thy natural brain,
As strong conception, and as clear a rage
As any one that trafick'd with the stage.

This says little more about Shakespeare than that he 'traficked' or had dealings in the theatre. It contrasts with the Elegies in which Drayton celebrates the genius of Spenser and other poets.

Only at the very end of Shakspere's life is there any hint of a link between him and Michael Drayton. Fortysix years after Shakspere's death, the new Stratford vicar, John Ward, noted in his diary a story he had heard locally, that Shakspere had succumbed to a fever after a drinking bout with Drayton and Ben Jonson. Drayton was in fact noted for his temperance; neither he nor Jonson ever referred to the incident, and it is generally supposed to be apocryphal.

The silence of a little-known man, John Chamberlain the letter-writer, is perhaps the strangest of all. His lifespan (1553-1627) bracketed Shakspere's (1564-1616), and he was very interested in the London theatre and its personalities. Many of his letters are held in the British Library and Public Record Office. They were written to keep his friends informed about every aspect of life in the capital, and they are valued by historians because they often give details of events otherwise unrecorded. It is almost incredible that Chamberlain said not a word about Shakespeare. James Spedding remarked on his silence in his Life and Times of Francis Bacon.

In the long series of letters from John Chamberlain to Dudley Carleton, scattered over the whole period from 1598 to 1623—letters full of news of the month, news of the Court, the city, the pulpit and the bookseller's shop, in which court masques are described in minute detail, authors, actors, plot, performances, reception and all—we look in vain for the name of Shakespeare.

Also in vain has been the search for Shakespeare's name in the letters and writings of Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639), the poet, diplomat and traveller who ended up as Provost of Eton. Throughout his life he was a prolific correspondent, and a great many of his letters to Francis Bacon and other interesting people have been preserved. Among his published works was a 'Collection of Lives, Letters, Poems, with Characters of Sundry Personages etc.' with extensive allusions to the wits and writers of his period, but with the glaring exception of Shakespeare. Even in his detailed account of the burning of the Globe Theatre in 1613, during a performance of Shakespeare's King Henry VIII, Wotton never mentioned the playwright.

In this and other cases, where Shakespeare's name was surprisingly omitted from lists of contemporary writers and poets, the Stratfordians offer explanations, and sometimes plausibly. No single silence is entirely fatal to the Orthodox belief. It is the unanimity of silence that is so impressively disconcerting. This has never been explained. Apart from Jonson, whose remarks on Shakespeare are strangely inconsistent, none of his literary contemporaries seems to have known much about him, and whatever they did know they kept to themselves.

The life of William Shakspere, factually examined, gives no independent support to his traditional identification as Shakespeare. Yet successive waves of anti-Stratfordian theorists have broken in vain upon the rock of Orthodoxy. Shakspere may seem an unlikely candidate, but no conclusive case has yet been made for any of his rivals. . . . The truth about Shakespeare may one day emerge, but only when new evidence is discovered; and that is most likely to happen when scholars diversify their efforts, and research the lives and claims of other possible candidates with the same obsessive attention that they have devoted to William Shakspere.

The Case For Shakespeare

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Louis Marder (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: "The Man and the Myth," in His Exits and His Entrances: The Story of Shakespeare 's Reputation, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1963, pp. 156-88.

[In the following essay, Marder reviews the arguments against Shakespeare and—after disputing the cases of Bacon, Marlowe, and Oxford as authorsargues that "there is nothing in the plays that was beyond the powers of an alert Elizabethan intimately connected with the stage, a reader of books, a friend to gentleman and travelers. . . . "]

It is one of the ironies attendant on the growth of Shakespeare's reputation that even the most diligent scholarship has been able to uncover very little of the background of the poet's personal or public life. However, the poverty of detail has merely spurred his biographers to increased scholarly, inferential, and imaginative activity.

Although some minor biographical accounts were published in the seventeenth century, the first regular life of Shakespeare was written by Nicholas Rowe as a preface to his 1709 edition. Edmond Malone in his edition of 1821 disparaged the work of Rowe, claiming that of the eleven "facts" the earlier editor had set forth, eight were incorrect, one doubtful, and only the remaining two satisfactory because taken from the Stratford parish register. Yet despite its inaccuracies, Rowe's "Life" gave the basic information on which all succeeding biographies have been based: that William was the son of John Shakespeare and was born in April, 1564; that he died in 1616; that John had other children (Rowe said ten in all; actually there were eight, some of whom died early); that John was a woolman (glover seems more correct); that William was driven to London after poaching deer from Sir Thomas Lucy's park; that in London he was received in "the company" of players (there was more than one company); that he was "an indifferent actor"; that the descendants of Sir John Oldcastle, the probable original of Falstaff, forced Shakespeare to change the name of the character; that Lord Southampton gave him £1,000 to make a purchase (a figure that strains credulity, because it is equivalent in modern terms to about $50,000); and that he left three daughters (in fact, he left two). Rowe adds some other details, such as that Shakespeare was sent to the free grammar school; that he was married when young to the daughter of one Hathaway; that he praised the Queen in A Midsummer Night's Dream; that she asked him to write a play with Falstaff in love; that he was friendly with Ben Jonson; and that he did not steal from the ancients. The "Life" traces the lineage of Shakespeare's daughters, mentions the existence of plays doubtfully Shakespeare's, praises his imagery, notes some sources, and mentions Betterton's acting of Hamlet. While it is not true, as has often been said, that everything known about Shakespeare's life can be summarized in a single paragraph, the essentials remain as Rowe gave them over 250 years ago.

As interest in Shakespeare grew, additional details were uncovered. Theobald found that Shakespeare had used Plutarch and other sources, Pope had heard that Davenant was Shakespeare's "son," Warburton felt that Holofernes was Shakespeare's caricature of John Florio; the will of Shakespeare was discovered by Joseph Greene in 1747, the horse-holding story was made public in 1753, Thomas Tyrwhitt in 1766 discovered Francis Meres's references to Shakespeare, and two years later George Steevens published the first extensive transcripts from the Stationers' Register; in the same year Albany Wallis found the mortgage deed of the property Shakespeare bought in Blackfriars and the subsequent Conveyance of the same property. The year 1833 was especially fruitful, for it was then that Sir Thomas Phillips discovered the bond covering Shakespeare's marriage to Anne Hathaway in November, 1582, in the archives of the diocese of Worcester. Joseph Hunter in 1845 discovered that John Shakespeare was once fined twelvepence for not keeping his walks clear of refuse. In 1905 the discovery was made that Richard Burbage and William Shakespeare had made an impressa (shield) and inscription for the Earl of Rutland. A great discovery of a new signature of Shakespeare was made in 1910 when Charles W. Wallace found the deposition of Shakespeare in the Bellot-Mountjoy case, which threw light on Shakespeare's residence with the Huguenot Mountjoy family in London. Wallace also found other important documents pertaining to Shakespeare's shares in the Globe and Blackfriars theatres. The remarkable researches of Leslie Hotson in 1931 established that Justice Shallow was not a caricature of Sir Thomas Lucy but of William Gardiner, a justice of the peace with whom Shakespeare had been involved; and in 1938 Hotson discovered the identity of the Thomas Russell who was one of the overseers of Shakespeare's will.

With these and other minor details mounting up, lives of Shakespeare grew apace. Malone's "Life" in his 1821 edition ran to 287 pages, or to 468 when his attempt to establish the order of the plays is added to it. From Malone's notes Boswell added to this edition another 50-odd pages of biography. Halliwell-Phillipps' first "Life" in 1848 ran to 336 pages, with the documents, but his 1887 edition ran to 850 pages. Sidney Lee's biography started with 476 pages in 1898 and ended with 776 in 1923. Edmund K. Chambers' William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (1930) totaled 576 pages of text and over 400 pages of documents and commentary. Edgar I. Fripp's two volumes—Shakespeare: Man and Artist (1938)—ran to over 900 pages.

Much in these volumes is of course not biography but conjecture, discussion, and criticism. And much of what has been said in them has of course been attacked. This may be illustrated in the case of Sidney Lee's 1898 Life of William Shakespeare. Lee, knighted in 1911 for his biographical accomplishments, expanded the life of Shakespeare he had prepared for the Dictionary of National Biography. He digested Halliwell-Phillipps' two-volume Outlines, which he considered as a source book, and brought together information from a great many other sources. His volume of almost 500 pages contains much that cannot be found elsewhere unless one has access to a large library, and some of the information, by his own account, had never been published in any life before his. In 1909 Charles F. Johnson gave credit to Lee's industry, writing in his Shakespeare and his Critics that "Mr. Lee's book leaves nothing to be desired and is indispensable to the student." But there were at the same time critics like the disparaging one in a 1905 issue of New Shakespeareana who regarded the man "who writes under the name of Sidney Lee as a rechauffeur, who had nothing to add to the stores of information which any tolerable encyclopedia could have furnished him." (Whether some of the attacks on Lee were due to his writing "under the name of Sidney Lee"—as New Shakespeareana suggests—is open to speculation. While he was at Oxford the noted classical scholar Benjamin Jowett had suggested he change his name from Simon Lazarus Levi, and "Sidney Lee" was the result. But as late as 1911 William Jaggard in his monumental Shakespeare Bibliography refused to accept the official change, listing him as "Levi, Simon Lazarus" with his anglicized name following in italics.)

Lee's Semitic origin may also have been the ground for attack by other critics, who charged him with fostering the notion that Shakespeare cared nothing for his plays except as a means of making a living and then retiring to Stratford. Sir George Greenwood in 1916 published a 50-page pamphlet entitled Sir Sidney Lee's New Edition of a Life of William Shakespeare: Some Words of Criticism, attacking Lee's new edition, and in 1933 Lee was under attack from Logan Pearsall Smith, who wrote in his On Reading Shakespeare that for Lee to say that all Shakespeare cared for was to make money for himself and daughters and to flatter his patron was to rave as much as the "maddest sentimentalist and blatherskite of them all."1 Yet the 1923 "Life" by Joseph Quincy Adams virtually adopted Lee's point of view, setting Shakespeare up not so much as "a genius apart" but as "a busy actor associated with a leading stock-company of his time; as a hired playwright—often, indeed, a mere cobbler of old plays—writing that his troupe might successfully compete with rival organizations; and, finally, as a theatrical proprietor, owning shares in two of the most flourishing playhouses in London."

Biographical controversy was nothing new among the scholars. Two years before the first edition of Lee's "Life" was published, John Pym Yeatman had written a large volume entitled The Gentle Shakspere: A Vindication in which, in the very first paragraph of his preface, he boldly proclaimed, "I have written this book with very little preparation, and with only a previous very general knowledge of the works of Shakspere." After he had discovered an Alice Shakespeare (the name Shakespeare was rather common in the Midlands), a month of research prepared him to write a volume of 300 pages, in three weeks. Even with the inclusion of four acts of Henry VII in toto, the task would seem impossible. The purpose of the volume was to prove Shakespeare a Catholic. To publish a volume on this subject was daring, to do it with only three weeks of consideration and writing marvelous, but to announce on the first page that the object of the book was "to place before the reader a true account of a great poet"—this was to invite attack, and the attack was not long in coming.

No attempt can be made here to summarize all of Yeatman's "proof," which was genealogical as well as literary. He maintained that the Catholic sympathies shown in the first four acts of Henry VII assure Shakespeare's authorship of them, but that the last act was written by another to make the first four acceptable to the audience, "to tickle the Protestant palate." King John, Yeatman claimed, is not by Shakespeare at all. Nor can the often sacrilegious Sonnets be accepted as Shakespeare's. Meres's evidence cannot be accepted, he declared, because Meres died in 1598. (Actually Meres died in 1647!) Yeatman overreached himself completely when he began changing Shakespeare's lines to suit his argument. In John of Gaunt's notable eulogy on England in Richard II, Yeatman found the repetitious use of "dear" in

This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land
Dear for her reputation through the world. . . .

"not only absolute nonsense, destructive of the sense of the passage, but ungrammatical." A simple change, he said, would give "the highest possible meaning to the words"—namely the substitution of "OUR MOTHER'S DOWRY" at the end of the first line quoted, making it:

This land of such dear souls, OUR MOTHER'S DOWRY,
Dear for her reputation through the world. . . .

The "her" in the second line would then refer to the Blessed Virgin and it would be "simply perfect" as proof of Shakespeare's religious belief!

Needless to say the reviewers would not accept such arguments, nor would they accept the misspelling of names and words, the errors in dates, and the nebulous genealogy. Nor would they accept the dictum that Shakespeare hated Queen Elizabeth though he gave her lip service. Replying to his critics in the Literary World on September 16, 1896, Yeatman had to object to being held up "to public scorn" because he was a Catholic, as well as having to defend his theories. So hot grew the argument in the Saturday Review that Yeatman eventually sued for libel.

That Yeatman should claim Shakespeare for Catholicism is in itself no more fantastic than many other assumptions that have been put forth about the Bard. Almost any kind of Shakespeare can be reconstructed from facts collected, interpreted, and arranged by clever scholars. Thus we may find that the Bard was a poor student for leaving school early, a poor husband because he ran away from his wife and left her in his will only a second-best bed, a poor son because he provided no tombstone for his father, a poor father because he deserted his children, a poacher for stealing other men's game, a deserter of women for not marrying Anne Whateley, a fornicator for his relations with Anne Hathaway and Burbage's girl friend, a lecher for writing Venus and Adonis, an adulterer with the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, a drunkard from his Bidford days to his death—caused by drinking too much, a homosexual for his devotion to the young man in the Sonnets, a usurer for demanding interest on his money, a hoarder for keeping grain during a famine, an oppressor of the poor who owed him money, a literary thief and upstart crow for borrowing the plots of others, a liar for putting his name on plays not all his, a forger of pedigrees to substantiate a request for a coat of arms, unpatriotic for not commemorating the Queen's death in verse, a poor actor fit only for such parts as the Ghost in Hamlet and old Adam in As You Like It, an anti-Semite for creating Shylock, a perjurer for conveniently forgetting the amount of the dowry promised to Stephen Bellot, stupid because of anachronisms and poor grammar in his plays, a poor dramatist for not blotting enough lines in his plays, illiterate because he mentioned no books in his will, an egotist for thinking his poems would bestow immortality, and so on ad infinitum. According to the point of view, Shakespeare appears as either a human poet or an unsocial monster.

Those who have tried to make of Shakespeare a homosexual are a remarkable group. The devotion to the friend of the Sonnets is so strongly worded that writers from the time of Malone onward have had to explain that Elizabethan convention in such matters was quite different from that of the eighteenth century and after. Oscar Wilde brought into the open the charge that Shakespeare was a homosexual and loved his patron better than his mistress, and ten years later Samuel Butler expressed the same idea, saying that for a short time the love between the two men was "more Greek than English." Another writer apologized for the vice in Shakespeare by saying that it was a vice of the time and that even King James was accused of it; and still another says that it was the widespread knowledge of their corruption that made the Sonnets unpopular in the seventeenth century. The controversy has persisted into the twentieth century: in 1937 H. McC. Young wrote a whole book on The Sonnets of Shakespeare: A Psycho-Sexual Analysis, aimed at proving conclusively that Shakespeare was not guilty of homosexuality.

However, Hesketh Pearson still had to counter the charge in his 1949 "Life" and Edward Hubler in 1952 devoted an appendix in his The Sense of Shakespeare 's Sonnets to a survey of the controversy, noting in passing, as others had, that many of the proponents of the theory were themselves—like Oscar Wilde—homosexuals who were anxious to include Shakespeare among their number.

The Sonnets have always been a particular playground for biographical scholars. The order of the sonnets in the original quarto of 1609 was changed by Benson when he republished them in 1640, and since Tieck's edition in 1821 they have been reshuffled at least two dozen times in order to make them tell—for their editor at least—a more coherent story of Shakespeare's relationship with his "patron" and his lady love. Also, like the attempts to replace and re-pose the arms on the Venus de Milo, new solutions are continually being offered to the problem of the identity of the mysterious "Mr. W. H." of the dedication. Certainly it would be biographically significant to know whether he was William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke; Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton; William Hewes; William Himself; or any of the numerous other candidates, whose identity is as much in question as is that of the Dark Lady.

Except for the "Life" by Rowe, who relied on the researches of Thomas Betterton, and the work of Malone, Collier, Hunter, Halliwell-Phillipps, Lee, Charlotte Stopes, Chambers, and Fripp, most biographies of Shakespeare are merely rearrangements and reevaluations of the same material. It is the range, the approach, the criticism, and the interpretation that make the differences among them: the details are virtually the same in all. When S. W. Fullom wrote in 1861 that he had followed "every vestige" of Shakespeare's steps and declared that nothing more could be discovered, he may have been close to the truth, as regards the historical Shakespeare. But where facts are unknown, opinion must flourish; and who would be permanently satisfied with the newest opinion on whether Shakespeare loved his wife or whether or not he had slighted her in his will? Who would be willing to discard or accept definitively the deer-stealing story, or the imputed begetting of William Davenant? Each generation has found it necessary to restate, reassess, and set forth its own views. The deer-stealing story persists though Malone and Mrs. Stopes have proved that Sir Thomas Lucy had no deer park. More significant is the hotly contested tradition that Shakespeare was born on April 23. All we have is the baptismal date of April 25. Even though children were usually baptized on the third day, some unknown factor may have delayed the baptism, and an earlier birthday may be possible. Chambers asserts coldly that "there does not seem to me to be enough material for an opinion as to the exact birthdate." Yet traditions die hard among the biographers, and each seems to find it necessary to record everything, lest he be accused of omitting some cherished detail.

In the third quarter of the nineteenth century a new impetus, based on the work as a whole, was given to biographical studies when Edward Dowden, in his Shakspere: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art (1875), but more particularly in his Shakspere Primer (1878), popularized a theory, arrived at by means of verse tests and "biographical" factors, that Shakespeare's life was divided into four periods. These Dowden designated "In the workshop," "In the world," "Out of the depths," and "On the heights," following F. J. Furnivall's four classifications of the versification, or "with reference to Shakspere's supposed condition and state of mind in each." The theory gave strength to that school of criticism that tended to seek in the life of Shakespeare the reason for his writing particular kinds of plays, though Dowden himself did not place great emphasis on this.

The excesses of this view, which linked the actual life to the dramatic work, were not long in appearing. Georg Brandes used the convenient four periods and A. C. Bradley himself insisted in 1909 that even if all the characters in the plays and Sonnets are fictitious, they must still tell us something about the personality of the author. Yet the method was attacked, and as early as 1888 we find Appleton Morgan laughing, in Shakespeare in Fact and Criticism, at the possibility that Shakespeare would have refused a request by his company for a comedy with the excuse that he was now in his tragic period. In an address delivered at Harvard on April 23, 1916, George Lyman Kittredge attacked as "desperately wrong" the biographical approach which attempted "to read exclusively or principally .. . the riddle of Shakespeare's personality in his works." The results of such efforts, he continued, were their own refutation. But Kittredge used the word "exclusively," leaving the necessary loophole for any valid conclusions that might be drawn by less exclusive reading.

Despite attacks by such sound scholars as Charles Jasper Sisson, who in 1934 deplored the biographical method in his Mythical Sorrows of Shakespeare—those sorrows that some scholars presumed had colored Shakespeare's literary output—Harold C. Goddard in his Meaning of Shakespeare (1951) attempted to move in and out of Shakespeare's mind as he discussed the plays, and Harold Grier McCurdy in his Personality of Shakespeare: A Venture in Psychological Method (1953) ventured to write one of the most methodical of the psychological biographies, based on "a reasonable sense" that the plays are "a record of Shakespeare's experience; not all of his experience, and not a chronicle of events which would interest a court of law, but . . . a revelation of precisely those contents, tensions, and resolutions which are of greatest moment to the psychologist."

In 1950, before McCurdy's volume was published, Ernest Brennecke reviewed several of the recent biographies of Shakespeare in the Shakespeare Quarterly and described them with tongue in cheek as "factual; encyclopaedical-factual; factual-stylistical, commercial, dogmatical, inferential, and lexicographical; inferentiallunatical, autobiographical, fantastical, and fictional." One may agree with John Keats, who said that "Shakespeare led a life of allegory: his works are the commentary on it." With more than 100,000 lines available for commentary and interpretation, it may be a long while yet before a definitive biography is written.

The scarcity of the biographical facts beneath the abundance of speculation early gave rise to the question whether it is really possible that a man with such a background could be the author of the plays. Seeds of doubt were continually springing up in the minds of those who could not marry the fact of Shakespeare's meager biography to his immortal work. Could a boy from a dirty market town in central England have produced the mightiest literature of mankind? Could a young man who was registered at neither Oxford nor Cambridge be familiar with Latin, Greek, court life, the customs of Italy, the pomp of heraldry, the intricacies of law—could he have taken all knowledge for his province? Assuredly not, some have thought; a scholar or a titled gentleman must have written the plays. Only by postulating some nobler and more informed person could they explain the authorship to their satisfaction.

To trace the rise of this iconoclastic theory is to marvel at the human capacity for the ridiculous. Can we take seriously a presumed scholar and a judge in a court of law, John H. Stotsenburg, who entitles his book An Impartial Study of the Shakespeare Title (1904) and then opens his preface with the biased remark that he has "undertaken to present facts to show, first, that William Shaksper, of Stratford-on-Avon, did not write the plays and poems heretofore attributed to him"? Can we credit the sanity of those others who insist that Bacon did not die on April 10, 1626, but lived on to write the works of Milton, Swift, Addison, Steele, and even Thomas Carlyle in the nineteenth century? Yet these enthusiasts claim to have investigated every possible avenue of approach to get at the heart of the mystery. Even the spirit world has been consulted. Percy Allen, a respected author of numerous volumes espousing the theory that the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays, records that for many years he felt as though he were being impelled to write his books at the "urge of some higher power working through me."

Allen's most remarkable book, Talks with Elizabethans, is "an attempt to elucidate, once for all, by direct communication with three great Elizabethans .. . the complex mystery. . . . " If all of us could be as certain as Allen that there is "personal survival of the spirit," then the mystery has been solved and we must accept his "evidence"—barring any possibility that the three spirits, Bacon's, Shakespeare's, and Oxford's, had forgotten anything in the 300-odd years since their death. Fortunately or not, the Elizabethans spoke to Allen through Hester Dowden, a well-known medium who was the daughter of the noted orthodox Shakespearean Edward Dowden. She knew her Shakespeare, but . . .

Allen learned, for example, that Oxford wrote the Sonnets. Since this information came directly from the mouth of Shakespeare, Allen was able to announce his hope that for him, and for his readers, the problem of their authorship was "now conclusively and permanently settled." Bacon himself—from the spirit world—admitted to Allen on October 5, 1944, that he wrote "none of the plays," but was "fortunate in being consulted frequently," and contributed parts of other plays. Shakespeare admitted his hand as "producer and partial writer" of Lear, Hamlet, Othello, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merchant of Venice, and "Romeo and Julietta. " He "produced" Macbeth, but did not have a hand in Sir Thomas More. Shakespeare and Oxford testified to Allen that some of the manuscripts of the plays—mostly in Shakespeare's own hand—were in the Shakespeare tomb under his head, in his hands, and at his feet. The spirits made Allen "free" of the curse on the tombstone, permitting him to open the grave to investigate further, but he never made use of the permission—which indeed would have required official and mundane sanction.

For those who did not believe in spiritual communication, Allen's Talks with Elizabethans must have seemed like the most gigantic of all the hoaxes attempting to bring "definitive" evidence to bear on the authorship of the plays. But this was not the first time such means had been tried. Alfred Dodd, a confirmed Baconian, also had sought access to Sir Francis Bacon through the medium of Mrs. Dowden. His conversations were reported in The Immortal Master, published in 1943. Percy Allen, however, being an Oxfordian, was able to discredit the previous conversations completely through personal contact with Bacon, who admitted that Dodd had not had "direct" contact but was operating on a lower plane.

A more conventional, if no less extreme, method was that of Mrs. Henry Pott, who in 1883 published a 628-page volume entitled The Promus of Formularies and Elegancies by Francis Bacon illustrated and elucidated by passages from Shakespeare. This remarkable book took the 1,680 entries in the then unpublished notes of Bacon and found passages parallel to them in the works of Shakespeare. To fortify her case Mrs. Pott listed "upwards of 6,000" works of 328 other authors and commented that she had found but little of the Promus in them. Thus the ideas in Bacon's notebook were common to Shakespeare but to no other dramatist. Mrs. Pott should have had some indication of her success when she was not even able to convince Dr. E. A. Abbott, noted as the author of the still standard Shakespearian Grammar (1869), who wrote her a preface. Nor was she able to convince the reviewer for the New York Tribune, who wrote a column-and-a-quarter review on March 11, 1883, in which he declared that after "candid . . . examination" he had not "found an instance, not one, in which a passage in the plays is shown to have its origin in the Promus."

Nevertheless subsequent Baconians continued to seek parallelisms through the succeeding years and to present them as primary evidence for Bacon's authorship. That some parallelisms are curious it may be admitted, but no literary scholar as well acquainted with Shakespeare as with Baconian literature has ever accepted them as being more than coincidental. Moreover, when the German scholar H. R. D. Anders investigated the poet's reading, in his Shakespeare 's Books, of 1904, he traced about 2,000 passages to other originals but not one to Bacon, of whose work he specifically declared that he had "not been able to discover any traces."2

These unusual claims for Bacon or for Bacon and other collaborators called forth streams of invective from the literary world. Frederick J. Furnivall, of the New Shakespere Society, used such terms as "crakt, idiotic, tomfoolery." Readers of Scribner's Monthly Magazine in 1875 were told that acceptance of the Baconian theory "demands a brain so addled with theory as to be incapable of literary judgment." Richard Grant White, the American Shakespeare editor, called it lunacy and recommended that an asylum be provided for those who gave evidence of the craze, where they could write and have their work consigned to the flames, and thus the world would be "protected against the debilitating influence of tomes of tedious twaddle."

Edwin Reed, a militant Baconian whose 885 parallelisms were called by another confirmed heretic "good . . . bad . . . and indifferent," in 1905 collected in a volume of Noteworthy Opinions, Pro and Con. Bacon vs. Shakspere some 325 pros and cons, among which were many from known Stratfordians. A letter to the frequently and easily aroused Dr. Frederick Furnivall provoked the reply that "providence is merciful, and the U. S. folk tolerant; you'd have been strung up on the nearest lamp-post else." But by this time the mass hanging of heretics might have decimated the population. The Baconian heresy had drawn attention to Shakespeare from many who were as much interested (if not more so) in the controversy as in the plays. Hundreds of articles were written, debates held, and entertainment provided. Even a moral effect was suggested: Reed saw in "the effects of such debates as this among citizens of different nationalities, compared with the barbarisms of war and equally barbarous preparations for war, now universal" a movement which "cannot fail in some measure to fraternize mankind." Another skeptic told an assembled audience, that same year of 1905, that he wanted to do nothing to end the controversy, that he derived a great deal of pleasure from it, and that the theories should be discussed "if not for the sake of the facts elicited, then for the gaiety of nations."

The Baconian heresy appears to have begun as far back as 1781, when the Reverend James Wilmot was struck by the "similarity" of the ideas of Bacon and Shakespeare. In 1803 Wilmot confided these views to a Mr. James C. Coxwell, who lectured on the subject to the Philosophic Society at Ipswich on February 7, 1805. But it was Delia Bacon—encouraged by no less a personage than Ralph Waldo Emerson—who first gained widespread notice for the heresy with her nineteen-page article entitled "William Shakespeare and his Plays. An Inquiry Concerning Them," published in the American Putnam's Monthly in January, 1856. Miss Bacon had made a trip to England in 1853 to gather material for her "Inquiry." She went armed with letters to various people, chief among them Carlyle. The latter, when she described her theory to him, "turned black in the face," stared, was first speechless and then "began to shriek," so that "you could have heard him a mile," wrote Delia describing her visit.

Her article in Putnam 's was nevertheless reviewed in the London Athenaeum, and in 1857 her 582-page Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded was published simultaneously in London and Boston. Meanwhile, shortly after the publication of her article, William Henry Smith, who later wrote that he had read neither Miss Bacon's original article nor the London review of it, published a little pamphlet addressed to Lord Ellesmere with the questioning title Was Lord Bacon the Author of Shakespeare's Plays? This pamphlet was followed by about a dozen reviews and in 1857 by an enlarged version of the letter, now called Bacon and Shakespeare, by then totaling 162 pages.

It was the work of Miss Bacon and William Smith, together with the reviews of their work, that gave to the heresy the impetus which has kept it a moving force ever since. By 1866 Nathaniel Holmes was able to write a two-volume study, which in its fifth edition in 1886 ran to over 800 pages. The labors of Mrs. Pott on the Promus also stimulated the controversy. But Ignatius Donnelly's The Great Cryptogram of 1888, with its 998 pages, surpassed all the previous works in audacity.

From evidence of the irregularity of pagination, italics, brackets, and hyphenation in the First Folio, along with other numerical and verbal factors, Donnelly had deduced a strange history linking Bacon with Shakespeare. In contrast with the scholarly opinion that the First Folio was a rather ill-printed volume, Donnelly's readers were asked to believe that it was the most correctly printed book of all time. They were asked to believe that Bacon wrote out by hand every one of the plays, from the early 1590's into the first decade of the seventeenth century, on very large sheets of paper, each sheet corresponding precisely to a page in the Folio eventually printed in 1623—that is, he wrote in his large script the necessary 66 lines per column and 132 lines to the double-columned page. What is more fantastic, Donnelly claimed that Bacon first wrote out his secret story, then "proceeded to arrange it by the cipher, scattering the words around according to an inflexible rule. . . . Then he took his play and proceeded to adjust it to these cipher words" (Italics ours). Imagine this: spreading the desired number of key words over a large page of blank paper and then writing the play in around them. And what is more, having the pages printed with deliberate typographical errors in such a manner as to carry out the cipher plan!

So great was the discussion of Donnelly's forthcoming work that a year before its publication a book-length Prospectus containing sample pages and illustrations was issued to give to a demanding public some inkling of the contents. From this volume, from articles, from interviews in the press, the cipher theory became widely known. It was greeted with some alarm by the Bacon Society, whose members, among them Mrs. Pott, feared that Donnelly's work might bring discredit to the labors of the Bacon Society, already flourishing without the aid of ciphers.

Needless to say, what the majority expected and what the minority feared became a patent reality when the Great Cryptogram finally appeared. "This book is a fraud," began the review in Shakespeariana for June, 1888. "It is difficult," continued the reviewer, E. A. Calkins, "to determine whether the author is a mere enthusiast, cheated by the tricks of his own invention and misled by the false lights that he himself kindled, or whether he is an industrious, ingenious, and impudent impostor." Nothing was proved; much of Donnelly's argument was as ludicrous as his assertion that Shakespeare could not have been educated because the first English grammar was not published until 1586! On May 6 the New York World carried an article by Appleton Morgan proving that the cipher was in nineteenth-century English. And soon other attacks on the very substance of the cipher collapsed the entire work. In Donnelly's home state of Minnesota J. G. Pyle of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a little pamphlet of 29 pages in which he used Donnelly's own method and came up with a sentence reading, "Don nill he, the author, politician and mountebank will worke out the secret of this play." In Leamington, England, the Reverend A. Nicholson found that the odds were 3,309,000 to 1 for Donnelly's "picking up from the column any words required for the manufacture of stories." Challenged by Donnelly to use other prescribed numbers to elicit a cogent idea, Dr. Nicholson, with extraordinary cleverness, wrote his No Cipher In Shakespeare (1888) and using Donnelly's method was able to turn up many such sentences as "Master Will I am Shak'st spurre writ the play and was engaged at the Curtain."

Valid or not, the cipher method quickly caught on. A Mr. Hugh Black of Kincardine, Ontario, inspired by the coming revelations of Donnelly's cipher, had published an article in the North American Review for October, 1887, revealing that from the four lines on Shakespeare's tombstone were easily decipherable the line "Fra Ba Wrt Ear AY." Transliterated, said Mr. Black, this was "solemn affirmation" that "Francis Bacon Wrote Shakespeare's Plays." When editor Edward Gordon Clarke first read this he thought Mr. Black "had perpetrated a grim but very scholarly joke" on Donnelly. But Clarke later found Black's fantastic interpretation to be correct in every detail and went on to write his own 227-page book, The Tale of the Shakespeare Epitaph (1888), elaborating on the proof—even to the extent of spelling the inscription backward and making from that an Anglo-phonetic script. Thus the final line, to give but a brief example—"and curst be he ty [that] moves my bones" becomes "S E NO B: Y'M S. E VOMYTE HE B'T. S, R, U, CD, N A!," and this transliterated by means of phonetics results in the remarkable line: "Shakespeare—He is no Bacon; I'm Shakespeare. He vomits out the claim that HE be it. Shakespeare, Ah, You Seed, Nay!" And so on throughout the entire book!

New ciphers on behalf of Bacon continued to be derived until, in May, 1889, W. H. Wyman, who had spent years making a bibliography of the Shakespeare-Bacon controversy, announced that he had given up because the movement had collapsed into "cipher obscurity." To continue the investigation listing such works would be, he said, "to encourage further amateur discussion of a bootless question." How wonderful it might have been if, as New Shakespeareana said when the seventeenth cipher was announced in 1909: "At this all orthodox Shakespeareans will duly rejoice! Every one such idiocy disproves not only itself, but the possibility of any of the others." Still the Baconians continued to discover and invent new ciphers, acrostics, and anagrams, not seeing that one nail was driving out the other, and that there could be no better way of exploding the case for their candidate than by this means.

A remarkable example of the canceling out of Baconian scholarship occurred after Isaac Hull Piatt announced that he had discovered in the word honorificabilitudinitatibus (Love's Labour's Lost, V. 1. 44) the Latin anagram "Hi ludi, tuiti sibi Fr. Bacono nati"—"These plays originating with Francis Bacon are protected for themselves." In 1910, in his Bacon Is Shakespeare, Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence took the same word and made another anagram, this time reading, "Hi ludi F Baconis nati tuiti orbi"—"These plays F. Bacon's offspring are preserved for the world." But Durning-Lawrence had neglected to point out that, three years before, Neal Henry Ewing had spelled the long word backwards and come up with the sentence—some letters omitted and transposed—"Subitat nid utili bacfron." By changing the last word to Fr. Bacon, we translate, "Suddenly into a useful nest steals Francis Bacon." Which is just what seems to have happened. Will the Baconians admit that Dante too may be the author? The same long word can be made into another sentence—"Ubi Italicus ibi Danti honor fit"—which translated reads, "Where there is an Italian, there honor is paid to Dante."

Even after the devastating exposure of all previous cryptologists by Colonel and Mrs. Friedman in The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined (1957), the cryptologists did not surrender. Edward D. Johnson of the Francis Bacon Society in England was certainly not deterred and in 1961 published still another cipher system with the title Francis Bacon's Maze, proving once again, by means of "The sixth line word cipher," that Bacon is the author of Shakespeare's plays.

The anti-Shakespeareans have always aspired to find conclusive evidence by discovering authentic Shakespearean manuscripts. Delia Bacon made serious overtures to the Stratford authorities to have Shakespeare's grave opened but apparently never got closer than testing the weight of the tombstone. Dr. Orville Owen's ciphers led him to believe that Shakespeare's manuscripts were hidden in boxes near Chepstow Castle, on the river Wye. But the rock formations of Chepstow revealed nothing, and those who financed the expedition were disappointed: Bacon had apparently feared disintegration of the rocks by weathering and had moved them. When some unknown correspondent later pointed out to Dr. Owen that the second line of the verses "To the Reader" facing the portrait of Shakespeare in the First Folio, "It was for gentle Shakespeare cut," formed a perfect anagram for "Seek, sir, a true angle at Chepstow," Owen induced Colonel George Fabyan to finance a venture which in 1910 took him back to the banks of the Wye where the river ran through the Duke of Beaufort's property. The shafts sunk into the ground at Chepstow revealed the foundation of a Roman bridge, but nothing of the manuscripts. Colonel Fabyan decided that enough had already been spent and the project was halted, though as late as 1924 there was more digging, again to no avail.

Owen's elaborate cipher machine, which analyzed thousands of pages of books presumably written by his candidate (the books were pasted together and rolled on a thousand-foot continuous belt), told a remarkable story of Baconian authorship by means of 10,650 key words. Poor Owen! He produced half a dozen volumes, but nothing credible. Even his machine to defy the laws of gravity was refused consideration by the United States Government!

The subject of his researches was not forgotten, however. In 1916, when William N. Selig was producing a motion picture to honor Shakespeare on the three hundredth anniversary of his death, he sought action to block the publication of several anti-Shakespearean books that were being produced under the sponsorship of the same George Fabyan who had sponsored Owen's fruitless excavations at Chepstow in 1910, and who was currently sponsoring Elizabeth Wells Gallup's biliteral ciphers, which were equally fruitless. Mr. Selig claimed that the showing of his film would be measurably hurt by Fabyan's heresies and wanted it publicly proved that William Shakespeare was the true author of the plays. The action was tried in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, before Judge Richard S. Tuthill, who brought in the remarkable verdict that "the proofs submitted herein, convince the court that Francis Bacon is the author." For the trouble that Fabyan had been caused, the judge awarded him $5,000 in damages. Needless to say, the Baconians exulted and issued propaganda leaflet No. 1 to herald to the world the remarkable decision. Two weeks after his original verdict, however, the same judge entered an order vacating and setting aside the decree, apparently on the grounds that "this proceeding was instituted to exploit and advertise a moving picture involving the Shakespeare-Bacon controversy then being displayed upon the screen and that the question of the authorship of the writings attributed to William Shakespeare was not properly before the court." This admission, which the court made public many years later, in 1935 led the Baconians to withdraw leaflet No. 1 from circulation "in the common interest of truth and fair-play."

Much more spectacular than any antics of the Baconians were the stories and notoriety that accumulated around the resuscitated notion that Christopher Marlowe was the author of the plays. For nineteen years prior to 1955, when he published his The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare, Calvin Hoffman had been developing this thesis, but despite his thorough research it took him twelve of those nineteen years to discover that he had been anticipated! Like Donnelly, Hoffman reveled in publicity; he gave interviews, wrote articles, and had articles written about him for three years before his book was finally published and the millions who had read about his ideas were able to see for themselves that once again they had been treated to a fantasy of biased scholarship. If vague parallelisms may be accepted, if what scholars say may be Marlovian echoes in some places is true of all of Shakespeare, if Walsingham is equivalent to the "W. H." of the Sonnets, if the use of the name Sir Oliver Martext in As You Like It can be presumed to prove that the works of Shakespeare are "Marlowe's text," if Walsingham's scrivener was employed to transcribe Marlowe's manuscripts, and if, to make a long story short, Marlowe was not murdered in 1593, then he could have written the plays. When, on May 1, 1956—again after much publicity—Calvin Hoffman induced the Canon of Scadbury Chapel in Chislehurst to open Sir Thomas Walsingham's tomb, the skeptics sat on the edges of their chairs. Those who had followed his articles and his searchings with mine detectors for the inevitable documents that would prove everything would also like to have been there, if only to see the look on Hoffman's face when he discovered nothing but dust.3

Hoffman still managed to gain a headline or two after the fiasco at the tomb. In fact, in the very same year, one of his staunchest backers offered a reward of £1,000 for the "first person to furnish proof that Christopher Marlowe was alive after his supposed murder in 1593." An unnamed English peer was reportedly on his way to northern Italy to seek clues of Marlowe, because, since ten of Shakespeare's plays have Italian settings, the author must have traveled there! A portrait too was turned up at Oxford which Hoffman declared to be Marlowe-Shakespeare. Needless to say, the money offered has not been claimed, nor is it likely to be.

For skeptics interested in prize money, $500 is or was available from the proponents of Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, as the author of Shakespeare's plays. This amount was offered by novelist William McFee for any information dating from before the death of Shakespeare definitively connecting the Shakespeare of Stratford with the Shakespeare who was the author of the plays. To take Ben Jonson's later remark about the "Swan of Avon" as proof of Shakespeare's authorship is not justified, say the Oxfordians, because Oxford himself had several properties along the Avon. Although Baconian societies exist both in England and the United States, the Oxfordians are the most ambitious of the skeptics at the present time, gather the most headlines, and are most vociferous in trying to extinguish the reputation of Shakespeare of Stratford.

The Oxfordian theory was given to the world by J. Thomas Looney, who in November, 1918, told the librarian of the British Museum, Sir Frederick Kenyon, of his discovery and gave him a sealed envelope that would establish his priority to the claim while his book was in progress. In 1920 he published his "Shakespeare " Identified in Edward de Vere the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford4 Looney's ideas were not as fantastic as some of the Baconians', except in some minute but all-important particulars, and he himself modestly admitted that "much remains to be done before the Stratfordian hypothesis will be sufficiently moribund to be neglected."

Since his book was published, Oxfordians have frequently debated their claims with the orthodox Shakespeareans. Among the most recent of such debates was one held in 1953 at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, New Jersey, when Samuel F. Johnson, then of New York University and on the staff of The Shakespeare Newsletter, accepted a challenge from the most influential of American Oxfordians, Charlton Ogburn. The debate was conducted in the form of a trial, even to the point of having a young man dressed and made up to match the Droeshout engraving seated in the docket. After Professor Johnson and Mr. Ogburn each had spoken for half an hour, the jury deliberated and returned with a verdict of eight votes for Shakespeare and four for the Earl of Oxford.

Charlton Ogburn and his wife wrote the more-than-1,300-page This Star of England (1952), which is still the most elaborate attempt to prove that the Earl of Oxford was the author of the plays. Strangely, these American scholars do not have the full support of their English brethren, a group of whom published the Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, and have dared to take issue with some of the more unusual of the Ogburn assertions. When the English publication rejected the Ogburn claim that the Earl of Southampton was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Oxford, Mrs. Ogburn called the attack "irresponsible," and continued: "So long as English men and women insist on the virginity of Elizabeth Tudor, they will never establish the authorship of Edward de Vere." No wonder the English were embarrassed!

In 1957, a number of American Oxfordians formed the Ereved (De Vere spelled backwards) Foundation. They lecture, publish, distribute offprints, sponsor scholarship on their thesis, and admit that "the deification of Shakespeare is a tough thing to combat." The English Oxfordians too are strengthening their forces and in the spring of 1959 superseded their 1936-58 Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter with a little magazine called the Shakespearean Authorship Review. Its members and friends issue a continual stream of books and pamphlets, none of which, except by rationalizing, comes to grips with the real issue of how Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, and the romances were written after the death of Oxford in 1604! Attempts have been made at redating these plays, or at pushing the whole work of Shakespeare back about a dozen years, better to fit the dates of the Earl, who was born in 1550. Eva Turner Clark in 1930 produced a tome of almost 700 pages, Shakespeare 's Plays in the Order of Their Writing, accomplishing, to her own satisfaction at least, this latter task, and H. H. Holland, in his Shakespeare through Oxford Glasses (1923) also revised the chronology—but the problem of dates remains unsolved.

It is also the all-important question of dating that virtually demolishes the case for William Stanley, Sixth Earl of Derby. While browsing among the papers of George Fenner, a Jesuit spy whose letters dated June 30, 1599, he came on in 1891, James Greenstreet discovered that William Stanley, son-in-law to the Earl of Oxford, had spent a lot of time in 1591 "busyed only in penning comedies for the commoun players." Subsequently, on the basis of this very slender evidence, Greenstreet wrote three articles maintaining that the plays Stanley was writing were those now attributed to William Shakespeare. Remarkably, for anything so startling, the theory lay dormant until Professor Abel Lefranc, of the Collège de France in Paris, also seeking an author, hit on Derby without knowing of Greenstreet's work.

The "proof offered for Derby's authorship includes the facts that his name was William, that he was an aristocrat, traveled, and knew all about falconry; he is said to have written Love 's Labour's Lost out of his own intimate knowledge of the French situation in Navarre from 1577 to 1584 and A Midsummer Night's Dream to celebrate his own wedding, and so on. By an extremely minute analysis of the handwriting of those lines in Sir Thomas More usually attributed to Shakespeare (the manuscript is in five different hands), Dr. A. W. Titherley, another Derby enthusiast, "proved" in his Shakespeare's Identity (1952) that the hand was that of none other than Derby himself!

But simple incontrovertible facts, such as dates, stand in the way of any rational acceptance of such "proof." The Earl of Derby was born in 1560 or 1561, which makes him approximately Shakespeare's age. But he died in 1642, nineteen years after the First Folio was issued by Shakespeare's personal friends to "keep the memory of so worthy a Friend and Fellow alive, as was our Shakespeare." Dr. Titherley would have us believe that Heminge and Condell were not to be trusted in what they said in their dedication; that Ben Jonson, who Titherley presumes edited the plays, was in on the secret of their authorship and was equivocating in his eulogy "To the Memory of My Beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare"; and that the three other eulogists in the Folio were not in on the secret. Why didn't Derby correct his plays for publication? He was not much interested in the work and cared little except that his incognito should be retained. "The Earl, himself, the soul of sincerity," says Titherley, "would hardly condone the flagrant deception of the prefaces, but he would not see them, and being as usual indifferent simply permitted the name Shakespeare. . . ." One must indeed be "indifferent" to spend twenty years writing 36 plays and then not bother to edit them or to see them when they are in print in a fine folio—and to permit the name and the portrait of another to be put on the title page!

Are the followers of Roger Manners, fifth Earl of Rutland, better supplied with evidence?5 The usual elements of nobility and knowledge are offered, to which Claude Sykes, in his Alias William Shakespeare (1947), adds the fact that "it is conceivable that most, if not all," of the over a hundred books that Shakespeare must have read "might have been in Rutland's wellstocked library." (The italics are ours.) Furthermore, a manuscript copy of the song "Farewell, dear love" from Twelfth Night was found in the Manners home at Belvoir Castle, and "no such link with any of Shakespeare's plays can be found at Stratford-on-Avon or in association with any other claimant." The fact that the song was included in the widely available "Booke of Ayres" compiled by Robert Jones in 1601 does not appear to Mr. Sykes to undermine the validity of this shattering evidence. Naturally, the Rutland partisans explain, there is no evidence that the Earl was a poet! The nobleman's "anxiety to leave no clue" that he might have written for the "common Plaiers" is understandable.

The whole theory of Rutland's authorship starts from the simple connection of Shakespeare and Burbage, who presumably worked together on a decorative shield that was carried by Francis Manners, the sixth Earl of Rutland (Roger's brother), on King James's Accession day, March 24, 1613. Mr. Sykes tells us that the sum of 44 shillings Shakespeare received for the shield was an obvious overpayment for the little work entailed, and that it was merely camouflage for some amount that the Earl's late brother, the author of the plays, had owed Shakespeare.6 For proof, these theorists point out that in Hamlet Roger Manners revealed the hatred his brother Francis felt for him. Actually, there is a remote possibility that Francis poisoned Roger in 1612, and perhaps his wife too a few weeks afterwards; the Rutlandians maintain that Roger anticipated this in Hamlet, written about ten years before his death, and prefigured it also in the other brother-versus-brother plays, As You Like It, King John, Much Ado, King Lear, and The Tempest.

But this theory, like some others, utterly falls flat on the evidence of dates alone. Roger Manners was born in 1576—which simple fact would make him sixteen years old when he wrote Henry VI, if he did, and just slightly more when he composed Richard III, Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, Titus Andronicus, and so on. One Rutlandian expert, Pierre Porohovshikov, attempts in Shakespeare Unmasked (1940) to get around this difficulty by attributing the early poems to Bacon but having Rutland write the plays while at Cambridge, perhaps with some help from others. This hardly lessens the improbability of the claim that at least half a dozen great plays were written by a boy in his teens!

For those who could not be reconciled to the possibility that any one man, even a titled nobleman, was capable of writing the plays, there are numerous group theories that take the best features of each of the candidates and combine their various qualities to justify the particular play or poem under discussion. Delia Bacon herself first leaned to this idea and thought that Sir Walter Raleigh was one of the collaborators. Later William D. O'Connor pointed out that the still unsolved riddle of "the onlie begetter" of the Sonnets, "Mr. W. H.," is easily answered by taking Sir Walter RaleigH to be the mysterious person. The presumed collaborators were later joined by Bacon, Oxford, and the other leading candidates discussed earlier, as well as by Robert Greene, George Peele, Samuel Daniel, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Lodge, Michael Drayton, Thomas Dekker, and virtually every other poet contemporary with Shakespeare. The Sonnets were attributed not only to Raleigh, but even to Sir Philip Sidney, who died in 1586. H. T. S. Forrest in The Five Authors of 'Shakespeare's Sonnets' (1923) set forth the novel theory that the 154 sonnets were the result of "competitive sonneteering," in which five authors—one of whom was John Donne—each wrote poems on thirteen assigned subjects. Among the propositions Forrest asks his readers to accept is that the series was a "literary contest" conducted by specific rules. If the reader cannot swallow this—or if indeed any one of his basic propositions cannot be accepted—Forrest says, "then the whole thing is rotten right through, and the sooner it is carted away to limbo along with The Biliteral Cipher and honorificabilitudinitatibus the better."

To the same limbo some critics have also thought it necessary to consign A. J. Evans' Shakespeare 's Magic Circle (1956), which held that the syndicate that produced the plays had for its head Francis Bacon; for its most active member, Lord Stanley; and for other members of this "magic circle," the Earl of Rutland, Mary Pembroke (Sidney's sister, at whose home the circle met), Sir Walter Raleigh (for the sea storms), and the Earl of Oxford. A comparable theory, put forth in jest by James M. Barrie in the St. James Gazette for March 2, 1886, was that the plays were the product of a Bacon syndicate the initials of whose members, Spenser, Harvey, Alleyn, Kempe, Sly, Peele, Elliman, Atlow, and Raleigh, spelled "Shakspear."

The roll of those put forth, on the flimsiest of evidence, as the author of Shakespeare's plays includes many of the minor as well as major names in the annals of Elizabethan literature and politics. The year that saw the publication of Donnelly's massive volume in behalf of Bacon also saw, for example, the publication of a thin pamphlet by Scott Surtees expounding the claim of Sir Anthony Sherley (1565-1635). What were Sherley's qualifications? He had traveled extensively, especially in Italy, he knew the lore of hunting, he had been educated at Oxford, had a knowledge of the sea, and was acquainted with the Court. His connection with the theatre is presumed to have been through William Kempe, the actor, because Sherley's mother was the daughter of Sir Thomas Kempe. In the play The Travels of Three English Brothers by John Day, George Wilkins, and William Rowley, Kempe's actual meeting with Anthony Sherley in Venice is made part of the action. Sir Anthony sent his "Shakespeare" plays to Kempe and maintained his anonymity. Typical of the proof are the "facts" that at the ancient family seat of the Ferrer family, to which he belonged, a carved oaken chimney piece tells the story of Venus and Adonis, and that the Ferrer family motto, "Only One," is presumably echoed in Sonnets cv, cxxxv, and cxxxvi. If these qualifications of Sir Anthony's are sufficient to make a case for him as the author of Shakespeare's works, we may well wonder why it is that no more than five dozen names have been put forward, singly or in groups, as the author!

Is there a better case for Sir Walter Releigh? When Henry Pemberton, Jr., began studying Shakespeare in 1905 his researches led him to believe that only Raleigh could have written the plays. The method Pemberton followed in his Shakspere and Sir Walter Raleigh (1914) was to find topical allusions in Shakespeare that fit Raleigh. That Raleigh wrote the Sonnets (as others had maintained) is "proved" by the references to "Bath" in Sonnets CLIII and CLIV, which refer to Raleigh's visit to that resort in 1602; references to lameness in Sonnets xxxvn and LXXXIX allude to the disability that Raleigh incurred in the battle for Cadiz in 1596; the despondency expressed by the Sonnets in general is due to Raleigh's illness and later imprisonment in the Tower of London! The "smiling damnèd villain" in Hamlet is none other than James I, who imprisoned Raleigh from November, 1603, until 1616, and again later after an ill-fated voyage to the Orinoco. Measure for Measure, on the theme of justice and mercy, was Raleigh's attempt at reconciliation. After it failed, the period of gloom began, in which the tragedies were written, followed at last by a period of serenity when Raleigh "made up his mind to adapt his life to a confinement that had earlier contrasted so sharply with his former active career."

In the year that Pemberton was beginning his researches Latham Davis had already finished and published his, in a book that is a miracle of ingenuity and imagination. His Shakespeare England's Ulysses (1905) proposes that the Sonnets are the missing Love's Labour's Won mentioned by Meres in 1598. Davis begins by breaking down the Sonnets into five acts whose subjects are symbolically the CrowE (emblem of nature—the "Dark Lady" of the Sonnets), IcaruS (Folly), DaedaluS (Art), Father TimE (Time), and The Phoenix (Truth). Then, by taking the final letter of each symbol, he arrives at the conclusion that the Earl of Essex (1566-1601) must have been the author of the plays!

An equally imaginative exploit was that of William Ross, who in The Story of Anne Whateley and William Shaxpere (1939) attempted to prove that an Anne Whateley wrote the works of Shakespeare, even though it is more than likely that such a person never existed. It is a fact that a license for the marriage of Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton and William Shakespeare was issued at the Episcopal Registry at Worcester on November 27, 1582, but the next day a bond was issued with the name Whateley changed to Hathaway. Imaginative biographers have deduced that William loved and intended to marry Anne Whateley, but when friends of Anne Hathaway's turned up with the story that she was already pregnant by him, the first Anne was forced out of the picture. Scholars agree, however, that the name Whateley was merely a clerical error, the clerk having written it absent-mindedly because the case of a William Whateley was on that very date before the consistory court.

From this theory of another Anne, Ross reconstructed the tale that is unfolded in the Sonnets—of Anne's unrequited love for Shakespeare, to whom she gave the poems, with later references to a "Dark Lady" who is none other than Anne Hathaway. A Midsummer Night's Dream reveals a similar mixed-up courtship, and Love's Labour's Lost reverses the situation in Anne's own life, in which it is the women who have retired to study. Such a reversal is merely part of the deception, for even in the Sonnets Anne Whateley wrote "she" and "her," which Ross neatly turns to "he," "him," and "his" to unravel the mystery! One would think that such a theory would have only one supporter—the author himself—but W. J. Fraser Hutcheson in 1950 continued and elaborated his friend Ross's story in Shakespeare's Other Anne, crediting Anne Whateley with even more Elizabethan works than his predecessor had and assigning to her virtually all the anonymous work of the period, as well as Spenser's Faerie Queene!

From attributing Shakespeare's works to a nonexistent woman it is but a step attributing them to the best-known woman of the period—Queen Elizabeth herself. To prove that Elizabeth was the author takes some remarkable adjustment of the facts, but George Elliott Sweet, in Shakespeare the Mystery (1956), faced the challenge. Since the Queen died in 1603, it naturally became necessary to squeeze the complete works into the years before the date. Shakespeare had suffered on this variety of Procrustean bed before. With a colossal disregard of all studies of Shakespearean versification and dramatic development, Sweet makes Timon of Athens the first play—written, he says, in 1580—and declares its theme of ingratitude is based on the fact that in 1579 Elizabeth learned that Lord Leicester, whom she loved, had married Lettice Knollys. The distortion of other evidence follows the usual pattern of Shakespearean heresies: the lameness suggested in Sonnet XXXVII ("So I, made lame by fortune's dearest spite") is here interpreted as sexual lameness, and Sweet repeats the story told by Ben Jonson of Elizabeth, that she "had a membrane on her, which made her incapable of man." Elizabeth had the courtly knowledge, the knowledge of the sea from her mariners, the superb vocabulary; she knew all classes and conditions of men, she was "myriad-minded." How wonderful of Mr. Sweet to have delivered her up to the attention of the literary world!

Shakespeareans themselves are partly to blame for the claims of the heretics. When the biographical facts are summarized briefly or slurred over, it is no wonder that the mild skeptics say that even though Bacon or any of the others may not have written the plays, there is no proof that Shakespeare did. Mark Twain shows the general confusion in his Is Shakespeare Dead? (1909). Shakespeare, he says, is like the colossal Brontosaur that was constructed by Professor Osborn out of nine bones and plaster of Paris: there is too much fiction and not enough fact. The "Supposers, the Perhapsers, the Could-Have-Beeners, the Must-Have-Beeners, the Without-a-Shadow-of-Doubters, the We-are-Warranted-in-Believingers," have so overextended themselves that Twain calls them Stratfordolaters, Shakesperoids, thugs, bangalores, troglodytes, herumfrodites, blatherskites, buccaneers, and bandoleers. Because no facts are known of, for example, the years after Shakespeare's marriage (1585-92) until his appearance in London, Twain considers this period a blank. But even if we do not know all that we would like to about these years, must we think that Shakespeare was totally inactive? Was he living in a vacuum, not reading or writing, or observing, or listening? Was an ignorant and illiterate Shakespeare living in London surrounded by wits of all kinds, in an age of gossip and dramatic competition, and yet, for some strange reason, never having anyone question for a moment how such a boor could be writing the plays to which his name was attached, or how as an actor he could memorize the lines of the plays if he could not read?

This is perhaps the place to say, in the face of all the theoretical "proof that has been introduced, that there is absolutely no need to posit from the evidence of the plays that the author was a born gentleman, an aristocrat and all that this implies; that he was intimate with the court and foreign affairs; that he was university-educated; that he must have traveled to Italy or elsewhere; that he had to have been a lawyer; that his personal biography is mirrored in the plays and poems. There is nothing in the plays that was beyond the powers of an alert Elizabethan intimately connected with the stage, a reader of books, a friend to gentleman and travelers, and, what is not evident in the known works of any other contemporaries except possibly Marlowe, with an insight into humanity and a skill with words and thoughts that has never yet been surpassed.

But so long as there are those who refuse to consider all the facts available, who distort the evidence to prove untenable hypotheses, and who indulge in iconoclasm as a sport, there will be heretics among us. The mere existence of the dozens of candidates for the Shakespearean title—many of them supported by the same evidence—is enough to nullify each of the claims. It cannot be said that all the proponents of other Shakespeares are uninformed amateurs, but certainly most of them would renounce their disbelief if they studied more of the information available. Were the dozen-odd editions of the poems published during Shakespeare's lifetime, and many more of the plays (most of them with his name on them), ever doubted in his time? Was Shakespeare the butt of ridicule because his name was on plays and poems not his? Could a man then, or now, be an uneducated imposter and deceive friends and colleagues into thinking him the author of the best plays being shown in London? "What fools these mortals be."


1 Lee was of course speaking of Shakespeare's "personal" aims. He also quoted Alexander Pope to the effect that Shakespeare "For gain not glory winged his roving flight, / And grew immortal in his own despite."

2 Dr. James Spedding, one of the foremost authorities on Bacon, was undisturbed by the parallelisms, and declared that after twenty-five years of study he could easily perceive the difference in the two styles. See Nathaniel Holmes's The Authorship of Shakespeare (5th ed., 1886).

3 With Stratford preparing for the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 1964, skeptics of the Stratford tradition are once again agitating the Birthplace Trust to prove its claims of Shakespeare's authorship. In the summer of 1962 a Shakespeare Action Committee was organized in London for the express purpose of promoting the opening of Shakespeare's grave to ascertain once and for all whether there were any documents there concealed. Letters have appeared in the London Times and The New York Times, articles in Past and Future, and summaries of most of these and a historical article in The Shakespeare Newsletter (September 1962 and following). The current controversy began when Francis Carr, editor of Past and Future, wrote a strong letter to the London Times on August 30. The Birthplace Trust is ignoring the agitation.

4 A source high in Oxfordian circles once informed the present writer that the first publisher to be offered Looney's volume refused to bring it out unless the author changed his name!

5 Célestin Demblon, Lord Rutland est Shakespeare (1915), claimed to have read 5,000 books on the authorship question before he decided on Rutland.

6 E. K. Chambers, in his William Shakespeare (1930), doubts that the Shakespeare mentioned in connection with the shield is William Shakespeare.

S. Schoenbaum (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Deviations," in Shakespeare's Lives, New Edition, Clarendon Press, 1991, pp. 385-451.

[In the following excerpt, Schoenbaum deconstructs several anti-Stratfordian arguments, including those who believe that the plays were authored by a group of individuals; those who assert the Earl of Oxford as the true author; and those who put forth other claimants, such as Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Derby, and Christopher Marlowe.]


Delia [Bacon] was of course not a proper Baconian but a Groupist envisioning a secret association of high-born wits, Ralegh and Bacon chief among them, as the true progenitors of the Shakespeare canon. Others—many others, alas—followed her example and argued for multiple, or at least dual, authorship. In William D. O'Connor—friend of Walt Whitman, author of The Good Gray Poet (the title gave a phrase to the language), and librarian of the United States Treasury—she found her first convert. To him belongs the distinction of being the lone reader, alluded to by Hawthorne, of the whole of 'Delia Bacon's splendid sybyllic book on Shakespeare'. O'Connor discerned in her that species of madness to which great wits are near allied; more profitable, he thought, to be insane with Miss Bacon than rational with Dr Johnson. Her views find a spokesman in the hero of O'Connor's novel of the Fugitive Slave Law era, Harrington; a Story of True Love (1860). Long years afterwards he returned to the authorship controversy in a polemical tract in defence of Pott, Hamlet's Note-book (1886). Here, dismissing Shakespeare as 'a grotesque anomaly', he identified Mr W.H. as Walter RalegH, and the T.T. of the Sonnets dedication as Ralegh's companion, Thomas HarioT (O'Connor has forgotten that the poems were published by Thomas Thorpe). This evidence had eluded Delia Bacon.

The Groupists attracted a more learned advocate, although (like all the rest) an amateur, in Appleton Morgan. A lawyer who had written with authority on the principles of evidence, he was one of the founders of the Shakespeare Society of New York (odd springboard for deviationist expression) and the publisher of the Bankside Shakespeare. In The Shakespearen Myth: William Shakespeare and Circumstantial Evidence (1881) Morgan disposes, with insinuating dispassion, of the 'legal presumption' of Shakesperian authorship. Having distinguished between the 'junta' theory of Delia Bacon and the 'unitary' theory of Smith, Holmes, et al, he offers the New Theory, which is admittedly less novel than the designation suggests. According to this hypothesis, Shakespeare, stage-manager or stage-editor, touched up the plays of others to make them palatable to the groundlings. The natural wit, as the dramatist's contemporaries described him, becomes in Morgan's translation a Warwickshire clown. How cosy and plausible to suppose that

this funny Mr. Shakespeare—who happened to be employed in the theater where certain masterpieces were taken to be cut up into plays to copy out of them each actor's parts—that this waggish penman, as he wrote out the parts in big, round hand, improved on or interpolated a palpable hit, a merry speech, the last popular song, or sketched entire a role with a name familiar to his boyish ear—the village butt, or sot, or justice of the peace, may be; or, why not some fellow scapegrace of olden times by Avon banks? He did it with a swift touch and a mellow humor that relieved and refreshed the stately speeches, making the play all the more available and the copyist all the more valuable to the management. But, all the same, how this witty Mr. Shakespeare would have roared at a suggestion that the centuries after him should christen by his—the copyist's—name all the might and majesty and splendor, all the philosophy and pathos and poetry, every word that he wrote out, unblotting a line, for the players!73

But who then contributed the philosophy and pathos and poetry? Confronted with the overwhelming question, Morgan retreats into vague conjecture. In an imagined scene Shakespeare is approached at the theatre by certain noblemen of the Court—maybe Southampton, Ralegh, Essex, Rutland, and Montgomery; perhaps also that 'needy and ambitious scholar named Bacon, who, with an eye to preferment, maintained their society by secret recourse to the Jews or to any thing that would put gold for the day in his purse'.74 The name of a living man, their hireling, would protect their incognito better than a pseudonym. Shakespeare agreed and became rich. Morgan did not do too badly either, his book achieving sufficient celebrity to be translated into German in 1885 as Der Shakespeare-Mythus.

Similar theories are expounded, in much the same judicial tone, in John H. Stotsenburg's depressingly long An Impartial Study of the Shakespeare Title (1904). We encounter such sentences as, 'The true rule, both of law and reason, is that when direct evidence of facts can not be supplied, reasonable minds will necessarily form their judgment on circumstances and act upon the probabilities of the proposition under consideration.'75 Such wearisome legalistic formulations need not surprise us, for Judge Stotsenburg sat on the Indiana bench, and the Impartial Study is the medlar fruit produced by his stolen hours. A sampling of the chapter headings will sufficiently indicate the operative assumptions that guide the learned jurist's argument:

Doubts Raised as to Shaksper's Ability and Learning
William Shaksper Has No Place in Henslowe's Diary
Shaksper Commended No Contemporary
Shaksper Left No Letters and Had No Library
Shaksper Gave His Children No Education
Shaksper's Utter Indifference to Literary Proprieties
Shaksper Not the Shakescene of Robert Greene
Lies Fabricated in Aid of the Shaksper Pretension
Shaksper's Real Name and Traditional Life
The Learning of the Author or Authors of the Poems and Plays.

Since the Groupists rarely agree on the constituents of the group, it is not surprising that the judge comes up with his own set of candidates. He concludes that Bacon wrote Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, that Sidney produced the Sonnets, that a consortium of professional dramatists—Drayton, Dekker, Munday, Chetile, Heywood, Webster, Middleton, and Porter—participated in the original composition of the plays, and that these plays (or some of them) were 'polished and reconstructed' by Bacon. Court adjourned.

Usually associated with the Baconian stalwarts, Sir George Greenwood (in his dauntingly voluminous writings) more than once denies membership in the club. 'It is no part of my plan or intention to defend that theory,' he insists in the preface to The Shakespeare Problem Restated, and indeed he remains comfortably agnostic, contenting himself with negative onslaughts against the orthodox citadel. These he manages with a curious mixture of suavity and abuse that makes him unique among the heretics. The illiterate peasant from squalid Stratford and his partisans, especially Lee and Churton Collins (Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham), elicit from Sir George the full gamut of patrician denigration. Serpents of cultivated malice lurk in the fine print of the footnotes; in one, Sir George, a Cambridge graduate, savours the fact that his two principal foes took second-class Oxford degrees, and he goes on to dispose of Lee thus:

In the Calendar of 1880 he is mentioned for the first time as Minor Exhibitioner of Balliol College. For the benefit of the puzzled investigator (and such, at first, was I) it may be mentioned that he there appears under a slightly different form of appelation to that by which he is now familiar to us, not having at that date discarded two Biblical praenomina in order to assume the more Saxon name of Sidney. I cannot help thinking, by the way, that Mr. Sidney Lee might be rather more tolerant of those who imagine that some great man in Elizabethan times might have seen advantages in the assumption of a pseudonym.76

At first it might seem curious that Sir George's circle of friends included his fellow MP, J. M. Robertson, author of the prolix Baconian Heresy, to which Sir George replied with his own massive book. But the true irony in the association of the believer with the arch-heretic lies in the actual closeness of their stances. Prince of disintegrators, Robertson in Did Shakespeare Write Titus Andronicus?, The Shakespeare Canon, and his other books, doles out great slabs of Shakespeare to Peele, Greene, Chapman, Marlowe, and other dramatists, the Stratfordian indeed stood, as Sir George observes, on 'the slippery slope of Infidelity'. Disintegration of Shakespeare's text furnished the Groupist with a starting-point, and conferred respectability upon pseudo-scholarly endeavour. 'That Shakespeare, whoever he was, did not write a very large portion of the thirty-six dramas which were published as his in the Folio of 1623 is now generally admitted,' Sir George observes. And so, at the time, it was.

If Sir George can pride himself on refusing to indulge in wild theorizing, other heretics did not submit to similar inhibitions. There is, for example, J.G.B., who answered his self-inflicted question, Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays? (1887), by postulating that the author was Cardinal Wolsey. The manuscripts of this prelate, deceased in 1530, came into the possession of Bacon; he prepared them for exhibition and capped the œuvre by writing his own play of Henry VIII with Wolsey a principal figure. An equally beguiling suggestion was made by Harold Johnson in Did the Jesuits Write 'Shakespeare'? (1910). Noting that the only English Pope, Adrian IV (1154-9) bore the name of Nicolas Breakspear, Johnson proposes that the pontiff inspired the pseudonym adopted by members of the Society of Jesus as they varied their devotions by busying themselves with Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra.

Sceptics unpersuaded of the existence of this popish plot may find other hypotheses more seductive. In The Five Authors of 'Shakespeares Sonnets ' (1923) H. T. S. Forrest of the Indian Civil Service fancies a sonnet tournament, with Shakespeare, Barnes, Warner, Donne, and Daniel fighting it out for a prize offered by the Earl of Southampton. Gilbert Slater, by profession an economist and social historian, does Forrest two better by offering Seven Shakespeares (1931). These claimants include Bacon, Ralegh, the Earls of Derby, Rutland, and Oxford; also Marlowe (returned from the dead in 1954 as Shakespeare). Imbibing Julius Caesar as connoisseurs sample wines to determine their origin, Slater detected a female bouquet. In Antony and Cleopatra too he found feminine rather than masculine intuition. The seventh Shakespeare is a woman, who in As You Like It (a markedly feminine play) portrays herself as Rosalind! No work inspires Slater to more piercing insight than King Lear; to the authoress 'it is due that we are made to see that there was something to be said for Goneril, and that Lear was a most undesirable visitor in the house, sure to upset any hostess's nerves'.77 This Woman Shakespeare is Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and sister to Sir Philip Sidney (in an odd slip she is described as Sidney's brother). Surely the peerless lady of Wilton, rather than 'the money-lending maltster of Stratford', is addressed by the manly and gallant Jonson as 'My beloved' and 'sweet swan of Avon'.

This limited (but, one trusts, sufficient) sampling of Groupist heterodoxy may fittingly conclude with a more recent contribution. Like the others, it calls for no rebuttal; gossamer fancies, insubstantial as air, need not be broken upon the critic's wheel. Alden Brooks clears the ground for his own theory by deposing the poet in Will Shakespere Factotum and Agent (1937). 'In no sense was this fellow a man of literary genius,' he sums up. 'He was, instead, country wit, business man, theatrical factotum, play-broker, figure-head, agent.'78 Behind the broker, behind the Southampton of the Sonnets and dedications, looms the Poet, whom Brooks does not yet care to name. In the seven hundred closely printed pages of Will Shakespere and the Dyer 's Hand, published by a reputable house (Charles Scribner's Sons) in 1943, Brooks has another, more violent, fling at Shakespeare. Everywhere in Elizabethan literature he sees unflattering allusions to the National Poet—this 'despicable trencher-slave, parasite, blood-sucker, pandar, and corrupter of young noblemen'; for so Marston had described 'fat-paunch'd Milo' (obviously Shakespeare) in his satirical Scourge of Villainy. Will sabotaged his company by selling plays on the sly to the printers. The wealth he hoarded was swollen from the proceeds of the Blackfriars Gate-house, converted by the whore-master poet into a brothel. Finally, outwardly honoured but gnawed by inward shame, he succumbed to the excesses with which he had taxed his obese body. This was Shakespeare. We learn without wonder that Brooks is a minor novelist.

But who is the Poet? For this post Brooks sets up fiftyfour requirements, some conventional ('The Poet was a courtier'), others peculiar ('The Poet died before the winter of 1608'). Only one candidate meets all the desiderata: Sir Edward Dyer. Patron of letters and close friend of Sidney, he is today best remembered for his elegy for Sidney, beginning 'Silence augmenteth grief, from The Phoenix Nest (1593). 'Shakespeare' glances at him in the 111th Sonnet:

Thence comes it that my name received a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdu'd
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand.

The recovery of the punning allusion—a recovery made possible by the wedding, for an instant, of fantastic speculation and prosaic literalism—marks the high point of Will Shakspere and the Dyer's Hand. Dyer, incidentally, did not write all the Sonnets, but had help from Nashe, Daniel, Barnes, Southampton, and other poets. The Earl also commissioned, supervised, and perhaps partly wrote Lucrece, a topical poem in which Tarquin the Ravisher is a skit on Ralegh the Proud.

The Brooks thesis seduced few readers; no Dyer Society followed upon the identification of the Poet's hand. Ignored by Gibson in The Shakespeare Claimants and savaged by Wads worth in The Poacher from Stratford, Brooks had the resilience to return to the fray in 1964 with This Side of Shakespeare. He stands firm for Dyer, and if Shakespeare inspires a mellow condescension rather than the old rage, he is factotum still:

He chose writers and plays, offered advice, acted as general supervisor. It was undoubtedly his natural wit, his 'facetious grace,' and showman's instinct, that gave to many of the Shakespearean plays that leaven few other plays of the time possessed. If his major role was the trafficking for their composition and sale, he became none the less their bondsman and sponsor.79

Thus, in sentiments echoing those of Appleton Morgan almost a century earlier, does the Groupist pass judgement on Shakespeare on the four hundredth anniversary of his birth.

Looney and the Oxfordians

The month that saw an armistice bring to an end the Great War witnessed another event hardly less momentous, at least for members of the Shakespeare Fellowship. In November 1918 J. Thomas Looney, a Gateshead schoolmaster, deposited with the Librarian of the British Museum a sealed envelope containing an announcement of his discovery that the plays and poems of Shakespeare issued from the pen of Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Before taking this unusual step the schoolmaster had submitted his work, the result of years of patient investigation, to a publisher; but the latter rejected it when Looney refused to adopt a nom de plume to forestall the hilarity of reviewers. Now, covetous of priority, he resorted to the device of the sealed letter with its overtones of mysterious significance so congenial to the anti-Stratfordian mentality.

The book, 'Shakespeare' Identified, appeared in 1920, and initiated the Oxford movement, which has given the Baconians a run for their madness. In his introduction Looney disclaims an expert's knowledge of literature (when he began he had read only Shakespeare, Spenser, and Sidney among the Elizabethans), nor does he pride himself on a critic's soundness of literary judgement. Instead he makes a virtue of amateurism. 'This is probably why the problem has not been solved before now,' Looney asserts. 'It has been left mainly in the hands of literary men.'80 For years, however, he had been putting his young charges through their paces with The Merchant of Venice, prolonged intimacy with which persuaded Looney that the author knew Italy at first hand, and—more important—had an aristocrat's indifference to business methods and an aristocrat's casual regard for material possessions. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that snobbery led Looney, a gentle retiring soul, to seek a Shakespeare with blue blood in his veins. His own family, the pedagogue boasted, was descended from the Earl of Derby, once kings of the Isle of Man, whence came Looney's immediate forebears. He expresses the heretic's customary disdain for the 'coarse and illiterate circumstances' of Shakespeare's early life, and in an unconsciously revealing passage implies that a great writer must have lords and ladies in coaches driving up to his door.81

'My preparation for the work lay', Looney reflected in old age, ' .. . in a life spent in facing definite problems, attempting the solution by the methods of science, and accepting the necessary logical conclusions, however unpalatable & inconvenient these might prove.'82 His impartial science, derived from the Positivism of Comte, led Looney to seek nine 'general features' in the author of Shakespeare's works:

  1. A matured man of recognized genius.
  2. Apparently eccentric and mysterious.
  3. Of intense sensibility—a man apart.
  4. Unconventional.
  5. Not adequately appreciated.
  6. Of pronounced and known literary tastes.
  7. An enthusiast in the world of drama.
  8. A lyric poet of recognized talent.
  9. Of superior education—classical—the habitual associate of educated people.83

To these Looney added nine 'special characteristics':

  1. A man with Feudal connections.
  2. A member of the higher aristocracy.
  3. Connected with Lancastrian supporters.
  4. An enthusiast for Italy.
  5. A follower of sport (including falconry)
  6. A lover of music.
  7. Loose and improvident in money matters.
  8. Doubtful and somewhat conflicting in his attitude to woman.
  9. Of probable Catholic leanings, but touched with scepticism.84

Without the advantages of historical or literary training, Looney had now to find the candidate who met all the general and special requirements.

Plunging in, he selected Venus and Adonis and began to look for a poem with similar stanza and cadence in Palgrave's Golden Treasury, which alone constituted Looney's reference library of sixteenth-century verse. In 'Women', by Edward de Vere, he found the poem. He next had to learn something about the poet. After several false starts in history textbooks, Looney discovered with delight from the DNB that Oxford 'evinced a genuine taste in music and wrote verses of much lyric beauty'; also that 'Puttenham and Meres reckon him among the best for comedy in his day; but though he was a patron of players no specimens of his dramatic productions survive. ' (The italics in these misquoted passages are supplied by Looney.)

The de Veres traced their descent in an unbroken line from the Norman Conquest: higher aristocracy, there can be no question. Evidence of Lancastrian sympathies (Looney's third special criterion) may be found in the fact that the twelfth Earl lost his head in 1461 for loyalty to the Red Rose. Sidney Lee's DNB sketch describes Oxford as having had a thorough grounding in Latin and French, great prowess at the tilt, and an ambition for foreign travel gratified by a journey to Italy in 1575. As a youth, however, he also manifested 'a waywardness of temper which led him into every form of extravagance, and into violent quarrels with other members of his guardian's household'. At the age of seventeen he fatally wounded an under-cook at Cecil House. Report held that he threatened the ruin of his first wife in order to avenge himself on the fatherin-law who had incurred his displeasure. There were other indications of a volatile temper: Oxford grossly insulted Sidney on the tennis court at Whitehall—addressing him as a 'puppy', according to Sir Fulke Greville (Sidney's biographer)—and afterwards plotted his assassination; in 1586 he quarrelled with Thomas Knyvet, duelled with him, and entered into a subsequent vendetta. Irresponsible, he hired lodgings and left others, of humbler station, to foot the bill. The Earl's improvidence brought him into financial straits from which he tried to extricate himself by selling his ancestral estates at perversely low prices. Lee does not dwell on the Earl's seduction of one of the Queen's Maids of Honour, nor does he report Aubrey's presumably apocryphal anecdote: 'This Earl of Oxford, making of his low obeisance to Queen Elizabeth, happened to let a fart, at which he was so ashamed that he went to travel, 7 years.'85 In any event, Looney does not include flatulence as another of his hero's special attributes. Nor does he list cruelty, perversity, and profligacy as features of the author evident from a perusal of his work.

Looney properly relishes the contemporary evidence that Oxford wrote plays (after all it cannot be demonstrated that Bacon or most of the other chief claimants performed this necessary activity), and he attempts to bolster the testimony of Puttenham and Meres by the familiar tactic of converting Shakespeare's dramas into pièces à clef. Indeed the Earl can scarcely restrain himself from putting in appearances everywhere in the canon. In Love's Labour's Lost he is Berowne mocking Holofernes—Gabriel Harvey, the 'kissing traitor' who had circulated satirical verses about Oxford behind his back. Elizabeth's royal ward is Bertram in All's Well That Ends Well, the jealous husband is Othello, the Patron of Oxford's boys is the master of the revels at Elsinore. It follows that the rest of the dramatis personae must have historical identities; and so Laertes is Thomas Cecil; Polonius, Burleigh (to reappear in Venice as Brabantio); Ophelia, Lady Oxford (reincarnated after drowning only to be strangled as Desdemona); Horatio, the Earl's cousin Sir Horace de Vere—principally, it would seem, because of the partial congruence of Christian names. Such a view of drama implies that plays are secondarily intended for theatrical representation, being pre-eminently literary artifacts. To this reversal of priorities Looney freely subscribes: ' .. . if we must choose between the theory of their being literature converted into plays, or plays converted into literature, on a review of the work no competent judge would hesitate to pronounce in favour of the latter supposition',86 Looney, one suspects, has not polled all the competent judges.

His subjective ruminations do little to strengthen an hypothesis which has certain inherent limitations. The attestation of Puttenham and Meres to Oxford's playwriting activities cuts two ways. Meres after all lists Shakespeare separately in Palladis Tamia and names twelve plays, as well as Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and the Sonnets: clearly he did not believe that the Earl wrote The Comedy of Errors; Romeo and Juliet, and the rest. And if people knew that Oxford graced the stage with plays, why had he need of employing Shakespeare as a mask? The only motive that Looney can suggest is self-effacement. 'We may, if we wish', he adds, 'question the sufficiency or reasonableness of the motive. That, however, is his business, not ours.'87 But of course the man who sets out to convince the public of the validity of an eccentric theory must make the motivation his business. These considerations, however, pale into triviality alongside the principal drawback of the entire argument: Oxford, born in 1550, died in 1604. Thus he was forty-three when he offered the first heir of his invention to Southampton, and was buried before King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens, Coriolanus, Pericles, Cymbeline, Winter's Tale, The Tempest, and Henry VIII appeared on the stage.

To get round this perplexity Looney must urge that the authorities have misdated King Lear and Macbeth, and that Oxford at the time of his death left unfinished manuscripts which inferior dramatists then completed. 'The people who were "finishing off these later plays took straightforward prose, either from the works of others, or from rough notes collected by "Shakespeare" in preparing his dramas, and chopped it up, along with a little dressing, to make it look in print something like blank verse."88 Such a considered judgement emanates naturally from a sensibility to which the music of Shakespeare's final period is ragtime. The Tempest presents Looney with his greatest challenge, for topical references and other internal considerations lead him to accept the late date to which the commentators assign it. So he must deny it altogether to his candidate—at the same time admitting that 'but for the theory that Edward de Vere was the writer of Shakespeare's plays we might never have been led to suspect the authenticity of "The Tempest" '.89 The task of denigration proceeds apace. Prospero's speech on the cloudcapped towers and gorgeous palaces becomes 'simple cosmic philosophy, and, as such, it is the most dreary negativism that was ever put into high-sounding words'.90 (The disciple of Comte insists upon the positivism of his idol.) Elsewhere in the play Looney finds stolen thunder, muddled metaphysics, witlessness, and coarse fun. Above all, the verse is bad, which by Looney's standard merely means that it has irregular scansion syllables. This evaluation of The Tempest, needless to say, has met with a cool reception—even from fellow Oxfordians. Looney had at the outset confessed his lack of critical equipment; in the end, having constructed his elaborately rationalized fantasy, he becomes a casualty of that handicap.

Despite its intellectual naïveté—perhaps because of it—'Shakespeare ' Identified impressed the impressionable. In his introduction to the 1948 reprint (which drew some respectful journalistic notices) the maritime novelist William McFee compared the Looney book, for revolutionary significance, with The Origin of Species. He also described the Gateshead pedagogue as a sleuth 'methodically and relentessly closing in on the author, not of a crime, but of a mystery'. The mantle of Conan Doyle sits more comfortably on Looney than that of Darwin; Galsworthy pronounced 'Shakespeare ' Identified 'the best detective story' which ever came his way. Herein must lie much of the fundamental appeal of the work and of anti-Stratfordian demonstrations generally. Sober literary history is metamorphosed into a game of detection, in much the same manner as James Thurber's American lady in the Lake Country transformed Macbeth into a Hercule Poirot thriller ('"Oh Macduff did it all right," said the murder specialist.'). To such a game the cultivated amateur can give his leisure hours in hopes of toppling the supreme literary idol and confounding the professionals. Little wonder that one heretic, Claud W. Sykes, casts his investigation as an exercise in detection, with Sherlock Holmes tracking down the true perpetrator of the plays by means of Baker Street deduction!

Be that as it may, Looney founded a school. A tangible result of 'Shakespeare ' Identified was the formation in 1922 of the Shakespeare Fellowship, a society hospitable to all heretics but chiefly devoted to perpetuating the claims of Oxford. The Shakespeare Fellowship News-letter, issued by the association, performed a service analogous to that of Baconiana. In addition to schoolmasters and attorneys the group attracted military and naval types, the novelist Marjorie Bowen, and Christmas Humphreys, QC, an authority on Buddhism. It appealed to the young at heart: Canon Gerald H. Rendali, sometime Gladstone Professor of Greek at University College, Liverpool, read Looney and, at the age of eighty, experienced a conversion. He proceeded to advance the cause with a series of volumes: Shakespeare Sonnets and Edward De Vere (1930), Shakespeare: Handwriting and Spelling (1931), Personal Clues in Shakespeare Poems & Sonnets (1934), and Ben Jonson and the First Folio Edition of Shakespeare's Plays (1939). So prodigious was the display of energy that one admirer was prompted to exclaim in 1944 that Canon Rendali 'represents one of the biological reasons why the Germans, despite all their sound and fury, will never overcome the British'. After the outbreak of the Second World War the continuity of the Fellowship's work was assured by the formation of an American branch presided over by Dr Louis P. Bénézet of Dartmouth College. This true believer's own contributions include the suggestion, made in Shakspere, Shakespeare and De Vere (1937), that in the Sonnets the Earl addressed his elligitimate son, who acted in his father's company of players under the name of William Shakespeare.

The publications of the de Vere sect are too numerous for listing, much less evaluation, in these pages, but a few of the principal items may be mentioned. A member of the Fellowship, Captain Bernard Mordaunt Ward, produced in 1928 a massive biography from contemporary documents, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604, aimed at rehabilitating the nobleman's somewhat tarnished reputation. While not overtly concerned with the authorship debate, Ward gives tacit support to the theory (suggested by Lefranc) that Oxford and the Earl of Derby were in some way connected with the composition of Shakespeare's plays. Others too favoured the idea of mixed authorship, for example, Slater's Seven Shakespeares mentioned above. In Lord Oxford and the Shakespeare Group (1952) Lieutenant-Colonel Montagu W. Douglas ingeniously proposed that the Queen charged the Earl with the control of a Propaganda Department for the issuance of patriotic pamphlets and plays, and that he satisfied this commission by putting together a syndicate which included Bacon, the Earl of Derby, Marlowe, Lyly, and Greene: a motley assortment by any standard. Still others sought to adjust the Shakespeare chronology to the facts of Shakespeare's life and thus get round the embarrassment of denying him The Tempest. Mrs Eva Turner Clark, in the 693 pages of Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare 's Plays (1931), arranges the works in a sequence beginning with Henry V and culminating with King Lear in 1590; for The Tempest she finds a snug niche half-way between. This novel arrangement is made possible by identifying Shakespeare's plays with the titles of lost Tudor interludes, and by correctly interpreting internal historical references which had escaped all other scholars. In King Lear, for example, the banishment of Kent parallels the banishment of Drake in 1589, while the play as a whole reflects Oxford's bitterness over 'the failure of the Queen to back him up in his patriotic endeavour to support the throne and country against the factions that were, as he saw them, disintegrating forces in the government, if not actively seditious'.91 Into such tracts for the times do the plays dwindle in Oxfordian hands.

In a note appended to the last page of 'Shakespeare ' Identified Looney had admitted to a belief that the Grafton portrait of Shakespeare really depicts the Earl. The Shakespeare iconography fascinates the Oxfordians. In the pages of Scientific American for January 1940, Charles Wisner Barrell, one of the brethren, revealed that X-ray and infra-red photography had detected underneath the Ashbourne portrait the pigment of another painting representing de Vere. This discovery was greeted with hoots of delight by the Fellowship, but how it materially aids the cause (even if we accept the doubtful findings of a partisan) is not clear, for the Ashbourne picture, like the Grafton, has no standing as a genuine likeness of Shakespeare.

Among those who applauded Barrell were Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn in This Star of England (1952), the most monumental contribution ever made to the literature of heresy. As one would expect from a volume running to 1297 pages, all the familiar Oxfordian arguments appear, and also some new ones. The quality of the Ogburn reasoning may be illustrated by a single example. They reproduce Touchstone's interrogation of William in As You Like It, with certain words and clauses italicized: 'Art thou learned? . . . all your writers do consent that ipse is he: now, you are not ipse, for I am he. . . . He, sir, that must marry this woman. Therefore, you clown, abandon' This straightfaced commentary follows:

How can a man speak more plainly than this? Oxford—or William Shakespeare—tells Shaksper, another William, to abandon all pretensions to the plays and clear out, forthwith. 'You are not ipse, for I am he.' All the 'writers'—Jonson, Marston, Dekker, Peele, et al.—know this, 'do consent' to it. What other possible interpretation can be put upon these candid lines?92

The aggrandizing tendencies of the heretic surface: Oxford must be credited not only with all of Shakespeare, but also with the apocryphal plays, Marlowe's Edward II, Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, and Lyly's Endymion and other comedies. In such a context we learn without astonishment that the Earl of Southampton sprang from the loins of Oxford and the womb of Elizabeth, somehow legitimately mated; the Sonnets to the Fair Youth (pun: Vere Youth) therefore become a touching poetical testament of a father to his son. Without once referring to This Star of England the Ogburns—this time Dorothy and her son, Charlton Junior—warmed over their stew as Shakespeare: The Man behind the Name (1962), which has at least the merit of comparative brevity.

With The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality (New York, 1984) Charlton Ogburn goes once more unto the breach, to do battle for his own brand of Oxfordian reality, this time with a volume of almost 900 large pages—not the longest such exercise but very long indeed—which surely qualifies as one of the seven wonders of anti-Stratfordianism, although I would be hard pressed to name the other six. Most of the terrain Ogburn traverses will be familiar to initiates. He argues that de Vere is the Will Moxon of Thomas Nashe's Strange News; the same Will who partook of Rhenish wine and herrings with Nashe and Robert Greene a month before Greene's death: this Will is to be identified with another Will, the celebrated—if supposititious—playwright of the English stage. Elizabeth's grant of £1,000 a year to Oxford facilitated the writing and production of plays supportive of the throne. The author dwells upon parallels between Shakespeare's plays and Oxford's life, unmindful of the discommoding truth that literature and life are full of cunning parallels. Ogburn also ruefully recounts one unbeliever's encounters with the Shakespeare Establishment. The Mysterious William Shakespeare inspired Richmond Crinkley's sympathetic review article, 'New Perspectives on the Authorship Question', which mysteriously appeared in that Establishment bastion, Shakespeare Quarterly the next year (36, 515-22). 'Shakespeare scholarship', Crinkley concludes, 'owes an enormous debt to Charlton Ogburn.' Not everyone would agree.

Washington, DC, attorney, business executive, connoisseur of the arts, philanthropist, and Oxfordian enthusiast, David Lloyd Kreeger was the master spirit behind the moot-court debate sponsored by the American University in the nation's capital, and argued by two members of that university's law-school faculty (Peter Jaszi for the Oxfordian position and James Boyle for the man from Stratford) before a trio of Supreme Court justices in appropriate juridical garb: Harry A. Blackmun, William Brennan, and John Paul Stevens. The event took place on 25 September 1987, at the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church in the presence of bus-loads of high-school students, contingents of Oxfordian and Stratfordian partisans, white-collar Washingtonians, and the youthful Charles Francis Topham de Vere Beauclerk, a collateral descendant of the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. All told, roughly a thousand—maybe more—jammed into the church that autumn morning. The lawyers presented their arguments, with occasional interjections from the bench, and the court recessed until afternoon when the justices returned to their seats to deliver their opinions. Justice Brennan, the acting chief, spoke first, concluding that the case for the Oxford side remained unproven. 'What business have I to be judging this?', Justice Blackmun could not help asking himself. He thought of Isabel in Measure for Measure ('Oh, it is excellent / To have a giant's strength but it is tyrannous / To use if like a giant'). He agreed, however, that Justice Brennan's conclusion was 'the legal answer'. Justice Stevens similarly arrived at a legal verdict for the Stratford man, although qualified by a degree of personal uncertainty. The event was chronicled in the Washington Post and—more conspicuously, as might be expected—in the New York Times. Months passed. The Authorship Question became the subject of a long essay by James Lardner in the 'Onward and Upward with the Arts' department of the New Yorker (11 April 1988), 87-106. In a retrospective contribution to the de Vere Society Newsletter, a new periodical (1988), Ogburn denounced the moot 'trial' as a 'miscarriage of justice' in which Justice Brennan acted for all practical purposes as a witness for the Stratfordian side.

A permanent record of the great Washington Shakespeare debate was eventually published in the American University Law Review, 37 [1988], 609-826. Included was a verbatim transcript of the Justices' opinion, as well as prefatory remarks by Kreeger and essays by Jaszi ('Who Cares Who Wrote "Shakespeare"?') and Boule ('The Search for an Author: Shakespeare and the Framers'). There the matter did not rest: a reprise with a different dramatis personae (Kreeger, Ogburn, and Shakespeare excepted), took place on 26 November 1988 at the Middle Temple—in the same (then new) 'large and stately' hall where a young lawyer, John Manningham, had the good fortune to see a special production of Twelfth Night performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men on 2 February 1602, and jotted down his impressions. On the occasion of the Middle Temple Moot this author was invited to testify as an expert witness, but, as circumstances worked out, the sponsors were unable to accommodate the expense of my journey. Nor was Ogburn able to take part, so Kreeger, Shakespeare, and the Earl of Oxford had to manage without us. The Oxfordians were represented by L. L. Ware, a founding member of the Mensa Society, and Gordon C. Cyr, former director of the Shakespeare Oxford Society; the Shakespearian side by Stanley Wells, director of the Shakespeare Institute, and Professor Honigmann. The presiding judge, Lord Archer, won applause by delivering the day's closing comments in blank verse. The three Law-Lords judging the Shakespeare Moot, as the mock trial was called, all found for the man from Stratford. Court adjourned.

To the Baconians it was not given to glory alone in a cipher. In Edward De Vere: A Great Elizabethan (1931) George Frisbee prints a multitude of ciphers based on the six letters of de Vere's name. Not surprisingly, he finds these characters everywhere: in Gascoigne's Supposes, in Marlowe, in Harington, Puttenham, Ralegh, Spenser, James I, above all in Shakespeare (most curiously in the contents page and dedication of the 1623 Folio). Even Canon Rendali gratifies us with a cipher:

Why write I still all one, E.VER the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That E.VERY word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth and where they did proceed?

The Canon takes a special pride in this bit of inanity, which, he modestly allows, rescues Sonnet 76 from inanity.93

For the parallelism of the Oxfordians with the Baconians to be complete we need only the spirit from the grave and clues to the whereabouts of the Earl's lost manuscripts. No disappointment, alas, awaits us. In the autumn of 1942 Percy Allen, author of several Oxfordian treatises, consulted a London medium, Mrs Hester Dowden, daughter of the celebrated Dublin authority on Shakespeare. [Allen, Dowden's biographer informs us, was selected by Spirit People to be the final unraveller of the Shakespeare Mystery (Edmund Bentley, Far Horizon [London, 1951], 148).] The seances continued over an extended period, with one Johannes serving as control, and Hester Dowden herself taking down conversations in automatic writing, of which she was a most gifted practitioner. At these sessions Allen (through the good offices of his deceased brother) met Oxford, Bacon, and Shakespeare. They described their mode of collaboration with alacrity. 'I was quick at knowing what would be effective on the stage,' Shakespeare owned. 'I would find a plot (Hamlet was one), consult with Oxford, and form a skeleton edifice, which he would furnish and people, as befitted the subject.'94 Often they took their efforts to Bacon, whose advice was requested but (the Viscount sadly reports) seldom accepted. All this Allen found extremely fascinating, as well he might, but a small difficulty troubled him. In 1943 one Alfred Dodd published a book, The Immortal Master, containing scripts by Hester Dowden reporting direct communication with Bacon, in the course of which the latter claimed for himself Shakespeare's writings. 'My friend, I can help you,' Bacon reassured Allen. 'I was acting through a Deputy in the case of Dodd—a Deputy who has never been personally in touch with me, and who questions nothing; for he is firmly convinced that I wrote the plays and sonnets, and took no trouble to have a direct message from me.'95 Some spooks, it seems, are unreliable.

Where three centuries of scholarship had failed, Dowden's gatherings succeeded, clearing up disputed points in Shakespearian biography and producing fresh details. The poet indeed entered the world on St George's day, his mother invariably having her infants baptized three days after birth, The parents were Protestant (so much for John Shakespeare's Spiritual Last Will and Testament!). At the free school Will was considered a dull scholar. Although the deer-poaching legend had some basis in fact, the youth ran off to London not because of Lucy's wrath, but rather to escape becoming a butcher, the occupation selected for him by his father. At the as yet non-existent Globe in 1581 there was no stage, only a courtyard. 'My first duties', the shade recalled, 'were connected with preparation, cleaning the yard and seats, and putting them in order. . . . I was receiving so little from an unwilling father, that I had to increase my earnings; and so, being accustomed to horses, I held them while the spectators came.'96 In 1583 Shakespeare met Oxford, who advised the young actor (as he then was) to set down on paper some of the stories rattling around in his brain. From these beginnings ensued the collaboration of the nobleman and the rustic. Will contributed the villains—Shylock and Iago and Edmund—and the scenes of great passion and simple English humour. To Oxford we owe the more lovable characters and most of the poetry.

All this and much more the séances brought to light. Perhaps the most exciting of the disclosures was the location of the priceless play manuscripts. They were buried in Shakespeare's tomb. (Surely the shade is confused—he must mean the grave; it happened so long ago.) One bundle served as the pillow for the corpse, another lay between the hands, a third at the feet; Hamlet reposed on the breast. Delia Bacon's intuition had been right after all.


In certain recurring features of anti-Stratfordian behaviour we may discern a pattern of psychopathology. The heretic's revulsion against the provincial and lowly; his exaltation of his hero (and, through identification, himself) by furnishing him with an aristocratic, even royal, pedigree; his paranoid structures of thought, embracing the classic paraphernalia of persecution: secrets, curses, conspiracies; the compulsion to dig in churches, castles, river beds, and tombs; the auto-hypnosis, spirit visitations, and other hallucinatory phenoma; the descent, in a few cases, into actual madness—all these manifestations of the uneasy psyche suggest that the movement calls not so much for the expertise of the literary historian as for the insight of the psychiatrist. Dr Freud beckons us.

Of his abiding interest in Shakespeare we have abundant evidence. Freud began reading the plays at the age of eight, and was always ready with a quotation from them. Shakespeare's pre-Freudian understanding of human nature filled the doctor with admiration; Shakespeare became, with Moses and Leonardo, one of the three extraordinary personalities in whom the founder of psychoanalysis took pre-eminent interest. That the authorship controversy stirred his analytical curiosity need not surprise us. It is, however, both surprising and sad that the schismatics were able to claim Freud as one of their own.

The instructor of his youth, the brain anatomist Meynert—revered by his celebrated pupil as the greatest genius he had ever encountered—was a professed Baconian. But Freud resisted this influence, although on disconcertingly Groupist grounds: if Bacon wrote Shakespeare, he 'would have been the most powerful brain the world has ever borne', 'whereas . . . there is more need to share Shakespeare's achievement among several rivals than to burden another important man with it'.97 So Freud wrote in 1883; later his scepticism deepened when he discovered that the cult's founder bore the name of Bacon, so suspiciously suggestive of a personal motive. Nevertheless, the Baconians fascinated him, and, prior to the First World War, he urged his disciple Ernest Jones (the Shakespearian of the circle by virtue of his work on Hamlet) to study their methods and contrast them with the psychoanalytic approach. That way the theory would be disproved, and Freud's mind set at rest. But Jones shied away from the assignment.

Freud continued to toy with faddist ideas about Shakespeare. Was the National Poet, he wondered, really an Englishman? An Italian, Professor Gentilli of Nervi, had proposed that the name was a corruption of Jacques Pierre; indeed, Shakespeare's features looked more Latin than English. (One suspects that Freud accepted unquestioningly the genuineness of the Chandos portrait.) There the matter rested until around 1923, when Freud read the Looney book. It converted him to the Oxfordian faith. His intuition had found confirmation—if 'Shakespeare' was not actually a Frenchman, at least he had Norman forebears.

At a convivial gathering in celebration of his seventieth birthday in 1926, Freud expounded the de Vere theory at length. 'I remember my astonishment', Jones writes, 'at the enthusiasm he could display in the subject at two in the morning.'98 The next year Freud reread Looney with no accessions of doubt. In 1928 he turned to Jones again, this time asking him to investigate what new psychoanalytic conclusions would follow from assigning the plays to Oxford. Again Jones prudently remained aloof.

His coolness did not, however, dampen his master's enthusiasm for the theory. 'I no longer believe in the man from Stratford,' he confided to Theodore Reik in 1930. That year, in a speech accepting the Goethe Prize, Freud made his views public: 'It is undeniably painful to all of us that even now we do not know who was the author of the Comedies, Tragedies and Sonnets of Shakespeare; whether it was in fact the untutored son of the provincial citizen of Stratford, who attained a modest position as an actor in London, or whether it was, rather, the nobly-born and highly cultivated, passionately wayward, to some extent déclassé aristocrat, Edward de Vere.'99 He proceeded to revise his earlier pronouncements. In The Interpretation of Dreams Freud had likened, tentatively, the repressed Oedipal strivings of Hamlet to the death of Shakespeare's father and of the playwright's son Hamnet; now, in a footnote to the eighth German edition, he included a disclaimer remarkable for the casualness of its phrasing: 'Incidentally, I have in the meantime ceased to believe that the author of Shakespeare's works was the man from Stratford.' Canon Rendali's Shakespeare Sonnets and Edward De Vere shored up Freud's conviction; not doubting the significance of the Sonnets as self-confession, he found that Oxfordian authorship made them more intelligible.

As regards the plays, the Oxford heresy opened new vistas of psychoanalytic speculation. Lear had three daughters; so too had de Vere. 'If Shakespeare was Lord Oxford', Freud wrote on 25 March 1934 to James S. H. Bransom,

the figure of the father who gave all he had to his children must have had for him a special compensatory attraction, since Edward de Vere was the exact opposite, an inadequate father who never did his duty by his children. A squanderer of his inheritance and a miserable manager of his affairs, oppressed by debts, he could not maintain his family, did not live with them, and left the education and care of his three daughters to their grandfather, Lord Burleigh. His marriage with Ann Cecil turned out very unhappily. If he was Shakespeare he had himself experienced Othello's torments.100

Elsewhere Freud accepts the Oxfordian identification of Lord Derby, the Earl's first son-in-law, with Horatio in Hamlet and Albany in King Lear.

English-speaking readers did not yet know of Freud's conversion. For their benefit he composed a note for insertion in the 1935 edition of An Autobiographical Study. The translator, James Strachey—only too well aware of the contempt felt by orthodox scholars for the Oxfordians—threw up his hands. Patiently he explained to Freud the English connotation of the name Looney; a connotation which (in Jones's apt phrase) 'could only have the effect of adding risibility to derision'. Freud yielded—but in the American edition he stuck to his guns. 'The same sort of narcissistic defense need not be feared over there,' he snapped at Strachey. [The correspondence of Freud and Arnold Zweig, first published as recently as 1970 in an edition assembled by Ernst L. Freud, the master's son, reveals the strength of Freud's commitment to his heterodoxy. 'I do not know what still attracts you to the man of Stratford,' he expressed himself petulantly to Zweig on 2 April 1937. 'He seems to have nothing at all to justify his claim, whereas Oxford has almost everything. It is quite inconceivable to me that Shakespeare should have got everything secondhand—Hamlet's neurosis, Lear's madness, Macbeth's defiance and the character of Lady Macbeth, Othello's jealousy, etc. It almost irritates me that you should support the notion' (p. 140). As Peter Gay notes in Freud: A Life for our Time (New York, 1988), Freud twice read 'Shakespeare' Identified, for some years pursuing this 'chimera', and discussing it with—among others—Ernest Jones, who tried in vain to dissuade him. 'Jones', Gay observes, 'shrewdly connects this harmless mania with Freud's fascination with telepathy. Both, he suggests, support the view that things are not what they seem to be' (p. 643 n.).]

In London in 1938, a refugee from the Nazi occupation of Vienna, Freud received a letter of welcome from Looney. 'Dear Mr. Looney,' the great man replied, 'I have known you as the author of a remarkable book, to which I owe my conviction about Shakespeare's identity, as far as my judgment in this matter goes.'101 The next year he died, but not before making a final attestation of his faith. For his last revision of An Outline of Psychoanalysis, published in 1940, he added this note to his original remarks on Hamlet's Oedipus wish: 'The name "William Shakespeare" is very probably a pseudonym behind which a great unknown lies concealed. Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a man who has been thought to be identifiable with the author of Shakespeare's works, lost a beloved and admired father while he was still a boy and completely repudiated his mother, who contracted a new marriage very soon after her husband's death.'102 Thus he transferred from Shakespeare to Oxford his original insight into the psychogenesis of Hamlet. Long after Freud's passing, an English psychoanalyst, Victor Kanter, went through the library of the master's house at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, and found there fourteen anti-Stratfordian works, most of them by Oxfordians, and only eight by orthodox scholars.

Inevitably some of Freud's followers stumbled after him into the Oxfordian bog; most notably Dr A. Bronson Feldman, who in a series of articles has explored the workings of de Vere's unconscious in The Comedy of Errors, Othello, and the Sonnets. [Freud's early disciple Wilhelm Stekel embraced a more orthodox unorthodoxy. From his Autobiography we learn that Stekel 'shared the belief of many that Bacon actually wrote certain of Shakespeare's plays' (p. 223), an opinion which led to his break with his friend Samuel Tannenbaum, psychiatrist and eccentric Shakespearian. Stekel had already seceded from Freud's circle, which was clearly schism-prone.] But mainly the Freudians have tried to account for their leader's aberration, a quest that may shed psychoanalytic light on the entire anti-Stratfordian syndrome. Certainly Freud's position cannot be understood on purely rational grounds: he knew from the example of Leonardo what a supremely creative mind could accomplish without formal training; he knew from his own triumphs the irrelevance of aristocratic blood to great endeavour. Something in Freud's mentality, Jones suggests, produced a fascination with the idea of men not being what they seemed. Thus Moses, universally reckoned a Jew, must have been a noble Egyptian.

Such obsessions reflect the operation of the Family Romance fantasy. The child, reacting against disappointment with the imperfections of his parents, compensates by replacing them with others of higher birth; he must be a stepchild, or adopted. In later life such fantasies of parental idealization are transposed to a Moses—or Oxford. To the psychoanalyst Dr Harry Trosman, 'the imputation of Shakespearean authorship to a historical figure is another example of the formation of a transference allowed to continue unresolved and continually buttressed by the discovery of "new historical evidence'". It is not surprising that the Family Romance should flourish in Freud's psyche. The household of his childhood included two half-brothers twenty and twenty-three years his senior; his mother—his father's second wife—was their contemporary. In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life Freud relates a slip of the tongue, involving the substitution of a name, to the fantasy of 'how different things would have been if I had been born the son not of my father but of my brother'.

Fantasies of this kind testify to feelings of ambivalence towards the father. According to Norman Holland, Freud's urge to dethrone Shakespeare stems from his view of 'the artist as a kind of totem whom he both resented and emulated'.103 The psychoanalytically oriented will see manifestations of this filial ambivalence throughout the dreary pages of anti-Stratfordian discourse: on the one hand, denigration of the drunken, illiterate, usurious poacher from the provinces; on the other, ecstatic veneration of the substitute claimant, aristocrat and deity. The heretic's selection of de Vere, courtly amateur rather than professional man of letters, confirms his identification with his idealized choice, for the Oxfordians are, almost to a man, dilettante scholars. In Looney's case the tendency towards idealization finds early expression in his gift of Carlyle's Heroes to a youthful friend, with the advice that he read it before turning twenty. The British Library deposition shows Looney imagining in his own life a situation parallel to that in which (he believed) Oxford found himself:

Through some untoward event Looney's identity as the discoverer might not be revealed, while someone else was to be acknowledged as having solved the puzzle. By entrusting his deposition with the Librarian of the British Museum, Looney could well imagine that eventually his identity would be revealed as the original instigator of the Oxfordian position. In the same way that he states credit must be given 'to the great Englishman' who actually authored the plays, credit would then be given to him who had actually made the Oxfordian discovery first.104

Looney's deliverance of his idol from depreciation and obscurity exemplifies the rescue fantasy, interpreted by Freud as the son's defiant wish to settle his account with his father for the gift of life. ('I want nothing from my father,' the boy in effect says. 'I will give him back all I have cost him.') In the rescue fantasy one sees again the operation of the Family Romance, dually functioning 'to mask the hostile impulses and preserve the lost omnipotent object'. In such a way does psychoanalytic theory explain the unconscious origins of anti-Stratfordian polemics.

Other Claimants

Those ummoved by Looney, Freud, and company can choose from other aristocrats. Sir Walter Ralegh, Sir Anthony Sherley (a favourite of Essex), Anthony Bacon (qualified for the Sonnets by reason of lameness), and Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury, have all found champions. The ingenuity of the arguments in favour of William Stanley, sixth Earl of Derby (1561-1641), devised by Abel Lefranc (1863-1952), a professor of French at the Collège de France, won him a distinguished convert in the author of Aphrodite. In an unpublished letter dated 6 April 1919 (preserved in the Folger Shakespeare Library) Pierre Louys observed that 'le stratfordhomme' signed himself 'Wm' or 'William', whereas Derby preferred 'Will', a name or word which occurs often in the Sonnets and plays mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare. Moreover, just as in time the composer Wagner would call his children Eva and Siegfried, Will Derby christened his son Jacques, and married him to a Frenchwoman (Charlotte de la Trémolile) to ensure that he would not be called James but Jacques by his wife; and we all know that As You Like It features a Jacques. Voilá.

These candidacies have inherently no less rationality than that of Christopher Marlowe, the most recent to achieve wide notoriety. By now only the most innocent will suppose the Siberian expanses separating the literary personalities of the gentle Shakespeare and iconoclastic Marlowe (described by a contemporary as of a cruel and intemperate nature) sufficient to discourage heretical speculation. One fact, however, might: Marlowe's sudden death at the age of twenty-nine on 20 May 1593 at widow Eleanor Bull's place of public refreshment at Deptford, where he may have had lodgings, not far from the plague-stricken capital. The circumstances of the slaying are set forth in detail in the legal records; a jury of sixteen accepted the coroner's findings. But of such impossibilities the anti-Stratfordians make instruments to plague us.

In 1955 Calvin Hoffman of Long Island, described by Time magazine as a Broadway press agent and by a disciple as a poet and playwright, published the results of nineteen years of hard labour, The Murder of the Man Who Was 'Shakespeare'. The long quest began when he took to jotting down phraseological correspondences between Shakespeare and Marlowe. Then one night, as he tossed restlessly on his mattress counting parallelisms instead of sheep, a dark thought occurred to Hoffman: what if the report of Marlowe's assassination was a hoax? As time passed, the possibilities of a monstrous imposture (how Marlowe must have suffered!) became oppressive; like Delia Bacon, Dr Owen, and other schismatics, Hoffman found his pursuit occupying most of his waking hours and forcing him to sacrifice mundane interests. His researches carried him to England, Denmark, and Germany; he prowled in graveyards, inhaled the dust of tombs, wearied himself in ancient archives. At last a theory took shape.

Less than a fortnight before Marlowe's death, the Privy Council had issued a warrant for the poet's arrest on suspicion of blasphemy and atheism, but allowed him to remain at large when he posted bond and consented to attend daily upon the Council. The high-born Thomas Walsingham, involved with Marlowe in a homosexual liaison, feared for his protégé's life, and with the latter's assistance concocted a plot to save him: three sinister characters in Walsingham's service—Skeres, Poley, and Frizer—would pass off a corpse as Marlowe's. In some narrow alley of Deptford the trio selected their victim—a foreign sailor, maybe Italian or Spanish—lured him to Dame Eleanor Bull's house, plied him with drink, then stabbed him to death. Meanwhile, Marlowe, who had lain low at his lover's Scadbury estate, hoisted sail for France. ('The figure on the Channel ship watches the tender outlines of the French coast as they emerge out of the morning mist, purple and gold in the rising sun.'105) Afterwards he lived in Italy, but eventually he returned in disguise to Scadbury and there dwelt in seclusion, roaming the woods that furnished him with the nature allusions for his plays. These and the poems were submitted to Marlowe's benefactor. Walsingham hired a professional scribe to copy them, hid the original manuscripts, and employed an obscure actor—an unimaginative but steady fellow—to lend these masterpieces his name. Hence it was that, four months after Marlowe's supposed death, Shakespeare made his literary début with Venus and Adonis. Later the Sonnets were published with their decication to Mr W.H.—Walsing-Ham, of course. The true date of Marlowe's demise has eluded even Hoffman's patient researches, but the poet must have died before 1623, when Walsingham sought to keep alive the memory of his beloved by publishing a folio edition of the plays. How Shakespeare's name on the title-page would have abetted this end Hoffman does not explain.

Needless to say, he produces not a single record to support this preposterous romance: rather a sad showing for nineteen years of steady work. Nor can he even properly claim priority for his theory. William Gleason Zeigler, a San Francisco lawyer, had put forward the Muses' darling in 1895 in his novel, It Was Marlowe: A Story of the Secret of Three Centuries. Not until the project had haunted him for twelve years did Hoffman discover this anticipation, on which he tries to put as brave a face as possible, dismissing the Zeigler performance in a footnote as a 'cinematic "thriller"', and 'the purest fiction and fantasy'. Hoffman does not mention Zeigler's preface and notes, in which the suggestion that Marlowe lived on until 1598 is made with evident seriousness and in straightforward expository prose; nor does he allude to the crucial point that Zeigler credits Marlowe with all of Shakespeare's 'stronger plays'. Slater's Seven Shakespeares, cited in the same Hoffman note merely as a work proposing Marlowe as one of the seven, offers the theory that the death was faked, that Marlowe left England at the beginning of June 1593, and that he later contributed substantially 'to the main volume of the Shakespeare plays'. And Hoffman has missed altogether Mackay's theory (1884) about Marlowe's pen in Shakespeare's Sonnets. He does, however, offer ample homage to the Ohio professor Thomas Corwin Mendenhall who, employing a team of put-upon women to count millions of words and letters of words, was able to plot graphs of the vocabulary curves of various writers. The results, published in the hospitable pages of Popular Science Monthly (December 1901), demonstrated that the characteristic curve of Marlowe's plays 'agrees with Shakespeare about as well as Shakespeare agrees with himself.

This 'evidence' Hoffman supplements with his parallels, the value of which he modestly describes as 'enormous'. Many of these enormously valuable parallels are not parallel; thus Hoffman compares 'Some swore he was a maid in man's attire' (from Hero and Leander) with this line from Venus and Adonis: 'Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man'. Some of the correspondences are commonplace phrases that any writer might have used; others may be accounted for by the acknowledged influence of Marlowe on Shakespeare. The remainder involve direct quotation, such as Pistol's 'And hollow pampered jades of Asia, / Which cannot go but thirty mile a day'.

Shakespeare's famous tribute to Marlowe—

Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
'Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?'

—presents a special problem, for to ordinary readers it would seem clear that the author placed Marlowe among the departed. Hoffman gets round this awkwardness by proposing that the dead shepherd is Sidney; later he includes the quotation in As You Like It, along with the line from Hero and Leander, among his parallels. Such procedures are not calculated to satisfy the fastidious. Any confidence in Hoffman's scholarship is further undermined by his indifference to factual precision: names are misspelt, dates rendered inaccurately, and words silently omitted from inaccurate quotations.

These deficiencies did not escape responsible reviewers. The TLS (27 January 1956) described The Murder of the Man Who Was 'Shakespeare' with accuracy and commendable restraint as 'a tissue of twaddle'. But in the popular press Hoffman created a 'storm of controversy' (Time), no doubt in part provoked by the sweaty journalese of his prose style. This is one of those books that introduce readers to the brawling Elizabethan world, teeming with swarthy folk convulsed with Rabelaisian humour. Courts are corrupt, women fecund, and men sensual. When the plague strikes, Elizabethan London becomes 'a den of horror'. Gallants chase their ladies on soft summer nights illuminated by lascivious firefly lanterns. When Hoffman arrives at his high point, the Marlowe murder plot, he resorts to a 'fictionalized approximation'. Under the circumstances, one is not inclined to fault this strategy.

Hoffman's mission did not end with publication of his book. The compulsion to dig, endemic among anti-Stratfordians, had taken hold of him, and he summoned together his energies for an assault upon the Walsingham tomb in the Scadbury Chapel of St Nicholas's Church in Chislehurst. Manuscripts deposited there would, Hoffman hoped, prove to the world the existence of what he terms, rather unfortunately, 'the Marlowe-Shakespeare fraud'. The Walsingham family having died out early in the eighteenth century, Hoffman enlisted the co-operation of Major John Marsham-Townsend, who, as lord of the manor, had rights of exclusive use of the chapel. In January 1956 a consistory court granted consent for the opening of the monument; four months later stonemasons pried open the top of the tomb. Within lay no manuscripts, nor even human remains; only hardpacked yellow sand, serving as a damp course, from the Normandy shore. Workmen removed the sand, then cut a small hole in the floor, through which they could discern, about two feet below, a leaden coffin. Alas, the master of Scadbury Park resolutely refused to permit the dismantling of any Walsingham coffins.

The reader of this narrative will be prepared to learn that failure did not discourage Hoffman. 'It has not proved or disproved my theory,' he told a New York Times reporter: 'It was a 1,000 to one chance that we would find any manuscripts. I have other clues to follow up while I am in England.'

Inevitably the Marlowe cause, like the others, gained adherents. In 1956 a Scarsdale attorney, Sherwood E. Silliman—how innocently appropriate are some anti-Stratfordian names!—privately printed 'a fanciful play', The Laurel Bough, re-creating the slaying and substitution for the poet of a down-and-out actor, after which Marlowe is comforted by the love of Walsingham's wife and continues his playwriting career as Shakespeare's collaborator. This theory, the author announces, was formulated independently of Hoffman. In his preface, Silliman makes some telling points about Marlowe and Shakespeare: 'Each used poetic blank verse', 'Both dote on pomp and ceremony', etc. Surely, Silliman triumphantly concludes, 'no two human minds could have such striking similarities'. In the text to his sumptuous pictorial biography, In Search of Christopher Marlowe (1965), A. D. Wraight does not go so far as to endorse Hoffman's thesis, but the influence surfaces and the name Hoffman appears ominously among the credits. An avowed disciple is David Rhys Williams, author of Faith beyond Humanism, who in Shakespeare Thy Name is Marlowe (1966) thanks Hoffman for generous permission to write on the subject. While in England, Williams reports, he addressed the London chapter of the Marlowe Society at Hoffman's suggestion; mercifully there is as yet no Marlowe Society Newsletter. At Canterbury to visit the shrines sacred to Marlowe's memory, Williams glimpsed a carton containing over five hundred newly discovered documents, many of them identifying the poet as Shakespeare. As Dr Urry, the City archivist, has not yet got round to publishing his report on these intriguing papers, the public must endure suspense for a while longer before the final dispensation of the Marlowe claim.

Why not King James?, asks R. C. Churchill, and he backs up his proposal with a sporting offer: 'In fact, for ten guineas per thousand words, payable in advance, I will undertake to prove to all but the hopelessly prejudiced that King James—or, alternatively, Fulke Greville or Sir Thomas North—was the real author of the works erroneously attributed to William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon.'106 The suggestion of James as potential author follows the concluding item in Churchill's historical survey, George Elliot Sweet's Shakespeare the Mystery (1956). Recommended for its 'persuasive logic' by Erle Stanley Gardner, who entertained his fellow sleuth on his ranch, Sweet's diligently researched book (it cites among other authorities the World Book Encyclopedia) presents the case for Queen Elizabeth, who alone possessed the Negative Capability which Keats so admired in Shakespeare; after all, she survived plenty of political uncertainty—a nice gloss on Keats. Sweet's trump card is the Epilogue to Henry VIII, which he interprets in novel fashion. "Tis ten to one this play can never please,' the Epilogue begins; Sweets reads: There are ten kings in Europe, I am the one queen. He continues in like manner with the rest of the speech, no doubt allaying the unease of some who might otherwise be troubled by a reshuffling of chronology that results in the assignment of The Tempest to 1582. The chief mystery about Shakespeare the Mystery is its printing (although not publication) by the Stanford University Press.

The effect of Churchill's whimsical proposal evaporates when one realizes that he is not the first to think of the wisest fool in Christendom in this context:

In the . . . debates I argued for the theory that King James himself was the real poet who used the nom de plume Shakespeare. King James was brilliant. He was the greatest king who ever sat on the British throne. Who else among royalty, in his time, would have had the giant talent to write Shakespeare's works?107

The debates alluded to did not take place on the platform of some genteel anti-Stratfordian meeting, but, rather, in the Norfolk Prison Colony in Massachusetts. In such a setting do we find expressed presumptions of royalty with respect to the author of Shakespeare's works. The claim of the first Stuart was urged by Malcolm Little, who is unusual among heretics in denying altogether the existence of the historical Shakespeare. Later Little would die violently on another platform. By then he had achieved notoriety as Malcolm X.

With the Black Muslim candidate our own survey comes to an end. Perhaps at this pause in the narrative the writer may be permitted to drop for a moment the historian's mask of impersonality and give vent to private emotion. This section has been the cruellest endeavour I have ever confronted. The sheer volume of heretical publication appals. In the 1840s Joseph S. Galland, a professor of Romance Languages at Northwestern University, compiled a typescript bibliography, Digesta Anti-Shakespeareana, that fills six large volumes and describes 4,509 items. A number of these are enormous, and many more have of course appeared since. The voluminousness of output is matched only by the intrinsic insubstantiality of most of it: two characteristics which together produce an overpowering effect. The lawyers were back at their game in a series of articles in the Journal of the American Bar Association in 1959 and 1960, afterwards reprinted as Shakespeare Cross-Examined; but just as one despairs of the legal profession, Milward W. Martin replies to his colleagues rationally in Was Shakespeare Shakespeare? A Lawyer Reviews the Evidence (1965). Thus the bibliography swells.

Many curious theories lie outside the ken of my selective history. I have not found space to deal with those who claim for Bacon Don Quixote (the English translation as well as the original Spanish version), the plays of Lope de Vega (all 2,200; why not?), the dramas of Calderón, Gray's Elegy, Gulliver's Travels, and Poe's Raven. Nor have I been able to savour the contribution of George M. Battey—another endearing name—whose application of 'the alphabetical numerical clock count' led to the inescapable conclusion that the plays were written by Daniel Defoe—or rather, as Battey prefers, Daniel Foe. I regret, however, not being able to consider the ingenious speculation of James Freeman Clarke, who contributed to the North American Review (February 1881) an article entitled 'Did Shakespeare Write Bacon's Works?'

A great many of the schismatics are (as we have seen) distinguished in fields other than literary scholarship, and their ignorance of fact and method is as dismaying as their non-specialist love of Shakespeare's plays is touching. One feels oppressed, moreover, by the presence of an irresistible passion in these men and women: the inexorable compulsion that usurps thought, courts ridicule, even (at times) unseats reason. Vanity presses have published some of these anti-Stratfordian diatribes at their authors' expense; others have been sponsored by well-esteemed commercial houses which would refuse, as a poor business risk, the scholar's sober monograph. It would be a nice question to determine which phenomenon has the more depressing implications.

If the well one day should run dry, it might be argued, we would be deprived of the harmless mirth occasionally provoked by heretical extravagance; but it would be an exaggeration to suggest that the gaiety of nations would be thereby eclipsed. In 1969 there appeared a novel, The Philosopher's Stone, by that voluble autodidact Colin Wilson, whose hero Newman, travelling in time through an effort of the will, discovers that Bacon not Shakespeare—both 'second rate minds'—wrote the plays. The continuous flow of publication, and the publicity given sensational theories by newspapers throughout the Western world, have understandably induced in laymen—even educated laymen—lingering doubts about the reality of Shakespeare and the true authorship of the canon. Away from the academy, whether in the lounge bar of a cruise ship or in the shadow of the Moorish wall in Gibraltar or on an Intourist bus on the road to Sevastapol, the professor of English (once his identity has been guessed by fellow-holiday-makers) will be asked, as certainly as day follows night, 'Did Shakespeare really write those plays?' He will do well to nod assent and avoid explanation, for nothing he says will erase suspicions fostered for over a century by amateurs who have yielded to the dark power of the anti-Stratfordian obsession. One thought perhaps offers a crumb of redeeming comfort: the energy absorbed by the mania might otherwise have gone into politics.


73 . . . Appleton Morgan, The Shakespearean Myth: William Shakespeare and Circumstantial Evidence (Cincinnati!, 1881), 304-5.

74 Ibid. 284.

75 John H. Stotsenburg, An Impartial Study of the Shakespeare Title (Louisville, Ky., 1904), 510.

76 George Greenwood, The Shakespeare Problem Restated (London, 1908), pref., p. x. My attention was drawn to this note by Frank W. Wadsworth (The Poacher from Stratford (Berkeley, 1958), 97-8).

77 Gilbert Slater, Seven Shakespeares: A Discussion of the Evidence for Various Theories with Regard to Shakespeare's Identity (London, 1931), 220-1.

78 Alden Brooks, Will Shakespeare Factotum and Agent (New York, 1937), 373.

79 Alden Brooks, This Side of Shakespeare (New York, 1964), 129-30.

80 J. Thomas Looney, 'Shakespeare ' Identified in Edward De Vere the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (London, 1920), introd., 16.

81 Ibid. 57. I owe this insight to R. C. Churchill, Shakespeare and his Betters (London, 1958), 197.

82 Letter of J. Thomas Looney to Charles Wisner Barrell, dated 6 June 1937; printed in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, 5 [1944], 21.

83 Looney, 'Shakespeare' Identified, 118-19.

84 Ibid. 131.

85Aubrey's Brief Lives, ed. O. L. Dick (London, 1949), 305. This episode, which has escaped the noses of the Oxfordians, is cited by Wadsworth (The Poacher from Stratford, 111).

86 Looney, 'Shakespeare' Identified, 385.

87 Ibid. 211.

88 Ibid. 413.

89 Ibid. 530.

90 Ibid. 509.

91 Eva Turner Clark, Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare's Plays: A Study of the Oxford Theory Based on the Records of Early Court Revels and Personalities of the Times (New York, 1931), 603.

92 Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn, This Star of England: 'William Shakespeare' Man of the Renaissance (New York, 1952), 1004. This particular aberration is cited by Giles E. Dawson in a withering review; see Shakespeare Quarterly, 4 [1953], 165-70.

93 Gerald H. Rendali, Shakespeare Sonnets and Edward De Vere (London, 1930), 210.

94 Percy Allen, Talks with Elizabethans Revealing the Mystery of William Shakèspeare ' (London, n.d.), 40.

95 Ibid. 32.

96 Ibid. 72-3.

97 Ernest Jones, Sigmund Freud: Life and Work (London, 1953-7), i. 24.

98 Ibid. iii. 460.

99 'Address Delivered in the Goethe House at Frankfort', The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, Anna Freud, Alix Strachey, and Alan Tyson (London, 1953-), xxi. 211.

100 Jones, Sigmund Freud, iii. 488.

101 Quoted by A. Bronson Feldman, 'The Confessions of William Shakespeare', American Imago, 10 [1953], 165.

102 Freud, Complete Psychological Works, xxiii. 192 n. 1.

103 Norman N. Holland. Psychoanalysis and Shakespeare (New York, 1966), 59.

104 Harry Trosman, 'Freud and the Controversy over Shakespearean Authorship', Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 13 [1965], 492.

105 Calvin Hoffman, The Man Who Was 'Shakespeare ' (London, 1955), 121. The title of the English edition, from which I quote, differs slightly from that of the American edition.

106 R. C. Churchill, Shakespeare and His Betters (London, 1958), 117.

107The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York, 1965), 187. The Autobiography was ghost-written by Alex Haley, who would go on to achieve celebrity as the author of Roots.

The Case Against Shakespeare: Anti-Stratfordian Arguments

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13526

Charlton Ogburn (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "Such a Deadly Life," in The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1984, pp. 23-37.

[In this essay, Ogburn reviews the public documents connected with "Shakspere of Stratford, " suggesting that among the baptismal records, marriage licenses, legal proceedings and wills, there is a lack of evidence demonstrating that the man from Stratford was the literary genius behind the works attributed to Shakespeare.]

Orthodox writers assert that much is known about the man they conceive to be Shakespeare, more, indeed, than about all but one of his fellow playwrights. In two centuries, legions of scholar-sleuths (one of whom alone combed a collection of three million uncatalogued documents) have in fact, in a literary dragnet of unparalleled scope, come up with an extensive assortment of facts about the Stratfordian. We find it enlightening to review these to see what activities are indicated for the purported master poet and playwright and what kinds are notably missing, and to see what items are listed and what kinds not listed in the inventory of his life's effects recorded in his will.

In April 1973, the curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library discovered that on 12 June 1593, Richard Stonley, a London businessman, had recorded in his diary his purchasing a copy of Venus and Adonis. The work had been licensed for printing two months earlier, but this was the first record of a copy of the work being purchased, the first of Shakespeare's to be published. Hence considerable interest attended the discovery. James G. McManaway, consultant emeritus and former assistant director at the Folger Library, described it as "sensational."

That was rather strong. Someone had to be the first on record to purchase a work of Shakespeare's, and, in fact, Stonley's having done so had been reported back in the 18th century. But Dr. McManaway, as quoted in the Washington Post, went on to declare that the find "provides . . . clues about the shadowy, early days of Shakespeare's writing career."1 It does nothing of the sort. We see in Dr. McManaway's claim the eagerness of orthodox scholars to turn up something that will associate the Stratford man with literary activity.

"We know more about him than about any other dramatist of the time, with the exception of Ben Jonson, who lived rather later and had a longer life," says the flag-bearer of the Stratford academicians, Alfred Leslie Rowse of Oxford University.2 Dr. McManaway himself, in his Folger booklet, asserts that "For a playwright of his time, Shakespeare's life is well documented."3 He goes on to cite gaps in the biographical data on Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and Sir Walter Raleigh to have us believe that these gaps are as significant as the gaps in Shakespeare's record. It is conventional among orthodox writers to contend that we know as much about the Stratford man as we could legitimately expect to know about Shakespeare, if not more than that. If they were being aboveboard with us their point would be an important one. If not, that also should tell us much. The facts will make clear the truth of the matter.

A considerable amount, certainly, is known about Shakspere of Stratford. After all, there has been let loose upon him a century-and-a-half-long investigation of an intensity, scope, and thoroughness unexampled in the history of literary research. Of its results, however, skeptics would say that never in the field of biography have so many labored so diligently and so long for so little, certainly so little of what they were seeking. "Of the person of Shakespeare," Walt Whitman declared, with warrant, "the record is almost a blank—it has no substance whatever."4 Writing on Shakespeare After 400 Years, J. Isaacs, professor emeritus of English literature at Queen Mary College, London, observes that "The last time anything of importance about Shakespeare personally turned up was in 1910, when Professor C. W. Wallace of Nebraska, who has never had much credit for it, looked through some three million uncatalogued documents in the basement of the Public Records Office and came up with a lawsuit in which Shakespeare was a witness, and showed him as a lodger in the house of a Huguenot wig-maker off Cheapside, helping in the romance of his landlord's daughter with a young apprentice."5 As Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, formerly Regius Professor of History at Oxford University, remarks, "One hundredth of the effort devoted to one of Shakespeare's obscure contemporaries would have produced a respectable biography."6 We come now to the biography of the famous Stratfordian, whom I have proposed we call William Shakspere (without an e after the k), which is consistent with the variety of spellings of the family name in and around Stratford and that of the man's own so-called signatures. This spelling shows that the first syllable of the name was pronounced with a short a.

He was christened on 26 April 1564, as "Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere," the final e being perhaps a Gothic flourish. Though the date of his birth is celebrated as April 23, we do not know when it occurred. We also do not know exactly where he was born—an uncertainty worth remarking only because of the assiduity of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in directing the throngs of pilgrims to the house that the Trust asserts categorically was the birthplace. It is amusing, by the way, that when the Shakespeare Action Committee under Francis Carr applied for a summons against the Trust in 1968 under the Trade Description Act, contending that there was no evidence to show that Shakspere was born in the house on Henley Street, the Trust won a dismissal of the application by the town magistrates; the dismissal was granted on the grounds not that there was such evidence but that the trustees were not carrying on a trade or business as defined by the Act!7 Bernard Levin, well-known British literary columnist, writes: "Stratford permits—indeed encourages—one of the biggest frauds in England to rage unchecked. .. . I mean those two monumental frauds 'Shakespeare's Birthplace' and 'Anne Hathaway's Cottage.'"8

The father, presumably the John Shakspere of nearby Snitterfield, first appears in Stratford, in 1552, as having been fined a shilling for having a dunghill in front of his house. Evidently on the strength of his looking after his father Richard's lands, John Shakspere was described as a husbandman and yeoman. His father had held part of these lands as a tenant of Robert Arden of Wilmcote, and John had married Arden's daughter Mary. Orthodox scholars and critics, while accusing anti-Stratfordians of an unholy bias in favor of high birth ("An innate snobbishness is responsible for the recurring suspicion that the plays attributed to Shakespeare were actually written by someone else, preferably a nobleman," Richard Watts, Jr., assures us in the New York Post), like to link Robert Arden with the aristocratic Ardens of Park Hill.9 ("The Ardens were superior folk, probably related to the Arden gentry of Park Hill in north Warwickshire," A. L. Rowse avers.10) And Ivor Brown tells us that "The Ardens of the senior succession were lordly people indeed, pre-Conquest notables, accepted by William the Conqueror," and so on.11 William Shakspere himself, along with his partisans, seems to have been guilty of just that predilection for aristocratic lineage of which those who question his credentials are accused. Having, as soon as his fortunes permitted, obtained a coat-of-arms in his father's name (by dubious means, as we shall later see), he sought to impale the arms of the Park Hill Ardens with those he had recently acquired—only, however, to be overruled by the Heralds' College.

John Shakspere's business in Stratford was apparently that of glover and wool-dealer. He had bought two houses in Henley Street in 1556 and two others within twenty years. Clearly these were years of some prosperity for him. By 1568, he had risen from chamberlain to burgess to alderman and bailiff. By 1577, however, his success, whatever its origin, was over. We find him proceeding against one of the Quineys—a family close to his own—for a debt of £50 and, upon his failing to meet a debt of his own, having a warrant outstanding for his arrest. He stopped attending meetings of the town council: "Mr. Shaxpere doth not come to the halls." Accordingly he was replaced by a new alderman. He failed to pay off a mortgage of £40 on his wife's property when due. Misbehavior seems to have been added to misfortune, for, in 1580, he was bound over at court to give security against a breach of the peace and fined the heavy sum of £40, half of it in default of payment by a partner in the offense, a Nottingham hatmaker. He became involved in the decline of his brother Henry, who died heavily in debt in 1596. In 1592, he was cited as one of those who "it is said . . . come not to church for fear of process for debt."12

The first records of William Shakspere following his christening come when he was eighteen. A license for his marriage to Anne Whately of Temple Grafton was issued in Worcester on November 27, 1582. The next day, a bond given by two sureties to protect the Bishop of Worcester from any untoward consequence from the insufficient posting of the banns (there had been only one asking in place of the prescribed three) names as bride Anne Hathwey of Stratford. The groom is called Shaxpere on one document, Shagspere on the other. Particularly because the next record of our subject refers to the christening of his daughter Susanna six months later, we are tempted to visualize a prospective marriage to the first Anne aborted by an irate father demanding that the bridegroom do right by the second, whom he had got with child. The orthodox biographers assure us that "Anne Whately of Temple Grafton" was a scribal error for "Anne Hathwey of Stratford."13 Although the slip could hardly be described as a natural one, let us not argue and merely take note of Joseph Hunter's report of "the entry in the parish register of Stratford, of the marriage of one Anne Hathaway of Shottery to William Wilson on Jan. 17, 1579."14 Whoever she was, Anne Shakspere was eight years her husband's senior, as we know from the inscription on her grave.

The marriage was only six months old when a daughter, Susanna, was baptized.15 In 1585, the baptism of "Hamnet and Judeth, son and daughter to William Shakspere," was recorded. Plainly the twins were named for a neighboring couple, Hamnet and Judith Sadler.16

In 1589, William and his father were named in legal proceedings aimed at recovering the property of Mary Arden on which John had failed to lift the mortgage.17

That is all we know about our subject until his thirtieth or thirty-second year. Of the playwrights other than Shakespeare by whom the age is known, most very inferior—Marlowe, Kyd, Lyly, Greene, Heywood, Nashe, Webster, and Jonson—only John Webster (whose genius went unrecognized until Charles Lamb discovered it) confronts us with such a blank. Even Webster left us the kind of testament we look for in vain from the conventional "Shakespeare": an epistle to one of his dramas, of 1612, in which he speaks in complimentary terms of seven of his fellow playwrights, including "M[aster] Shake-speare," who is one of three praised for their "right happy and copious industry" with the hope that "What I write may be read by their light."18 We have a richer acquaintance with the first three decades of the Venerable Bede, who died in 735 in the depths of the Dark Ages, than we have of Shakspere's.

What was Will doing in the years before his appearance in London? Various stories have filtered into the vacuum, the best known involving deer poaching, but they are without substantiation or even plausibility. He "may or may not have travelled in Europe, either as a touring actor or in the company of a noble patron," Ivor Brown theorizes.19 Louis P. Bénézet of Dartmouth College has garnered a fine crop of postulations, all designed to endow young Will in some measure with the range of knowledge and experience clearly possessed by the author of the dramas. Among the conjectures are: the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1894 edition), which suggests that Shakspere must have spent much time in the "forest of Arden, . . . picking up his remarkable knowledge of forest law"; J. Dover Wilson, who has him acting from 1581 to 1599, except when he was tutoring the Earl of Southampton ("in a country school") and taking a trip to Italy with the Earl and John Florio, a writer and teacher at Magdalen College; Joseph Quincy Adams, who also believes that he was teaching in a country school and in addition had been hunting to hounds and practicing falconry; Edgar I. Fripp, who is convinced that he was studying law till 1587; Karl Elze, who believes that he was travelling in Italy; Edward Garnett and Edmund Gosse, who favor his travelling and fighting in the Low Countries; Caroline F. E. Spurgeon, who sees him spending his time in deer-hunting, horseback-riding, hawking, bowling, tennis-playing, and engaging in other sports; Churton Collins, who is sure that he was working in an attorney's office; William Allen Neilsen, who is sure he filled his waking hours with the devouring of books.20 To these, Samuel Schoenbaum adds Arthur Gray of Jesus College, according to whom the young Stratfordian was a page to Sir Henry Goodere of Poles-worth Hall and there acquired his knowledge of Latin and of polite society; Frances Yates, who has him teaching in a secret Catholic institution, and others more eccentric.21

Sir Edmund K. Chambers, in his monumental and definitive biography, is more noncommittal. "Who shall say," he asks, "what adventures, material or spiritual, six or eight crowded Elizabethan years may have brought him."22 Or who—if I may bring us back to the record, taking account of his having the financial burden of a wife and three children, no known business or profession to put money in his pocket, no advantageous connections that have ever come to light, and a father pursued by creditors—shall say what drab employment filled his days in those years? "It is," says Chambers, "no use guessing."

Guessing, however, is what his biographers resort to when they come to tell us when he went to London. They postulate the late 1580s but have no evidence to back them up. ("One fine day in the later 1580s," A. L. Rowse informs us, "He took the road to London."23) They stake their case on the publication in 1592, when Will Shakspere was twenty-eight, of Greenes Groats-worth of Wyt, in which the author warned certain playwrights of an actor, an "upstart Crow" and "Johannes Factotum" who esteemed himself the only "Shakescene" in the country. They identify this actor as Shakspere but their faith in this, we shall see in Chapter 5, rests upon a characteristic failure to read the plain English of the text upon which it rests.

Two years passed after the Groats-worth appeared, during which Venus and Adonis was published with a gracious and courtly dedication to the Earl of Southampton signed by William Shakespeare—the first we hear of such a writer. Then, in December 1594, according to an entry added much later to an account of the following March, "Will Kempe, Will Shakespeare & Richard Burbage servants to the Lord Chambleyne" were paid £20 for two comedies or interludes acted before the Queen.24 This is a peculiar record and suspect, as again we shall see.

In August 1596, "Hamnet, filius William Shakspere" was buried in Stratford.25

In October 1596, a grant of a coat-of-arms seems to have been made to John Shakspere, doubtless at his son's instigation, though the grant may not have finally been made until 1599. The arms feature a spear in the diagonal of the shield and a falcon as the crest. In the upper left-hand corner of the draft of 1596 appear the words Non, Sanz Droict ("No, Without Right"), this being evidently the Heralds' judgment on the merits of the application. The words are crossed out but are again inscribed, just above the original notation. Then, in a larger hand and in upper-case letters the words NON SANZ DROICT are written across the top. Someone, it would seem, had taken the dismissal and by dropping the comma turned it into an endorsement: "Not Without Right." This became the motto for his arms, albeit rather a defensive one. William Dethick, Garter principal king of Arms, who authorized the grant and was already in bad odor for his greed, was in 1602 accused by Ralph Brooke, York Herald, of having made grants to base persons, among whom "Shakespeare" was named. Dethick's defense of his actions must have been successful, for he continued to hold his office and was even knighted in the following year, but shortly thereafter his transgressions led to his dismissal. In 1599, when Shakspere sought an "exemplification" of his coat of arms, [By an exemplification the Heralds accepted an applicant's claim of a right to bear arms without ruling on it. It was on this occasion that Shakspere sought to have his arms impaled with those of the Ardens of Park Hill on the basis of his mother's descent, but this joining was disallowed and a less aristocratic Arden coat substituted. So far as is known, however, Shakspere never quartered any Arden arms with his own, perhaps advisedly, for it has never been established that his mother was entitled to arms of any kind.] Ben Jonson in his Every Man Out of His Humor has a rustic character called Sogliardo who is ridiculed as one "so enamoured of the name of a gentleman, that he will have it though he buys it." For Sogliardo's coat-of-arms another character suggests, "Let the word be, Not Without Mustard"26

In late 1596, it was recorded on the rolls of the Court of the Queen's Bench in London that William Wayte craved sureties of the peace against "William Shakspare" and three others "for fear of death and so forth."27 We are assured by Stratfordians that there was nothing invidious in being so cited.

In May 1597, "Willielmum Shakespeare" bought the 260-year-old house known as New Place—the second largest in Stratford—from William Underhill, evidently for £60.28 The price would be about equal to the amount an author would receive for ten plays and presumably does not represent the total cost of the house.

In November 1597, the tax collectors for the Ward of Bishopsgate, London, listed "William Shackspere" among those owing a tax that could not be collected because of their having died or left the ward.29

In January 1598, Abraham Sturley of Stratford wrote to Richard Quiney that "our countriman [i.e., of the same county], Mr. Shaksper" may be moved "to deal in the matter of our tithes."30

In February 1598, "Wm. Shackespere" of Chappie Street Ward, Stratford, was listed as holding "x quarters" (80 bushels) of grain.31 Three wet seasons had produced a great dearth of grain, and the "engrossers" who held large amounts, like Shakspere, despite orders from the Privy Council to sell the excesses, were termed by the council "wicked people . . . like to wolves or cormorants." As E. K. Chambers writes, "There was wild hope [among the people] of leading them in a halter and, 'if God send my Lord of Essex down shortly, to see them hanged on gibbets at their own doors."'

In October 1598, "William Shakespeare" was again listed as a tax delinquent, in the parish of St. Helens, London, the collectors having once more been unable to bring him to book.32

Also in October 1598, Richard Quiney wrote "To my loving good friend & countryman Mr. Wm. Shackespere," asking him for £30 to help "me out of all the debts I owe in London." (The letter, the only one we know of ever to have been addressed to Shakspere, was evidently not delivered, for it was found in Quiney's papers.) A few days later Richard Quiney's father, Adrian, wrote to him that "If you bargain with Mr. Sha. or receive money therefor, bring your money home if you may. . . . " A few days after that, Abraham Sturley wrote to Richard Quiney referring to a letter from the latter indicating "that our countryman Mr. Wm. Shak. would procure us money," remarking that this "I will like of as I shall hear when, and where, and how. . . . "33 When it came to getting money from William Shakspere it was apparently a matter of seeing is believing.

Also in 1598, the Chamber Account of Stratford for Christmas records ten pence paid to Mr. Shaxpere for one load of stone.34

In February 1599, according to testimony given twenty years later by John Heminge and Henry Condell, "William Shakespere" was a shareholder in the Globe, erected in that year. He was one of those who held a 10 per cent interest, as against 50 per cent held by the Burbages.35 Thirty-six years later, in 1635, Cuthbert Burbage testified that in building the Globe, "to our selves were joined those deserving men, Shakspere, Heminges, Condell, Philips and other partners."36

In May 1599, an inventory of the property of Thomas Brend, father of Nicholas Brend, lessor of the land on which the Globe was built, listed a house newly built in the parish of St. Saviour "in occupacione Willielmi Shakespeare et aliorum."37

In October 1599, "Willelmus Shakspeare" was listed as a tax delinquent from the parish of St. Helen who had moved to Sussex.38

In October 1600, the tax owed by "Willelmus Shakspeare" was referred for collection to the Bishop of Winchester.39 Later the Bishop accounted on his rolls for a lump sum received from persons referred to him by the sheriff.

In May 1602, William Shakespeare paid William Combe and John Combe £320 for 107 acres of land north of Stratford, the deed "Sealed and delivered to Gilbert Shakespere," William's brother. William was described as "of Stratford upon Avon."40

In September 1602, "Shackespere," referred to also as "Shakespere," purchased a cottage on "Walkers Street alias Dead Lane" on the chapel side across from New Place for an undisclosed amount.

In late 1602, in another legal action respecting New Place, "Willielmum Shakespeare" was described for the first time as "generosus," gentleman.41

Circa 1603 to 1616, a lease of property east of New Place said that "The barn on the west side bounds by Mr. William Shaxpeare."42

In May 1603, King James did "licence and authorize these our Servants lawrence ffletcher Willm Shakespeare Richard Burbage Augustyne Phillippes Iohn heminges henrie Condell Willm Sly Robt Armyn Richard Cowly and the rest of their associates freely to use and exercise the art and faculty of playing comedies tragedies," etc. "for the recreation of our loving subjects as for our solace and pleasure. In the following March, these same members of the King's Company were granted four yards of red cloth each in preparation for his Majesty's progess through the City of London. "William Shakespeare" headed the list. For reasons we shall come to, the identity of the Shakespeare in the two cases remains problematical.

At some time during 1604, our subject was lodging with the family of Christopher Mountjoy, a French Huguenot maker of women's headdresses, in Cripplegate Ward. This we know because a deposition was taken of "William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon" in connection with a suit brought by Mountjoy's sonin-law, Stephen Belott, charging that Mountjoy had broken promises with respect to his daughter's dowry. The deposition is signed "Willn Shakp," the first of the six signatures ascribed to the famous Stratfordian known to exist. Willn Shakp's inability to recall circumstances crucial to the case suggests to E. K. Chambers that he was perhaps then, at the age of forty-eight, "of failing memory."45

In July 1604, "Willielmus Shexpere" brought a legal action to collect a debt in the amount of £1 15s 10d from an apothecary of Stratford, Philip Rogers, for malt with which he had supplied the debtor beginning in the preceding March.46

In May 1605, Augustine Phillipps made a will, in which after a bequest to "the hired men of the Company which I am of," he named seven of his "fellows," the first being "William Shakespeare," to receive 20-30 shillings in gold. In standard usage, the term meant fellow shareholder. Shakspere could have been meant, or another.

In July 1605, "William Shakespear" purchased for £440 half the corn and hay tithes of three hamlets in Stratford parish—Old Stratford, Welcombe, and Bishopton.48 (Following abolition of the monasteries under Henry VIII, the tithes formerly paid by the tenants on the vast monastery lands were made over to civil authorities and were leased out for collection.) Shakspere agreed to pay £5 a year to a creditor of the former leaser of the tithes and £17 to the Stratford Corporation. In 1611, his interest in the tithes was valued at £60 annually.

In June 1607, there appeared in the marriage register of Stratford the entry: "John Hall gentleman & Susanna Shaxpere."49 Hall, a physician whose case-book was to be translated from the Latin and published in 1657 by the surgeon James Cooke, brought the Shaksperes their first recorded intellectual distinction.

In August 1608, according to testimony given in 1619 by John Heminge and Henry Condell (referred to above), Blackfriars Theatre was leased by seven men, among them the two Burbages, John Heminge, William "Shake-. speare," and Henry Condell.50 In testimony given in 1635 (also referred to above), Cuthbert Burbage speaks of having "purchased the lease remaining from Evans with our money, and placed men Players, which were Heminge, Condall, Shakspeare, &c."51

Between December 1608 and June 1609, William "Shackspeare" was proceeding against John Addenbrooke, whom he had had arrested, to collect £6 that Addenbrooke owed him, plus £1, 5s costs.52 After having a fellow townsman stand surety for him, Addenbrooke left Stratford and Shakspere "avenged himself," as the orthodox biographer Sir Sidney Lee put it, by proceeding against the unfortunate surety.53

In 1610, William "Shakespere" was involved in a further legal action with respect to New Place, evidently seeking additional assurance of title and possibly buying an additional twenty acres.54

In 1611(?), "William Shackspeare, of Stratford uppon Avon" and two other leaseholders of the tithes submitted a bill of complaint in the Court of Chancery in Stratford seeking relief from having to make good the nonpayment of rents by fellow leaseholders. There are two documents, the second sworn to in February 1611.55

In September 1611, seventy-one citizens of Stratford were listed as contributing to a fund for "prosecuting the bill in parliament for the better repair of the highways." In the margin is added "Mr William Shackspere."56

In January 1613, John Combe of Stratford drew up a will in which he gave "to Mr William Shackspere five pounds."57 Combe was evidently a money-lender who at one time held the Stratford Corporation's plate in pawn.

(In March 1613, the Earl of Rutland's steward paid "to Mr. Shakspeare in gold about my Lord's impreso, xliiij5" [44 shillings].58 Because the same entry records payment of an equal amount to Richard Burbage "for painting and making it," Stratfordians consider the reference to be to their man. It is not clear, however, what a well-to-do businessman, even if he was also a famous dramatist, would be doing "about" a painted shield to be used in the tilt. Burbage, who was again paid three years later "for my Lord's Shield" [£14, 18s] was a skilled painter. Charlotte C. Stopes suggests, reasonably, that the payment was to John Shakespeare, maker of horses' bits for the King.59)

On 10 March 1613, "William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon . . . gentleman" bought a house in Blackfriars near Blackfriars Theatre (both once part of a large Dominican priory) for £140, obviously as an investment, since he never occupied it. The next day he mortgaged the property back to its previous owner for £60. The device barred inheritance of any part of the property by his wife, who would otherwise have been entitled to her dower right of a third of its value. The deed for the property is signed "William Shakspe," the indenture "Wm Shakspe." Neither of the cosigners of the two documents, William Johnson and John Jackson, had any difficulty signing his surname in full.60

In 1614, the account of the Chamberlains of Stratford listed: "Item for one quart of sack and one quart of claret wine given to a preacher at new place. xxd."61

Beginning in the fall of 1614, certain landowners, including William Combe (son of John Combe the money-lender), attempted to enclose for their own benefit the common lands of Welcombe belonging to the Stratford Corporation. Opposition from the Corporation and local citizens was intense. Shakspeare or Shackespeare, as he is called in documents bearing on the case, was involved both as owner of 106 acres in the area and as part owner with Thomas Greene of the tithes from neighboring lands. Thomas Greene, the Town Clerk, wrote in his diary for November 17 that "Shakspeare . . . told me that they assured him they meant to inclose no further than to gospel bush" and quoted from further observations of his on the intentions of the enclosers. This quotation, together with a memorandum of Greene's of "Shakspeares telling J Greene that J Greene was not able to bear the enclosing of Welcombe" is all that Shakspere ever said that has come down to us.62 Shakspere joined with Greene in obtaining a deed from Combe indemnifying both against any injury they might suffer from the enclosure.63 For the rest, the orthodox biographers today characterize Shakspere's part in the complicated and long-drawn-out proceedings as peripheral. Unfortunately, the Town Council's correspondence with Shakspere, like so much else of possible incompatibility with the role in which he has been cast, has disappeared. Sir Sidney Lee, whose practice was to give Shakspere the benefit of every doubt, declares that "having thus secured himself against all possible loss, Shakespeare threw his influence into Combe's scale."64 Later commentators are at pains to show how this was not so; but at best Shakspere was neutral in the dispute, and evidently he remained on good terms with the Combes.

In May 1615, "William Shakespere" is named in a suit aimed at clearing up the record of ownership of Blackfriars properties.65

On 10 February, 1616, we quote again from Professor J. Isaacs in The Listener, this time basing his statements on new "startling information,"

Shakespeare finally got his thirty-one-year-old daughter, Judith, off his hands, married to a rather shifty person, Thomas Quiney. .. . He was twenty-six. The marriage took place within the period of prohibition when a special licence was required. They were married without a licence. The Bishop of Worcester summoned them to appear before the Consistory Court, they didn't turn up, and they were excommunicated. In January 1616 Shakespeare drafted his will, on March 25 he made a new one, crossing out his son-in-law's name. What caused Shakespeare to lose confidence in Thomas Quiney? The mystery is now solved. On March 25, 1616, Thomas Quiney is called before the ecclesiastical court and presented for incontinence with a certain Margaret Wheeler. He appeared and confessed that he had had carnal intercourse with the said Wheeler, and was sentenced to appear three Sundays in a penitential sheet in Stratford Church. But even more startling is an entry in the Stratford Burial Registers a month after the marriage, and ten days before Shakespeare altered his will. On March 15, 1616, the burial entry reads, "Margaret Wheeler and her child."66

On 25 March 1616, "W mj Shackspeare" made his will, evidently a revision of one done in January. A bequest to his "son in L" is crossed out (see above) and evidence of displeasure with Judith seems to be indicated. The instrument, three pages long and most revealing, is minutely detailed in its bequests and in its planning for various contingencies of inheritance. Clearly the testator was looking forward to a dynasty through the line of Susanna and her husband, John Hall. Monetary provision is made for Judith, to be increased if she resigns her right in the testator's Rowington copyhold, but for the rest, all real property goes to Susanna—the freehold and dwelling, with appurtenances, called the New Place, "wherein I now dwell," the freeholds and dwellings, with appurtenances, in Henley Street, and "all my barns stablers Orchards gardens lands tenements & hereditaments" situated in the towns or grounds of Stratford-on-Avon, Old Stratford, Bishopton, and Welcombe, together with the freehold and dwelling in Blackfriars. After bequeathing his broad, silver gilt bowl to Judith, he leaves "all the rest of my goods chattels Leases plate Jewels and household stuffs whatsoever . . . to my Son in Law John Hall gent & my daughter Susanna his wife." He gives 26 shillings 8 pence to four friends, two of them to buy themselves rings, and 20 shillings to his godson.67 Following this comes an interlineation by which also 26 shillings 8 pence each for the purchase of rings are given "to my fellows John Hemynge Richard Burbage & Henry Cundell."68 Evidently it had come to the testator as an afterthought (supposing that the thought was his) that, after all, the closest associates of his life were—were they not?—in the theatre!

Stratfordians are sensitive about the will on several counts. One is the famous interlineation near the end just before Judith comes in for the silver gilt bowl, "Item I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture."69 The lone and slighting reference to his helpmeet and mother of his children has, Professor Gerald Eades Bentley of Princeton complains, "given rise to many romantic or lurid tales."70 Chambers declares that "A good deal of sheer nonsense has been written about this." Stratfordians argue, with Chambers, that "Mrs. Shakespeare would have been entitled by common law to her dower of a life interest in one-third of any of the testator's heritable estates on which dower had not, as in the case of the Blackfriars property, been legally barred; and to residence in the principal mansion house."71 It is unkind of Sir Edmund to recall how Shakspere exerted himself to bar his wife's dower rights in the Blackfriars house. In any case a man well disposed towards his wife would surely not have made a point of bequeathing every scrap of real property over her head to the children, even her home itself, in which she would now be a mere tenant, for whom a place was required by law; it would have been as easy to give her lifetime possession of that at least. Far from being singled out to receive some object of special value, Anne was not even permitted to dispose of her husband's clothes; they, too, were willed away. Further, as Marchette Chute writes, "Most of the wills of this period are personal and affectionate"—and she cites as examples those of actors with whom Shakspere is associated—but "Shakespeare was one member of the company whose will does not show a flicker of personal feeling."72

No mention appears in the will of shares in the Globe and in Blackfriars. Chambers thinks these would have been comprehended in "leases." But shares that he estimates would have brought in about £200 a year—enough today to meet the mortgage payments on a very expensive house—would, one supposes, hardly be dealt with so casually.73 (Under the will, Judith received only £150 plus the yearly interest on another £150.) And, as Chambers concedes, the shares never turn up in the records of Shakspere's heirs. One wonders if the William Shakespeare who held shares in the two theatres was the Stratfordian after all.

Louis P. Bénézet writes:

The wills of Heminge, who died in 1630, aged 75, and of Condell, who was deceased in 1627, in literary style and clearness are so far above the rambling, unpunctuated scrawl that is today worshipped as the final literary composition of the world's greatest author-genius as to suggest that they belonged to a monde at least two strata above him. Heminge speaks of his books, specifies that five pounds shall be spent in purchasing volumes for the education of his grandchild, and writes again and again of his income from the Globe and Blackfriars playhouses and its disposal. Condell wills to his son his yearly dividend from the "Blackfriars" and the "Bankside."74

No reference appears in Shakspere's will to books or manuscripts. The books, we are told, would have been lumped under "goods .. . & household stuff." Goods and household stuff—the beloved library on which the impoverished villager would have soared to the highest literary pinnacle! Ben Jonson was liberal in his gift of books. Had Shakspere no companions of shared interests to whom he might have willed some jointly treasured volumes, as he willed his sword to Thomas Combe, his wearing apparel to his sister Joan? "It does seem odd to us nowadays that objects of such affection as some of Shakespeare's books must have been to their owner were not specified but left to go in with the rest of his personal belongings," says Ivor Brown.75 Very odd indeed. T. W. Baldwin, whose two-tome study of Shakspere's education is considered the ultimate on the subject, writes, "It is easy enough to find books once owned by Ben Jonson. Had Shakspere [as he calls both author and Stratfordian] purchased books as ardently as he did certain other forms of real property, we should certainly have more trace of his activities in that way." As it is, "we have no absolutely conclusive external proof, so far as I know, that he ever owned a book of any kind."76

What about the manuscripts of his plays, which he had never shown any interest in having printed? They were "the property of the [theatrical] company," Gerald E. Bentley of Princeton tells us.77 Even if this statement were warranted—and we shall see in due course why it is not—the manuscript copies the writer might be assumed to have had would be left out of account. Professor Bentley will allow him only "early drafts or 'foul papers,"' and these, he asserts, would have been embraced in—yes—those "goods . . . & household stuff."78 As for why these and other papers a literary man would accumulate, or any books we may believe to have been his, have never turned up, neither he nor any other orthodox academician has anything to say. Did the alleged dramatist own no copies of his own works?

We are talking, let us recall, not of some harassed scribe living hand-to-mouth in a succession of London lodgings, but of a very substantial property owner dwelling during the last years of his life in one of the finest houses in the community. He is survived for seven years by his wife (the burial register for 8 August 1623 recording simply, "Mrs. Shakspeare"), and by the time she dies, publication of the First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays has ensured the author's immortality. Shakspere's daughters live until 1649 and 1662 respectively, his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, who marries John (later Sir John) Bernard, until 1670. By then, so popular and respected had Shakespeare's works remained, so clearly destined to live, that a third folio had been called for. Few persons in England had cause for as great pride of descent as Elizabeth Hall, who still retained New Place, as did her husband until his death in 1674. Circumstances could hardly have been more favorable to the preservation of the great writer's papers, if Shakspere were he. Yet Stratford has never produced a scrap of them, or anything in its illustrious son's hand but the three signatures on the will. Marchette Chute quotes from charming, affectionate letters written by the actor Edward Alleyn, Shakspere's contemporary, to his wife while on tour, but if Shakspere, who lived away from his family for far longer times (if what we are told of his London years is true) ever wrote a letter to his wife or daughters—or to anyone else, for that matter—we have nothing to show it.79 Papers bearing the signatures or marks of the men with whom Shakspere did business in Stratford have survived, but none to which his hand was affixed. It is another case of important documentary evidence disappearing, and one wonders if the vanished papers showed the reputed literary genius signing them with a mark. The quality of the signatures on the will makes this possibility seem likely. These also have been an embarrassment to orthodoxy. Inasmuch as the signatory was only a month from his death when the will was executed, it is sometimes proposed that the palpable difficulty he had inscribing his name was attributable to a fatal malady, I believe by some of the very pleaders who would have us take seriously, as applying to their man, the Reverend Dr. Ward's report of a half-century later that he had died of a drinking bout with Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton. But the allegation of debilitating affliction, somewhat gainsaid by the testator's solemn avowal to being "in perfect health," runs squarely afoul of the last sentence in the will, which includes the declaration "I have herunto put my Seal," with "Seal" crossed out and "hand" substituted. Are we to believe that the solicitor, being unaccustomed to having Mr. Shakspere sign papers, prepares the will for his seal, then, upon discovering him to be too ill to control his hand, elects to have him sign the three pages of the will after all? Or that Mr. Shakspere himself decides to reverse his practice now that signing has become almost impossible?

The signatures on the will are so damning that McManaway prudently omits them from the photograph of the subject's signatures in the Folger Booklet The Authorship of Shakespeare, though there is ample room for all six. .. .

The burial registers of Trinity Church in Stratford for 1616 contain this record:

Aprili 25 Will. Shakspere gent.

After Shakspere's son-in-law died, the burial register read:

Johannes Hall, medicus peritissimus.

Professor Bentley writes, "The parish clerk's unusual designation of 'medicus peritissimus,' most skillful physician, suggests a great respect for Dr. Hall in the town."80 He does not say what he believes the designation of Will. Shakspere simply as "gent" suggests.


Note: Sources of quotations are indicated by the author's name and, where called for, the name of the publication in which they appear. The author's name alone is cited where only one of his publications is listed in the Bibliography or where one is predominantly drawn upon and is listed first in the Bibliography. For example, "Chambers, II, 147," refers to Sir E. K. Chambers's William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, volume II. A quotation from another of his listed books will be cited as, say, "Chambers, Sir Henry Lee, 95." . . .

1 McManaway on Stonley's purchase of Venus and Adonis: Jean M. White, "Twelve Pence for the Bard," Washington Post, 23 April 1973, B 1.

2 "We know more .. . a longer life": Rowse, Shakespeare the Man, 1.

3 For a playwright. . . well documented": McManaway, 1.

4 Whitman on the blankness of Shakspere's record: Traubel, 136.

5 "The last time .. . a young apprentice": Isaacs, 685.

6 "One hundredth .. . a respectable biography": Trevor-Roper, MS of an article cited in Bibliography.

7 Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as not carrying on a trade: Arthur Osman, London, Times, 2 October 1964.

8 The Stratford frauds: B. Levin, London, Daily Mail, 18 February and 30 November 1966.

9 The innate snobbishness of doubts about Shakspere: Watts, "Two on the Aisle," New York Post, undated clipping, April 1964.

10 Ardens as superior folk: Rowse, Shakespeare the Man, 7.

11 Ardens as lordly people: I. Brown, Shakespeare, Time edition, 23.

12 Sources of the statements in paragraph on John Shakspere are cited in Chambers, I, 11-15.

13 Shakspere's marriage license and bond of sureties: Chambers, II, 41; G. E. Bentley, 29-31.

14 Anne Hathaway's marriage to Wilson: Hunter, I, 48.

15 Christening of Susanna: Chambers, II, 1; G. E. Bentley, 32.

16 Christening of Hamnet and Judith: Chambers, II, 3; G. E. Bentley, 33.

17 Proceedings to recover property of Mary Arden: Chambers II, 35.

18 Shakespeare's "happy and copious industry": Webster, Epistle to The White Devil, 1612; Chambers, II, 218.

19 Shakespeare's having perhaps traveled in Europe: I. Brown, Shakespeare in His Time, 15.

20 Postulations of Shakspere's activities during "lost years": Bénézet, "The Stratford Defendant Compromised by His Own Advocates," Shake. Fellow. Quar., V, no. 3, July 1944; VI, no. 1, January, no. 2, April, and no. 3, July 1945.

21 Quotations from Arthur Gray and Frances Yates: Schoenbaum, 727, 736.

22 "Who shall say . . . may have brought him": Chambers, I, 26.

23 Shakspere's taking the road to London: Rowse, Shakespeare the Man, 38.

24 Payment to Kemp, Shakespeare, and Burbage: G. E. Bentley, 99-100.

25 Burial of Hamnet: Chambers, II, 4; G. E. Bentley, 33.

26 Paragraph on Shakspere's coat-of-arms: Information from Chambers, II, 24; Scott-Giles, 29-31.

27 Sureties of peace sought against "Shakspare": G. E. Bentley, 74.

28 Shakspere's purchase of New Place: Chambers, II, 103; G. E. Bentley, 36.

29 Failure to collect tax owed by "Shackspere": Chambers, II, 87; G. E. Bentley, 71-72.

30 Sturley's letter about "Shaksper" and the tithes: Chambers, II, 103; G. E. Bentley, 37-38.

31 "Shackespere" as holding x quarters of grain: Chambers, II, 99-101; G. E. Bentley (who omits any mention of resentment of hoarders), 37.

32 "Shakespeare" again a tax-delinquent: Chambers, II, 87; G. E. Bentley, 72-73.

33 Quiney's letter to "Shackespere," his father's letter about "Mr. Sha.," and Sturley's letter to Quiney: Chambers, II, 101-103; G. E. Bentley, 38-39.

34 Payment to "Shaxpere" for load of stone: Chambers, II, 96; omitted by Bentley.

35 "Shakespere" as a shareholder in the Globe: Chambers, II, 52-57; G. E. Bentley, 102-104.

36 "Shakspere" among "deserving men" in building the Globe: Chambers, II, 65-69; G. E. Bentley, 106-107.

37 "Shakespeare" as one of occupants of house in St. Saviour: G. E. Bentley, 105.

38 "Shakespeare" as tax-delinquent moved to Sussex: Chambers, II, 88; G. E. Bentley, 73.

39 Tax owed by "Shakspeare" referred to Bishop of Worcester for collection: Ibid.

40 "Shakespeare" buys land from the Combes: Chambers, II, 107; G. E. Bentley, 42-43.

41 "Shakespeare" in legal action described as "generosum": Chambers, II, 96; G. E. Bentley, 42, neglects to point out that this record of 1602 is the first in which the Stratfordian is described as "gentleman."

42 Lease on barn east of New Place: Chambers, II, 96.

43 "Shakespeare" listed among actors licensed to perform: Chambers, II, 72; G. E. Bentley, 93-94.

44 "Shakespeare" listed among members of King's Company to receive cloth: Chambers, II, 73; G. E. Bentley, 111-112.

45 Deposition by "Shakespeare" in the Belott-Mountjoy case: Chambers, II, 94; G. E. Bentley, 76-80.

46 "Shexpere" seeks to collect debt for malt from Rogers: Chambers, II, 113; G. E. Bentley, 47.

47 Phillipps names "Shakespeare" among beneficiaries in his will: Chambers, II, 73; G. E. Bentley, 114-115.

48 "Shakespear's" purchase of tithes: Chambers, II, 119-120; G. E. Bentley, 43-44.

49 Marriage of "Susanna Shaxpere" and John Hall: Chambers, II, 4; G. E. Bentley, 32, 46.

50 "Shakespeare" among seven men leasing Blackfriars: Chambers, II, 58; G. E. Bentley, 115-116.

51 "Shakspeare" named among "men players" in connection with Blackfriars: Chambers, II, 65-66; G. E. Bentley, 116.

52 "Shackspeare" proceeds against debtor: Chambers, II, 114; G. E. Bentley, 47.

53 "Shackspeare" proceeds against the debtor's surety: Chambers, II, 115. Chambers leaves this unsavory record in Latin and Bentley omits it altogether. See Greenwood, 185.

54 "Shakespeare" in legal action about New Place: Chambers, II, 109; G. E. Bentley, 47-48.

55 "Shackspeare" and the non-payment of rents by fellow leaseholders: Chambers, II, 114.

56 "Shackspere" among those contributing to highway fund: Chambers, II, 152-153; G. E. Bentley, 48-49.

57 "Shackspere" named in Combe's will: Chambers, II, 127; G. E. Bentley, 49.

58 A "Mr. Shakspeare" paid for work on the Earl of Rutland's impreso: Chambers, II, 153; G. E. Bentley, 82.

59 Suggestion that a John Shakespeare meant: Stopes, Burbage and Shakespeare's Stage, 109.

60 "Shakespeare" buys a house in Blackfriars and mortgages it: Chambers, II, 157; G. E. Bentley, 83-86.

61 Shakspere duns town for claret given to preacher: Chambers, II, 153. G. E. Bentley passes over the record.

62 The Welcombe enclosure and Shakspere's remark to Greene: Chambers, II, 141-144; G. E. Bentley, 51-56. Bentley is an apologist of enclosure as representing modernization.

63 Shakspere's indemnifying himself against injury: Chambers, II, 148.

64 Shakspere sides with Combe: S. Lee, Life of William Shakespeare, 279-280.

65 Suit to clear up ownership of Blackfriars properties: G. E. Bentley, 86.

66 Judith's marriage to Quiney and Quiney's betrayal of Margaret Wheeler: Isaacs, 685-686.

67 Shakspere's will: Chambers, II, 169-174; G. E. Bentley, 57-61.

68 Bequest to the three actors: Chambers, II, 172; G. E. Bentley, 62.

69 The second-best bed: Chambers, II, 173; G. E. Bentley, 63.

70 Lurid tales consequent to the slighting bequest: G. E. Bentley, 63.

71 Mrs. Shakspere's dower rights: Chambers, II, 176-177; G. E. Bentley, 63.

72 Lack of personal feeling in Shakspere's will: Chute, 320.

73 Lack of mention of theatrical shares in will: Chambers, II, 179.

74 Bénézet on contrasting wills of Heminge and Condell: Shake. Fellow. Newsletter, IV, no. 6, October 1943, p. 78.

75 Inclusion of books with personal belongings: I. Brown, Shakespeare, Collins, 320.

76 Lack of evidence of Shakspere's ever owning a book: Baldwin, II, 666.

77 Manuscripts as property of the company: G. E. Bentley, 62.

78 Inclusion of "early drafts" with "household stuff: G. E. Bentley, ibid.

79 Alleyn's affectionate letters to wife: Chute, 106.

80 Respect shown Dr. Hall: G. E. Bentley, 68.


Baldwin, T. W. Shakspere's Small Latine and Lesse Greek. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944.

Bentley, Gerald Eades. Shakespeare: A Biographical Handbook. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961.

Brown, Ivor. Shakespeare. London: Collins, 1949.

——. Shakespeare. Time Reading Program edition, 1962.

Chambers, Sir Edmund K. William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.

Chute, Marchette. Shakespeare of London. New York: Dutton, 1949.

Greenwood, Sir [G.] George. The Shakespeare Problem Restated. London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1908.

Hunter, Joseph. New Illustrations of the Life, Studies and Writing of Shakespeare. London: J. B. Nichols and Son, 1845.

Isaacs, J. "Shakespeare after 400 Years." The Listener and BBC-Television News. London, 10 November 1966.

Lee, Sir Sidney. A Life of William Shakespeare. New York: Macmillan, 1909.

McManaway, James G. The Authorship of Shakespeare. Folger Booklet. Washington, D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1962.

Rowse, Alfred L. Shakespeare the Man. London: Macmillan, 1973.

Schoenbaum, Samuel. Shakespeare's Lives. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Scott, Giles O. W. Shakespeare's Heraldry. London: Dent, 1950.

Stopes, Charlotte C. Burbage and Shakespeare's Stage. London: Alexander Moring, the De La More Press, 1913.

Traubel, Horace. With Walt Whitman in Camden. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1906.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh R., The Lord Dacre of Glanton. "What's in a Name?" Paris: Réalités (English-language ed.), November 1962.

A. M. Challinor (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: "Ten Arguments against Him," in The Alternative Shakespeare: A Modern Introduction, The Book Guild Ltd, 1996, pp. 48-64.

[In the following essay, Challinor surveys ten arguments against the man from Stratford being the Shakespeare who wrote the plays and poems.]

. . . Since this book does not aim to supplant the efforts of others in attacking the Shakespeare of orthodoxy, the anti-Stratfordian arguments may .. . be dealt with reasonably briefly. Below they are condensed into ten key points. These are essentially a personal choice. They are meant to be illustrative areas for starting investigation for oneself rather than a comprehensive statement. Thus each is presented only in very concise form, to give its flavour.

1 It is clear that the Shakespear, Shaxpere, Shakespeare, Shaxberd (or whatever of the several other variant spellings you wish) of Stratford and his immediate family lacked both learning and opportunities to learn

We know that William may well have gone to the local grammar school. It is not certain that he did. Despite the confident assertion of so many books on this point, there is no clear evidence. Let us assume that this was so: there was certainly no more than that to his formal education. Interestingly, noting some alleged Catholic leanings of the father, John Shakspear, one Stratfordian commentator, J Dover Wilson, denies that William went to the local school at all; he must, Wilson claims, have acquired education privately as a singing boy in the house of a Catholic nobleman.

As for the immediate family, John Shakespear, although at one time an alderman, signed his name by means of a mark. One of William's daughters, Judith, later wife of Thomas Quiney, could not write; the other, Susanna, could sign her name, but could not read well enough to recognise the handwriting of her husband, Dr Hall. Some Stratfordians even think William was removed from the grammar school early, to help support the family, when his father's financial position deteriorated. That would add to the burden of overcoming a built-in educational handicap. Now, it is sometimes suggested that any such objections are but a form of snobbery, based on the idea that only a wealthy, very well-educated person could ever possibly even aspire to write such plays. It is not so. There are many anti-Stratfordians who would gladly hail the route to success of one from the working classes or lower middle class, giving extra applause in recognition of obstacles overcome, provided the route is (even faintly) visible or credible.

2 To redress the balance by extensive intellectual effort, the Stratford man would have needed books

Yes, there were books in sixteenth-century Stratford. Yet for our key man, there is no evidence of their possession, of interest in them, or of access to a library. This does not prevent orthodox literature of our century, recognising that the great writer possessed much more knowledge than Ben Jonson had admitted in the 1623 First Folio, offering comments such as Kenneth Muir's to the effect that even if we read all books still available that were published before 1616, we could still be sure that we had not encountered all of those known to Shakespeare.

Many anti-Stratfordians would agree. The author must have read voraciously. The whole point is that the evidence for this comes from the Shakespearean works: the background needed for them together with the love of reading expressed, for instance, in The Tempest. It is only by assuming that William of Stratford was their author that we can make such statements of him. His own sure factual biography, as relevant testimony, is so conspicuously counterproductive. (It may be noted, in passing, that one of the many wild legends, an anonymous document of 1728, suggested that he had neither the time nor the need to do reading, but 'kept' a historian to do his background research for him! Here we see very well how history can be distorted. How would a man of his background acquire or afford one?)

3 The works of Shakespeare exhibit particular knowledge of a wide range of subjects and scenes

The subjects concerned include law, music, war, sports, the sea, plants, the Bible. Books and articles have been written on these links, often specialising in just one of them. This is especially true of the legal knowledge: in that respect, after making due allowances for the interests of the age, there is such a residuum of technicalities in Shakespeare's legal references, delivered with such precision.

Here, while saying so much less than the various specialist works do, it can at least be recognised that there are limits to what one person, however talented, can deliver. Shakespeare the author seems to many of the doubters happiest in the milieu of the court: he knows hunting phraseology. He appears to be much travelled.

Robert Giroux is a modern American critic who, like the vast majority, accepts the Stratford tradition. He has nevertheless felt obliged to point out that early dramas, such as The Comedy of Errors and Titus Andronicus, were soon followed by Italianate plays which show familiarity with the lifestyle of wealthy aristocrats. Those who do not believe that Stratford's William Shakespeare was the great author argue that he would have had to undergo a stupendous educational and cultural transition in an incredibly short time. And, somehow, he would have had to have bridged the chasm while engaged in earning his living. That writing, so wise, so glorious, must have been superimposed on acting, learning parts, acquiring education, fraternising with the nobility, listening to gossip from all ranks as one important source of ideas. Moreover, we should remember that several plays, including one of mature courtly wit, had been completed before this man was thirty.

Then we might ask, for instance, how many languages did he know, and how well did he know them? Consider the following remarks on seven Shakespeare plays, reflecting comments from orthodox writers on some of their sources:

Timon of Athens. Source: a work on the same subject by Lucian. Shakespeare may have known it in Latin, French or Italian, but no English version existed for him.

Othello. Source: a novella by the Italian, Cinthio. There was no English translation; our dramatist may have read it in Italian, French or Spanish. The situation is similar with regard to Measure for Measure.

Comedy of Errors. Source: Plautus. Only available in Latin when Shakespeare wrote.

Cymbeline. One source was Boccaccio's Decameron. There was no English translation, so we must presume Shakespeare read it in French or Italian.

Two Gentlemen of Verona. A Spanish romance, not to be published in English translation until 1598, was one source.

(Did he, for this and other sources, see the manuscript of a translation before publication? Surely not.) Likewise, Italian sources were used for Much Ado about Nothing.

Perhaps there are other legitimate presumptions concerning access to sources for the origins of these plays? Here are two, but I would not advise any honest Stratfordian to clutch tightly at either. Could he have obtained his data orally, having been told about the sources by someone who had read them; or was an English translation for some of them available at the time, only to be subsequently lost? One scrupulously orthodox writer, Kenneth Muir, tells us that Shakespeare, in fact, had fluent knowledge of Latin, some knowledge of French, Italian and perhaps a smattering of Spanish. Well!

Most Stratfordians, alas, have their eyes fixed only on one man. Unable to acquire a gaze transplant, they cope with these remarkable pointers by a curious circularity. They insist that their man wrote the plays, the plays need knowledge of foreign tongues, therefore their man must have had such knowledge—though how, neither they nor we know. Apart from the not unreasonable supposition of at least some years at the grammar school, he must have been, in Matthew Arnold's phrase, 'self-schooled'. In such circumstances, what is described above would certainly need genius, but other ingredients too. Is there not a fundamental contradiction in all this? It would demand much time, both in the sense of the number of years required to gain the knowledge and daily pressures of time due to his normal work as theatre factotum. Would not such opportunity be denied to a busy actor earning his living?

If we assume him to be the great dramatist, we must also assume that beyond his interests, or capabilities (springing, presumably, from what has been termed the genius of a supremely articulated commonsense), lies the question of what he experienced. Despite sustained searching of archives, we have no record of him ever leaving Britain. It begs the question to say that his description of foreign scenes is not always exact; that is artistic licence. Some detail certainly seems first-hand. Can genius provide such experience of places one has never visited? Consider, as one instance here, the Italian view suggested in Sonnet 33:

Full many a glorious morning have I seen [my emphasis]
Flatter the mountain top with sovereign eye.

Or as another, the so authentic Venetian name of the character 'Gobbo'. The sea imagery, too, may speak compellingly of things its writer had witnessed. But examples could easily be multiplied.

Scrupulously honest as well as strictly orthodox, Ivor Brown wonders how his man was finding time, by the early seventeenth century, to study and perform parts; to turn out two or three plays a year; to compose sonnets and poems; to have an eye on property in Stratford; to follow leading managerial and commercial interests with the Lord Chamberlain's men. Brown thinks it was not impossible that, in his early days, William of Stratford was in turn glover, butcher, schoolmaster, and serving in a lawyer's office. He travelled round England as an actor. He doubtless somehow found room, in his crowded days, to be omnivorous of the human scene in swapping yarns, taking in the ideas or experiences of others to be polished for future use. It is also conceded by Ivor Brown that the Shakespeare he visualises, to write as he did, had himself spent time at sea; while he could have improved upon his botany (we are told) by going no further than Piccadilly. His life must have been filled with the bustle of continuous activity, argues Brown, yet accepting that the great writer left (as the introduction to the 1623 Folio testifies) 'not a blot in his papers'. This really will not do. Brown's willingness to admit the facts concerning the knowledge and experience of the great author only underscores the insuperable problems for his 'Shakespeare'.

4 The sonnets speak of some deeply moving personal experiences which do not accord with what we know of the Stratford man

These are the best primary evidence of the fault line in orthodoxy. Their message, surely biographical, is of a friendship with a youth of noble birth. This had been put under great strain by affection having reached levels of intolerable intimacy. There was an extremely painful rift, a departure by the poet, a shared lover. This despite the fact that the original love between the two young men had surely been homosexual or, at the very least, potentially so. Subsequent to his quitting the company of the friend, the poet gives us a mixture of enduring ardour and bitter recrimination from one who had

. . . passed a hell of time;
. . . suffered in your crime.

Sonnet 120

Perhaps most importantly, there is a need to conceal the poet's 'branded' name and some of his knowledge of the past, lest the noble youth be disgraced. Now, the Stratfordians would have us believe that the young Shakespeare could publish some early plays so modestly that he omitted his name from the title page. They would also have us believe, because the evidence is there for Shakespeare the writer, that the aspiring young actor from Stratford was simultaneously bold enough to implore the noble youth to marry and beget children 'for love of me' (Sonnet 10). He was also sufficiently self-confident to dedicate, at the very outset of his career, two major poems to the Earl of Southampton (who may well have been that mysterious noble youth). These dedications are in language so warm that it suggests great friendship, even physical intimacy. Is this another part of the biography of our Stratford man? When did he become an outcast (Sonnet 29) or disgraced (Sonnets 33, 34)? Despite the intense spotlight thrown on him by archivists over the last hundred years, there are no records found to support the idea that it is he whose 'life has in these lines some interest'. Then again, to presume that it is nevertheless so, we must cram still more activity into his early adult years.

5 The alleged authorship achievements of the Stratford man are ignored in contemporary records until the publication of the First Folio, seven years after his death

By this is meant that the work of Shakespeare is certainly mentioned, the name Shakespeare appears on title-pages, but he is not unequivocally identified with the man from Stratford until 1623. As an example, a contemporary scholar named William Camden praises Shakespeare the author in his work Remains . . . (1605), but omits William of Stratford from his list of worthies of that town, published a few years later. Nor, in his Annals for 1616, does he mention the Stratford man's death as one of the significant events of that year. Anti-Stratfordians, rightly or wrongly, pounce on things like this. Are we, they might ask, trying to gather figs from thistles? Any imprint Shakespeare's fellows in Warwickshire may have made upon his imagination escapes us, says arguably the best Stratfordian biographer of all, Sir Edmund Chambers. He might equally well have said the same of the impression his Shakespeare left on the imagination of the latter's Warwickshire contemporaries.

6 As an alleged author, he is seen as rather a figure of fun in some literature prior to 1623

Comment has already been made upon passages by Ben Jonson, quite different from his eulogy in the First Folio, ones in which Shakespeare (of Stratford) is a figure of good-humoured fun, as a 'poet-ape', and as 'Sogliardo'. We know he had the (not at all unreasonable) wish to better himself and be a major propertyowner at Stratford. He is surely one of the ambitious actors referred to rather scathingly in a late sixteenth-century poem (author unknown) entitled The Return from Parnassus:

With mouthing words that better wits have framed
They purchase land and now esquires are named.

7 Prolonged and assiduous efforts to add to our biographical knowledge of the Stratford actor reveal nothing of a man of letters

Sometimes it is remarked how much more is now known about him than was the case in 1900. But what is this 'more' worth? Perhaps the best British example in comparatively recent times comes from the Public Record Office in a beautifully presented digest of all the relevant public records about Stratford's Shakespeare. Apart from contributor Jane Cox's startling conclusion therein that not all of the six 'known' Shakespeare signatures are by the same person, it is essentially prosaic: the concern is with property deals, street refuse, the sale of corn, fines, pressing for the repayment of debts, tax bills. This despite the fact that it examines all known references to him in these records, including some recently discovered documents. It is frankly what might be expected if detailed biographical records of Elizabethan times were extant on a powerful computer—and if we had chosen to search them in order to come up with a random example of a man of humble origins who became reasonably prosperous through having a good head for business.

But someone may still object: 'We know as much about him as we do about most of his contemporaries.' Even if we do, it is only after an exponential degree of effort. Sadly, it must be repeated, the extra details have no literary merit. The gulf between the Shakespearean splendour and this threadbare life is immense. There are not even letters to friends or others associated with the stage. We know embarrassingly little that is of value, and what we do know is often embarrassing.

One is reminded of Hugh Trevor-Roper's comment that much less searching would enable much more worthwhile biographies to be written about any of Shakespeare's dramatic contemporaries. It may be noted that twentieth-century archivist C W Wallace, checking out millions of documents in unremitting labour, has been reported (by George Greenwood) as being driven to the extreme of concluding that Stratford's poet perhaps had a contemporary neighbour of the same name, to whom the disappointing references must, presumably, relate. Or, to go back to earlier times yet essentially in the same vein, we can consider the remark of the Stratford teacher-clergyman Joseph Greene. He commented, in 1747, that William Shakespeare's austere last will and testament was 'absolutely void of the least particle of that spirit which animated our great poet'. It only reveals him as a relatively wealthy small-town gentleman.

8 Orthodox history would have us believe that Shakespeare of Stratford rose from modest beginnings, reached incredible heights of wisdom and culture in middle life, but reverted to the earlier pattern in his closing years

These three periods of Shakespeare of Stratford's life are well recognised, but they do not cohere. To para-phrase a remark once made, it is like a grub rapidly becoming a beautiful butterfly—even of a variety denied by its origins or opportunities—then turning back into the grub! One of the most innovative of the doubters (who we shall encounter as the first to state the theory that the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was the real Shakespeare) sums up the problem very well:

It is impossible to believe that the same man could have accomplished two such stupendous and mutually nullifying feats. . . . The perfect unity of the two extremes [of his life] justifies the conclusion that the middle period is an illusion.

To this idea that the middle period of life, holding all of his great achievement, is but a dream with regard to William Shakespeare of Stratford, one can add that there were controversial literary acts which must have affected Shakespeare the writer, during the lifetime of that Stratford man. An example of such was a combination of some of Shakespeare's poems with those of others in a work attributed to him in 1599, The Passionate Pilgrim. Another was the appearance of his name (presumably for 'enhancement value') on inferior plays; on stylistic grounds, everyone agrees that these were not his. In 1609, there was the publication of the apparently pirated edition of Troilus and Cressida. Then there were his sonnets, also first published (without the author's permission?) in 1609, with such embarrassing revelations. Writing about them in 1899, novelist Samuel Butler surmised that the great man's gorge must have risen at the sight of the skull of his dead folly being dug up. Well, certainly one could not be impervious. Somebody must have been shocked to the core. Yet historical records can only suggest that to all these events the Stratford man exhibited sublime insouciance. The question to be asked, since the reason was surely not lethargy, is whether it could have been superhuman detachment .. . or were they simply just not his concern?

9 He appears to emerge instantly as a great writer

Assuming Shakespeare the writer to be the man from Stratford, there are no apparent exploratory beginnings: no juvenilia, unless we were perhaps to count Titus Andronicus as such, marking the first sketches of his genius. Take Love's Labour's Lost, already mentioned here indirectly as an early work, yet one speaking volumes concerning the author's great assurance. It is essentially a play of its time; in fact, it may now seem a complete oddity to some of us. Yet consider its courtly emphasis, mature wit, the brilliant euphuisms. These do more than stamp its date: they speak of the sophistication of its creator. In it, once again, it seems we are receiving the fruit of some European experiences; could it really just be based on travellers' tales? For a member of the nobility, having journeyed appropriately, to have written it early in his literary career would be a very considerable feat. That a young grammar-school boy (even a genius) just making his way, never having left England, ignorant in the ways of the court, should nevertheless produce it—this defies comprehension.

Slightly earlier still, in 1593, the name Shake-speare had appeared as an author for the very first time, in association with a long, relatively mature, classical poem: Venus and Adonis. In dedicating it to Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, the writer described it as 'the first heir of my invention'. This is most curious, because some plays, later to be (quite correctly) attributed to Shakespeare, clearly precede this poem. The expression quoted does not seem to be fully satisfied either by saying that this was the first item actually published or by arguing that poetry has a higher status than drama. How then do we reconcile the expression 'first heir of my invention' with the clearly earlier existence of plays? There is a point to be made here which doubters by and large have missed. Since the poem represents the first use of the name 'Shakespeare' as author, could it have been that name, as a pen-name, which was the 'invention', with the classic poem the very first instance of its use? It would be subsequently added to those earlier plays.

10 Shakespeare the writer expected literary immortality for the works, but clearly feared he would not receive the credit himself; a pen-name would explain this paradox

There are various references which support this statement. As just a brief example:

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme.

(Sonnet 55)


.. . I, once gone, to all the world must die;
The earth can yield me but a common grave.

(Sonnet 81)

My name be buried where my body is
And live no more . . .

(Sonnet 72)

A majority of the commentators, orthodox or otherwise, believe that the youth to whom these sonnets were addressed, who would lie 'entombed in men's eyes' because of them, was the Earl of Southampton. Archie Webster, an early advocate of Marlowe as Shakespeare, certainly agreed. He pointed out that Shakespeare said to the youth concerned:

I may not evermore acknowledge thee . . .
Nor thou with public kindness honour me.

(Sonnet 36)

—a further indication of the 'disgrace' already mentioned. Yet the poet did acknowledge Southampton, dedicating his two long classical poems to that earl. Webster suggested that the situation could only make sense if the poet was not making the acknowledgement under his all-revealing true name. The name 'Shakespeare' (which obviously would be immortalised along with Southampton) must thus be a 'mask' enabling him to do so safely.

It may be reiterated that all that we know of the actor from Stratford suggests his complete indifference to the fate and lasting appeal of Shakespeare's works. He took no personal steps to ensure their publication. True, in his day, it was somewhat unusual for a dramatist to publish collected works. But he, if the author, risked over half of his being for ever lost. Yet this, we are asked to believe, is the same man who speaks with such transparent sincerity of his conviction that his work is timeless. It was this attitude in Stratford's Shakespeare, together with what we know of his biography, that led Alexander Pope to conclude that he was, at heart, a worldling. But, of course, it may simply have been that the perpetuation of the work of Shakespeare, the writer, was someone else's business!


These ten points are but a framework, with necessarily selective comment, by way of illustration: a foundation with some scaffolding of argument (for individuals to build upon or seek to demolish) rather than finished stone. In constructing such, I have used the language of the 'heretics': my sympathy with them doubtless shines through. This is because I am convinced that there is a case to be answered. Yet those Stratfordians who are resentful of all probing or questioning might run quickly through the list, insisting that each item is of no consequence. Slightly misquoting the Bard they would argue that 'among a number all are reckoned none'. A metaphor might be that of a jar of assorted produce, which has been mentally emptied, the content being dismissed as all worthless—but this being done in many cases without ever looking at it properly, and in some instances even without actually turning the lid of the jar.

Let us suppose that these and other arguments, fully developed, do give rise to queries, have obvious potency, or are even thought conclusive. Such belief would not mean that Stratford's most famous figure was a knave, a fool or a mere cipher, as some doubters have portrayed him. On the contrary, he may well have been a crucial figure in a well-planned enterprise, its vital official representative. The fortunate coincidence of his name and his availability as a 'mask' would be an essential feature for its feasibility and secrecy. He must have been capable enough to learn lines as an actor. Wearing the 'mask' as the nominal Shakespeare would be, on occasion, a test of that acting ability. He would need to refer occasionally to the plays as ones he had written; perhaps sometimes to give the appearance of a shrewd person of deeper thoughts than he was prepared to express in conversation.

But for him to have actually done enough to encompass that incomparable span of words and wisdom? No: for his 'disbelievers', the odds are impossibly long. In April 1981, the British Broadcasting Corporation's children's television programme, Blue Peter, celebrating Shakespeare's official birthday, included a remark to the effect that William would have laughed to think that one day he would be hailed as the greatest writer the world has ever known. We may be pardoned for the audacity of wondering if (even if just ever so possibly if) the comment has an infinitely deeper, much more ironic, significance than could possibly have been intended.

The doubt about the validity of the majority viewpoint on Shakespearean authorship springs not from any one of the ten points, nor other specific queries which could be provided to extend such a listing. It lies in the mutually supportive nature of a whole range of diverse and disturbing facts. We may say that some of the queries are exaggerated; that in other cases the Stratford man could have got access to the necessary information (although this sometimes itself requires exaggeration to make it plausible); that others are just coincidence. The problem is that, as the 'coincidences' mount, the odds against them being just coincidence mounts rapidly. A passage in an altogether different context, from a bygone specialist in the detective story genre, happens to express this perfectly. His investigator is allowed but one dogmatism. It concerns:

the matter of accumulative probabilities . . . two trivialities, pointing in the same direction, become at once, by their mere agreement, no trivialities at all, but enormously important considerations. . . . [Other apparent trivialities] reinforcing . . . bring the matter to the rank of a practical certainty.

Some will be quick to dismiss examples from fiction, despite the fact that they may illustrate truths. Those distrustful of it may look to modern management techniques for a parallel. There exists, at present, no absolutely final proof as to who was the author Shakespeare: if such proof were accessible, there could never be an authorship problem. Very well, but the worlds of industry and education abound with processes or achievements which are not susceptible to precise quantification. Thus management tries to find suitable 'performance indicators'. These are proxies or surrogates for measurement; they are signposts rather than indisputable facts. As such they must be used in clusters: one or two alone could be misleading. A strong consensus, however, is regarded as most powerful evidence. We might therefore transfer the concept by assuming that Shakespeare's works had come down to us anonymously, then asking a question: Would the accumulation of grouped indicators, on balance, point to the Stratford man as responsible for that unique literary performance?

Those more prepared to tolerate fiction might find a useful analogy by noting another BBC television programme's message on the growth of attractive legends. This, in 1987, marking the centenary of Sherlock Holmes, drew attention to the myths (the curved pipe, the deerstalker hat) that grew up only after the stories were written. One opinion expressed was that, for maximum impact, when faced with fact and legend, one should publish the legend! We need to realise that the accounts, or legends, of an upwardly mobile Stratford boy, soaring to the heights, rest on relatively few known foundations. This remains true even for those who are convinced that the foundations are probably sound. The latter then have to explain how his genius not only brought him education and culture beyond his reach, but also apparent first-hand knowledge of events beyond his experience. Then, at the end, there is that apparent voluntary return to mundane obscurity.

For some of us, a simple metaphor might be to imagine a small sum of capital being invested, remarkably wisely, in the late sixteenth century; then to find that it is now, because of appreciation and accumulated interest (including, dare one say, much 'vested interest') worth millions. But, if fact is really wanted, might not our eyes turn, at least briefly, away from what may be glittering fables, to examine the honesty by which the original capital was acquired? Around whatever is true about Stratford's Shakespeare, there has been woven a vast, complex web of speculation and gossip. Some of it is contradictory; much of it chosen to appeal to the popular imagination. The lay person's usual view of a tolerably secure biography, linked to the writings, becomes first dishevelled, then nearly shattered if, gradually, those layers of myth and guesswork are exposed.

So it was that Charles Dickens trembled every day lest something turned up; that Henry James went further, rejecting in this context his elder brother's 'will to believe', wondering in a 1903 letter, if 'the divine William' might be 'the biggest and most successful fraud ever practised on a patient world'. Walt Whitman thought the frequent aristocratic tone or setting of these dramas pointed to their likely author being one of the earls, some 'born descendant and knower' of the characters from the medieval aristocracy so plenteous in the plays. In providing a lively introduction to a book by Hilda Amphlett on the authorship controversy, the then judge, Christmas Humphreys, summed up admirably:

Insert the edge of the chisel of doubt in the plaster of this legend and it is frightening to watch the wishful thought assumptions tumble to the ground . . . even if fifty per cent [of queries posed] are rejected as far-fetched or in any way unproved there remains an abundance. . . . The proof mounts rapidly, with geometric progression, as the number grows.

Of course, there are very many people who do not agree with all this. Since they include the Shakespearean specialist experts, their views must be most carefully considered. However, it should always be recalled that those experts have a reputation and track record to defend. It is for honest enquirers, trying to view argument and counter-argument objectively, to decide whether we can safely dismiss virtually all the arguments presented by doubters. It will not do to say, in effect, 'There's no real mystery, it's just that we don't happen to know much about him.' The above surely shows the incongruities between what we do know of William of Stratford and the Shakespeare glory. The disbelievers in the conventional 'Will' certainly sometimes overstate their case. Moreover, the rival sects also sometimes argue quite fiercely against each other! Neither of those undoubted facts invalidates the general thrust or strength of the anti-Stratfordian cause. . . .

William Shakespeare Vs. Edward De Vere, Earl Of Oxford

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15745

Tom Bethell (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Looking for Shakespeare: Two Partisans Explain and Debate the Authorship Question," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 268, No. 4, October, 1991, pp. 43-61.

[In the following essay, Bethell discusses the parallels between Hamlet and the life of Edward de Vere, and insists that the experiences of de Veremost notably his courtly life and familiarity with Italyshow that he is more likely to have written the plays than Stratford's Shakespeare.]

Hamlet is derived from a story in François de Belleforest's Histories Tragiques (1576), not yet translated into English when Shakespeare adapted it. Shakespeare introduced new characters and greatly enlarged the roles assigned to various characters by Belieferest. One of these magnified characters is Polonius, the Lord Chamberlain to the King of Denmark, who is not even named in the original story. As long ago as 1869 the scholar George Russell French noted the similarities between Queen Elizabeth's principal minister, Lord Burghley, and Polonius in Hamlet. French added that Burghley's son and daughter Robert and Anne Cecil seemed to correspond to Laertes and Ophelia.

Taking this scenario one step further, Hamlet himself becomes Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. Ophelia was unhappily involved with Hamlet; De Vere, who grew up as a royal ward in the household of Lord Burghley, was unhappily married to Anne Cecil. Oxford believed that his wife had been unfaithful to him while he was away on a European tour and (for a time, at least) seems to have doubted that he was the father of her first child. Hamlet says to Polonius, "Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive."

Hamlet has often been thought to be autobiographical. Was Edward de Vere, then, Shakespeare? Confining ourselves just to Hamlet, we find more than a few additional parallels:

1) Lord Burghley wrote out a set of precepts ("Towards thy superiors be humble yet generous; with thine equals familiar yet respective") strongly reminiscent of the advice Polonius gives to Laertes ("Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar. . . . "). Burghley's precepts, intended for the use of his son Robert, were published in 1618. Hamlet first appeared in quarto in 1603. Edmund K. Chambers, one of the leading Shakespeare scholars of the twentieth century, offered the following explanation: "Conceivably Shakespeare knew a pocket manuscript."

2) In Act II Polonius sends Reynaldo to spy on Laertes in Paris, possibly catching him "drinking, fencing, swearing, quarreling," or "falling out at tennis." In real life Burghley's older son. Thomas Cecil, did go to Paris, whence the well-informed Burghley somehow received information, through a secret channel, of Thomas's "inordinate love of . . . dice and cards." Oxford, incidentally, did have a real "falling out at tennis"—not a widely practiced sport in those days—with Sir Philip Sidney, the Earl of Leicester's nephew.

3) Oxford and Hamlet are similar figures, courtiers and Renaissance men of varied accomplishments; both were scholars, athletes, and poets. Many critics have noted Hamlet's resemblance to Castiglione's beáu ideal in The Courtier. At the age of twenty-one, Oxford wrote a Latin introduction to a translation of this book. Both Oxford and Hamlet were patrons of play-acting companies.

4) In 1573 Oxford contributed a preface to an English translation of Cardanus Comfort, a book of consoling advice which the orthodox scholar Hardin Craig called "Hamlet's book." The book includes passages from which Hamlet's soliloquy was surely taken ("What should we account of death to be resembled to anything better than sleep. . . . We are assured not only to sleep, but also to die. . . .").

5) Oxford stabbed a servant of Burghley's (possibly another of Burghley's spies). Polonius is stabbed by Hamlet while spying on him.

6) Hamlet's trusted friend is Horatio. Oxford's most trusted relative seems to have been Horace Vere, called Horatio in some documents (and so named by the Dictionary of National Biography).

7) Oxford, like Hamlet, was captured by pirates en route to England; both participated in sea battles.

The parallels between Hamlet and Oxford, ignored by conventional scholarship, were first discovered by J. Thomas Looney (pronounced "LOE-ny," but the harm's been done), an English schoolmaster whose book "Shakespeare " Identified in Edward de Vere was published in 1920. If it is ever vindicated—as is still possible—it will far surpass Heinrich Schliemann's discovery of Troy in the annals of amateur scholarship. Among Looney's converts were Sigmund Freud and John Galsworthy, who said that Looney's book was "the best detective story I have ever read." Looney (who refused his publisher's understandable suggestion that he consider using a pseudonym) died in 1944, his theory widely ignored. After the prolonged controversy over the proposition that Francis Bacon was the real author of the Shakespeare canon, the proposal of yet another candidate seemed to be mere desperation. But Looney had found a candidate far more interesting, and plausible, than the Baconians or anyone else ever had.

Oxford's life posed an obvious challenge for Looney and his followers (known as Oxfordians), however. The earl's death preceded the Stratford man's by twelve years. Plays dated after 1604, or references in the plays to topical events in the years 1604-1616 (should any be found), would expose Oxford to anachronism. Conventional dating holds that there are ten such plays (I'm not counting Two Noble Kinsmen). And orthodox scholars claim that there is one such topical reference—to the "still-vex'd Bermoothes," in Act I of The Ternpest. This is believed to refer to a 1609 shipwreck in Bermuda, not heard of in England until 1610.

Leaving The Tempest aside for a moment, the nine remaining post-1604 plays are amenable to earlier dating without contradicting any known facts. The date of their composition is quite uncertain, many having appeared for the first time in the posthumous First Folio (1623). Some are dated late simply to fit the period when the Stratford man (1564-1616) is thought to have been in London. He couldn't have been there much before 1587, and there are already numerous signs of uncomfortably early authorship—a published reference to Hamlet in 1589, for example, when the Stratford man was twenty-five years old.

The conventional dating of many of the supposedly post-1604 plays is more a matter of giving breathing space to Stratfordian chronology than of letting the facts speak for themselves. In addition, one or two conventional scholars date King Lear before 1604; Pericles and Henry VIII were certainly worked on by another hand; and there is nothing in the remainder—Macbeth, Timon of Athens, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, and The Winter's Tale—that requires a post-1604 date. I believe that the latest source material undeniably used by Shakespeare is John Florio's 1603 translation of Montaigne's essay "Of the Cannibals," which reappears in much the same words in Act II of The Tempest. Stratfordians have always insisted that this is a late play, and Oxfordians are happy to agree with them.

Orthodox research into Shakespeare's sources barely conflicts with this analysis. The entire eight volumes of Geoffrey Bullough's Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare contain only one source that is dated after 1604 and deemed a certain, rather than possible or probable, source. This is William Strachey's account of the 1609 shipwreck in Bermuda. In fact, however, there is nothing in Strachey that is certainly in The Tempest, although his description of St. Elmo's fire in the rigging does suggest Ariel's magical powers ("On the topmast, the yards and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly"). Furthermore, there is nothing in The Tempest that was not known to Elizabethans. If "Bermoothes" is taken as a reference to Bermuda, Oxfordians point out, not only does Hakluyt's Principal Navigations (1598-1600) contain an account of a 1593 shipwreck in Bermuda, but a decade earlier the Earl of Oxford himself had invested in—possibly even owned—the Edward Bonaventure, one of the ships involved in that wreck.

Looney, however, did not know this. Uncharacteristically deferring to the authority of Chambers and other conventional scholars on this point, he accepted the conventional date for The Tempest (1611). In his final chapter, therefore, Looney argued that the play did not belong in the Shakespeare canon. As it is thought to include some of Shakespeare's best verse, this greatly weakened Looney's case. By the time Hakluyt's references to Bermuda were pointed out, Looney had come to seem discredited. In Shakespeare and His Betters (1958), an attack on the anti-Stratfordian heresy, R. C. Churchill claimed that the date of Oxford's death was "decisive" against his candidacy for authorship. In Shakespeare's Lives (1970), S. Schoenbaum more cautiously argued that "The Tempest presents Looney with his greatest challenge, for topical references and other internal considerations lead him to accept the late date to which the commentators assign it."

In recent years, however, the earl's fortunes have revived somewhat. Charlton Ogburn's huge book The Mysterious William Shakespeare was published in 1984, attracting many converts to the cause. In the fall of 1987 David Lloyd Kreeger, a Washington philanthropist who died last year, organized a moot-court debate on the authorship question at The American University, presided over by three Supreme Court Justices (William Brennan, Harry Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens). They awarded the verdict to the Stratford man, but Oxford benefited mightily from the exposure.

At the end of his opinion Justice Stevens noted that "the Oxfordian case suffers from not having a single, coherent theory of the case." True, but most Oxfordians (not all, alas) would subscribe to something like the following:

There did exist a man named William Shakspere, of Stratford, but the plays and poems attributed to William Shakespeare were in fact written by Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, the Lord Great Chamberlain and senior earl of England, early a favorite of Queen Elizabeth and usually on good terms with her. (Hence-forward I will use "Shakspere" to denote the man from Stratford and "Shakespeare" to denote the author of the plays, whoever he was.) There is abundant evidence, discomforting to Stratfordians, that many of the existing plays are rewritten versions of earlier plays or, more simply, date from a time that would require prodigious effort on the part of the Stratford man. Perhaps as many as a dozen plays were written before the Stratford man reached his thirty-first birthday. Oxfordians believe that Oxford wrote the earlier plays for court performance in the 1580s—when Oxford was in his thirties—and that they were later revised for the public theater. Not until 1598 was the name Shakespeare appended to plays. Before then, all published quartos of plays subsequently attributed to Shakespeare had no name on the title page. In associating himself with and writing for the public theater, Oxford was both slumming and enjoying himself—and taking the opportunity to write figuratively about events and people surrounding the court. As it was not acceptable for noblemen to be associated with public (as opposed to court) theater, Oxford agreed to keep his family's name out of it. He wrote "not for attribution," as we now say. Perhaps, as Justice Stevens suggested, the Queen herself so ordered him. Possibly he was content to write pseudonymously without urging.

The Earl of Oxford may have met the Stratford man in London at some point and enlisted him as his "blind," or front man: Oxfordians disagree among themselves about this key point. A variant of this theory holds that Oxford was already using the name Shakespeare when the Stratford man showed up in London. This is less plausible, but it accommodates a contemporary document in which it is reported that Gabriel Harvey, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, praised the Earl of Oxford in 1578 (in Latin) with the words "Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear." I shall simply assume that Shakspere was in town seeking his fortune and that he and Oxford somehow established a collaborative relationship. Oxford thereupon set Shakspere up as a shareholder in the Chamberlain's Men, the theater company where Shakspere presumably worked as a factotum and manager.

The Inadequacy of the Stratford man

Writing in the mid-1840s, Ralph Waldo Emerson admitted that he could not "marry" Shakspere's life to Shakespeare's work: "Other admirable men have led lives in some sort of keeping with their thought, but this man in wide contrast." That is the anti-Stratfordian case in a nutshell. There is a great gulf between the life and the work. Ivor Brown inadvertently drew attention to it in his 1949 biography of Shakespeare.

"During 1598," he wrote, the Bard was "managing, acting . . . and turning out plays (two or three a year was his pace at this time) and yet keeping an eye on malt and [Stratford] matters." In 1604 Shakspere sued the Stratford apothecary for the balance of an account for malt, and for a debt of two shillings. But "it may have been Mrs. Anne Shakespeare who forced this into court," Brown continued. "Shakespeare himself was then at the top of his performance in [the] tragedy period. . . . " Hmmmmm.

No amount of research has been able to narrow this gulf. In some respects research has widened it. At the time of the Restoration, forty-four years after the Stratford man's death, knowledge of Shakespeare was so poor that the plays bound together for the library of Charles II and labeled "Shakespeare. Vol. I." were Mucedorus, Fair Em, and The Merry Devil of Edmonton, which are not accepted today as Shakespeare's. Textual scholarship only later clarified the canon, and tremendous archival digging in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries turned up quite a bit of information about Shakspere's life. But (if we exclude posthumous testimony) none of it establishes Shakspere as a playwright. With the rise of critical scholarship, poetic images of the Stratford man, told as fables at second and third hand in the eighteenth century, have mostly been overthrown as unreliable.

S. Schoenbaum, who more than most biographers has eschewed the "perhaps" that links Shakspere to so much of Elizabethan life, was reduced by his own scrupulosity in his Documentary Life (1975) to presenting scraps of paper that show little more than routine transactions—Stratford tithes, Southwark tax records, and documents involving "petty disputes over money matters." Echoes of the plays are few, faint, and unconvincing.

The Stratfordians have a point when they tell us we know quite a lot about Shakspere—more than we do about Christopher Marlowe, for example. It's what we know that causes difficulties, not how little. His father, the constable and glover, could not write; he signed documents with a cross or made his mark. Judith, Shakspere's younger daughter, "evidently took after her mother [Anne Hathaway]—she couldn't write," A. L. Rowse reported. As for the older daughter, Susanna, Joseph Quincy Adams, a former director of the Folger Library, reproduced her wobbly signature in his Life of William Shakespeare, but it does not encourage confidence that she was literate. Married to Dr. John Hall, she lived on into the time of the English Civil War. After Hall's death a surgeon visited her at Stratford because he wanted to see her husband's manuscripts (not her father's). At that time she was unable to recognize her own husband's handwriting. "Odd," Schoenbaum wrote. "Did she have learning sufficient only to enable her to sign her name?"

Which brings us to Shakspere's six uncontested signatures. They are painfully executed in an uncertain hand, a historical embarrassment. Joseph M. English, Jr., a documents examiner with the forensic-science laboratory at Georgetown University, offered the provisional opinion (he had access only to reproductions) that the signatures were those of a man not familiar with writing his own name, particularly the latter part of it. The surviving record does not contradict the possibility that Shakspere's level of literacy was no greater than his daughter's. His signatures are appended to legal documents only. There are no known manuscripts or letters by Shakspere. We have one letter that was sent to him (but he is thought not to have received it). It asks for a loan of £30.

Shakspere is not known to have attended Stratford grammar school (the school records have not survived), and no one who did attend it ever claimed to have been his classmate. If he was a pupil, he probably was not one for long, as orthodoxy concedes, because his father ran into financial difficulties. Shakspere married at the age of eighteen and had three children (including twins) before his twenty-first birthday, in 1585. Joseph Quincy Adams guessed that Shakspere spent some time as a schoolmaster. The alternative he described as follows:

If we are forced to think of him as early snatched from school, working all day in a butcher's shop, growing up in a home devoid of books and of a literary atmosphere, and finally driven from his native town through a wild escapade with village lads, we find it hard to understand how he suddenly blossomed out as one of England's greatest men of letters with every mark of literary culture.

Several orthodox scholars, including Alfred Harbage, date the composition of Love's Labour's Lost to the late 1580s. "What Shakespeare was doing at the age of twenty-four or twenty-five we do not know," Harbage added. The play contains allusions to the 1578 visit of Marguerite de Valois and Catherine de Medici to the Court of Henry of Navarre at Nérac, the names of French courtiers remaining unchanged in the play. Somehow the Stratford man found out about all this, embodying it in a parody of court manners and literary fashions. "Unless there was a source-play," Edmund Chambers wrote, "some English or French traveller must have been an intermediary."

The play was "a battle in a private war between court factions," according to the Arden edition of Love's Labour's Lost, with many indications that it had been written first "for private performance in court circles," and then was rewritten and published in quarto in 1598. It's hard to believe that Shakspere started out as a court insider. "To credit that amazing piece of virtuosity to a butcher boy who left school at 13 or even to one whose education was nothing more than what a grammar school and residence in a little provincial borough could provide is to invite one either to believe in miracles or to disbelieve in the man of Stratford," wrote J. Dover Wilson, the editor of the New Cambridge Shakespeare.

In his prefatory poem in the First Folio (1623), Ben Jonson misleadingly told readers that Shakespeare had "small Latin and less Greek." Jonson also spread the idea that Shakespeare was nature's child, who "wanted art." This falsely implied that Shakespeare's poetry was the spontaneous, untutored babbling of a provincial. John Milton picked up the refrain, writing in 1632 that the poet "warble[d] his native wood-notes wild." The well-educated Milton probably didn't realize that Shakespeare's vocabulary was twice his own. Shakespeare's learning, worn so unostentatiously, didn't become apparent until much later. The eighteenth-century editor George Steevens said of a portion of Titus Andronicus: "This passage alone would sufficiently convince me that the play before us was the work of one who was conversant with the Greek tragedies in their original language. We have here a plain allusion to the Ajax of Sophocles, of which no translation was extant in the time of Shakespeare." Gilbert Higher, of Columbia University, said that "we can be sure" that Shakespeare "had not read Aeschylus." (He meant that Shakspere had not.) "Yet what can we say when we find some of Aeschylus' thoughts appearing in Shakespeare's plays?"

The Comedy of Errors was taken from a play by Plautus before it had been published in English translation. The Rape of Lucrece is derived from the Fasti of Ovid, of which there appears to have been no English version, according to John Churton Collins, the author of Studies in Shakespeare (1904). Collins also found in the plays "portions of Caesar, Sallust, Cicero and Livy." As for modern languages, Charles T. Prouty, a professor at the University of Missouri, concluded that Shakespeare "read both Italian and French and was familiar with both Bandello and Bellefont." The dialogue in some scenes of Henry V is in French, "grammatically accurate if not idiomatic," according to Sir Sidney Lee, the influential Shakespeare scholar and the editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. As noted above, Belieferest's Histoires Tragiques, which contains the Hamlet story, had not been translated from the French by the time Hamlet was written. Othello is based on a story in G. Giraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi, not translated from the Italian by the time of the play's first performance. Andrew S. Cairncross, who in the 1930s espoused an early-authorship theory of the plays, concluded that Shakespeare's "knowledge and use" of Italian is "established." (Oxford wrote in French and Latin and, having spent almost a year in Italy, almost certainly knew Italian.)

Meanwhile, we catch glimpses of Shakspere in London: In March of 1595, along with William Kempe and Richard Burbage, he was recorded as a payee of the Chamberlain's Men, for performances before Her Majesty the previous December at Greenwich. In 1596 William Wayte "craves sureties of the peace against Shakspere" and others "for fear of death." In 1597 and 1598 the Stratford man was listed as a tax defaulter in Bishopsgate ward. In Stratford he was among the "wicked people" named as stockpiling grain at a time of famine in 1598. A year earlier he bought New Place, the second-largest house in Stratford, for £60, but he "did not live there permanently until his retirement, c. 1610," wrote F. E. Halliday in A Shakespeare Companion, a standard reference work. In London there was no recorded reaction to his death, in 1616—an extraordinary oversight, considering that the city went into mourning when the actor Richard Burbage died, three years later.

The playwright "spent some years before his death at his native Stratford," according to his first biographer, Nicholas Rowe, "in ease, retirement, and the conversation of his friends." Schoenbaum granted him a "final non-literary phase." How many writers retire in their forties? (Francis Beaumont, who died a month before Shakspere, was said by Marchette Chute to have "retired" from play writing in his late twenties, but a recent study argued that he had suffered a stroke.) It seems unlikely that Shakspere really did retire, however, for in 1613 we find him again back in London—buying property in Blackfriars and mortgaging it the next day. Shakspere's will, first prepared in January of 1616, itemizing such minutiae as a silver-gilt bowl, his own clothes, his plate, and his second-best bed (this last to his wife), mentions no books or manuscripts. This was the will of someone concerned about and attentive to details—but these did not include the disposition of his literary remains. At this point just over half the plays had not been published anywhere.

"Circumstances were uniquely favorable to the retention of any products of his pen had there been any," Charlton Ogburn wrote.

His last years were spent in affluent leisure in a fine house he had owned for two decades, and this house remained in the possession of his daughter and then granddaughter while three collected editions of Shakespeare's plays were published in which their author was hailed as his nation's triumph. Are we really to imagine that nothing in the form of a letter, a note, a bit of manuscript, would have remained of Shakspere's had he been the greatest of writers?

As far as I know, at no point in Shakspere's lifetime was the claim made that he had written anything, nor do we have any evidence that he was ever paid for writing. Shakspere himself makes no authorial claim in the anecdotes that have come down to us. In his fugitive appearances he is businesslike rather than literary. In the words of Joseph Sobran, the columnist and National Review critic at large, he remains throughout "a singularly taciturn fountain of eloquence."

The Virtuosity of De Vere

As a young man, De Vere "dazzled the Queen and absorbed the attention of her leisure moments," according to one historian. An uncle of his, Henry Howard, introduced the sonnet form in English; another uncle, Arthur Golding, who was probably also De Vere's tutor, translated Ovid's Metamorphoses, an important Shakespeare source. When Oxford was nineteen, a copy of the Amyot (French) translation of Plutarch's Lives was bought for him; a letter written by him in French at the age of thirteen survives. He "won for himself an honorable place among the early masters of English poetry," Thomas Macaulay wrote. Of all the courtier poets, Chambers wrote, "the most hopeful" was De Vere, but he "became mute in late life."

In deference to the taboo against noblemen's using their own names, only one published poem disclosed Oxford's authorship. (Others used the initials "E.O.," and may have been published without his permission.) Steven W. May, of Georgetown College, Kentucky, an expert on Oxford's poetry, has reduced to sixteen the canon of his certain poems. "His latest extant poem was composed no later than 1593," according to May. This happens to be the year of Shakespeare's first poem (Venus and Adonis). What has survived of Oxford's poetry does not rival Shakespeare's, but most of his known poems were written when Oxford was young, probably in his early twenties. According to Ward Elliott, of Claremont McKenna College, in California, who has researched the authorship question with statistical techniques, some of Oxford's known poems may have been composed when the earl was sixteen or younger.

Oxford's oldest daughter, Elizabeth Vere, was in the early 1590s engaged to marry Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, to whom Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were dedicated. Burghley and Oxford tried to persuade the rich youth to marry the girl (Oxford had sold off an uncomfortably large portion of his inheritance by this time), but Southampton declined (and was apparently fined by Burghley for doing so). Shakespeare's sonnets, or most of them, are believed to have been written in the early to mid-1590s, and Southampton's three biographers believe that he was the sonnets' "onlie begetter." The poet, in any event, is feeling his age, speaking of the "wrackful siege of battering days," weeping for "precious friends hid in death's dateless night" and "all those friends which I thought buried," and missing his "lovers gone." In the mid-1590s the Stratford man wasn't thirty years old, yet in Sonnet 73 we read:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

Soon after undertaking his quest for the true author of Shakespeare's works, Looney turned to the Dictionary of National Biography, where he read:

Oxford, despite his violent and perverse temper, his eccentric taste in dress, and his reckless waste of his substance, evinced a genuine interest in music, and wrote verses of much lyric beauty. Puttenham and Meres reckon him among 'the best for comedy' in his day; but, although he was a patron of players, no specimens of his dramatic productions survive.

In 1567 Oxford was admitted to Gray's Inn, where he studied law and probably became acquainted with the dramatists and literary figures who frequented the Inns of Court at the time. He took over the Earl of Warwick's acting company in 1580, and in 1583 leased Blackfriars Theatre for his own boys' company of players; he transferred the lease to John Lyly, an early Elizabethan dramatist who was also Oxford's private secretary. "In comedy," R. Warwick Bond wrote in an introduction to Lyly's Complete Works, "Lyly is Shakespeare's only model." (But if Oxfordianism triumphs, the relationship between Lyly and Shakespeare will have to be reversed.) "There is little doubt that the Earl himself collaborated in the writing and production of Lyly's Court Comedies," wrote Oxford's biographer, B. M. Ward. In 1593 Gabriel Harvey ambiguously referred to Lyly as "the fiddlestick of Oxford." Oxford was four years older than Lyly.

According to The Cambridge History of English Literature, "the earl of Oxford's company of players acted in London between 1584 and 1587." At that time the public theater was considered to be a low-rent and low-life enterprise. Lords and ladies didn't exactly go to opening nights at the Globe. It's suggestive that in 1587 Burghley complained in a letter to Sir Francis Walsingham that Oxford's "lewd friends . . . still rule him by flatteries." Sidney Lee wrote that Oxford "squandered some part of his fortune upon men of letters whose bohemian mode of life attracted him." Sir George Buc, a poet and Deputy Master of the Revels, deplored Oxford's "waste" of his earldom but thought him a "magnificent and a very learned and religious man." In 1573 three of Oxford's rude companions staged a mock robbery (or possibly it was intended as a real one) of two men formerly employed by the boisterous young earl, "by the highway from Gravesend to Rochester," according to a letter of complaint that the victims promptly wrote to Burghley. In Henry IV, Part I, Falstaff and three of Prince Hal's companions hold up some travelers on the highway near Gadshill—which is on the highway between Gravesend and Rochester.

Did Oxford write plays? In 1589 the author of the Arte of English Poesie (thought to be George Puttenham) praised Oxford "for Comedy and Enterlude," and in Palladis Tamia (1598) Francis Meres wrote that "the best for Comedy among us be Edward Earl of Oxford." Admittedly, in the same famous passage Meres also praises "Shakespeare" and lists twelve of his plays. It can be argued, however, that Meres either knew Oxford's secret and kept it or innocently believed that Oxford and Shakespeare had separate identities. If he knew the secret, he was presumably discouraged from revealing it by the same social system that prevailed upon Oxford to hide his identity.

In Oxford's case peer pressure to hide his name would have been strong. "Among the nobility or gentry as may be very well seen in many laudable sciences and especially in making poesie," Puttenham wrote in 1589,

it is so come to pass that they have no courage to write and if they have are loath to be known of their skill. So as I know very many notable gentlemen in the Court that have written commendably, and suppressed it again, or else suffered it to be published without their own names to it: as if it were a discredit for a gentleman, to seem learned.

He went on to describe "Noblemen and Gentlemen of Her Majesty's own servants, who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman Edward Earl of Oxford." In Shakespeare and His Betters, R. C. Churchill was so confident that Oxford's death in 1604 ruled him out as the Bard that he boldly asserted:

I believe it is as well for the officials of the [Oxfordian] Shakespeare Fellowship that the Earl of Oxford is safely dead, for they would be in some danger of being run through if they insulted the Earl in person by suggesting he had written Shakespeare's plays. For a courtier brought up on Castiglione, a greater insult could hardly be imagined.

Which helps explain the use of a pseudonym.

Two characteristics of the Shakespeare canon suggest powerfully that its author was not a small-town burgher but rather a well-traveled nobleman. One is the very attitude. The author displays little sympathy for the class of upwardly mobile strivers of which Shakspere was a preeminent member. Shakespeare celebrates the faithful servant, but regards commoners as either humorous when seen individually or alarming in mobs. Either way he is remote from them. The concerns of the burgher are not his—hardly what one would expect from the pen of a thrifty countryman new in the big city and rising fast. Shakespeare's frequent disgust with court life sounds like the revulsion of a man who knew it too well. His contempt for a climber like Malvolio in Twelfth Night suggests a writer who is by birth above social climbing and finds it laughable in his inferiors. (Oxfordians, incidentally, make a strong case that the character of Malvolio is based on Sir Christopher Hatton.) Louis Bénézet, a professor at Dartmouth (and an Oxfordian), noted in 1940 that Shakespeare's noblemen "are natural, at ease, convincing."

They talk the language of their class, both in matter and manner. They are aristocrats to the core. On the other hand in portraying the lower classes Shakespeare is unconvincing. He makes them clods or dolts or clowns, and has them amuse us by their gaucheries. He gives them undignified names: Wart, Bullcalf, Mouldy, Bottom, Dogberry, Snout. . . .

Walt Whitman noted the same thing. "The comedies," he wrote, "have the unmistakable hue of plays, portraits, made for the divertissement only of the élite of the castle, and from its point of view. The comedies are altogether non-acceptable to America and Democracy."

Whitman was an agnostic anti-Stratfordian; his comments (1888) on the historical plays are remarkable. The histories suggest, he wrote, "explanations that one dare not put into plain statement." But then he added:

Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism—personifying in unparallel'd ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation)—only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works. . . .

We find in Sonnet 91 (and is this the voice of our litigious grain-hoarder from Stratford?):

Thy love is better than high birth to me, . . .
Of more delight than hawks or horses be.

In Sonnet 125 the poet wrote, "Were't aught to me I bore the canopy." We know that Oxford was one of those entitled to bear the canopy over the monarch, and according to Oxford's biographer, a contemporary ballad tells us that in a thanksgiving procession after the defeat of the Armada, "the noble Earl of Oxford then High Chamberlain of England/Rode right before Her Majesty his bonnet in his hand."

The second characteristic of the canon which points away from Shakspere—and toward Oxford—is the author's apparent knowledge of foreign lands. Shakespeare's "knowledge of Italy was extraordinary," the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote. "An English scholar who lived in Venice has found his visual topographic exactitude in The Merchant of Venice incredible in one who had never been there." Edmund Chambers allowed that the playwright "seems to have been remarkably successful in giving a local colouring and atmosphere" to the plays set in Italy. He even "shows familiarity with some minute points of local topography." Karl Elze, the nineteenth-century German scholar, pointed out that in his description of Venice, Shakespeare "does not confound the Isola de Rialto with the Ponte di Rialto." As a result, Chambers said, "much research has been devoted to a conjecture that he spent" some time in Italy. But it is implausible that the Stratford man ever went abroad. Travel to the Continent was both dangerous and expensive. When Edward de Vere set off for France in January of 1575, he was accompanied by "two gentlemen, two grooms, one payend, a harbinger, a housekeeper, and a trencherman," Lord Burghley noted for his records.

Oxford and party stayed six weeks or more in Paris and were introduced to the French King, Henry III. It is possible that at this time Oxford met Henry of Navarre (King of France 1589-1610), whose brotherin-law, the Duke of Alençon, was then being considered as a husband for Queen Elizabeth. Henry of Navarre and Oxford were about the same age, and in many respects Henry seems to have been a man after Oxford's own heart. We know, in any event, that Oxford later kept in touch with the French ambassador in London; and we know that Shakespeare was familiar with some details of the Navarre court in 1578 (described in Love's Labour's Lost).

Oxford went to Strasbourg, and thence to Italy, arriving in Padua in May. "For fear of the Inquisition I dare not pass by Milan, the Bishop whereof exerciseth such tyranny," he wrote to Burghley. From Padua he traveled to Genoa, later returning to Padua. In September he was in Venice. Here he borrowed 500 crowns from one Baptista Nigrone; then in December he received a further remittance through a Pasquino Spinola. In The Taming of the Shrew the rich gentleman of Padua whose shrewish daughter Petruchio will tame is called Baptista Minola, and his "crowns" are repeatedly mentioned.

Oxford then traveled to Florence and Siena. He was also reported to have been in Sicily, "a famous man of chivalry," who challenged all comers to a contest with "all manner of weapons." In a book published in Naples in 1699 he was described as participating in a mock tournament staged by the Commedia dell' Arte; the account implied that he was a familiar figure at these performances. In 1936 George Lyman Kittredge, of Harvard, pointed out that "the influence of the Italian commedia dell' arte is visible throughout" Love's Labour's Lost. "Several of the figures correspond to standard figures of the Italian convention. . . . "

By March of 1576 Oxford was back in Paris, having stopped en route at Lyons. A striking echo of Oxford's life and travels is found in All's Well That Ends Well Here is Looney's description of the principal character, Bertram. Almost everything that follows also applied to Oxford:

A young lord of ancient lineage, of which he is himself proud, having lost a father for whom he entertained a strong affection, is brought to court by his mother and left there as a royal ward, to be brought up under royal supervision. As he grows up he asks for military service and to be allowed to travel, but is repeatedly refused or put off. At last he goes away without permission. Before leaving he had been married to a young woman with whom he had been brought up, and who had herself been most active in bringing about the marriage. Matrimonial troubles, of which the outstanding feature is a refusal of cohabitation, are associated with both his stay abroad and his return home.

There's one final point about All's Well Bertram is brought to Helena's bed in the mistaken belief that he is visiting his mistress. (Shakespeare employed the same ruse in Measure for Measure.) In an 1836 account, The Histories of Essex, it was said of the Earl of Oxford: "He forsook his lady's bed, [but] the father of Lady Anne [Lord Burghley] by stratagem, contrived that her husband should unknowingly sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting."

It's hard to believe that this really did happen to Oxford (or to anyone else). But it's suggestive that the story was told of him in particular.

Oxford's wife died in 1588. Three years later he married Elizabeth Trentham, one of the Queen's maids of honor. In 1596 they moved into a large house (which she bought) in Hackney, three or four miles from London's center. About the last decade of his life we have little information. "It is almost impossible to penetrate the obscurity surrounding his life at Hackney," B. M. Ward wrote (1928). "There can be little doubt that literature, his main interest in life, occupied the greater part of his time."

Almost alone among Elizabethan poets, Shakespeare wrote no eulogy on the death of the Queen, in 1603. Oxford himself died at Hackney in June of 1604, it is thought of the plague. In 1622, the year before the publication of the Folio, Henry Peacham published a book with a chapter on poetry. Elizabeth's reign had been a "golden age," he wrote therein, listing (in order of rank) those who had "honoured poesie with their pens and practice." First was "Edward Earl of Oxford." Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney made the list. There was no mention of Shakespeare.

The post-1604 period, potentially so perilous for Oxford, turns out to contain surprises—for Stratfordians. The Bard appears to have continued writing, but with a collaborator. Sidney Lee, a pillar of Stratfordian orthodoxy, believed that Shakespeare "reverted [in 1607] to his earlier habit of collaboration, and with another's aid composed two dramas—Timon of Athens and Pericles." How about the possibility that he had died, leaving unfinished work that was completed by another hand? The first two acts of Pericles, it is generally agreed, are not by Shakespeare at all.

From 1594 to 1604 plays by Shakespeare had been published regularly in London in quarto editions. But then publication stopped for some reason until 1608, and the appearance of Lear. In 1609 the sonnets were published, with a preface referring to "our ever-living poet." The phrase strongly suggests that the poet was dead. The title, Shakespeares Sonnets (rather than Sonnets by Shakespeare), also implies that additions are not to be expected. "The numerous misprints indicate that the poet who took such pains with Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece had no part in supervising the printing of his most important body of nondramatic verse," Schoenbaum wrote.

In 1607 a poet named William Barksted said of Shakespeare, "His song was worthy merit." Shakespere had nine years to live.

In 1605 The London Prodigal was published in quarto as "By William Shakespeare," and in 1608 A Yorkshire Tragedy was likewise published and attributed. The King's Men also performed these plays, now known as apocryphal and their authors having been lost to history. The Stratford man was alive, supposedly still turning out plays himself, and certainly suing for malt debts in Stratford. Why did he not object to the attachment of his good name to plays that he did not write? It seems likely that the company, knowing that the real playwright was dead, decided to go on using his name as a drawing card. There had been other apocryphal plays, some appearing in quarto and attributed to "W. S.," but all the evidence we have suggests it was only after Oxford's death that the company openly used the name Shakespeare to advertise plays not by the real author.

In 1609 Troilus and Cressida was published in quarto, with the last few scenes possibly "by another hand," according to the New Cambridge editors. The first edition included a strange preface—dropped from a second edition published later that year—with the headline (ignored by Stratfordians) "A never writer to an ever reader. News." Oxfordians note that "ever" is an anagram of "Vere."

And I can't resist citing a similar play on words in these lines, fondly regarded by Oxfordians, from Sonnet 76:

That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed.

Irvin Matus (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Looking for Shakespeare: Two Partisans Explain and Debate the Authorship Question," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 268, No. 4, October, 1991, pp. 43-61.

[In this essay, Matus attacks several anti-Stratfordian arguments, explaining some of the apparent gaps in what is known about Shakespeare's life.]

The new reading room of the Folger Shakespeare Library is dominated by a huge painting of the sort that Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell might have characterized as being of "more than usually revolting sentimentality." Many scholars who do their research beneath it would share that view. ("I try to keep my back to it," one longtime reader says.) But when it was painted, around 1792, The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions, by George Romney, was a reflection of the fledgling cult that over the next century matured into what George Bernard Shaw would disdainfully dub "Bardolatry."

The origins of this cult are usually dated to the publication of Samuel Johnson's edition of Shakespeare's plays, in 1765, and the Shakespeare Jubilee staged by the actor David Garrick in Stratford-on-Avon, in 1769. The jubilee brought into the open a division that would shape perceptions of Shakespeare well into the future: the actor's Shakespeare versus the scholar's Shakespeare. The actor's Shakespeare was a fellow who wrote plum parts, often set to musically poetic verse. Actors do not seem to have ever doubted that he wrote his plays for the stage—what else would one write a play for? The scholar's Shakespeare, on the other hand, could not be revealed in an "ephemeral stage work," as Martha Winburn England put it; he became apparent only in "the eternal values of written commentary." The likeness of the author that would emerge from these studies was of a highly educated man versed in law and classical literature, fluent in several languages, equally at home at court and on the Continent.

In the 1780s the Reverend James Wilmot scoured Stratford and its environs but could find nothing of the omniscient, cosmopolitan Shakespeare his generation had created. There were only documents of a propertied country gentleman and his rather hard-nosed business dealings, disposed of in a distinctly unpoetic will, sandwiched between church records of his birth and death. Wilmot concluded that the Immortal Bard could not have been that very mortal man. Nowadays, those who dispute the authorship of the plays do concede that there was a "man from Stratford" named "Shakspere" in Elizabethan theater, probably an actor, though not a very good one. He was, they assert, paid off by confederates of the real playwright to go back to Stratford and leave behind the Shakespeare name for the exclusive use of the True Author. No fewer than fiftyeight claimants to that title have been put forward; because the current front-runner is Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, the authorship challengers shall here be called Oxfordians. (And let it be understood that any reference by me to Shakespeare is always to that "man from Stratford.") While modern Shakespeare scholars have sought to restore the playwright to his own age and its teeming theater world, Oxfordians carry on the search for Shakespeare the man of vast knowledge, Shakespeare the well-traveled courtier—the Shakespeare who overwhelms all in his age: the Shakespeare of whom Charles Vere, the spearcarrier for his distant ancestor and the family name, has said: "If you get Shakespeare wrong, you get the Elizabethan Age wrong."

The major questions that have been raised and that will be addressed here are whether the contemporaneous record of the man and playwright is suspect; whether the "Soul of the Age" (as Ben Jonson called him) was the very heart of it as well; and, finally, whether Shakespeare was indeed a man of the theater.

The Missing-Records Canard

There is more about Shakespeare in contemporary materials than about most others in English Renaissance theater. An ample supply of references to Shakespeare as a player and playwright establish his position in the acting company that was under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain and, from May of 1603 onward, of King James I. Another ample supply of references made during Shakespeare's lifetime substantiate that his plays were performed in public playhouses and also in private theaters and at court. Relatively few though these documents may seem by modern standards, they pose a considerable problem for Oxfordians—and, as Charlton Ogburn, Oxford's foremost American champion, has said, "you can't get anywhere with Oxford unless you dispose of the Stratford man." Ogburn has led the attempt to portray the record of Shakespeare the man as entirely anomalous, and the documents that place Shakespeare within the theater of his time as ambiguous or faulty, while suggesting that those that have not survived might have been deliberately destroyed. These arguments are a disprovable feast, of which only a taste can be given here.

For example, Oxfordians question not merely whether Shakespeare had enough education to be the author of the plays but whether he had any education at all. Wilmot was the first to discover that there is no record of Shakespeare's having attended the Stratford grammar school (nor, for that matter, is there any record of anyone else's having done so before the nineteenth century). Ogburn plants the suspicion that the school records "would have disappeared because they showed he did not attend it." In contrast, Oxfordians observe, virtually all the other dramatists of Shakespeare's age, except Ben Jonson, had been to university, and Jonson had been a student of the learned William Camden, at Westminster School. Camden, however, was the second master, teaching only the lower forms when Jonson attended. Jonson could not, then, have had much more than a few years of rudimentary schooling before he was put to work, probably at his stepfather's trade, bricklaying. Nevertheless, Jonson would become, as we shall see, Britain's most admired playwright in the seventeenth century, and also effectively its first poet laureate. In the top rank of classical scholars, he would be granted honorary master's degrees by both Oxford and Cambridge. Evidently there may be more to both scholarship and literary genius than a formal education.

In any event, is the absence of records from the Stratford grammar school really very suspicious? It so happens that no admission books from before 1715 survive for Westminster School either, and Westminster has been called "the most fashionable school" in Tudor England. In fact, the only knowledge we have of Jonson's attendance there comes from William Drummond's notes of his conversations with the poet, and Drummond tells us nothing more than that Jonson "was put to school by a friend (his master Camden)." Drummond was the closest thing to a Boswell that this Jonson would have: none of the admiring "Tribe of Ben," nor any of his fellow playwrights, thought to tell us more about the life of this notoriously self-promoting man, who made himself a legend in his own time. Clearly, the severe critical eye cast upon Shakespeare's record has been averted from Jonson's.

One set of records that has survived is Henslowe's Diary, which contains virtually all the internal documents of theater in Shakespeare's age that have come down to us. It is actually more of an account book than a diary, and was kept by the theater manager Philip Henslowe, who was also the builder of the Rose, Fortune, and Hope playhouses. Ogburn asserts that the "names of all other prominent playwrights of the time . . . find a place in his diary along with the names of famous actors and others who would be unknown but for his records"—not Shakespeare's, though. That three eminent Shakespeareans failed to cite "another case of an actor of Shakspere's alleged prominence not mentioned by Henslowe or Alleyn" (the actor Edward Alleyn, Henslowe's son-in-law and partner) amounts, in Ogburn's view, to proof that something is seriously amiss.

Is Shakespeare indeed the only actor not mentioned? We also do not find the actors Richard Burbage, John Heminge, Henry Condell, and other players who had performed at the Rose with Lord Strange's Men and, with the addition of Shakespeare, were to be the nucleus of the Chamberlain's Men. Nor are the dramatists in the first wave of London theater to be found: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, George Peele, and Robert Greene. Not even Edward Alleyn, who was the first famous tragedian on the Elizabethan stage and who was closely connected with Henslowe, is mentioned in association with the stage until 1596. As a matter of fact, no player or playwright is named in the Diary before 1596, which certainly explains the absence of Shakespeare: by then Shakespeare was a member of the Lord Chamberlain's company, which had no association with Henslowe or his playhouse. No wonder we don't find him in the Diary.

Those records in which Shakespeare's name is associated with theater always bring out the creativity in Oxfordians. There is, for instance, the account book for King James I's triumphal procession through London on March 15, 1604. The Chamberlain's Men had been taken into the new monarch's service ten months earlier, and the nine actors named in the King's license, including Shakespeare, are to be found in this account as the recipients of four and a half yards of red cloth. Ogburn tells us nothing more of what appears in this account than that this grant was made to "diverse persons." Ruth Loyd Miller, another Oxfordian, contends that "the clothe was issued to them not as 'actors' but as men of 'The Chamber.'" The word "actors" is not to be found in the account book, it is true; but beside the names of Shakespeare and his fellows the word "Players" is written, large and grandly. Such matters are important to Oxfordians, because in their scenario Shakespeare the bit actor had been packed off to Stratford in the late 1590s, and here, as in several other documents from after that time, Shakespeare's name heads a list of his fellow players. They must therefore find some way to show how, when William Shakespeare is mentioned in connection with the Chamberlain's Men, the reference is really to Oxford in his not-so-secret identity. In fact, Oxfordians suggest that Oxford's role in this troupe was not merely as its playwright but as its patron. Could it be, they ask, that the patron of the Chamberlain's Men was not Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Chamberlain of the Household, who has traditionally been assigned that role, but rather the Lord Great Chamberlain of England—who happened to be Oxford?

Aside from the fact that the actors in what had been the Chamberlain's Men had been in the King's service for nearly ten months at the time, this hypothesis also ignores one account of James's procession which makes it certain that the actors' previous patron was unquestionably Lord Hunsdon. In The Time Triumphant, by Gilbert Dugdale, which was in print about two weeks after the event, the author wrote of the new sovereign that he "to the mean gave grace: as taking to him the late Lord Chamberlain's Servants, now the King's Actors." This could only be a reference to Hunsdon, who had died six months earlier; Oxford survived another three months. This is but one of several contemporary items that leaves no question that the company had been Hunsdon's. The Hunsdon-versus-Oxford issue, then, is not an issue at all, merely an example of Oxfordian scholarship that is less than scrupulous.

One could go on endlessly with examples of how straightforward evidence is manhandled by the Oxfordians, but let us turn instead to the question put succinctly by Ogburn: "What about the manuscripts of his plays, which he had never shown any interest in having printed?" There is little that gets more attention from Oxfordians than the absence of autograph manuscripts, which they insist must have had some value to the author. However, there is no evidence that Shakespeare's contemporaries attached any more importance to their manuscripts than he did. Certainly, Ben Jonson thought highly of his plays. In 1616, having carefully selected and edited certain of them (and having rewritten Every Man in His Humour entirely), Jonson published a collection in a handsome folio volume. "A major principle behind this selection," Richard Dutton wrote in his book on the folio, "was certainly the promotion of the image of himself as a serious poet—something very different from a mere playwright." Nevertheless, although many examples of his literary output in other forms survive, not a leaf of a Jonson play in his hand has come down to us.

Indifference to the preservation of manuscripts was not peculiar to Shakespeare and his fellow dramatists. In his English Literary Hands From Chaucer to Dryden, Anthony G. Petti concluded:

Even literary figures preoccupied with posthumous fame did not apparently place value on preserving their holograph manuscripts after publication, much less their earlier drafts, and neither, generally speaking, did anyone else, other than close friends, for the cult of collecting literary autographs did not begin in earnest until the end of the 18th century.

Petti found English Renaissance dramatic remains to be in a particularly poor state in every respect, for though "there are references to over three thousand plays in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period, . . . only a handful of manuscript copies survive, and a mere fraction is extant in print."

At any rate, the manuscript of a play was the property not of the playwright but of the company that produced it; unless an unauthorized printer got hold of it first, a play could not be published without the consent of the shareholders. Oxfordians dismiss this contention, but the two surviving documents that touch on this, and the publication history of Chamberlain's Men and King's Men plays, leave little room for doubt that the companies did indeed exercise control over publication.

The one contract between a playwright and an acting company that still exists is that between Richard Brome and Queen Henrietta's players. Brome, the contract stipulated,

should not suffer any play made or to be made or composed by him for your subjects or their successors in the said company in Salisbury Court to be printed by his consent or knowledge, privity, or direction without the license from the said company or the major part of them.

The agreement of the sharers in the Whitefriars Theatre provides even more important information about a company's determination to control publication of its plays:

no man of the said Company shall at any time hereafter put into print, or cause to be put in print, any manner of play book now in use, or that hereafter shall be sold unto them, upon the penalty and forfeiture of forty pounds. . . .

Here we see that even a shareholder, as Shakespeare was in the Globe company, was forbidden to derive personal benefit from what was viewed as the property of the company as a whole. There is no reason to think that such contracts were confined to these two particular acting companies. All the evidence is to the contrary—especially where the Chamberlain's Men and the King's Men are concerned. In the forty-eight-year history of this company it had four principal playwrights—Shakespeare, John Fletcher, Philip Massinger, and James Shirley. Although the shareholders did put plays into print from time to time, only three plays, all by Massinger, show evidence of having been printed with the author's cooperation; all three give unmistakable evidence that they were published with the company's consent as well.

What seems even more suspicious to Oxfordians than Shakespeare's indifference to his own greatness is the complementary indifference of his contemporaries. "To make Shakspere the author," said Peter Jaszi, an Oxfordian attorney, in an authorship debate in Washington, D.C., in September of 1987, "we would have to explain away the lack of recognition, in life and at death, that he would have received as such an author, in London or in Stratford." This seems a perfectly reasonable idea in the twentieth century, and especially nowadays, when a person can be famous for being famous, and journalists and biographers will root through trash to find every scrap of paper that may hold some secret to this evanescent personality. But the Elizabethans were guilty of something more than failing to anticipate what our century would want to know about Shakespeare: there is little reason to believe they shared our exalted opinion of the Bard.

To put Shakespeare into the perspective of his age, one must recognize that stage plays were considered things of slight literary merit. In 1612 Sir Thomas Bodley, the founder of the famous Bodleian Library, at Oxford, took the library's keeper to task for cataloguing "riffraffs," a category that included plays. "Some plays," he allowed, "may be worth the keeping, but hardly one in forty." For although the playwrights of other nations were "men of great fame for wisdom and learning," such qualities were "seldom or never seen among us." Indeed, he feared the scandal "when it shall be given out that we stuff [the library] full of baggage books." None of Shakespeare's plays was among the one in forty.

For all the honors that were soon to be conferred on Ben Jonson, when his 1616 folio, The Works of Benjamin Jonson, appeared, a wag posed the famous question, "Pray tell me, Ben, where doth the mystery lurk,/What others call a play you call a work."

Though John Dryden was an admirer of Shakespeare's, he confessed that Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher "had with the advantage of Shakespeare's wit, which was their precedent, great natural gifts, improv'd by study," and that for this reason "their Plays are now the most pleasant and frequent entertainments of the Stage; two of theirs being acted through the year for one of Shakespeare's or Jonson's." Whether or not Dryden's estimate is reliable, the Restoration audiences of Jonson and Beaumont and Fletcher saw the plays as they had been written. But Shakespeare offended this refined age, violating its idea of dramatic form and good taste. Not many of his plays escaped thorough adaptation. The Macbeth that Restoration audiences saw owed more to Sir William Davenant than to Shakespeare; Nahum Tate's revision of King Lear is notorious. Antony and Cleopatra was newly made by Dryden to become All for Love. And so on.

In Shakespeare and Jonson, the scholar Gerald Eades Bentley set himself the task of comparing the reputations of the two in the seventeenth century. By tabulating direct references to the playwrights, their plays, and their characters, he found that "not only was Jonson mentioned oftener, quoted oftener, and praised oftener, but his individual plays and poems were named more frequently than Shakespeare's, though his canon is smaller." Six plays by Jonson were mentioned more frequently than any work by Shakespeare; there were more than twice as many references to Catiline as to the most frequently named Shakespeare tragedy, Othello.

Well into the next century Shakespeare would be derided "for neglecting the unities, for ignoring the ancients, for violating decorum by resorting to tragicomedy and supernatural characters, and for using puns and blank verse." In 1709 his greatest interpreter in Restoration theater, the tragedian Thomas Betterton, looked down loftily upon the man who "liv'd under a kind of mere Light of Nature .. . in a state of almost universal License and Ignorance."

Betterton's opinion appeared in the first modern edition of Shakespeare's plays, edited by Nicholas Rowe, himself a dramatist who would become poet laureate of Britain. Ben Jonson had left behind carefully edited plays, and an excellent Beaumont and Fletcher folio was published in 1647; the Shakespeare folio texts were by comparison poor stuff. Rowe's attempt to put the texts in order incidentally set into motion the incredible reversal of opinion about their author. In 1725 Alexander Pope's edition attempted to better Rowe, and was in turn challenged by Lewis Theobald, with more to come. Finally Samuel Johnson set his formidable self to the task, for which he enlisted the aid of several literary scholars. However, not even this titanic effort satisfied George Steevens (who would collaborate with Johnson on subsequent editions). "A perfect edition of the plays of Shakespeare," he wrote after the publication of Johnson's edition, "requires at once the assistance of the Antiquary, the Historian, the Grammarian, and the Poet." It had not been a hundred years since Nahum Tate, Rowe's predecessor as poet laureate, had reworked King Lear, which he declared to be "a heap of jewels . . . dazzling in their disorder," and Dryden had removed from Troilus and Cressida "that heap of Rubbish, under which so many excellent Thoughts lay wholly bury'd." Now the originals of these plays and their brethren needed nothing less than the efforts of a legion of scholars to be fully revealed. It was inevitable that someone would conclude that the author who required such a throwing about of brains must have been quite a brain himself, at once a master of the classics, of geography, of law, of court life—of any subject that could be found in his plays. This would become the Shakespeare of the authorship debate.

A Man of the Theater

At the heart of the authorship controversy is not only what we should expect to find of the author in his own time but precisely what his special genius was. Was it essential that he have been a man deeply involved in the world of the theater (as Oxford was not)? Or could he have been, as Algernon Charles Swinburne contended, a learned belletrist who wrote for the studious future reader, "who would be competent and careful to appreciate what his audience and fellow actors could not"?

Virtually all the support Ogburn can muster for the notion that Shakespeare was not a man of the theater is from nineteenth-century critics. For instance, Ogburn cites William Hazlitt's comment "We do not like to see our author's plays acted, and least of all, Hamlet." Hazlitt wrote this, however, in a review of a specific performance (by Edmund Kean). In fact, it was Hazlitt who believed that Shakespeare wrote for the "great vulgar and the small," and that he did so for those "in his time, not for posterity." Indeed, no one has more eloquently captured the unique qualities of Shakespeare's theater than Hazlitt did when he wrote in praise of the "wonderful truth and individuality of conception" of his characters, each "as much itself, and as absolutely independent of the rest, as well as of the author, as if they were living persons, not fictions of the mind." This is precisely what a playwright must accomplish. And no one has done it better than Shakespeare. Unlike the narrative poet or the novelist who, in Hazlitt's words, "answer[s] for his characters himself," Shakespeare created characters who "introduced upon the stage are liable to be asked all sorts of questions, and are forced to answer for themselves." Simply, Shakespeare had the power to make a well-rehearsed actor seem spontaneous, even unpredictable—the power to improvise a life upon the stage.

In the search for the dramatist with this singular ability, the singularity of Shakespeare's experience of theater has been overlooked. Virtually throughout his known career he was a member of the greatest and most stable acting organization of his day. Only Thomas Heywood, who fares poorly among the major playwrights of that era, approached Shakespeare's association of nearly twenty years, as player, playwright, and shareholder, with a single acting company. The importance of this relationship is everywhere evident in his plays.

Early in his career he wrote plays for whatever company wanted them. One of the Henry VI plays was enacted by Lord Strange's company; Part III was in the repertoire of the Earl of Pembroke's players. Titus Andronicus was passed among—in some order—the players of the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Pembroke, and the Earl of Sussex. Like such early comedies as The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, these plays can be effective on the stage, but they have merely flashes of what sets apart Shakespeare's work for the Chamberlain's Men and the King's Men—the individual voice, the personalized vocabulary, the rhythms of speech, the almost palpable image of the person to whom they belong. At the height of his powers, no role was so small that Shakespeare could not give a special life to it; in Measure for Measure, as Kenneth Muir observed, "Barnardine is given only seven speeches, Juliet seven and Froth eight, with a total of only 232 words between the three characters. But Shakespeare knew that all three could be made into unforgettable figures."

For indeed, his characters were "living persons, not fictions of the mind." They reflect his intimate knowledge of the qualities of his fellow actors. He knew the actor who would play the part—his look and gestures, the sound of his voice, the way he moved. Is it coincidental that Shakespeare alone among his contemporaries created great female roles? For no other dramatist could have known the talents of his "boy actresses" as Shakespeare knew those of his Beatrice and Cleopatra, his Rosalind and Desdemona. And after all, Shakespeare's theater, unlike that of his contemporaries, is a theater of characters, a world on the stage, richly populated with humanity in all its variety. His great tragedies Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello were fashioned from little more than fables; they are not, like those of his contemporaries, constrained by either theme or plot. Where Jonson's characters "display a stubborn fixedness, a refusal to change or grow," Shakespeare's creations have a spontaneity and a mutability that may seem puzzling on the printed page but that assume a vividness on the stage. It is from these characters that Shakespeare's plays take their form and come to life. So unapproachable is the dramatic standard set by Shakespeare that Peter Brook, his most famous directorial interpreter in our time, has written with evident exasperation, "in the second half of the twentieth century . . . we are faced with the infuriating fact that Shakespeare is still our model."

The sheer number of candidates put forward as having had the unique qualifications of position and education to be the True Author is evidence that these qualifications were not at all unique in Shakespeare's time. And there is, after all, really very little in Shakespeare's plays that required knowledge beyond materials that were publicly available. What the authorship partisans have failed to demonstrate is how any of their candidates had the intimate knowledge and experience of theater and drama to create plays that remain the standard by which all other stage works are measured. Those qualifications are possessed uniquely by the man who was an active member of an extraordinary theatrical ensemble—William Shakespeare, gentleman of Stratford.

Tom Bethell (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Looking for Shakespeare: Two Partisans Explain and Debate the Authorship Question," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 268, No. 4, October, 1991, pp. 43-61.

[In his reply to Matus 's essay (above), Bethell counters Matus 's Stratfordian arguments, maintaining that evidence of the connection between Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford cannot be dismissed.]

Irvin Matus has performed a useful service by disposing of some of the weaker anti-Stratfordian arguments.

I agree that the Stratford man was at no time "packed off to his home town, that Lord Hunsdon was the patron of the Chamberlain's Men, and that Elizabethans did not think holograph manuscripts worth keeping. Philip Henslowe's failure to mention Shakespeare doesn't concern me. I am pleased to hear that plays were classified as "riffraffs" by literary folk: this would help to explain the use of a pseudonym by a play-writing nobleman.

I agree that Shakespeare's reputation was not by any means the equal of Ben Jonson's in the seventeenth century. All the easier to believe that his identity could remain obscured, and all the more surprising that plays he did not write, such as A Yorkshire Tragedy, should be attributed during his lifetime to his pen. This never happened with Jonson, Beaumont, or Fletcher. (Beaumont died a month before Shakspere and—in contrast to the neglected Stratford man—was buried in Westminster Abbey.) As for Ben Jonson's "rudimentary schooling," David Riggs writes in his 1989 biography, "By the time he left Westminster, he had committed substantial portions of Cato, Terence, Ovid, Virgil, Cicero, and Horace to memory."

In insisting that the Stratford man was "a man of the theater." Matus is simply trying to smuggle in the playwright with the actor. What is the warrant for claiming that there is "an ample supply of references to Shakespeare as a player and playwright . . ."? Except for Greenes Groats-worth of Wit (1592), which I will discuss in a moment, there are no personal references to the Stratford man as a playwright that antedate his death. "Shakespeare" appears on quartos after 1598, but whether the Stratford man wrote them is precisely the point at issue.

The dichotomy that Matus is so eager to establish between the stage-writer and the belletrist depends for its point on the bold claim (inserted parenthetically) that Oxford was not a man of the theater. Any evidence here? Oxford's comedies were praised by Meres, and he was the patron of two acting companies. The praise that Matus heaps on Shakespeare the stage-writer could apply equally to Oxford.

Stratfordian dogma has it that once plays were sold, the playwright surrendered all rights to them. But this claim should be treated with skepticism. By the time Shakspere joined the company, in 1594, Titus Andronicus was a hit and the two long poems, Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece, were selling well. Are we really to believe that, having written Othello, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra, the Stratford man remained in such a weak bargaining position with his fellow actors that he was reduced in later life to seeking remuneration in the small-claims courts rather than from publishers? Are we also to believe (as his will implies) that he remained indifferent to the fate of these masterpieces, then still unpublished? I don't believe it.

Curiously, Matus fails to mention the main evidence for Shakspere's claim to authorship, found in the introductory material to the First Folio. Poems by Ben Jonson, Leonard Digges, and two others contrive to praise the poet while failing to provide information about his life. As the Oxfordian scholar Peter Moore points out, the Folio even omits Shakspere's proudest claim: his hardwon title of gentleman, his coat of arms and motto. In a society as conscious of rank as England then was, this was tantamount to failing to give his full name.

Jonson does refer to the poet as "Sweet Swan of Avon," however, and Digges alludes to "thy Stratford Moniment." Those phrases, written after Shakspere's death, are the strongest links between the playwright and the Stratford man that we have. Jonson and Digges convey no other biographical information, however. We don't even know if the frontispiece engraving, by Droeshout, resembles the Stratford man.

Certain aspects of the First Folio are more than a little suspect. It opens with a dedication, supposedly written by Shakspere's fellow actors John Heminge and Henry Condell, "to the most Noble and Incomparable Paire of Brethren," William and Philip Herbert, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery. A preface addressed to "the great Variety of Readers" is also imputed to these players. In the eighteenth century the Shakespeare scholar Edmond Malone argued that in all probability Ben Jonson wrote this preface. In parallel columns over several pages he juxtaposed extracts attributed to Heminge and Condell in the Folio with corresponding passages in Jonson's works. (In the Folio: "How odde soever your braines be or your wisdomes. . . ." In Jonson's Discoveries: "How odde soever mens braines or wisdomes be.") It is likely that Jonson in fact wrote both the preface and the dedication.

Some claims attributed to Heminge and Condell are also suspect. In earlier (quarto) printings the plays had been "maimed and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious imposters," the Folio notes, but now at last they were made available "cur'd and perfect of their limbes." In this respect, it was implied, the author's clean copy had been a help, for "we have scarse received from him a blot in his papers." Textual scholarship has demonstrated, however, that for many of the previously published plays the Folio editors used not manuscripts but the same "maimed and deformed" quartos already cited.

Thus the testimony of the Folio, at least in part, is suspect. It cannot be taken at face value. Ogburn quotes James Boswell the younger (1778—1822) as saying that there is "something fishy" about the whole thing. Some commentators have noted the sharp contrast between Ben Jonson's earlier lukewarm or disparaging comments about Shakespeare and his effusive praise in the Folio. Was this a command performance? The Earl of Pembroke was Jonson's patron, not to mention the Lord Chamberlain. As Lord Chamberlain he controlled the Revels Office and the licensing of plays for performance and publication. In the Folio the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery are praised for having treated both the plays "and their Authour living" with "so much favour."

Who were these literary noblemen? In 1604 the Earl of Montgomery married Susan Vere, Oxford's youngest daughter. Marriage between Pembroke and Oxford's second daughter, Bridget, was proposed in 1597, but it fell through. The Folio, then, was dedicated to Oxford's son-in-law and the son-in-law's brother. The role they may have played in the publication of the Folio is a matter for speculation, but the circumstances are suggestive. In the strange 1609 preface to Troilus and Cressida, incidentally, the author of that play is coyly not named, and other works by him are referred to as being retained by certain unnamed "grand possessors."

Let us turn to Greenes Groats-worth of Wit, a pamphlet originally attributed to Robert Greene but now thought to have been written by Henry Chetile, and one of the stronger weapons in the Stratfordian arsenal. The pamphlet alerts playwrights to an "upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes fac totum, is in his own conceit the only Shakescene in a country." Since "Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hide" is adapted from Henry VI, Part III, and since there is a pun on Shakespeare's name, the Stratfordians contend that the passage establishes the Stratford man as a playwright. But does it?

The reference does seem to be to Shakspere—albeit a Shakspere who is apparently passing himself off in the "feathers" of a playwright. If the man really was a playwright, of course, this would have made little sense as an exposé.

Now notice what happened next. Chetile swiftly backtracked. The pamphlet, written to "divers playmakers," had been "offensively . . . taken." Two people took offense, apparently. Chettle was acquainted with neither of them, "and with one of them I care not if I never be." (Shakspere, I surmise.) Chettle apologized to the other. "Divers of worship have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious [polished] grace in writing. . . ." Possibly, then, Chettle found out that the upstart Shakspere, relatively new in town, was putting on airs as a "playmaker" (that is, fronting for Oxford). Not realizing that a nobleman had arranged it, Chettle imprudently blew the whistle. He soon found out that divers of worship could do without investigative journalism Elizabethan style, and he duly groveled.

Stratfordians sometimes resemble fundamentalist theologians, who cling tenaciously to the idea that a sacred text is literally true and must then ingeniously explain away a mass of subversive evidence that contradicts it. That evidence is not going away, and it cannot be dismissed with the ad hominem argument (now frequently heard) that it is propounded by snobs who can't bear the idea of Shakespeare's being a common man. (Was Looney a snob?) It is the evidence itself that must be addressed. The many connections between Edward de Vere and the works of William Shakespeare can no more be explained away by attacking Oxfordians for their alleged snobbery than the apparent inadequacy of Shakspere of Stratford can be explained away on grounds of the "essential incomprehensibility of genius," to use Schoenbaum's phrase.

There may well be more material yet to be discovered. If the Oxford theory of authorship is correct, a great deal of the Shakespeare research in the past 200 years has been done in the wrong place. The academy's almost total lack of interest in the subject over the past seventy years has ensured that only a relative handful of people have done any Oxford-related research since Looney wrote his book. Steven May, of Georgetown College, speaks eloquently about the still unresearched Elizabethan archives in English country houses and record offices. He mentions in particular Longleat and the National Library of Wales. "The manuscript materials have not been searched as carefully as everyone thinks," he says. He is confident that more material on De Vere is out there.

Oxford's oldest daughter, Elizabeth, married William Stanley, the sixth Earl of Derby, and their granddaughter married into the Wentworth family in Yorkshire. Two years ago an unemployed Englishman (on welfare!) researched Wentworth Woodhouse, one of the largest houses in England. The most valuable portion of its library had been sold to Sotheby's in 1948. Among the books sold were Holinshed's Chronicles (1587 edition), The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting (1575), Castiglione's Il Cortegiano (1562), Hakluyt's Voyages, and the Amyot translation of Plutarch's Lives—signed by Shakespeare's friend, the third Earl of Southampton. (Sotheby's kept the names of the buyers.)

Probably nothing to it, Steven May said when I told him about this. And probably he's right. It's interesting, though. They never did find one book owned by the Stratford man. Possibly, just possibly, the big Shakespeare find that so many scholars have looked for in vain for so many years is still out there in the library or attic of one of those country houses.

Irvin Matus (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Looking for Shakespeare: Two Partisans Explain and Debate the Authorship Question," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 268, No. 4, October, 1991, pp. 43-61.

[In his reply to Bethell 's essay (above), Matus disputes the Oxfordian chronology asserted by Bethell and defends the "country bumpkin " from Stratford as the author of the works attributed to Shakespeare.]

Tom Bethell's case for Oxford demonstrates once again that in the thousands of works on Shakespeare and his plays, something can be found to support any notion. It also demonstrates that, as usual, Oxfordians must often resort to outdated scholarship to find support for their notions. Apparently, modern scholarship is as discouraging to them as the contemporaneous records of Shakespeare and his theater are treacherous.

These problems are on display in Bethell's assertion that there is "abundant evidence" to support the earlier dating of many plays. The dating of plays after 1604, he writes, is merely a matter of "giving breathing space to Stratfordian chronology," and he states that "perhaps as many as a dozen plays were written before the Stratford man reached his thirty-first birthday," in 1595. Well, as Bethell himself notes, the Palladis Tamia of Francis Meres, published three years later, gives a list of plays by Shakespeare, and the total is still only a dozen. According to Oxfordians, Hamlet, King Lear, Henry V, and The Winter's Tale, at the very least, had been written by this time, and yet they do not appear on Meres's list. Where are they? Even if we give the Oxfordians the benefit of the doubt and add these four plays to the ones on Francis Meres's list, and then combine them all with every other Shakespeare play that scholars acknowledge to have been written before 1598, that still means that more than half of the thirtyeight plays attributed to Shakespeare would have to have been written (or "revised") between that year and Oxford's death six years later, in 1604. By then only twenty-three plays that are certainly Shakespeare's had appeared in published editions or been mentioned in printed sources. It doesn't seem like the Oxfordian chronology allows much breathing room at all.

It also lacks a logical trajectory. Only two of the works on Meres's list of early plays—Richard II and Henry IV— are unquestionably works that have the earmarks of Shakespeare's mature command of drama and dramatic poetry. We know of references to nine plays written by Shakespeare during the period that ends in 1604 other than those mentioned by Meres, and again, only one or two are of high dramatic stature. By the time of Oxford's death, then, none but a handful of Shakespeare's most accomplished works had been either mentioned in print or published—quite a suggestive point in itself. But the main point is this: The traditional Shakespearean chronology, which has the author living until 1616, and places much of Shakespeare's best work after 1604, takes his artistic development over time into account. The Oxfordian chronology, in contrast, really offers nothing more than a confused redating of a scattering of plays.

Bethell claims that the King's Men were attaching Shakespeare's name to plays that he didn't write (for example, The London Prodigal and A Yorkshire Tragedy) in order to sell them to printers—something he is sure that the real playwright would not have allowed if he was still alive. This assertion is a reiteration of that unshakable Oxfordian fallacy that the rights of authors were recognized in Elizabethan-Stuart England. In fact authors had no rights. And especially not in the eyes of the Stationers, a guild concerned only with the rights of its printers and publishers. And there is every reason to believe that some publishers took advantage of this, which is nearly certainly the case with A Yorkshire Tragedy, registered to Thomas Pavier. He was also involved in the publication of the falsely dated, falsely attributed Shakespeare volumes printed in 1619, which possibly played a part in the King's Men's attempt to have the Lord Chamberlain forbid publication of any of their plays. There is absolutely nothing to support Bethell's accusation that the acting company was involved in the printing of the books he mentions. Why should they have been? At the time, they had at least a dozen unpublished plays that were by Shakespeare.

Another of the supposed mysteries mentioned by Bethell is the absence of an author's name in the early quartos, as though this were a condition peculiar to Shakespeare. Rather, it was so common that it was a major factor in the attribution of Mucedorus, Fair Em, and The Merry Devil of Edmonton to Shakespeare. A substantial number of plays were published anonymously, and when catalogues of plays began to appear, in 1656, the compilers tried to find authors for orphaned plays. In fact, occasionally they would find an author for a play even if it already had one. For instance, although Thomas Heywood's name appears on the title page of The Iron Age (1632), one compiler awarded this play to Thomas Dekker. Needless to say, their methods weren't very exacting in attributing anonymous plays. Thus The Revenger's Tragedy was probably assigned to Cyril Tourneur on grounds no better than that he had written The Atheist's Tragedy—but the former is now generally accepted as being by Thomas Middleton.

What is especially frustrating to Oxfordians, whose fundamental tenet is that a country bumpkin could not have written the plays in which they perceive a man of vast learning, is that they cannot find even one of Shakespeare's contemporaries who agrees with them. Bethell blames Jonson for "spread[ing] the idea that Shakespeare was nature's child"—but no one seems to have disputed this. When someone did reply to Jonson's frequent reproaches of Shakespeare for "want of Learning, and Ignorance of the Ancients," the reply was most enlightening. The "ever-memorable" John Hales is said to have told Jonson that

if Mr. Shakespear had not read the Ancients, he had likewise not stolen anything from 'em (a fault the other [Jonson] made no Conscience of), and that if he would produce any one Topic finely treated by any of them, he would undertake to show something upon the same Subject at least as well written by Shakespear.

Hales's remarks reflect what Shakespeare was most often praised for in his own age: his mastery of the language. This is heard even in Bethell's quote from the poet William Barksted: "His song was worthy merit." Of course, Bethell cites this as evidence that Shakespeare was in the past tense when the poem was written, in 1607. What, then, of the 1611 epigram "To our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare," in which the author, John Davies of Hereford, addressed the dramatist in the present tense?

But the epigram holds more of interest. Why should Davies have likened Shakespeare to Terence? He probably intended to suggest nothing more than that his contemporary's sense of language and style was akin to that of the Roman dramatist from the second century B.C. The two men have taken on other similarities since. Because Oxfordians are certain that a tradesman's son from a nasty provincial town could not have written the plays of a Shakespeare, it is worth noting that Terence was brought to Rome as a slave from Carthage, a very unfashionable city in its age. What is even more striking is that in Terence's lifetime, because of his lowly origins, it was rumored that his plays were actually written by noblemen. It appears that Shakespeare's contemporaries were more democratic-minded than Terence's. Or some of mine.

Bethell does nothing to rebut Justice Stevens's criticism that "the Oxfordian case suffers from not having a single, coherent theory." In fact, Bethell offers still another Oxfordian variant on the role of "William Shakspere, of Stratford," in the Oxford drama. First there is the familiar version: the "front man" paid off to "ensure his return to that dreary community," where he would be kept "out of sight so that his glaring disqualifications for the role of the dramatist would not queer the game," in the words of Charlton Ogburn. And now the variant: "Shakspere" endowed with a share in the Chamberlain's Men and left to put his glaring disqualifications on constant display as a "factotum and manager." While we anxiously await whatever story Oxfordians eventually settle on, let's consider that both current versions concede that Shakespeare was at some time a part of the London theater scene. Isn't it odd that in an age when even monarchs and (if we are to believe Oxfordians) their councillors were fair game for satire, there is not a hint that anyone sent up the fellow who hung around the playhouses as not being the same man who wrote those plays?

Of course, Oxfordians are in total agreement that the praise of the earl for comedy by George or Richard Puttenham, echoed by Meres, is an indication of his virtuosity. But there is no reason whatsoever to believe that Puttenham or Meres was referring to anything but the comedies written under Oxford's own name. It is interesting what company Oxford keeps in The Arte of English Poesie. He is paired with Richard Edwards in his facility for "Comedy and Enterlude," just as "the Lord of Buckhurst [Thomas Sackville] and Master Edward Ferrers . . . deserve the highest price" for tragedy. Not only are these men not known to have written anything after 1580, but also they wrote in the highly formal style that signified refined taste. There is no reason to doubt that Oxford was right at home among them—and none would have been at home on the popular stages. Furthermore, if the Oxfordian chronology is right, and his popular plays were revised versions of court plays, then many of his histories and tragedies had been written by 1589. But all we hear about from Puttenham is Oxford's facility for comedy, and that is all we hear about in Palladis Tamia, nine years later.

Most of all, the case of the Oxfordians relies on what they perceive to be stunning parallels between Oxford's life and Shakespeare's plays. Sometimes this calls to mind nothing so much as Fluellen, the Welsh captain in Henry V, who finds striking parallels between King Harry and "Alexander the Pig" ("is not 'pig' great"), especially:

There is a river in Macedon, and there is also moreover a river at Monmouth. . . . 'tis all one; 'tis alike as my fingers is to my fingers, and there is salmons in both.

For instance, Oxford had been to Italy, and Bethell finds scholarly support for Shakespeare's familiarity with its topography. But somehow we find nothing of its people in the plays set in Italy; Shakespeare's characters are always of contemporary England. But Oxford's character was definitely influenced by his Italian travels. Therefore, whereas Bethell discerns "Shakespeare's frequent disgust with court life," it is curious to find the Duke of York in Richard II complaining of the court's taste for the

Report of fashions in proud Italy,
Whose manners still our tardy apish nation
Limps after in base imitation.

Historically, Richard's court aped the fashions of France. It was Elizabeth's court where Italy was in fashion, and no one, perhaps, was more in this fashion than the Earl of Oxford. Gabriel Harvey, a supposed admirer of the earl's, wrote a poem that, according to Virginia F. Stern, in her biography of Harvey (1979), "depicts with ridicule the attire and mannerisms of an Italianate Englishman and was probably conceived as a veiled caricature of the Earl of Oxford." In fact, John Lyly recognized Oxford's image in it and called it to his patron's attention, purportedly in the hope of damaging Harvey's standing with the earl.

Which brings us to another issue that looms large in Oxfordian arguments: Shakespeare's allegedly privileged knowledge of court life. As a player in an acting company, Shakespeare was in the service, first, of the Lord Chamberlains of the Household (who, as their title implies, were actively involved in court life) and, second, of the King himself. Shakespeare would have been at court frequently, not only as an actor but also as one of a company whose members, under James I, were Grooms of the Chamber, attendant at state functions. It would appear that Shakespeare had ample opportunity to pick up both firsthand and secondhand knowledge of the court. After all, some of the most extensive and intimate information we have of the doings in the court of England during Shakespeare's lifetime is in the letters of John Chamberlain, a commoner with an uncommonly wide circle of friends.

Finally, Oxfordians would have us believe that the earl's last years are shrouded in impenetrable obscurity because he was indulging in his guilty passion. Those years turn out to be not so impenetrable that there isn't good reason to believe that literature was by no means "his main interest in life." What was his obsession from June of 1594, when the Chamberlain's Men was formed, to March 15, 1595, when we first hear of Shakespeare's association with the company? On March 20, 1595, Oxford wrote to Lord Burghley, "This last year past, I have been a suitor to Her Majesty that I might farm her 'tins.'" One year later tin still seems the subject that excites his Muse. And in June of 1599, when the Globe was just finished, or nearly so, Oxford was still harping on tin. Curiously, in the enormous Shakespeare lexicon the word "tin" never once appears.

As it does not seem that there is much that partisans of Shakespeare and Oxford can agree on, it is pleasant to close on a note of accord with Tom Bethell when he calls attention to Sonnet 76 and its declaration.

That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed.

We don't need an Oxfordian decoder (as Sonnet 76 does) to find a secret message that reveals the author's name. Just turn to Sonnet 135, which begins,

Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy Will,
And Will to boot, and Will in over-plus.

and ends with a sentiment a Shakespearean can regard fondly:

Let no unkind no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.

Other Claimants: Bacon And Marlowe

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12601

H. N. Gibson (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: "The Case For Francis Bacon," in The Shakespeare Claimants: A Critical Survey of the Four Principal Theories Concerning the Authorship of the Shakespearean Plays, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1962, pp. 48-71.

[In the following essay, Gibson examines the basis of the case for Francis Bacon as the author of the plays and poems and then proceeds to highlight the weaknesses of Baconian theories.]

The Baconians were not only the originators of the great Shakespearean controversy; they also devised the pattern for it that all the other schools of thought have followed.1 This pattern consists of four sections—(1) arguments for the rejection of William Shakspere as author; (2) arguments for the recognition of some other candidate as author; (3) reasons for the long concealment of the identity of the new claimant; and (4) reasons for the former ascription of the authorship to William Shakspere. Apart from the fact that Calvin Hoffman, the advocate of Marlowe's authorship, differs from the others in the third item of this pattern, the arguments put forward by all schools for the first, third, and fourth items are very nearly identical. It is in the second item that the greatest differences occur, though even here there is considerable overlapping where the same factor, or series of factors, is merely given a slight twist to make it apply to a different candidate. In this chapter we shall confine our attention to the evidence peculiar to the case for Francis Bacon.

The main plank in the Baconian platform is that the plays show such a remarkable familiarity with the Law and all its processes that they could only have been written by a practising lawyer. This is known technically as 'the argument from legal phraseology', and it is true that the plays do exhibit a considerable amount of legal expertise. Not only are legal matters sometimes introduced into the action, but much use is made of the terminology of the Law in similes and imagery. The Baconians grow almost lyrical themselves as they contemplate these. B. G. Theobald2 cries in delight that the author actually thinks in legal terms. He claims that only trained lawyers can fully understand the plays, and that they are astounded at the depths of legal knowledge these contain. He quotes the eminent luminaries, including a Lord Chief Justice, who have agreed with this finding, and inevitably he refers to the use made of it by the non-Baconian, Sir George Greenwood, in his slashing attack on Shakspere's authorship.

As I can lay claim to no legal expertise myself, I rely very largely for my criticism of this part of the Baconian case on J. M. Robertson, who was not only a great Elizabethan scholar, but spent five years of his life in a lawyer's office. He devotes nearly 200 pages of his vast work, The Baconian Heresy, to exposing the fallacies which underlie all the Baconian arguments on this matter, giving chapter and verse from Elizabethan literature for every claim he makes. His work should be read by all who desire a full understanding of this aspect of the controversy. All I can do here is to give a brief summary of his arguments.

Robertson begins his destructive analysis by tracing the genesis of the legal theory.3 Like so many of the Baconian ideas it was originated by a Stratfordian, J. P. Collier, who about 1859 wrote to Lord Chief Justice Campbell to ask if he did not think the legal references in the plays suggested that Shakespeare had at one time been a lawyer's clerk. In reply Lord Campbell prepared a disquisition on the subject entitled Shakespeare 's Legal Acquirements Considered, in which he stated that the legal knowledge was undoubtedly great, but not more so than might have been picked up by a man who 'for some years had occupied a desk in the office of a country attorney in good business'. The list of quotations Lord Campbell compiled to illustrate this contention was taken over unaltered by Sir George Greenwood in 1908, but he rejected Lord Campbell's finding that they might emanate from a mere clerk, and maintained that the author must have been a trained lawyer, versed in all the fundamentals of the Law. The Baconians, since that time, have merely repeated Greenwood's arguments and referred their readers to his work.

Robertson next asks a very pertinent question.4 If the author really filled his plays with legal references that only trained lawyers could understand, did not this imply that his dramatis personae talked 'out of character', and thus detracted from his artistry as a dramatist? Moreover there was the audience to be considered. Would the writer have become the most popular dramatist of his day if his plays had contained so much that could not be understood? This point need not detain us long; the questions answer themselves. It is obvious that the Shakespearean plays do not contain the defects mentioned or they could never have attained their universal popularity.

Robertson then proceeds to make his main point. The lawyers, who so largely constitute the ranks of the Baconians, are not Elizabethan scholars. They have certainly studied the Shakespearean plays to find in them what they wanted, and have done as much with the works of Bacon for the same purpose, but they are totally ignorant of the rest of Elizabethan literature. Had they not been so they would have known that almost every other dramatist of the time, and other writers too, made as much use of legal phraseology as did Shakespeare, many a great deal more, and not a few handled it more adroitly, for Shakespeare's knowledge is far from being as impeccable as the Baconians claim. If Shakespeare's familiarity with the Law proves that he was a trained lawyer, then by the same reasoning so was almost every other writer of the time, and we are driven to the absurd conclusion that the whole of Elizabethan literature was written by trained lawyers.

To prove his point Robertson takes a wide range of legal expressions from the Campbell—Greenwood list, and in well over a hundred pages5 of closely printed matter shows that every one of them is used in precisely the same way by other authors of the day. Here considerations of space allow me to quote only two examples by way of illustration of the thoroughness of Robertson's work. The two I have chosen are 'Extent' and 'Praemunire', the use of which by the author of the Shakespearean plays proves, so the Baconians claim, that he had a deep technical knowledge of the Law.

An example of his use of the first occurs in As You Like It (III, i), 'Make an extent upon his house and lands'; and the second, used only on this one occasion in all the Shakespearean works, occurs in Henry VIII (III, ii), 'Fall into the compass of a praemunire'.

Robertson gives a list of nine other contemporary works out of many in which these words are used in their strict legal sense. In the pre-Shakespearean play Selimus (sc. I, 1. 21), usually ascribed to Greene, is the phrase 'Through all the world make extent'; and in the same author's undoubted work, A Defence of Coney-Catching, there is 'They have you in suit, and I doubt not will ere long have some extent against your lands'.

Thomas Nashe, in his Pierce Pennilesse, His Supplication To The Devili, causes his hero to suggest to the Infernal Potentate that he might 'make extent upon the souls of a number of uncharitable cormorants' who have 'incurred the danger of a praemunire with meddling with matters that properly concern your own person'. Again, in Christ's Tears Over Jerusalem, the same author has 'Oh pride, of all heaven-relapsing praemunires the most fearful'; in The Unfortunate Traveller, 'lamenting my Jewish Praemunire that body and goods I should light into the hands of such a cursed generation'; and, in the same tale, 'to extend upon' in the sense of 'to make extent upon'.

Massinger makes frequent use of the terms. The following are a few examples: From The City Madam (V, ii),

There lives a foolish creature
Called an under-sheriff, who, being well paid, will serve
An extent on lords' and lowns' lands.

From A New Way To Pay Old Debts,

This manor is extended to my use
You 'll speak in a humbler key.

And from the same play, spoken by Sir Giles Overreach,

If I were a justice, besides the trouble,
I might, or out of wilfulness or error,
Run myself into a praemunire,
And so become a prey to the informer.

And from The Old Lady,

That's a shrewd praemunire.

Ben Jonson also uses the second term in A Staple of News (V, ii):

Lest what I have done to them, and against law,
Be a praemunire.

So much for the Baconian argument from the use of legal phraseology. This, however, does not exhaust that school's appeal to the Law. Another claim is that the author of the Shakespearean plays was so familiar with lawyers' language that he could make his dramatis personae utter whole long speeches in a burlesque legal terminology, as he does in the case of Don Adriano in L.L.L. (I, II). TO which Robertson replies6 that this is perfectly true, but it is equally true of many other Elizabethan dramatists, and that there is nothing of this type of humour in the Shakespearean plays to compare with the speech Ben Jonson puts into the mouth of Sir Puntarvolo in Every Man Out Of His Humour:

That, after receipt of his money, he shall neither in his own person or any other, either by direct or indirect means, as magic, witchcraft, or other exotic arts, attempt, practise, or complot anything to the prejudice of me, my dog or my cat; neither shall I use the help of any such sorceries or enchantments, as unctions to make our skins impenetrable, or travel invisible by virtue of a powder, or a ring, or to hang any three-forked chains about my dog's neck, secretly conveyed into his collar; but all be performed sincerely, without fraud or imposture.

Moreover there are Shakespeare's legal lapses to be taken into account. A barrister named Devecmon—for not all lawyers are Baconians—in his Re Shakespeare 's Legal Acquirements, another work conspicuous by its absence from Baconian bibliographies, calls attention to some of these. More particularly he attacks the trial scene in M. of V. as a romantic travesty of both justice and Law Courts, good theatre no doubt, but, as regards the sober processes of the Law, absolute nonsense. He contrasts with this Webster's realistic handling of trial scenes in three of his plays—The White Devil, The Devil's Law Case, and Appius And Virginia. With regard to the second, Devecmon says that it contains in the one scene 'more legal expressions, some of them highly technical, and all correctly used, than any single one of Shakespeare's works'. We can hardly imagine Francis Bacon, the premier lawyer of his age, being beaten in such a matter by Webster.

Baconian lawyers, not being Elizabethan scholars, do not understand that in the Tudor period there grew up a positive 'craze' for the Law, which affected all classes. Hubert Hall, an official of H.M. Records Office about the middle of last century, says in his Society In The Elizabethan Age7 that 'Every man in those days was up to a certain point his own lawyer; that is, he was well versed in all the technical forms and procedure'. Bringing legal actions was a favourite pastime, as Nashe tells us. In Pierce Pennilesse he says, 'Lawyers cannot divise which way in the world to beg, they are so troubled with brabblements and suits every term, of yeomen and gentlemen that fall out for nothing. If John a Nokes his hen do but leap into Elizabeth de Yappe's close, she will never leave to haunt her husband till he bring it to a Nisi prius. One while the parson sueth the parishioner for bringing home his tithes; another while the parishioner sueth the parson for not taking away his tithes in time'. So great was this mania for litigation that Bishop Latimer felt impelled to preach a sermon against the bringing of frivolous lawsuits.

In those days too, when entertainment was not so easily come by as at the present time, the Law Courts drew crowds of people, who eagerly followed the cases tried there, which explains why dramatists could rely on their audiences' appreciating the legal references in their plays. Moreover, it was quite normal for the sons of the wealthy to go into residence at one of the Inns of Court, after completing their university course, for a period of study, not with the idea of practising the Law, but merely to set the seal on their education.

All this preoccupation with the Law naturally produced a legalistic fashion of writing poetry, just as preoccupation with euphuism had produced a euphuistic fashion of writing poetry. Robertson deals with this fully,8mentioning the names of many poets who indulged in the practice and quoting copiously from their works.

When this kind of poetry was general it is not surprising that we should find a large number of legal allusions in the Shakespearean plays. This would hold good whoever the author might be; that is, unless he were Francis Bacon.

There is a sting in the tail of the legalistic argument for the Baconians themselves. We have seen (p. 22) that according to their theory Bacon disliked the practice of the Law, and only followed it as a profession because of his ambition to make a career for himself. They have certainly good grounds for this view. Except in the very few of his acknowledged writings which dealt specifically with legal subjects, he never mentioned the Law in his works. When other writers were filling theirs with legal allusions, he steadfastly refused to discuss what would have been to him 'shop'. Now do the Baconians, who tell us that Bacon took to writing plays in his spare time as a relief from the frets of the Law, seriously ask us to believe that, contrary to his practice in the works that bear his name, he filled these labours of love with references to the hated topic? This suggestion is another example of the confusion of thought to which the Baconians so easily fall victims.

The argument from legal allusions then, so far from proving that Bacon wrote the Shakespearean plays, actually points in the opposite direction.

The next point we must consider is the Baconians' claim that Bacon had an absorbing interest in the drama. The point is vitally important for their theory, for without such an interest he could not, and would not, have wanted to write the Shakespearean plays either secretly or in any other way. Moreover, unlike Oxford and Derby—scions of a leisured aristocracy, and known to have at least a dilettantish interest in dramatic art—Bacon lived an exceedingly busy life, much of it public, and none of it in any way associated with the theatre. His modern supporters therefore labour strenuously to establish the only factor that could be a sufficient incentive for such a mighty additional task.

As far as his more youthful days are concerned they have no great difficulty in making some sort of case for this. The members of the Inns of Court at the time he was in residence were very interested in all theatrical activities. Not only did they engage professional companies to come and act before them, but they frequently indulged in amateur productions of their own. And in these activities and others like them Bacon took a full share. Gradually, however, a change came about, and soon his name ceased to appear in such a connection. An ordinary person might conclude that this was simply because Bacon, having made up his mind that the Law must be his career, felt that he could no longer spare the time from his studies for such frivolities. Not so the Baconians; they see in it something far deeper. B. G. Theobald9 informs us that it was because Bacon had even at that early date decided to write plays secretly, and, in order to avoid the slightest suspicion of his authorship when the time to do so came, he withdrew from all open association with the drama. 'Even where harmless amateur theatricals were concerned,' Theobald says, 'he (Bacon) was somewhat cautious in allowing his name to appear too prominently.'

It is at this point that the Baconians usually stop the story; and indeed without a little suppressio veri they would soon be in difficulties, for in his great work De Augmentis Bacon makes two attacks upon the contemporary drama. In the first (ii, 13) he states that 'the stage is capable of no small influence both of discipline and corruption', and 'of corruptions of this kind we have enough, but the discipline has in our times been plainly neglected'. In other words, the drama may be an influence for good or evil; in Elizabethan and Jacobean times it had been for evil. Again, at the end of Book vi, after describing the Jesuits' use of amateur theatricals in education, he says, 'stage-playing is a thing indeed, if practised professionally, of low repute; but if it be made a part of discipline—of excellent use'; that is, the drama of the playhouse is an evil thing, but didactic plays, produced by amateurs under the supervision of school-masters, may be very helpful in education. As Robertson points out,10De Augmentis was published in the same year as the First Folio, the very volume in which Bacon, according to the Baconians, gave with such loving care his dramatic treasures to the world, after these had been enjoying performances on the professional stage for more than twenty years.

Moreover Bacon gave a practical demonstration of his lack of sympathy with the theatre in 1614. In that year the players were contemplating removing their theatres from the south to the north bank of the river, a far more convenient site for their audiences. The Thames watermen thereupon presented a petition to James I, protesting that if this were done they would lose half their livelihood. The King's Company, that which had the monopoly of the Shakespearean plays, at once presented a counter-petition, pointing out the necessity for the players to make the change. James referred the matter to the Commissioners for Suits, of whom Bacon was one, and these decided in favour of the watermen. John Taylor, the watermen's leader, thus describes what took place:

Our extremities and cause being judiciously pondered by the Honourable and Worshipfull Commissioners, Sir Francis Bacon very worthily said that so farre forth as the Publike weal was to be regarded before pastimes, or a serviceable decaying multitude before a handful of particular men, or profit before pleasure, so far was our suit to be preferred before theirs.

It is not merely the decision but Bacon's language in announcing that decision which is so revealing of his attitude of mind. It is clear that he regarded the drama as mere frivolous entertainment, not to be compared in importance to the community with the services of those who plied for hire in boats on the Thames. This is hardly the attitude of an enthusiast, and if what he wrote about the Elizabethan and Jacobean drama in De Augmentis represents his sincere opinion, as coming in such an important work it undoubtedly does, then he would scarcely feel grateful to his modern admirers for their attempt to father a share of this drama on him. Once again the Baconians fail to establish their claim.

The next subject for examination is a small group of miscellaneous items of the kind that form the staple of the Baconian case. I have taken my examples from B. G. Theobald's book, Enter Francis Bacon, which, he claims, summarizes all the principle arguments in favour of Bacon's authorship. The first is concerned with a letter which Bacon wrote to Sir John Davies when the latter was on the point of setting out to meet James I, then on his way from Scotland to ascend the Throne of England. In the letter Bacon begged Sir John to use his influence with the new King to obtain for him (Bacon) some office. To it Bacon added a postscript which contained the words, 'So desiring you to be good to concealed poets'.11

The Baconian argument from this is beautiful in its simplicity. It runs as follows—Bacon here acknowledges himself to be a concealed poet, and if a concealed poet, then ipso facto the author of the Shakespearean plays. The term 'concealed poet' was in general use for all courtly writers who considered it infra dig to publish their work under their own names. Bacon may well have been a concealed poet in this sense, and was sometimes an unconcealed one, for he published a rather inferior metrical version of the Psalms under his own name. Sir John Davies was well-known as a patron of poets, and Bacon was obviously trying 'to get on the right side of him' by appealing to this soft spot in his nature. Dozens of young gentlemen at that time could have addressed exactly the same words to him. There is not the remotest suggestion of any connection with the Shakespearean plays in them, and as evidence of Bacon's authorship they are invalid.

The second item is another postscript, this time in a letter addressed to Bacon by his friend, Sir Tobie Mathew, in 1624. It runs as follows: 'The most prodigious wit that I ever knew, of my nation and this side the sea, is of your lordship's name, though he be known by another.'12

The Baconians interpret this as meaning that Bacon was writing works of wit under a pseudonym, Theobald remarking that the Stratfordians had never been able to counter 'this deadly evidence'. Clearly Theobald had not read the anti-Baconian evidence very carefully, otherwise he would have discovered that a Stratfordian, Mrs Stopes, had countered the point most effectively as far back as 1888. She pointed out in her Bacon-Shakspere Question Answered that Sir Tobie Mathew wrote his letter from abroad, as, of course, his own words 'this side the sea' make perfectly obvious. At this time Bacon's brother, Anthony, was also abroad on secret service, travelling under an assumed name. Such a circumstance is more than adequate to explain Mathew's remark. In any case he would scarcely be such a fool as to risk betraying Bacon's secret, if Bacon had one, by hinting at it in the frivolous fashion the Baconians suggest, in a letter that might well have been opened by the authorities on reaching England.

The third item that Theobald offers us is of a rather different nature. It consists of three lines from an anonymous poem, entitled Wits Recreations, published in 1640. The three lines are as follows:

Shakespeare, we must be silent in thy praise
'Cause our encornions will but blast thy bayes,
Which envy could not.

I give Theobald's interpretation of them in full.13 He writes, 'What a remarkable statement! Why, forsooth, were the literary men of those days to be "silent" about Shakespeare? And why would their praise injure his reputation? Can any reasonable explanation be given which fits in with the orthodox theory? I think not. There would be no reason why the man of Stratford should not be praised had he really been the author. But with Bacon the case was different. He could not be publicly praised as a poet.'

To such incredible blindness can an idée fixe bring a man. The plain meaning of these lines is that Shakespeare stands so high that he is beyond all praise, and any tributes from lesser men will only detract from his glory, not add to it. To put it another way, Shakespeare is being praised under the poetic pretence that this is impossible. Hundreds of compliments in verse and prose have been paid in this form, as Theobald must have known when he penned this absurd passage if the Baconian fog had not obscured his mental vision. Has he himself never said, 'No words of mine can describe how wonderful he, she, or it, is'? That, in short, is all there is in the lines, and like the preceding item they are evidence of nothing.14

Theobald's next argument is, in my opinion, the one piece of evidence in the whole Baconian case that demands serious consideration. It is the claim that two Elizabethan satirists, Hall and Marston, recognized Bacon as the author of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. This claim was first put forward by Bagley at the beginning of the present century. I give Theobald's account of it in full. He writes:

In Hall's Satires, 1597, Book II, p. 25, the following passage occurs:

For shame write better Labeo, or write none
Or better write, or Labeo write alone.
Nay, call the Cynic but a wittie fool,
Thence to obscure his handsome drinking bole;
Because the thirstie swaine with hollow hand
Conveyed the streame to weet his drieweasand.
Write they that can, tho they that cannot do;
But who knows that, but they that do not know.

From the orthodox standpoint these lines are by no means clear, and editors have been unable to identify Labeo and the Cynic. But if Francis Bacon was the author of Venus and Adonis published under the name of "Shakespeare" the whole passage becomes plain. Hall may easily have been slightly shocked, or pretended to be, at the theme of his poem, even though it is handled with delicacy and not in a lascivious manner; and so he took the opportunity of reproving the author for writing in such a strain. He also rebukes him for writing in conjunction with someone else, but leaves us to conjecture what is the nature of the partnership with some other person un-named.15

Hall is telling Bacon bluntly that he is a fool to let "the thirstie swaine" (Shakspere) moisten his parched throat with draughts from the Muses' spring, i.e. to obtain credit for the poetical inspiration from the Muses which was not really his but Bacon's. The Cynic is also meant for Bacon. But what is the meaning of those quizzical lines which Hall has specially italicized? They may be paraphrased as follows: Do let us have literary work from those who can write properly, and not from those who cannot, but yet appear in print as authors (e.g. Shakspere). Who are the persons who are aware of this deception? Those who pretend not to know, but really do know, i.e. Hall himself and others who, like him, had guessed the secret.16

When we turn to the Fourth Book, Satire I, the evidence becomes much stronger. Here is the passage alluding to Labeo.

Labeo is whip't, and laughs me in the face.
Why? for I smite and hide the galled place,
Gird but the Cynicks Helmet on his head,
Cares he for Talus or his flayle of lead?
Long as the craftie Cuttle lieth sure
In the black Cloud of his thick vomiture;
Who list complaine of wronged faith or fame
When he may shift it on to anothers name?

On the third line is another reference to the Cynick, i.e. the author, and from this it is tolerably plain that Hall is speaking of the "Honourable Order of the Knights of the Helmet", described in Bacon's Gesta Grayorum, produced at Gray's Inn in 1594, and thus pointing to him as the author of Venus and Adonis; while the concluding lines once more emphasize the fact that he was writing under a pen-name.

Still another passage may be quoted where Hall satirizes Labeo, though here in a more good-natured manner. It is from Book VI, Satire I. The passage begins thus:

The Labeo reaches right; (who can deny)
The true straynes of Heroicke Poesie,
For he can tell how fury reft his sense
And Phoebus fild him with intelligence,

and shortly after comes the line:

While big But Ohs each stanza can begin,

a pointed allusion to Lucrece, where it is noticeable

how many stanzas commence with "But" or "Oh". Another marked feature of both Venus and Adonis and Lucrece is the use of hyphened words as epithets; and this did not escape Hall's satirical comment, since he writes:

In Epithets to join two words as one,
Forsooth for Adjectives cannot stand alone.

It is abundantly clear from these Satires that Hall identified Bacon as the author of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, and alluded to him under the names of Labeo and the Cynick.

Now turn to John Marston. In 1598 he published his Pigmalion's Image, in which occurs the following passage:

So Labeo did complaine his loue was stone,
Obdurate, flinty, so relentless none;
Yet Lynceus knows, that in the end of this
He wrought as strange a metamorphosis.
Ends not my poem thus surprising ill?
Come, come, Augustus, crowne my laureat quill.

The first two lines are an obvious allusion to lines 200, 201 of Venus and Adonis, since he compares the metamorphosis of Pygmalion, as given in his own work, to that of Adonis described by "Shakespeare" in Venus and Adonis.

In Satire I is another covert allusion to an author who "presumst as if thou wert unseene", and in Satire 4 Marston defends various authors whom Hall had attacked, and without actually naming Labeo refers to him in the following line:

What, not medioca firma from thy spite!

i.e. has not even medioca firma escaped thy spite? Now as these two Latin words form Bacon's family motto, we have the strongest proof that Marston was referring to Bacon in this line; and since a study of all these passages shows that both Hall and Marston point to the same man as Labeo, we reach the conclusion that both of them definitely identified Francis Bacon as the author of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece.

I have said that I regard this as the most telling piece of evidence produced by the Baconians in favour of their theory. This, however, does not imply that the Baconians' interpretation of it is not open to criticism, or that they can be allowed to make it mean more than it actually does mean; and the concluding sentence of the passage I have just quoted certainly claims more than is justified.

We may agree that Hall is patting himself on the back because he thinks he has guessed the identity of an author writing under a pseudonym and collaborating with an inferior poet, and that he is aiming his satire at this author; but that he believed Bacon to be the author in question is not so certain. He denotes his victim by the name of Labeo, and as Labeo was a Roman lawyer the Baconians are within their rights in assuming that Hall's victim was a lawyer. There were, however, other lawyers and men who had studied Law besides Bacon who were 'concealed poets', so this proves nothing. Theobald attempts to fix the identification by claiming, no doubt correctly, that the Cynick also stands for the author. The Cynick wears a helmet, and this, says Theobald, is a reference to Bacon's Gesta Grayorum, in which there is a comic Order of Chivalry, the Knights of the Helmet. Quite apart from the fact that this is rather far-fetched in any case, what Theobald gratuitously calls 'Bacon's' Gesta Grayorum was a masque produced by the members of Gray's Inn after Bacon had withdrawn from open association with such revelries (see p. 55), and, while he may along with others have assisted with the production, his name nowhere appears in connection with it. Such being the case, Hall would be most unlikely to deprive his satire of its point by choosing as a symbol for his victim something with which that victim had no acknowledged connection, and if the reference is to Gesta Grayorum it would count against Bacon rather than for him, while if it is not, we are left without a clue to the identity of Labeo and the Cynick.

Theobald is more probably correct in his identification of the poems concerned. In The Rape of Lucrece a number of stanzas do begin with 'Oh' or 'But', and both this poem and Venus and Adonis contain hyphened epithets. Such details, however, are found in other poems too, so here again there is no absolute certainty. With Marston's work there are no such difficulties. The introduction of the family motto into the poem makes it clear that he had Bacon, and no one else, in mind, and his own echoes of the lines in Venus and Adonis prove the same for the poem concerned. But here a caveat must be entered. Though he does not actually say so, Theobald writes as if Hall and Marston had each arrived at the same conclusion independently. This was most certainly not the case. Marston was in no sense independent of Hall. It was specifically Hall's work that he had in mind, and what he wrote resulted from what he thought, rightly or wrongly, Hall meant by his cryptic remarks. It follows then that only two facts can be deduced with absolute certainty from the works of Hall and Marston. They are:

(1) That Hall believed he had guessed the real author, or rather part-author, of some poem published under a pseudonym, but does not clearly indicate either.

(2) That Marston believed that Hall meant Bacon as the author and Venus and Adonis as the poem.

Anything further takes us into the realm of surmise.

Still it must be admitted that the possibility that both writers did actually believe that Bacon was the author of the poem in question exists. When Bagley first put forward the case quoted by Theobald, some Stratfordians accepted it at its face value, but said that Hall and Marston were mistaken. At such a suggestion Theobald throws up his hands in pious horror. How could two such shrewd satirists, with their fingers on the pulse of the London literary world, possibly be mistaken? This question can only be answered by another—Why not? There have been other cases in the course of literary history when shrewd critics have believed they have penetrated a well-preserved pseudonym; sometimes they have been right, but sometimes quite wrong. Hall and Marston were not infallible. The former was certainly mistaken, as both Stratfordians and Baconians would agree, in believing that Venus and Adonis was a collaboration by two authors. In Elizabethan and Jacobean times there were many eminent literary men, quite as shrewd as Hall and Marston, who believed that William Shakspere was the author of the Shakespearean plays.17 The Baconians say that these were mistaken. If Hall and Marston had appeared to favour another candidate the Baconians would un hesitatingly have declared that they were mistaken. Evidence of this kind, depending as it does on personal opinion, must necessarily be of a doubtful nature. Stripped of the Baconian verbiage with which it is surrounded, all it amounts to is that two minor writers, encountering a new poetic work with a new name attached to it as author, hazarded a guess that this name concealed the identity of a well-known public man, and one at least, possibly both, thought that public man might be Francis Bacon. It may prove that Hall and Marston were the first exponents of the Baconian theory, but it does not, and cannot, prove that the Baconian theory is true.

We must now turn our attention to the cryptograms,18 which make up a considerable part of the Baconian evidence, though it is only fair to remember that some of the more scholarly supporters of the theory have repudiated them. It appears, according to the authors of these phantasies, that Bacon, when as a young law-student he first conceived the idea of writing plays and poems secretly, determined that although the fact must be kept from his contemporaries, posterity should give him full credit for all his writings—which included not only the Shakespearean works and those bearing the names of most of the other Elizabethans, but also the translation of the Authorized Version of the Bible and the Essays of Montaigne in French. In order to achieve this modest purpose he made the most elaborate arrangements. Clues of all sorts were included in the designs of title pages, chapter headings, and tail-pieces; tricks were played with the pagination of books; and ciphers, anagrams, and other forms of concealed message, introduced into the text of the works themselves. That the literary detectives of the future might the more readily solve these puzzles, Bacon 'caused to be issued' such English books as Meres' Palladis Tamia and Camden's archaeological works, together with a number of other volumes by foreign authors and published in France and Germany, all of which contain keys for the reading of his ciphers.19 How Bacon made all these arrangements with such a host of authors, publishers, and printers, and still managed to preserve his secret, the cryptologists do not inform us.

While this book was in preparation Colonel and Mrs Friedman's exhaustive work, The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined, was published, and since the colonel and his wife are undoubtedly the greatest living authorities on the subject of cryptography, I have gladly availed myself of the benefit of the information and criticism they supply. I may say that no one whose mind is not steeped in prejudice could possibly put an atom of faith in any of the ciphers after the Friedmans' exposures, and I recommend all who are interested in the question to read their book for themselves, for I, of course, can give only the most meagre indications of its contents here.

The Friedmans begin with a description of the various kinds of cipher that exist and the rules they must obey before their alleged meaning may be accepted as genuine. These are two in number. First every cipher must rigidly conform to a system; that is, it must correspond to a specific key and be capable of one solution only, absolutely and without any ambiguities or variations, for obviously if it were open to more than one the correct solution could never be certain. Second, the deciphered message must be coherent and logical, making complete sense, and that without the necessity for any manipulation additional to the application of the key, such as anagramming, since such manipulation could only be guess-work.

The Friedmans point out that not one of the theorists' ciphers, except that of Mrs Gallup, which breaks down on other grounds, conforms to these simple rules. One or two examples will make this clear.

In the closing years of last century an American lawyer, Ignatius Donnelly, a convinced Baconian, conceived the idea that Bacon had left concealed messages claiming the authorship of the Shakespearean plays in the plays themselves,20 and set himself to discover them. He worked on a facsimile of the First Folio, as this was of course the only version of any of them which Bacon himself could have influenced. His idea seems to have been that the messages were expressed in words spaced through the double columns that formed each page of the Folio. He found some suggestive word in a column, counted its number from the beginning of the column, and took this as his basic number. The next word in the message should, of course, have been at the same numerical distance from the suggestive word as the latter was from the beginning of the column, or at least at some regularly related distance, and so on for every word in the message. Donnelly found no such simple system as this, but inevitably, considering the mass of material with which he was dealing, he found scattered at random about the various columns words that would serve his purpose. The question therefore for him was how to bring these into some regular system. He did this by introducing an increasing number of what he called 'modifiers'. These were arbitrarily selected figures that could be added to or subtracted from the basic numbers in order to bring him in his counts to the required word. He also sometimes counted hyphened words as two, sometimes as one; and sometimes included and sometimes omitted words in brackets with the same end in view. Finally he surmounted any more than usually intractable difficulty by further 'computations' with an additional group of figures that he designated 'subordinate root numbers'. By such means he read off the desired messages. . . .

As the Friedmans say, Donnelly seems to have found his word first and then proceeded to bolster up his find by arithmetical manipulation. Clearly such a method fails completely to comply with the cryptogrammatic rules—there is no logical system about it. Any message whatever could be manufactured by this means. This was demonstrated by the Rev R. Nicholson, who answered Donnelly's claims in his No Cipher in Shakespeare by extracting messages that flatly contradicted Donnelly's. Taking Donnelly's own root numbers and modifiers, delving into Donnelly's own favourite columns in the First Folio, and following exactly Donnelly's own method, he produced the message: 'Master Will-I-am Shak'st-spurre writ the Play and was engaged at the Curtain.' And he produced it not once, but five times, using each of Donnelly's five root numbers in turn. No refutation could be more complete.

Our second example is that known as the String Cipher, claimed as his discovery by W. S. Booth in his Some Acrostic Signatures of Francis Bacon.21 His method was as simple as Donnelly's was complicated. He found a passage in one of the Shakespearean plays in which the initial letter of the first word was F and of the last word N, or the converse, for the cipher might be read up or down. Provided that these two points were fixed, any initial letter of any word between them might be taken, reading along the lines alternately from right to left and from left to right. Any number of intervening lines might be neglected if they did not happen to contain a word with the required initial letter or if the required initial letter had already been found elsewhere. To illustrate this method we will take one of Booth's examples—one in which he used the Epilogue from The Tempest:

The Friedmans point out that with such a system any name could be extracted, provided the cryptologist took enough lines between his first and last letters. To prove their point they took the same passage, and, starting from Booth's 'b' in the penultimate line and traversing the lines in the opposite direction to his, they produced the 'signature' Ben Ionson ('T' and 'J' were, of course, the same letter in Elizabethan times). They also point out that, using a variant of this cipher, one that Booth himself sometimes employed—that of taking the last letter of a word instead of the first—the 'signatures' of several other claimants may be read; namely those of Edmund Spenser, Sir William Dyer, Sir Francis Drake, William Stanley, and Christopher Marlowe. Moreover, by the same method Friedman's own name, or in fact almost any name beginning with F and ending with N that does not contain an unusual letter, such as 'x', can be detected.

As an example of this I append one of my own devising. I have taken the name of Fynes Moryson, incidentally one of the few contemporary men of letters for whom no theorist has claimed the Shakespearean works. It appears as follows:

It will be noticed that I have followed Booth's method exactly—starting on the initial letter of the last word, ending on the initial letter of the first word, and traversing the lines in the same direction as he does. I have not troubled to add the rather silly pseudo-Latinizations, CO and O, but obviously it can be done if required, and 'Fynesco Morysono' looks and reads quite as well as 'Francisco Bacono'.

This is not mere frivolity. It is a serious demonstration of the absurdity of the cryptologists' claims. What is true of the two ciphers we have examined is equally true of all the alleged ciphers, anagrams, acrostics, and other gleanings from 'Puzzle Corner' that the theorists have ever produced. Those who read the Friedmans' expert treatise will find them all there, minutely described, scientifically examined, and ruthlessly exposed for the worthless rubbish they are.

I can spare no more space for their details here. There is, however, a point which, in my opinion, constitutes even stronger argument against them. It is impossible to imagine a man of Bacon's intellectual calibre indulging in such puerilities. If he were really the author of works other than those which bear his name, and for some reason did not wish this authorship to be announced until some fixed date in the future, his simplest plan to attain this end would be to write down a full account of the facts, enclose the script in a sealed packet, and deliver it into the hands of some trustworthy person with instructions to make the facts public on some specific date. For security several copies of the letter could have been made and entrusted to different persons; and, if the date for publication lay in the distant future—though one is scarcely able to conceive of an adequate reason for this—these persons could have been asked to leave all the necessary instructions for dealing with the matter to their descendants.

Such a method would not only be simpler, but also much safer in every respect. The cryptogram plan, quite apart from the enormous amount of time and labour involved in it, would in any case have been the height of folly. In the first place there would have been the danger that the ciphers might have been read immediately they appeared in print; that is, at a time when, since he did not announce his authorship, Bacon clearly still required to preserve the secret; and in the second place they might never have been read at all, thus depriving Bacon of the credit with posterity we are assured he so ardently desired, for not even the Baconian Bacon could have known that in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there would arise a galaxy of genius to make all things plain.

This concludes our examination of the evidence peculiar to the case for Francis Bacon. In fairness it ought to be added that it does not quite do this case justice.

As pioneers in the enterprise of finding a substitute for Shakspere the Baconians are responsible for the discovery of much other evidence that has since been adopted and adapted by the other schools of thought. . . .


1 It is to be noted that the leading authorities on Francis Bacon, almost without exception, reject the theory of his authorship of the Shakespearean works. James Spedding, by universal consent the greatest expert on the subject, the man who edited the standard editions of Bacon's works and letters, who wrote the history of his life and times, who was his most devoted admirer, and who spared no pains to clear Bacon's character of the stigma thrown upon it by Macaulay, always combated the Baconian Theory in season and out; while Charles Williams, a recent biographer, in addition to a number of scathing references to the Baconian Theory, remarks (Bacon, p. 310) that if there were any concealed work to be ascribed to Bacon it would be something like Paradise Lost, not the Shakespearean works, which would be completely alien to him.

2Enter Francis Bacon, p. 107.

3The Baconian Heresy, pp. 36 f.

4The Baconian Heresy, p. 33.

5 Ibid., pp. 39-177.

6The Baconian Heresy, p. 53.

7 Page 141.

8The Baconian Heresy, pp. 86-93.

9Enter Francis Bacon, p. 34.

10The Baconian Heresy, p. 532.

11Enter Francis Bacon, p. 22.

12 Ibid., p. 24.

13Enter Francis Bacon, pp. 26 f.

14 In addition to this, Theobald's argument is fallible on several other counts. I briefly summarize these in order to illustrate the utter worthlessness of all such so-called evidence. They are as follows:

(1) Wits Recreations mentions that Shakespeare was a poet (i.e. he wrote the 'Bayes'), and if this did not betray Bacon's secret, how could the mere addition that he was a good poet do so?

(2) Shakespeare had been highly praised in verse and prose, not only by the contributors to the First Folio, but also independently by Drayton, Cowley, Milton, Habington, Suckling, and at least seven other men of letters, all before 1640. If all this eulogy of Shakespeare's name had done Bacon no harm, how could any similar praise in Wits Recreations do so?

(3) Bacon died in 1626, fourteen years before Wits Recreations was published. How then could the betrayal of Bacon's secret by this work do him any more harm than the Baconians' own more recent betrayal of it?

(4) If Theobald's view of the quotation is correct, then the anonymous author of Wits Recreations must have known Bacon's secret, and, what is more, he must have believed that most of his readers would be privy to it also, or there would have been no point in his remark. And this brings us once again to the Baconians' mental confusion about 'secret' and 'no secret'.

15 It is really very naïve of Theobald to put it like this in order to keep up the suggestion of Shakspere's illiteracy. The plain sense of Hall's words is 'collaboration'. He does not like a poem, which he believes is the joint work of two writers, and he tells the principal that he would probably have done better if he had written it alone, though it might be better still if he had left it unwritten. The word 'swaine', like that of 'shepherd', was a conventional pseudonym for poet, and accordingly confers this rank on the supposed junior partner. The names Shakspere and Bacon are, of course, read in by Theobald; there is nothing in the lines, as we shall see, to suggest the identity of either of the writers concerned.

16 While the second part of this paraphrase may represent roughly Hall's meaning, the first part cannot be accepted as correct. What Theobald attempts to make it mean is that Hall thought Bacon's work good, and blamed him for publishing it under a pseudonym and letting the credit go to Shakspere. But this is in direct conflict with the opening couplet of the lines quoted. In this Hall clearly suggests that the work is bad. He tells Labeo (Theobald's Bacon) that he ought not to write at all, but if he must do so, he should try to write better; and he should write what is all his own, not collaborate with anyone else. Theobald thus ignores part of his own evidence in order to produce the conclusion his theory requires.

17 Examples are given later in this book. They include Drayton, Heywood, and Webster (see pp. 260 f.) and Leonard Digges (see pp. 298 f.).

18 The cryptograms fall into two classes. Those in the first class maintain nothing more than the alleged claims of Bacon to the authorship of the Shakespearean and other works; those in the second class purport to reveal a fantastic secret history of Bacon's life—that he was the son of Queen Elizabeth by the Earl of Leicester and the hero of a number of episodes that make the wildest of the Romances read like sober fact. It is only with the first that we are concerned. The second, though of course they make the authorship claim incidentally, are interested mainly in matters that have nothing to do with our inquiry. I have, however, included the titles of a few specimens of the second class—such as the bulky volumes of Mrs Gallup—in the Bibliography as they certainly throw a very interesting sidelight on the Baconian type of mind.

19 Durning-Lawrence, Bacon is Shakespeare, pp. 89 and 108-133.

20 Friedman, The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined, pp. 27-50.

21 Friedman, The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined, pp. 120-121.


Donnelly, Ignatius. The Great Cryptogram. 1888.

Durning-Lawrence, E. Bacon is Shakespeare. 1910.

Friedman, W. F., and E. S. The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined. 1957.

Gallup, Mrs E. W. The Bi-literal Cypher of Sir Francis Bacon. 1901.

Robertson, J. M. The Baconian Heresy. 1913.

Theobald, B. G. Shakespeare's Sonnets Unmasked. 1929. Enter Francis Bacon. 1932.

Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman (essay date 1994)

SOURCE: "Christopher Marlowe," in The Shakespeare Conspiracy, Random Century Group Ltd., 1994, pp. 77-89.

[In the following essay, Phillips and Keatman assess the theory of Christopher Marlowe as the author of the works attributed to Shakespeare, maintaining that while Marlowe was "arguably capable " of authoring the plays and poems, he was "officially" dead at the time most of the plays were composed.]

In 1955 Canadian journalist Calvin Hoffman reached the same conclusion as his Baconian, Derbyite and Oxfordian predecessors, in believing that William Shakespeare had been incapable of writing the plays ascribed to him. In The Man Who Was Shakespeare Hoffman proposed a new, alternative author, Christopher Marlowe. Unlike the previous theories, Hoffman's differed in two important respects. On the positive side, Marlowe was an accepted and brilliant playwright, arguably capable of writing the Shakespeare plays. On the negative side, Marlowe was officially dead at the time most of the plays were written. By 1593 Christopher Marlowe was the most successful playwright of his day, but at precisely the time that Shakespeare's works first appeared. Marlowe died. As Hoffman's case necessitated Marlowe still being alive after 1593, he proposed an intriguing theory—Marlowe's death had been staged. Certainly Marlowe had died in suspicious circumstances.

During the early months of 1593 a number of anonymous anti-government writings appeared throughout London, and on 22 April the Privy Council, both the cabinet and most powerful tribunal of the day, rounded up a number of possible authors for questioning. One of these was the playwright Thomas Kyd. Kyd's papers were examined, but although they failed to discover evidence of the Flemish Libels, the Council found something equally incriminating, atheistic writings questioning the authority of the Protestant Church. Under examination, Kyd denied that the papers were his, claiming they had been written by Christopher Marlowe while they were working together two years before.

On 18 May Marlowe was summoned for questioning, but Kyd's slender testimony was insufficient to have him detained. Marlowe had powerful friends and the Privy Council required further evidence. Marlowe was a close friend of Thomas Walsingham, whose cousin Francis had been the Secretary of State responsible for establishing England's Secret Service, an undercover network of spies and informers to detect supposed Catholic plots against the Protestant government of Queen Elizabeth. Francis Walsingham had died in 1590, but Thomas retained an influential position in the Secret Service.

By the end of May, the Privy Council found other witnesses prepared to testify against Marlowe. With his arrest imminent, at 10 o'clock on the morning of 30 May, Marlowe met with three acquaintances at a tavern in Deptford, south-east London: Nicholas Skeres, Robert Poley and Ingram Frizer. At around 6 in the evening the four men retired to a private room. According to the testimony of the other three, Marlowe began to argue over who was to settle the bill. The quarrel apparently became so heated that Marlowe attacked Frizer with a dagger, and in the ensuing struggle the weapon was driven into Marlowe's skull, killing him instantly. Frizer was detained, but later acquitted on grounds of self defence.

According to Hoffman, Marlowe was involved in a homosexual relationship with Walsingham, who had chosen to save his lover from torture, imprisonment and possible execution. Accordingly, Walsingham arranged to fake Marlowe's death. He hired the three drinking partners to claim Marlowe had been killed in self defence, a substitute body was found and the coroner was bribed to conceal the truth. The coroner passed a verdict of self defence, the body was quickly buried and Marlowe lived on in secret somewhere on the Continent. Thereafter, still inspired to write, Marlowe required someone to front his works.

Hoffman believed that William Shakespeare was at the time employed as an actor at the Shoreditch Theatre, where Marlowe was also working. As an actor, Shakespeare was chosen as the frontman and well paid for his cooperation. Hoffman claimed that this was why Shakespeare had been unknown as a writer in Stratford. He had journeyed to London as an actor, and when the offer was made to front Marlowe's plays he accepted, having much to gain and nothing to lose.

The Marlowe case was manifestly stronger in one respect than the previous alternative author theories in that Marlowe was already the leading playwright of his day. Hoffman's theory also accounted for Shakespeare's sudden wealth (it came from Walsingham in payment for his services), and it explained Shakespeare's low public profile (he was seeking to avoid being questioned about plays he had not written).

In addition to the fact that Marlowe and Shakespeare seem to have worked together at the Shoreditch Theatre, there are other connections between the two men. Shakespeare's first published work, Venus and Adonis, was similar in content to Marlowe's last work, Hero and Leander, on which he was working when he apparently died. Even the traditional Shakespeare biographers agree that there must have been some connection between the two poems, the usual explanation being that Shakespeare had acquired a copy from Marlowe while working with him at the Shoreditch Theatre.

Few scholars doubt that Marlowe and Shakespeare worked together. Around 1593 Shakespeare seems to have been attached to Lord Strange's company at the Shoreditch Theatre, and Marlowe's plays were performed by Lord Strange's Men at the same time. However, as Venus and Adonis was registered on 18 April, over a month before Marlowe's death, the idea that Shakespeare had taken over from Marlowe to complete the work seems incongruous. Hoffman believed that the plan to stage Marlowe's death may already have been hatched, and Shakespeare was being prepared in advance.

Marlowe was thus an accomplished playwright, he almost certainly worked with Shakespeare and his career ended precisely where Shakespeare's began. Indeed, it could be argued that unless Marlowe had been removed from the scene, Shakespeare might never have achieved such fame, as Marlowe's death left Shakespeare without a rival. Additionally, the two men were exactly the same age, and the works ascribed to both are of comparable quality.

Although Hoffman's theory is intriguing, it relies on Marlowe being alive at the time the plays were written. Many historians agree that the circumstances surrounding Marlowe's death are suspicious—occurring as he was about to be arrested—although it is argued that Marlowe was genuinely murdered to prevent him from incriminating Walsingham. The circumstances surrounding Marlowe's death must therefore be examined in greater detail.

In 1593, with government permission, a number of Flemish Protestant refugees had settled in London. Their presence was resented by local tradesmen who regarded them as business rivals, and before long protests were made. Accordingly, a number of slogans and placards were anonymously posted in public places, designed to whip up anti-Flemish feelings. Some were also antigovernment in tone, so the Privy Council ordered the arrest of those responsible.

Among those arrested was the playwright Thomas Kyd, and when his rooms were searched atheistic writings were discovered. Atheism, by implication, denied the divine right of the Queen to be head of the English Church and so was legally considered treason, a capital offence. Understandably, Kyd denied that the document was his, claiming instead that it had been written by Christopher Marlowe, with whom he had shared rooms two years earlier. On 18 May the Privy Council summoned Marlowe, then staying with Thomas Walsingham at Scadbury Manor near Chislehurst in Kent. The instructions for Marlowe's apprehension were handed to the Queen's messenger, Henry Maunder:

Repair to the house of Mr Thomas Walsingham in Kent, or to any other place where he shall understand Christopher Marlowe to be remaining, and by virtue hereof to apprehend and bring him to the Court in his company.

Maunder returned with Marlowe, who appeared before the Council on 20 May. The Privy Council's Register records:

This day Christopher Marlowe of London, Gentleman, being sent for by warrant from their Lordships, hath entered his appearance accordingly for his indemnity therein, and is commanded to give his daily attendance on their Lordships till he shall be licensed to the contrary.

From this entry we know that Marlowe appeared before the Council and was allowed to go free as long as he continued to report each day. It can be assumed therefore that Marlowe had denied authorship of the document and that he was freed on 'bail' while subject to further investigation.

Some days later Marlowe's problems deepened when the Privy Council received a report from its agent Richard Baines, containing far more serious allegations. The Privy Council considered it important enough to send a copy to the Queen. According to the report (in part entitled 'the most horrible blasphemies uttered by Christopher Marlowe') Marlowe had been heard saying that 'Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest'. Blasphemy was serious enough, but Marlowe was also accused of far worse: mocking the Protestant Church. According to the Baines report he had said 'all Protestants are hypocritical asses', and more damaging still, 'if there be a God or any religion it is the papists'. The report listed one and a half pages of similar accusations.

If found guilty, Marlowe would almost certainly have been executed, after days of interrogation and torture. His treatment would probably have been brutal, as the report also stated that Marlowe met with others—in high positions—who shared his opinions. Walsingham may well have fallen under suspicion as one of these. Not only was he Marlowe's friend and patron, but the playwright was actually staying with him at the time. Even if Walsingham was innocent, under torture Marlowe might admit to anything. It is therefore quite possible that Walsingham, learning of the Baines report from a friend in the Privy Council, quickly arranged for Marlowe's murder, or, in Hoffman's theory, the staging of his death.

There is no record of when the Baines report was received, but it must have been late on 30 May; if earlier, Marlowe would have been detained when he attended the Privy Council that morning. Historians suspecting Marlowe's murder draw attention to this timely demise; the Council receive the Baines report, Marlowe's detention is ordered and then he dies. There are certainly grounds for suspicion.

It is quite possible that the three drinking partners at the Deptford tavern, the only witnesses to the killing, were working for Thomas Walsingham. Poley and Skeres had previously worked for the Secret Service and Frizer was directly employed by Walsingham. That very morning Poley had returned from the Netherlands on a Secret Service mission. According to Chamber Treasurer Sir Thomas Heneage, in his record of payment to Poley on 12 June 1593, Poley had been carrying 'letters in post for her Majesty's special and secret affairs of great importance'. Moreover, Heneage says that Poley was actually in the Queen's service from 8 May to 8 June, during the precise period Marlowe died.

Skeres had also worked for the Secret Service. He is mentioned by Francis Walsingham's assistant Francis Milles as an undercover agent helping to thwart the Catholic Babington Plot in 1586, and in July 1589 he is again in the pay of Francis Walsingham.

Although there is no surviving evidence to connect Frizer with the Secret Services, he was employed by Thomas Walsingham around the time of the Marlowe killing. According to a complaint lodged at the Chancery Court in 1598 by a Drew Woodleff of Aylesbury, Frizer and Skeres had tricked Woodleff out of £34 five years previously. The complaint mentions a legal document dated 29 June 1593, in which Thomas Walsingham is described as Frizer's 'master'. This was just one day after Frizer was acquitted of Marlowe's killing, so we know for certain that he was working for Walsingham a month after he supposedly killed Marlowe in self defence.

The testimony of these three unsavoury characters is the only available evidence of the events that occurred in the Deptford tavern when Marlowe died. Dated 1 June 1593, the coroner's report states that Marlowe met with Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley:

. . . on 30th day of May, at Deptford Strand, within the verge, about the tenth hour before noon of the same day, met together in the room in the house of a certain Eleanor Bull, a widow, and there passed the time together, and walked in the garden belonging to the said house until the sixth hour after noon of the same day and then returned from the said garden to the room aforesaid and there together and in company supped. And after supper the said Ingram and Christopher Marlowe were in speech, and uttered one to the other divers malicious words for the reason that they could not be at one nor agree about the payment of the sum of pence, that is, le recknynge [the reckoning] there. And the said Christopher Marlowe then lying upon a bed in the room where they had supped, and moved with anger against the said Ingram Frizer then and there sitting in the room aforesaid with his back toward the bed where the said Christopher Marlowe was then lying, sitting near the bed with the front part of his body towards the table, and the aforesaid Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley sitting on either side of the said Ingram in such a manner that the same Ingram Frizer in no wise could take flight.

It so befell that the said Christopher Marlowe, then and there, maliciously gave the aforesaid Ingram two wounds on the head; of the length of two inches, and of the depth of a quarter of an inch. Whereupon the said Ingram, in fear of being slain, and sitting in the manner aforesaid between the said Nicholas Skeres and Robert Poley so that he could not in any wise get away, in his own defence, and for the saving of his life, then and there struggled with the said Christopher Marlowe to get back from him his dagger aforesaid. In which affray the same Ingram could not get away from the said Christopher Marlowe, and so it befell in that affray that the said Ingram, in defence of his life, with the dagger aforesaid, of the value of 12d, gave the said Christopher, then and there, a mortal wound over his right eye of the depth of two inches and the width of one inch; of which mortal wound the aforesaid Christopher Marlowe then and there instantly died.

In this, the accepted verdict, Marlowe was killed by Frizer in self defence. They had quarrelled over the bill, Marlowe jumped up, snatched Frizer's dagger, and attacked him. In the ensuing struggle, the weapon was driven into Marlowe's head, killing him instantly. Regrettably, it is only the word of the three drinking partners that this is actually what occurred, and there is certainly a compelling case that the killing was premeditated. Walsingham had motive (his neck), means (his agents) and opportunity (no other witnesses) to murder Marlowe. But is Hoffman correct in supposing that the killing was only staged?

For a year Hoffman lived in hope that proof of his theory would be found in Thomas Walsingham's tomb in St Nicholas's church in Chislehurst. It is not clear exactly what Hoffman hoped to find, but when he eventually received permission for it to be opened in 1956 he was disappointed. It did not contain the body of Christopher Marlowe, nor anything to connect him with the Shakespeare plays. Lacking proof that Marlowe had lived on, Hoffman was left to search for evidence of a cover-up of Marlowe's murder.

In October 1593, five months after Marlowe's apparent death, the poet Gabriel Harvey wrote the poem Gorgon, in which he implied that Marlowe died of plague. Plague had indeed been sweeping London at the time of Marlowe's death, and in a period before mass communication it is understandable that Harvey got it wrong. Hoffman disagrees. As Gabriel Harvey had been Marlowe's close associate (they had been at Cambridge together) he would be better informed. Hoffman discovered that Harvey's younger brother Richard was rector of St Nicholas's church in Chislehurst, Thomas Walsingham's own parish church. Hoffman suggested that the rector had seen Marlowe alive after 30 May in Chislehurst and that a cover story was formulated, explaining that Marlowe had since died of the plague. Quite how such a story would satisfy anyone who later heard of Marlowe's tavern-brawl death Hoffman fails to explain.

It seems unlikely that there is anything untoward in the report that Marlowe died of plague. It was probably a simple case of idle gossip. Indeed, four years later another distorted account of Marlowe's death appeared, adequately demonstrating the dangers of hearsay in Elizabethan London. In 1597 another Cambridge scholar, Suffolk clergyman Thomas Beard, said that Marlowe was killed while attempting to assassinate an enemy in a London street. Beard considered it God's retribution for Marlowe's atheism, and in his tirade Theatre of God's Judgements he writes:

It so fell out that in London streets, as he proposed to stab one whom he ought a grudge unto with his dagger, the other party perceiving, so avoided the stroke that withal catching hold of his wrist, he stabbed his own dagger into his own head, in such sort that notwithstanding all the means of surgery that could be wrought, he shortly after died thereof.

It is clear from this account how the original story has been exaggerated, from a drunken Marlowe quarrelling over a bill to a homicidal Marlowe attacking in cold blood. The coroner's version of events seems to have circulated by 1600, however, as the Welsh writer William Vaughan (in The Golden Grove) stated that Marlowe had been killed in a tavern brawl at Deptford by 'one named Ingram'. Without evidence to the contrary, therefore, we can assume that Gabriel Harvey could well have been misinformed about Marlowe's death, without resorting to any conspiracy theory.

Returning to Marlowe's authorship of the Shakespeare plays, like the Baconians and Oxfordians, Hoffman cannot resist searching for an 'I wrote Shakespeare's plays' cipher. However, his main line of argument linking Marlowe with the Shakespeare plays is far more ingenious.

Hoffman cites the work of Dr Thomas Corwin Mendenhall from Ohio, who in the late nineteenth century devised a means to 'fingerprint' an author's individual style. The process relied on the average number of word letters, which Mendenhall maintained were unique to every writer. Around the turn of the century Mendenhall had been asked by a Baconian to apply his theory to the works of Shakespeare and Bacon. Mendenhall concluded that they were not the same author, but after examining other playwrights he believed that Shakespeare's 'fingerprint' was identical to Marlowe's.

Taken at face value, the Mendenhall test seems persuasive. He counted the number of letters in a vast number of words in the playwright's works, then calculated the average number of letters per word down to eight decimal places (although at the time it was calculated in fractions). For example, the sentence 'The home is where the heart is' has 24 letters and 7 words. Dividing the 24 by 7 gives 3.42825714, the average number of letters per word. To establish an author's 'fingerprint' Mendenhall used thousands of words (400,000 from Shakespeare, and presumably as many from Marlowe). Although the average number of letters per word is about 4 in general texts, it varies from about 3.5 in children's books to around 5 in technical manuals. However, the eight decimal places provides almost a hundred million to one chance against any two people having exactly the same number.

Unfortunately, this is not as scientific as it might appear. We can only assume that Hoffman never carried out the tedious task of checking Mendenhall's results. Now, thanks to the universal accessibility of modern computers, many have since proved the theory invalid. For a start, the complete works of Shakespeare have a value of 4.24235672 and Marlowe's are 4.21563427, suggesting an understandable amount of miscounting in Mendenhall's laborious task. Bacon fares slightly better with 4.22352489. However, one writer has been shown to match Shakespeare exactly up to three decimal places, the modern novelist Jackie Collins. If Hoffman's theory is correct, then Ms Collins is more likely to have written Shakespeare's plays than either Bacon or Marlowe! In fact, taken individually, every single one of Shakespeare's plays differs from the others in its 'fingerprint' from the first decimal place. For the Mendenhall theory to work, each of Shakespeare's plays must have been written by a separate author, something even the most avid anti-Stratfordian has never advocated.

Although modern, sophisticated techniques have been devised to 'fingerprint' writers, employing factors such as the frequency of phrases, and words that regularly follow each other, they are still not generally accepted as reliable. But even if they were, 'fingerprinting' an Elizabethan playwright would be impossible. We know from many surviving manuscripts (such as the Sir Thomas More manuscript) that although a work may have been devised by one author, plays were amended and edited by others. The eventual wording would nearly always have been a group effort.

In final analysis, Hoffman's case for Marlowe's fake death falls apart. In 1925 the original coroner's report was discovered in the archives of the London Records Office by Harvard scholar Dr Leslie Hotson. The report begins:

Inquisition indented taken at Deptford Strand in the aforesaid County of Kent, within the verge, on the 1st day of June, 1593, in the Presence of William Danby, Gent, Coroner of the Household of our said Lady the Queen, upon the view of the body of Christopher Marlowe, there lying dead and slain upon the oath of. . . [There follows the names of sixteen members of the jury.]

The presence of Danby works against Hoffman. From the report we know he was 'Corner of the Household of our said Lady the Queen'. He was therefore a high-class, royal official. If Walsingham had planned a fake death and used a substitute body, surely he would have staged the event outside 'the verge'—the jurisdiction of the Queen's own coroner—not within it. A local coroner would presumably be much easier to bribe or blackmail, and would certainly attract far less attention. Moreover, we can see from the report that no fewer than sixteen jurors viewed the body. With so many involved, Walsingham would be leaving a great deal to chance, hoping that none had previously seen the country's most famous playwright.

There is no record of how the Privy Council regarded Marlowe's death, but with the Queen informed it is certain they would wish to verify the identity of the body. Many of the officials attached to the Privy Council knew Marlowe by sight, Henry Maunder for one. As the parish register shows that Marlowe was buried at St Nicholas's Church in Deptford on 1 June, the body could easily have been exhumed if necessary. In conclusion, if there really had been a substitute body, Walsingham would have to trust the coroner, bribe the jury and risk exhumation. Surely he would have planned a safer form of 'death', one that disfigured the corpse beyond recognition—a fire perhaps.

There seems little reason to doubt that Christopher Marlowe did die in the brawl at the Deptford tavern and therefore he cannot be accredited with Shakespeare's plays. However, did the events occur as Poley, Skeres and Frizer described? A murder may well have been committed and may present a solution to the mystery of Shakespeare's life. . . .

The "New" Poems: "Shall I Die?"

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14072


Gary Taylor (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "Shakespeare's New Poem: A Scholar's Clues and Conclusions," in The New York Times Book Review, December 15, 1985, pp. 11-14.

[In the following essay, Taylor urges that the poem "Shall I Die? " must be accepted as Shakespeare's until evidence can be brought forth against this claim. The author cites verbal parallels between the poem and Shakespearean canon as supportive of the claim for Shakespeare's authorship.]

On the evening of Nov. 14, while I was routinely checking references in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, I came across an item I did not recognize, a poem attributed to William Shakespeare, with the first line "Shall I die? Shall I fly?" I asked for the manuscript to be fetched and late the next morning I went back to check it. I found the literary equivalent of Sleeping Beauty, a nameless poem awakening from the ancient sheets in which it had lain undisturbed for centuries, a poem without a critical history.

This sleeping beauty had a rude awakening. By Nov. 22 (with the help and advice of my senior colleague on the Oxford project to publish a "Complete Works" of Shakespeare, Stanley Wells), I had subjected the poem to every accepted test of authenticity; the results were all positive and we could think of nothing else to check. Within hours of my trying to find a publisher for a scholarly article on the poem, the story had been picked up by journalists, and the poem was published on Nov. 24 by The New York Times. Public reaction to the discovery has been generous and enthusiastic; I have been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of curiosity. Academic reaction to the poem has been mixed. Its critical history over the last three weeks has reiterated in miniature the history of the critical reception of Shakespeare's early work over the last three centuries. Many of the early plays were long dismissed as spurious, because they did not seem worthy of his genius. His poems—the most popular of his printed works in his own period—were almost universally disdained for a century and a half after the beginning of the English Civil War in 1640. Even now, by comparison with his plays Shakespeare's poems (a few famous sonnets excepted) remain little read, little taught, little appreciated.

The neglect of his nondramatic verse partly originates in an accident of literary history. Shakespeare was canonized—the canon of his works was first defined—by the publication of the First Folio of 1623. That volume, compiled by two senior members of the theatrical company to which Shakespeare devoted most of his professional career, contains only his "Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies," as its title page says. No comparably authoritative collection of his poetry was ever printed. Three books of nondramatic verse were separately published during Shakespeare's lifetime—two long narrative poems ("Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece") and a long sonnet sequence with a narrative coda ("A Lover's Complaint"). But most poets also write shorter poems. Shakespeare did too, at least once: "The Phoenix and the Turtle" was published in an anthology for which it may have been especially written.

If Shakespeare had written other occasional poems of this type how where would we find them? Usually such works only surface in some kind of collection. In 1599 a gathering of 20 poems, entitled "The Passionate Pilgrim," was published, attributed to "W. Shakespeare." It contains two of his sonnets and three extracts from "Love's Labor's Lost," four poems known to be by other authors (but nevertheless included in all editions of Shakespeare's works) and 11 poems of unknown authorship. Although some of these 11 may indeed be Shakespeare's, the collection as a whole was clearly a disreputable and unauthorized attempt to capitalize on the enormous early popularity of Shakespeare's two volumes of narrative verse, published in 1593 and 1594.

Likewise, in 1640 a notorious edition of Shakespeare's "Poems" appeared, purporting to do for his nondramatic verse what the 1623 Folio had done for his plays; in fact, the volume simply reprinted pieces already published, rearranged the sonnets (and gave them bogus individual titles); it also added a few poems demonstrably not by Shakespeare. Both "The Passionate Pilgrim" and the 1640 "Poems" tried to exploit the market value of Shakespeare's name; their attributions are sometimes clearly wrong and always dubiously motivated. But both volumes testify to a common unspoken assumption: the belief of pre-Restoration book buyers (exploited by booksellers) that Shakespeare did write occasional nondramatic poems, some of which had not yet seen print.

If their conviction was justified, then the poems they expected could only survive in one place, or rather in many versions of a single place: in manuscript, probably in one of the thousands of surviving manuscript miscellanies from the first half of the 17th century. Patient scholarly excavation of this previously uncharted territory has revolutionized the postwar editing of Donne, Sidney, and other, lesser poets. But Shakespeare's editors, obsessed with increasingly sophisticated technologies for analyzing the transmission and manufacture of printed documents, have simply assumed that the manuscripts contain nothing of interest. We have not bothered to look, because we are sure there is nothing to find; after all, if there were anything to find, our predecessors would already have found it. Unfortunately, our predecessors were hardly in a position to study the manuscripts systematically and, for a variety of historical reasons, not disposed to study them sympathetically.

Rawlinson Poetic Manuscript 160 is one of a horde of early manuscripts amassed by Richard Rawlinson (1689-1755) and donated to the Bodleian Library in 1756. In this century the manuscript has been called from the stacks by several eminent scholars, including E. K. Chambers and the editors of Ben Jonson's works, C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson. Margaret Crum catalogued its entire contents for her "First-Line Index of Manuscript Poetry in the Bodleian Library" (1969). She recorded that the miscellany contained an untitled poem attributed to William Shakespeare, but she drew no extraordinary attention to this fact. Why should she? The attribution had been noted long before, equally nonchalantly, in Falconer Madan's great "Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library" (1895). The poem was even included in a Bodleian exhibition of "Shakespeariana" in 1927 (item 120 in the exhibition catalogue). But although the poem has been known to a few Bodleian librarians for almost a century, it has never been reprinted or discussed.

The poem, which I here reproduce in a modernized and edited text, runs from the middle of folio 108 (recto) to the middle of folio 109 (recto) in the Rawlinson manuscript. It is written in the same elegant secretary hand used throughout the volume. The miscellany was apparently put together in the 1630's; it contains poems by Raleigh, Donne, Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Herrick, Carew and others. Fifty other poems in the manuscript are attributed to specific authors; none of those other attributions are demonstrably wrong, most are demonstrably right, and only two ambiguous initials are even dubious—"J. D." (John Donne?) and "G. H." (George Herbert?). The miscellany's attributions deserve our respect.

One other poem in this manuscript is also credited to "Wm. Shakespeare"—a six-line "Epitaph" on Elias James, first noted by Edmond Malone in the 18th century. So short a poem in so convention-bound a genre could never be proved to be by any one author on the basis of style alone. But it is never attributed to anyone else. The British scholar Leslie Hotson has just shown that Shakespeare may have known a Londoner named Elias James, and John Pitcher, who is editing Shakespeare's poems for the Oxford English Texts edition, had already persuaded us to accept it into the canon, even before we found this new poem in the same manuscript. Nevertheless, for my purposes in assessing the manuscript's reliability I classified the attribution of this epitaph as "not demonstrably wrong."

The compiler of a private miscellany has no motive for lying about the authorship of a poem; he may make mistakes, but they will be honest. In fact, we do not know of a single verified instance of a poem attributed to Shakespeare in an early manuscript which can be proved to have been written by someone else. Nor is there any reason for falsely attributing this untitled lyric to Shakespeare. A sonnet, or a poem on a prominent Stratford citizen, or one about Venus and Adonis, or by one William Strode (who shares with Shakespeare the initials "W. S."), might be credited to Shakespeare by guesswork; but nothing about this lyric invites such a mistaken association.

The scribe of the Rawlinson manuscript testifies to Shakespeare's authorship of the poem, and although we do not know exactly who this witness was we know approximately when he wrote, that he had no reason to lie, and that his other attributions are reliable. Unless other evidence emerges that decisively contradicts this attribution, such external evidence itself establishes a prima facie case for Shakespeare's authorship. This evidence could only be overturned by the discovery of some other reliable document that more convincingly attributed the poem to a different author. Like Margaret Crum, I am unaware of the poem's existence in any printed collection from this period; nor does it survive in any other copy in the major manuscript collections at the British Library, the Bodleian, Folger, Huntington, Rosenbach, Yale or Harvard libraries. Although the poem may surface in some other collection, pending any such discovery the Rawlinson manuscript is our only evidence of its text and authorship. (And of course even if another manuscript surfaced it might confirm the Shakespeare attribution, or not attribute the poem at all.)

An anonymous Caroline scribe says Shakespeare wrote this poem; less explicitly, but no less forcefully, the poem itself says so. Its vocabulary, imagery, style—everything scholarly jargon lumps together as internal evidence—are at least compatible with Shakespeare's authorship, and, if one gives them the most weight they will bear, they suggest that it could hardly have been written by any other known poet. This is not the place for a full commentary on the poem, but it is at least worth drawing attention to the more interesting verbal parallels (see list below).

These parallels vary widely in quality and importance. No one will suppose Shakespeare is the only author to have called lips "red" (line 61), but it is worth knowing that he did use so conventional an adjective so often—and that three of the other four examples occur, as does this one, in the midst of a catalogue of physical attractions. (Spenser, by contrast, although he refers to lips 53 times, never calls them "red.") Even the clichés of the poem are clichés Shakespeare couldn't resist. The cumulative force of the verbal similarities between the poem and Shakespeare's acknowledged works could only be weakened by the identification of another poet whose works provided more and better parallels; skepticism may busy itself surveying the works of all possible candidates in the half-century before 1630. But the example of Spenser—the only Elizabethan poet with a canon comparable in size to Shakespeare's—suggests that any such search is likely to be fruitless. The Shakespeare canon supplies 107 quoted parallels for 52 phrases in the poem; the Spenser canon yields only 47 parallels for 18 phrases. (Shakespeare's poems alone—which add up to a mere fraction of Spenser's—provide parallels for 14 phrases.) None of the Spenser parallels are as striking as the best Shakespearean ones.

Shakespeare's style, in all his authenticated works, continually stitches old to new: old phrases and images recycled, but—always—new and unique language, too. Shakespeare commands the largest vocabulary of any writer of the period; his genuine works always contain an unusually high proportion of words he uses only once. Consequently, any work with a credible claim to Shakespeare's authorship must also contain a reasonable number of such "unique" words. Paradoxically, if a poem of any length does not contain words that Shakespeare never uses elsewhere, then that poem cannot be by Shakespeare.

This new poem contains seven unique words: "explain," "inflection," "admiring" (used as a noun), "desiring" (noun), "speck," "scanty" and "contenting" (noun). Moreover, one of these words probably, and another certainly, antedate the first occurrences recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary: "admiring" (first recorded elsewhere in 1603), and "scanty" (first recorded in 1660). Shakespeare coins more new words than any poet of the period, with the possible exception of Nashe; these neologisms therefore reinforce the claim for the poem's authenticity. And Shakespeare elsewhere makes much use of words based on the same root from which both these coinages are formed—including the first recorded use of "admiringly" ("All's Well That Ends Well," 5.3.44) and of a particular sense of "scant" ("Troilus and Cressida," 4.4.49).

Most readers would, I trust, immediately agree that if Shakespeare wrote the poem at all, he must have written it fairly early in his career. Those to whom I have shown the poem have reacted instinctively in this way; I did myself. The poem—in its subject matter, tone, obsessive rhyming, heavy verbal symmetries and the conventionality of much of its imagery, repetition of certain words and relative lightness of tone—bears every stylistic hallmark of belonging to the 16th century, and more particularly to the period between the publication of Spenser's "Shepherd's Calendar" (1579) and the growing influence of Donne. Consequently, if Shakespeare did write it, we should expect to find not only evidence of Shakespeare's style in vacuo, but more specific evidence that associates the poem strongly with a particular period of his work.

Although there remain minor disagreements about the relative dating of the canon, in general scholars have little difficulty distinguishing work from Shakespeare's early, middle and late periods; a variety of internal stylistic evidence all tends to suggest that each play and poem belongs in a certain range on a sliding chronological scale. We should expect a similar clustering of evidence here, and we should expect that clustering to suggest an early date. Few people would be willing to credit the attribution if it forced us to place the poem alongside "The Tempest" or "Antony and Cleopatra" or even "Twelfth Night."

Noticeably, most of the parallels do come from Shakespeare's early period. The four works with the most parallels are "Romeo and Juliet" (10), "Venus and Adonis" (8), "The Taming of the Shrew" and the Sonnets (5 each)—all probably earlier than 1596. If we ignore the Sonnets (which probably straddle the borderline), 58 of the 85 quoted parallels (68 percent) are from works no later than "Henry IV, Part 1 " and "The Merchant of Venice," which mark a kind of watershed in the Shakespeare chronology (1596-7). Shakespeare's authentic works manifest a similar clustering of verbal parallels in specific chronological periods.

Such evidence is confirmed by another test that has proved successful in dating the sequence of Shakespeare's work. The late Eliot Slater demonstrated a statistically significant correlation between the distribution of rare words (those which occur less than 11 times in the canon) and the demonstrable or probable order of composition, as determined by external evidence. There are 15 such rare words in this poem: "annoy" (as a noun), "bare" (noun), "besot," "exempt" (adjective), "exile" (verb), "impair," "inferior" (adjective), "mishap," "repenting," "scape" (noun), "star-like," "suspicious," "tresses," "twine," "wantonly." These words occur 73 times in the Shakespeare canon (excluding the parts of "The Two Noble Kinsmen" attributed to John Fletcher). Of these links with the rare vocabulary of Shakespeare's works, 52 (74 percent) occur in plays earlier than the 1596 watershed; if we added the Sonnets (many of which must have been written by 1596), the figure would be 57. Only 16 come from all the later works put together. The strongest links are with "Henry VI, Part 1" (10), "Venus and Adonis," the Sonnets and "Henry VI, Part 3" (5 each).

The poem contains 74 rhyming pairs; of these, seven involve unique words, for which we cannot expect to find parallels elsewhere in Shakespeare's rhymes. Of the remaining 67, almost all are rhymed elsewhere in the canon, and 25—over a third—yoke rhyme pairs Shakespeare uses elsewhere: die/fly, breeding/proceeding, beauty/duty, ever/never, out/doubt, love/prove, annoy/joy, blot/not, last/past, pleasure/treasure, find/wind, amazed/gazed, fair/hair, high/lie, eyes/prize, cheeks/seeks, meet/sweet, made/trade, endure/sure, asunder/wonder, blot/spot, awake/take, find/mind, delay/say. These rhyme pairs occur 115 times in the canon. It is perhaps not surprising that the great bulk of these parallels come from early work, because Shakespeare used rhyme more often in that period.

But the rhymes link the poem not only with the early period generally, but with specific early works. The strongest links are with the Sonnets (24), "Love's Labor's Lost" (12) and "Venus and Adonis" and "The Rape of Lucrece" (9 each). The last three all date from 1593-94; many of the Sonnets were probably written during the same period. "Venus and Adonis," a very short work, and the Sonnets in particular provide large numbers of parallels in all three categories of chronological evidence available: verbal parallels, rare words and rhymes. The stylistic features thus not only conspire to agree that the poem, if by Shakespeare, is by the young Shakespeare; they conspire to place the poem's likeliest date of composition in the very years when Shakespeare undoubtedly indulged in a brief burst of nondramatic verse.

I have so far dealt only with quantifiable, quotable aspects of Shakespeare's style; by those criteria the poem could certainly have been written by Shakespeare in the early to mid-1590's. But is the poem good enough to be Shakespeare's? In recent weeks a few distinguished critics—at least one on the basis of nothing more than hearing the poem read by a journalist over the telephone—have denied the poem's authenticity because it is, they say, "feeble." Anyone is entitled to an opinion of the poem's merit. But judgments of quality cannot be made the primary, or even the secondary, basis of attributions of authorship; if they were much of Shakespeare's work would be relegated to the foot of the page (as indeed it was, by Alexander Pope in his 1723 edition of Shakespeare). Nor can Shakespeare's early work be judged by the standards he himself created later in his career. And whoever wrote the poem, it must have been intended as a technical exercise, a kind of verbal obstacle course in which one of every three syllables is a rhyme. The originality and difficulty of the rhyme scheme produces a poem which is artificial, and hence as admirable to Elizabethan critical taste as its seems perverse to ours. Undoubtedly the effort to rhyme distorts the syntax and weakens the sense in places. But Shakespeare's rhymed poetry is often awkward and much of the rhyme in the plays was once dismissed as spurious because it is awkward.

By such means one can excuse the poem's weaknesses—it is the work of a young poet, who was never at his best (as Campion and Jonson were) in rhyme, engaged in a technical exercise. But one must also say, in the poem's defense, that reports of its feebleness have been greatly exaggerated. From its very first line, the poem sets up a conventional Petrarchan metaphor, and then subverts it; to "fly" in a battle would be immoral, to "fly" from an obsessive sexual entanglement would be wise. And whereas no soldier wishes to "die" (perish), a lover does wish for death (orgasm), and yet in seeking that orgasm he must, in the traditional hyperbole, "die" over and over in the inhospitable climate of his beloved's neglect or disdain. The narrator seesaws between obsessive engagement and ambiguous detachment. His love "breeds" sorrow, not children (line 3); he must "vent" his lust, verbally or physically (line 11); does "admiring" breed "desiring," or vice versa? (line 59). Are the besotting "plots" which part asunder breasts or thighs? (lines 72-3). His dream "did seem"—and even then he interrupts himself parenthetically to lament the fleeting insubstantiality of his dream (which may of course have been a reality that he recognizes only now as an emotional illusion). He ends with a mere detumescent iteration of what "some say"—implying, of course, that others say something else. But what those some say is itself ambiguous. What causes repenting: to delay the pursuit of his human prize, the commencement of his wooing, or to linger in his predicament? Given the sexual pun on "case," which Shakespeare uses so often elsewhere, the last lines may mean that he will regret it if he lingers too long in that most intimate place.

But I do not want to pre-empt interpretation of the poem or dwell on its crisp irony at the expense of its luxuriating sweetness. I have in any case already said enough, I hope, to persuade readers that the poem must be regarded as Shakespeare's until proved otherwise. An early document attributes it to him; we have no particular reason to doubt that document; the poem's style is compatible with the document's attribution. Whoever demands more proof is demanding that a poem pass the threshold of his own critical esteem before it can be admitted into Shakespeare's house. But documents, like defendants, must be presumed innocent until proved guilty; unless this document's attribution can be disproved, this poem must be included in any edition of Shakespeare's works that claims to be "complete."

Donald W. Foster (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: "'Shall I Die' Post Mortem: Defining Shakespeare," in Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 1, Spring, 1987, pp. 58-77.

[In the following essay, Foster maintains that both internal and external evidence indicate that the ascription of "Shall I Die?" to Shakespeare is wrong. Foster notes that the verbal parallels cited by Taylor (above) are inconclusive; he also attacks Taylor's dating of the poem.]

John Fletcher's tragedy The Bloody Brother was first printed in 1639 by Richard Bishop for John Crook. Included in the text is a song of two stanzas which was possibly written (at least in part) by William Shake speare:1

Take, Oh take those lips away
that so swetly were forsworne,
And those eyes, like breake of day,
lights that doe misleade the Morne,
But my kisses being againe,
Seales of love, though seal'd in vaine.

Hide, Oh hide those hills of Snow,
which thy frozen blossome beares,
On whose tops the Pincks that grow
are of those that April weares.
But first set my poore heart free,
bound in those Ioy chaines by thee.

The opening stanza appears also in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure—first printed in 1623, sixteen years earlier than Fletcher's Bloody Brother—but whether Shakespeare indeed wrote stanza one, stanza two, or both, or neither, is a mystery.

If stanza one was sung as early as 1604, then Fletcher probably had no hand in writing it. A better case can be made for Fletcher's hand in the second verse, since it was printed as part of Fletcher's play, was omitted from Shakespeare's, and employs images found elsewhere in Fletcher. Yet in John Crook's Quarto of The Bloody Brother, stanza two (presumably Fletcher's) is more corrupt than stanza one. Then, too, the entire song is ascribed to Shakespeare in John Benson's Poems. Written by Wil. Shakespeare (1640). Because Benson is unreliable, few scholars have credited the attribution; yet Benson's text of the song is clearly superior to Crook's. As external evidence, then, Crook's testimony is no better than Benson's (Crook, in fact, wrongly ascribes the play to "B. J. F."). Nor does Benson lack an endorsement in assigning the entire song to Shakespeare. A commonplace book preserved in the British library (MS. Harleian 6057, fol. 36v) contains a fairly good text of both stanzas, where they are subscribed "W. S." The Harleian attribution (which has not, to my knowledge, been previously noted) might, therefore, lend added credibility to Benson's ascription—especially since the Harleian manuscript also contains a song from Troilus and Cressida, subscribed, with presumed accuracy, to "W. Sh."2

The Harleian volume, like Benson's edition of the Poems, may be dated only months after Ql of The Bloody Brother. Yet Crook's inferior text of "Take, O, take" cannot have supplied copy for either Benson or the Harleian scribe. Nor does the Harleian scribe depend on Benson, or vice versa; rather, both men appear to have found their texts in earlier manuscript copies, of uncertain venue, in which the entire song was ascribed to Shakespeare (or at least to "W. S.").

The easiest way to negotiate these competing claims is to assign the two stanzas to Shakespeare and Fletcher, respectively. It does seem likely, after all, that the verses were written for different occasions, and perhaps by two different poets. Stanza one, as it appears in Measure for Measure, is sung to console the abandoned Mariana. The unfaithful lover, by implication, is a man. The second stanza, in which the forsworn lover is unmistakably female, was probably never a part of Shakespeare's play.

A closer reading yields still other evidence, previously overlooked: for example, the phrase "hills of snow" suggests a later date of composition than 1604, when Measure for Measure was performed and, presumably, written. "Hills of snow" is a poetic cliché of the 1620s, and is found nowhere in the Shakespeare canon and rarely elsewhere during his lifetime. Nor do we find poets urging women to hide their "hills" (breasts) and "pinks" (nipples) until after 1610, when (as we shall see further along), the bare-breasted look became fashionable. The apparent disunity of the two stanzas of "Take, O, take" may yet be explained as intentional, to indicate something of the betrayed lover's indecisiveness, but it points more probably, in this case, to composite authorship.

There is no room here for dogmatism. Borrowed songs, or (more often) snatches of them, appear repeatedly in the plays of both Shakespeare and Fletcher. It is therefore quite possible that neither poet had a hand in composing this particular lyric. This, then, may leave us approximately where we began; yet we at least have no obligation, after inspecting the evidence, both old and new, to alter the editorial tradition that has assigned the first verse to Shakespeare and the second to Fletcher.

There remain hundreds of doubtful attributions in surviving manuscripts and printed texts of the seventeenth century, many of which, like "Take, O, take," are ascribed to major poets. These invite further discussion. One such—a lyric beginning "Shall I die, shall I fly"—has been the subject of recent controversy. It is ascribed to "William Shakespeare" in Bodleian Library MS. Rawl. poet. 160, a fairly typical commonplace book of the mid-seventeenth century. The volume was compiled c. 1637 by an unknown scribe and is similar in many respects to the Harleian commonplace book that ascribes "Take, O, take" to "W. S."

The text, transcribed from the Rawlinson manuscript in which it appears, is as follows:


Shall I dye, shall I flye
lovers baits, and deceipts sorrow breeding
Shall I tend shall I send
shall I shewe, and not rue my proceeding
In all duty her beawty
Binds me her servant for ever
If she scorne I mourne
I retire, to despaire Ioying never.


Yet I must, vent my lust
and explaine, inward paine by my loue breeding
If she smiles, she exiles
all my moane, if she frowne all my hopes deceaving
Suspitious doubt, oh keepe out
For thou art my tormentor
Fly away, pack away
I will loue for hope bids me venter


T'were abuse to accuse
my faire loue, ere I prove her affection
therefore try her reply
gives thee Ioy or annoy or affliction
Yet how ere, I will beare
Her pleasure with patience for beawty
sure wit not seeme to blot,
her deserts wronging him, doth her duty.


In a dreame it did seeme
but alas dreames doe passe as doe shaddowes
I did walke, I did talke
with my loue, with my dove through faire meadows
Still we past till at last
we sate to repose vs for or pleasure
being set lips mett
armes twin'd & did bind my hearts treasure


Gentle wind sport did find
wantonly to make fly her gold tresses
As they shooke, I did looke
but her faire, did impaire all my senses
As amaz'd I gaz'd
On more then a mortali complection then that loue, can prove
Such force in beawties inflection


Next her haire forehead faire
Smooth and high next doth lye without wrinckle
Her faire browes vnder those
starlike eyes win loues prize when they twinckle
In her cheekes, whoe seekes
Shall find there displaid beawties banner
Oh admiring, desiring
breeds as I looke still vpon her


Thin lips red, fancies fed
with all sweets when he meets and is granted
There to trade, and is made
happy sure, to endure still vndaunted
Pretty chinne, doth winne
Of all thats cald comendatious
Fairest neck, noe speck
All her parts meritt high admiracõns


A pretty bare, past compare
parts those plotts (which besots) still asunder
It is meet, nought but sweet
should come nere, that soe rare tis a wonder
Noe mishap, noe scape
Inferior to natures perfection
noe blot, noe spot
Shees beawties queene in election


Whilst I dream't, I exempt
for all care seem'd to share pleasures in plenty
but awake care take
for I find to my mind pleasures scanty
Therefore I will trie
To compasse my hearts cheife contenting
to delay, some saye
In such a case causeth repenting

William Shakespeare3

The various attributions made by the Rawlinson scribe have been a subject of study for many years;4 "Shall I die" was itself put on public exhibition as early as 1916.5 But no one took much interest in the poem until November 1985, when the editors of the Oxford Shakespeare announced their discovery of a lost work by our greatest poet. Gary Taylor has asserted that "this poem belongs to Shakespeare's canon and, unless somebody can dislodge it, it will stay there."6 "The onus," says Taylor, "is on people to prove that it isn't Shakespeare."7 S. Schoenbaum, American Adviser for the Oxford Shakespeare, goes a step further, arguing that "Shall I die" is "authentic until proved otherwise."Both Taylor and Schoenbaum stress the "prima facie" evidence of the Rawlinson scribe's own testimony.9 Therefore, despite widespread skepticism, "Shall I die" is included in the Oxford edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare.10 The editorial decision to include the poem raises the spectre of a lyric that will not die after all, but that will return to haunt all future editions of Shakespeare, as has been the past case with the doubtful lyrics in Jaggard's Passionate Pilgrim.

For our text of "Shall I die" we have two sources, both c. 1637—the Rawlinson volume, and a second commonplace book owned since 1972 by Yale's Beinecke Library. The Yale volume—compiled in 1637-39 by Tobias Alston, a Suffolk teenager—bears a close relationship to the Rawlinson manuscript.11 Fifty-seven of the 159 poems in Rawlinson appear also in the Yale miscellany, an unusually great overlap for manuscripts of this sort. Furthermore, the two miscellanies share numerous variant readings, as well as entire poems, that I have found nowhere else. It is clear that Alston and the anonymous Rawlinson scribe were linked (perhaps indirectly) to the same circle of friends, either at Cambridge or at the Inns of Court. Alston, however, does not assign an author to his text of "Shall I die."

At this late stage, I doubt that we will find an authoritative source in which "Shall I die" is assigned to someone other than "William Shakespeare." If, then, we are to reject the attribution, we must have better cause than a vague (and vaguely bardolatrous) impression that the poem is simply "bad." We need precise evidence that the ascription is, in fact, wrong. There exists, I contend, both internal and external evidence to that effect. Let us begin with the "internal evidence," which includes such variables as diction, prosody, imagery, word frequencies, and authorial voice. Such evidence cannot, by itself, produce a convincing attribution for an anonymous text, but it can at least help us to confirm or to discredit a doubtful ascription (as is the case here); for every text contains at least a few clues to its own authorship, however vague or contradictory those clues may sometimes appear. By looking more closely at "Shall I die" than has been done heretofore, we may yet learn a great deal about the poem, about its origin, and perhaps, too, about how to evaluate other dubious attributions.

To be credited, internal evidence in an attributional study must consist of data more reliable than mere verbal parallels, which are altogether worthless as evidence unless it can be shown that the examples cited are distinctive of a particular poet—a chore that is easier (and oftener) said than done. Unfortunately, verbal parallels continue to provide the substance of most attributional investigation. Gary Taylor's work on "Shall I die" is an example. The following words and phrases from the poem are submitted by Taylor as among the "more interesting" echoes of William Shakespeare:

all the world in all duty so rare
but alas keep out some say
fair love my dove star-like
fly away naught but to my mind
gentle wind seeks . . . find win . . . prize

Shakespeare, like the "Shall I die" poet, praises a "high" forehead, "red" lips, and a brow without a "wrinkle" in it. The "Shall I die" poet rhymes "love" with "dove"; Shakespeare does, too. Both poets speak of "doing" one's "duty." All these are submitted by Taylor as evidence that Shakespeare wrote "Shall I die, shall I fly."12

The presentation of such unremarkable parallels is, I suppose, relatively harmless, but in the absence of solid supporting evidence, echo-chasing leads us nowhere. Fluellen's "Salmons in Both" strategy will solve neither this attributional problem nor any other.13 Indeed, given the size of the Shakespeare canon, one should not be surprised to find Shakespearean "echoes" in almost any piece of poetry or prose written in English.

Nor is Shakespeare the only poet whose work contains an occasional phrase or metaphor that appears in "Shall I die." "Star-like eyes," for example, can be found in John Harington, Phineas Fletcher, William Strode, and Thomas Carew (to name but a few), though nowhere in Shakespeare. Or to select just one of these poets, I find in a hasty perusal of Carew's verse a great many parallels with "Shall I die," including several that appear nowhere in Shakespeare (e.g., "my fair love," "if she frown," "beauty binds," "queen of beauty" [twice]). "Twin'd" or "entwin'd" souls, thighs, arms, and hearts are a favorite image for Carew. "Beauty" (including inflections) is among the most frequent words in "Shall I die," as is often true of Carew. A typical instance is Carew's "Persuasions to Love," in which we find beaut-appearing eight times in only eighty-four lines; and Carew, like this poet but unlike Shakespeare, has often, relative to other English poets, a low frequency of the definite article.14 But then, even if we could find in "Shall I die" a single distinctive Shakespearean phrase, it would tell us only that the author of the poem may have read or heard something by Shakespeare. Carew, for example, echoes Shakespeare quite often (e.g., "You are the bright pole-star, which in the dark / Of this long absence, guides my wand'ring bark").

I have noted Carew only as a cross-sample, by which to judge the relative merits of the Shakespearean "verbal parallels" in "Shall I die." I choose him because the Rawlinson volume contains more poems by Carew than by any other two poets put together. At least four of the six poems preceding "Shall I die" in the Rawlinson volume, and at least three of the eleven poems succeeding (all but one of them assigned no author), were written by Carew. I do not think it possible that Carew wrote "Shall I die," but to judge from "verbal parallels," he is as likely a candidate as William Shakespeare.

In all, Taylor finds that "The Shakespeare canon supplies 107 quoted parallels for 52 phrases in the poem"—including the appearance in Shakespeare of the unremarkable phrase, "all the world."15 As I have noted elsewhere, the phrase "all the world" appears nowhere in the original texts of "Shall I die."16 This is a conjectural emendation, supplied by Stanley Wells, for "all thats cald" (stanza 7, line 8, in the Rawlinson text). In other words, the editors' own revision of the poem is submitted as evidence that Shakespeare wrote it. The emendation is not even necessary.17 The word "sue" and the rhyme pair sue:rue are presented as further proof that Shakespeare wrote "Shall I die." But when we turn to the original texts (stanza 1), we find that "sue," likewise, is a conjectural emendation, though not indicated as such in Taylor's edited version.18 Nor is "sue" a necessary emendation. The only obvious justification for the change is that the shew:rue rhyme conflicts with Shakespeare's known practice and quite possibly with Taylor's early date for the poem as well.19 But it will not do to use the hypothesis of Shakespearean authorship to amend a rhyme, and then to use the altered rhyme as evidence of Shakespearean authorship.20

"Shall I die" contains seventy-two different rhymes, two of which (beauty:duty and love:prove) appear twice. Twenty-four of these different word-pairs find identical counterparts in the poems and plays of William Shakespeare (or twenty-five if we match breeding: proceeding in stanza one with a-breeding:proceeding in Love's Labor's Lost). But such words as die:fly, not:blot, love:dove, and wind:find were pronounced more or less the same throughout England. As noted by Robin Robbins, these rhymes appear in other poets of the period with a frequency comparable to that of Shakespeare.21 They can tell us nothing of the poem's authorship.

In addition to the twenty-four word-pairs common to Shakespeare and the "Shall I die" poet, there are forty word-pairs in this poem that do not appear in Shakespeare but that might have been used by him without greatly altering his usual practice. This is a liberal estimate, for several in my list are unlikely.22 That still leaves us with eight rhymes that appear nowhere in Shakespeare and that, in addition, conflict with his usual practice (breeding: deceiving, tresses:senses, shadows:meadows, banner:upon her, retire:despair, shew:rue, plenty:scanty, and moan:frown). Breeding:deceiving is possibly a corruption (the Yale text has bred:dead), and need not trouble us; and we may dismiss tresses:senses as a fluke not likely to be found anywhere else. But the rest conflict with Shakespeare's habitual manner, as for example in shadows:meadows and plenty:scanty, which suggest a merging of ME ă into ME ě or vice versa. This is a phenomenon found in Shakespeare only in the usual exceptions (especially than:then) and perhaps in a few examples of North Country dialect, as in Captain Jamy's "by the Mes" (Henry V, III.ii.114, Fl) and Hotspur's "exle tree" (1 Henry IV, III.i.130, Ql).

We may turn next to the date of "Shall I die." To accept the poem as Shakespeare's we need, at the least, some evidence that it was written during the years that he was alive. Yet, as noted earlier, both manuscripts in which the poem appears were compiled more than twenty years after his death. If "Shall I die" is indeed Shakespeare's, its sudden emergence in 1637 is unexpected: neither the Yale nor the Rawlinson volume is known to contain a single poem earlier than 1620 that has not survived in some text earlier than these. As it happens, the majority of datable items in both volumes are from the 1620s and 30s. The latest are four poems in Rawlinson, and four in Yale, from 1637-39.23 I find only twelve items in Rawlinson earlier than 1612, and four of these are from the same work (John Hoskins, The Parliament Fart, 1607); the earliest datable poem was written in December of 1600. It appears in both texts, though the Rawlinson scribe gets the author's name wrong.24

There are many indications that both texts of "Shall I die" are derived from another commonplace book, one compiled no earlier than 1624 and perhaps as late as 1637. The two surviving texts of "Shall I die" contain twenty-three variants between them. Neither text is directly dependent on the other; it appears rather that both versions are descended from a common source, one that was itself already corrupt in a few particulars, as at the end of stanza 3 and top of stanza 9.25 It is possible, moreover, to form some idea of the date and probable contents of the original source. Rawlinson contains eight distinct clusters of poems that appear also in the Yale volume.26 Each of the eight groups contains errors or variants that, I believe, are unique to the Yale and Rawlinson volumes; and each contains at least one entire poem or selection that is unique to these two manuscripts or that is found in only one other source before 1640.27

Of the seventeen shared items in these clusters that can be precisely dated, eleven are from the single two-year period, 1623-24. The earliest is from 1604; the latest, from 1637. Of those items that can be dated with less precision, most are from the 1620s. It appears likely, then, that an earlier text of "Shall I die" appeared in a commonplace book compiled c. 1624; and the appearance in these same clusters of a few later poems, including two from 1637, suggests that there was at least one intervening commonplace book that was compiled shortly before the lines of transmission separated into the two branches that produced the Rawlinson and Yale texts of "Shall I die" (along with some forty additional poems). To put it more simply, we have no reason to believe that the Rawlinson text of "Shall I die" was copied from a source close to Shakespeare, or, indeed, from a source earlier than c. 1624.

Taylor has concluded nonetheless that "Shall I die" was written by Shakespeare between the poet's fourteenth and thirty-first birthdays. His impression is that the poem "bears every hallmark, stylistically, of belonging to the sixteenth century, and more particularly to the period between the publication of The Shepherd's Calendar (1579) and the growing influence of Donne."28 To test this hypothesis, he isolates what he calls "rare" words in "Shall I die"—that is, words that appear in the Shakespeare canon at least once but no more than ten times. He lists fifteen such words, which occur a total of "73 times in the Shakespeare canon."29 Taylor then notes the date of each occurrence and by this means concludes that "Shall I die" was written before 1596, since, "Of these links with the rare vocabulary of Shakespeare's works, 52 (74 percent) occur in plays earlier than the 1596 watershed."30

There are two problems with this method: first, there is a curious circularity in using the hypothesis of Shakespearean authorship as a means of dating the poem, and then in using an early date as evidence of Shakespearean authorship. The second problem is with the statistics themselves. In fact, the fifteen words cited appear in Shakespeare only thirty-three times "in plays before the 1596 watershed," not fifty-two times as stated by Taylor.31 Then, too, Taylor neglects to count words that do not fit the desired result. For example, fancy's ( = fancy is) appears only twice in Shakespeare, once in Henry VIII and once in Othello; wronging (n.) appears only once, in The Winter's Tale. Neither word appears in Taylor's list. Shakespeare uses venter (v.) four times, three times after 1596 and only once before; Taylor alters "venter" (stanza 2) to "venture" without indicating the emendation and omits it from his count as well. This apparently selective and inconsistent procedure is responsible for what Taylor describes as a "clustering of evidence" along a "sliding chronological scale," a scale that confirms, simultaneously, his working hypotheses of Shakespearean authorship and of an early date.32

"Shall I die" is certainly later than Taylor wishes to date it. To begin, we find is contracted five times in a poem only 429 words long: (1) "all my hope's deceiving" (or, as in the Yale text, "all my hope's dead"); (2) "fancy's fed"; (3) "all that's called"; (4) "She's beauty's queen"; and (5) "pleasure's scanty." This would have been unthinkable for any English poet in 1579 and quite unlikely even as late as 1595 (Taylor's lower and upper limits). John Lyly's use of "that's" (1584) is the OED's first recorded instance of 's for is. By the time Shakespeare began writing for the stage, that's was fairly common (at least for such informal purposes as play-scripts), as is true also of here's, there's, where's, what's, how's, he's, she's, it's, and who's. All other contractions with 's may be described as nonce words, and it is the appearance of these in "Shall I die" that conflicts with Taylor's early date. It is possible, though doubtful, that "hope's" is a corruption of "hope is" in the original. This still leaves "fancy's fed" and "pleasure's scanty," neither of which may be easily explained as a corruption, for the anapestic meter resists the extra syllable produced by expanding the contraction.

Nonce contractions are quite rare in Shakespeare. Excluding the ten standard contractions, Shakespeare in his entire non-dramatic verse (totalling 44,713 words) contracts "is" only four times—three times in the Sonnets (love's, work's, worth's), and once in "A Lover's Complaint" (man's). Turning to the drama, I find no examples in such early works as Comedy of Errors, 1 Henry VI, or Titus Andronicus, and only one or two each in 2 Henry VI, Love's Labor's Lost, Richard III, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and King John.33 The highest frequency found anywhere in "Shakespeare" is in the first two acts of Pericles (1.8/1000 words), but Pericles I-II are uncharacteristic of Shakespeare. The second highest frequency is in Timon of Athens (1.3/1000 words), another problematic text. Of the nineteen nonce contractions in Timon of Athens, eighteen are found in the portion identified by David Lake as the work of Thomas Middleton (I.i-ii, III.i-vi, and IV.iii). The nineteenth is all's (V.i.184), which Shakespeare uses fairly often (in fact, given its ubiquitous appearance elsewhere, all's might well be added to my list of standard contractions).34

The frequency of contractions in "Shall I die" would seem to rule out an early date, no matter who the author. That piece of evidence when taken by itself may perhaps be dismissed as a fluke. But the diction appears to be Jacobean or Carolinian in other respects as well. Though earlier examples may doubtless be found in a careful search, the OED offers no instance of "besot" as an active verb prior to 1615, and no instance of the sense of "besot" used in "Shall I die" prior to 1637 (the year in which the Rawlinson manuscript was compiled). "Scanty," too, is quite rare prior to 1637. Though it is commonly found in the Restoration (Dryden, for example, uses it seventeen times in the poetical works alone), the editors of the OED find no examples earlier than 1660. I find antecedents only in Thomas Lodge's Margarite of America (1596), sig. A2r, and in Phineas Fletcher's Sicelides (1631), sig. F3r. "Scanty" does not appear in the concordances to Shakespeare, Wyatt, Kyd, Sidney, Spenser, Marlowe, Donne, Jonson, or Herbert.35

The extraordinarily high frequency of gerunds in "Shall I die" (proceeding, wronging, admiring, desiring, contenting, repenting) likewise points to a date later than 1595. As already noted, Shakespeare uses wronging only once, in The Winter's Tale. He uses repenting only once, in Much Ado.36 Nor does Shakespeare ever use admiring, desiring, or contenting as a gerund (nor, for that matter, do any other of the above-named poets). The first recorded examples of admiring as a noun are both Jacobean, the first by John Florio, the second by Phineas Fletcher.37 Fletcher, beginning about 1610, employs admiring, desiring, and contenting with great regularity, often using them a half-dozen times or more in the same poem, unlike any known Elizabethan poet.

Phineas Fletcher is noteworthy in another respect, for the "Shall I die" poet may be directly indebted to him. It is even possible, I suppose, that the poem was written by Fletcher, though I find this doubtful.38 The extraordinarily high percentage of feminine endings, the diction (especially the gerunds), the imagery (beauty's queen, wind-blown tresses, and so on), the fascination with a besotting female bosom, all may indicate a conscious imitation of Phineas Fletcher's verse. The descending catalogue of a woman's parts—hair, brows, eyes, cheeks, mouth, chin, neck, and breasts—may show Fletcher's influence as well, as this was a favorite device with him.

If "Shall I die" registers a debt to Phineas Fletcher, it cannot be dated earlier than 1610-16, the period in which Fletcher composed most of his secular verse. And while "influence" can prove slippery ground on which to date any literary text, the evidence in this case is underscored by what appears to be a generic influence as well. From 1610-25, there flourished a vogue for lyrics beginning "Shall I [do this or that]?" in which the poet questions either the worth of his mistress or the best strategy for winning her. The genre may, perhaps, be traced to John Dowland's "Shall I sue, shall I seek for grace," in the Second Book of Songs or Ayres (1600).39 "Shall I sue" was followed eight years later by "Shall I look to ease my grief," in Robert Jones's Third Book of Ayres (1608). The same lyric was used by Alfonso Ferrabosco in his Ayres (1609) and by Henry Lichfield in The First Set of Madrigals (1613). It was at about this time that the mode became fashionable: "Shall I strive with words to move," another Dowland composition, first appeared in A Pilgrims Solace (1612). In the same year, William Corkine published "Shall I be with joys deceived" in his Second Book of Ayres. Thomas Campion followed suit with two songs in the same vein, "Shall I come sweet love to thee" and "Shall I then hope" in his Third Book of Ayres (c. 1617). It is George Wither, however, who is usually credited with popularizing the genre. His well-known lyric, "Shall I, wasting in despair," which appears in the Yale manuscript (p. 174), was first printed in Fidelia (1615), then in his unauthorized Works (1620) and again in Faire Virtue (1622). An expanded version of nine stanzas, retaining part of Wither's original, was printed as a broadside in 1615 ("A New Song of a Young Mans Opinion"), where it is accompanied by an eight-stanza parody. Another expanded version (to the same tune) appears in Richard Johnson's Golden Garland of Princely Pleasures (3rd ed., 1620). Other imitations include a stanza-forstanza parody, possibly by Johnson, which appeared with Wither's original poem in A Description of Love. . . . And Also Mast. Johnsons Answere to Master Withers. This brief octavo, first published c. 1618, was printed five times by 1621, and at least four more times thereafter. Another parody of four stanzas appears in The Second Part of Robin Good-Fellow (1628). Still other poems inspired by Wither's lyric include an imitation by his friend, William Browne, in Britannia's Pastorals ("Shall I tell you whom I love" [1616; rpt. 1625]); the broadside "Jone is as good as my Lady" c. 1620, beginning "Shall I here rehearse the story";40 and perhaps also a ballad c. 1620, not extant, which began "Shall I lie beyond thee." Manuscript poems of the same vintage include "Shall I thus dying in despair" (subscribed "Mrs. H." in Bodleian MS. C.C.C. 327, fol. 26v) and one that begins "Shall I like a hermit dwell" (Bodleian MS. Don. c. 57, fol. 36v). In addition to these, the Bodleian and British libraries contain several kindred lyrics from the first half of the century that cannot be dated with precision.41 "Shall I die" appears to belong, quite self-consciously, to the same popular genre.

That "Shall I die" was written later than 1595, and probably after 1610, is confirmed by another clue that the Oxford editors overlooked, or perhaps simply misunderstood. Taylor speculates that, in "Shall I die," the woman's besotting plots, parted by a "pretty bare past compare," may be a reference to her thighs.42 But the poet refers almost certainly to the woman's bosom: a "pretty bare" follows a "pretty chin" and "fairest neck" in the descending catalogue of stanzas 6-8. Like many English maidens of the seventeenth century, the woman described in "Shall I die" wears her breasts bare. "Plots," according to the OED, could denote birth marks, age spots, or any relatively darker patch of skin, but the besotting plots mentioned here are the woman's nipples, exposed by a low-cut bodice. Many English virgins displayed their upper bosom in the 1590s, and some may have worn low-cut French doublets that exposed the nipples as early as 1595.43 But it is in the Jacobean era that the style becomes topical. From about 1610, naked breasts are a frequent concern of English ministers and moralists.44 And while Elizabethan poets rarely mention bare bosoms except in a context of undress or disarray, the bare-breasted style is a frequent poetic theme from 1610-40, as in familiar lyrics by Herrick to his "Julia" or of Carew to his "Celia." Early examples may be found in Henry Parrot's Epigrams (1608) and in Phineas Fletcher's Purple Island (c. 1610).45

Bare bosoms figure repeatedly in both the Yale and Rawlinson manuscripts, though never in a poem that can be dated earlier than 1615. An example is "Madam, be covered, why stand you bare," written c. 1620 and sometimes ascribed to Richard Corbet. It appears in both volumes (Yale, pp. 45-46; Rawl., fols. 156v-157r). This is one of several bawdy, satirical sermons in verse on the subject of bare bosoms of the later Jacobean period. Also noteworthy is a lyric in the Yale manuscript called "Love's Queen" (p. 179), for it contains phrasing strongly reminiscent of "Shall I die," unlike any poem by Shakespeare. For example:

Bosom bare
Her other parts commend it,
Which were so rare and past compare
No lady's could transcend it.

(11. 12-15)

Like "beauty's queen" in "Shall I die," "Love's Queen" has a "pretty bare, past compare."

The precise dates of the bare-breasted style, and its relative popularity from year to year during Shakespeare's lifetime, are uncertain. The evidence is incomplete and inconsistent. Fynes Moryson, writing between 1605—17, describes the fashion as appearing only "lately" in both France and England.46 Nor do I find an example of the breasts fully displayed, in either English portraiture or popular woodcuts, before 1608. But it seems clear from a few Elizabethan texts that some women, at least, wore their breasts bare as early as 1595. "Shall I die" may, then, have been written before the turn of the century. But unless the poet has anticipated a conventional theme of a much later period, a date of 1610—25 again seems more likely for "Shall I die."

The meter must be considered as well. "Shall I die" is written in continuous anapests, a form almost never used by Shakespeare. So far as I am aware, Shakespeare never wrote five anapestic feet in a row. His longest line of uninterrupted anapests—"With a hey, and a ho, and hey nonino"—appears in a song that is thought by many to be a folk song not actually written by Shakespeare, but merely adapted for his use in As You Like It (V.ii.17 ff.). Except in scattered folk songs, anapestic verse is rarely found in English literature prior to 1610. I count eighteen different poems in the Yale and Rawlinson volumes in a prevailing anapestic meter. Of the thirteen that can be dated, one is from 1615, ten are from 1621-24, one from 1627, and one from 1634. A survey of Margaret Crum's First-Line Index of Manuscript Poetry in the Bodleian Library suggests that most of the datable anapestic verses from 1500-1650 were written during a relatively brief period, from 1610-30 (and most of these from 1620-25).

It is yet possible that Shakespeare wrote "Shall I die" between 1610 and 1616, but this seems unlikely. As Taylor himself has noted, "Few people would be willing to credit the attribution if it forced us to place the poem alongside The Tempest, ox Antony and Cleopatra, or even Twelfth Night"47 For if "Shall I die" looks unlike the early Shakespeare, it looks still less like the late Shakespeare. Taylor yet concludes from his own research that the poem's "vocabulary, imagery, style—everything which scholarly jargon lumps together as 'internal evidence'—is at least compatible with Shakespeare's authorship, and at most independently suggestive that it could hardly have been written by any other known poet."48 Such a conclusion seems to be entirely unjustified.

There is much more that one could say of the internal evidence in "Shall I die," though nothing, I think, that needs to be said here. Let us turn instead to the external evidence. This consists chiefly of the attribution itself, made by an unknown scribe working from an unknown source. Such attributions are worth our consideration, for we have relatively few ascriptions to Shakespeare among surviving seventeenth-century manuscripts, and few of those are disputed. But the Oxford editors have placed undue faith, I think, in the scribe's infallibility. Taylor reports that forty of the fifty-four attributions are "demonstrably right," that none is "demonstrably wrong," and that "only two are even dubiously ambiguous ('J. D.' and 'E. M.')."49 But let us take as our sample just the middle third of the manuscript. Folios 57-168 contain fifteen attributions. These fifteen include "Shall I die" (by "William Shakespeare"), plus six others that are probably wrong: "Give me my scallop shell of quiet" (fol. 57r) and "Our passions are most like to floods and streams" (fol. 117r) are ascribed here to Sir Walter Raleigh; both ascriptions have been rejected by modern scholarship. The first was published in 1604 as the work of "An. Sc, gent.," on the occasion of Raleigh's conviction. The second is a conflation of two poems; perhaps the first six lines are by Raleigh, but the thirty-two lines following were written by Sir Robert Ayton.50 "Disdain me still" (fol. 103v) is one of two consecutive poems ascribed in Rawlinson to "J. D.," the second one correctly (Donne's "Autumnal," fols. 103v104v); but I find no other text in which "Disdain me still" is ascribed either to John Donne or to anyone with these initials. "From one that languisheth in discontent" (fols. 117v-118v) is ascribed here to George "Radnor," an error (unique to the Rawlinson volume) for Sir George Radney. "Divided in your sorrows" (fols. 118v-119v), a companion piece, is given here as a reply to "Radnor" by the Countess of Hertford, though it appears to be Radney's as well. And "King Oberon's Apparel" (fols. 168v-169v), though ascribed in Rawlinson to Sir Simeon Steward, is almost certainly by Herrick. Several of the remaining eight attributions are at least doubtful.51 And this is in addition to the "dubiously ambiguous" "E. M."52 Only five of the fifteen ascriptions in this middle third of the Rawlinson volume are well established.53

How Shakespeare's name became linked to "Shall I die" cannot be said with certainty. One possibility, suggested by Peter Beal, is that "Shall I die" was originally a song, and that it was performed onstage with a Shakespeare play.54 (This might likewise explain how "Hide, O, hide" came to be identified with Shakespeare's name in Benson's edition of the Poems and in the Harleian manuscript discussed earlier.) Taylor replies, "Even if other songs of such length can be found—and I would welcome examples—this one seems clearly too long for a play. . . . Beal's conjecture is implausible, untestable, and irrelevant."55 But it seems quite likely that "Shall I die" is, indeed, a song lyric—as are virtually all surviving anapestic verses of the Jacobean era.56 Nor is the length unusual; for "welcome" examples of songs longer than "Shall I die" we need turn no further than to the Rawlinson and Yale manuscripts, which contain at least thirteen examples between them.57 Nor is "Shall I die" too long for a seventeenth-century dramatic audience. Dryden's "Chronos, Chronos, mend thy pace," written for a revival of Beaumont and Fletcher's Pilgrim, is a full fifty percent longer than "Shall I die" (642 words versus 429). William Davenant's song, "Ladies, who fine as fi'pence are" (in The Man's the Master), is thirty percent longer (at 557 words). Examples can be multiplied. I mention these two—both later than 1637—only because both Dryden and Davenant are known to have produced adaptations of Shakespeare's plays. It is true, however, that Shakespeare himself has no dramatic songs as long as "Shall I die." If this was a dramatic song, it reflects the taste of a later generation of theatre-goers, when music (and dance) came to play a more important role in stage entertainment.

Another possibility is that the Rawlinson scribe (or any scribe before him in the same manuscript chain) worked from copy-text in which "Shall I die" was subscribed "W. S." and that he simply expanded the initials. The Rawlinson copyist, 135 pages earlier, had entered into his commonplace book the Elias James epitaph, which was assigned to Shakespeare (fol. 41r). Upon coming sometime later to a poem subscribed "W. S.," it would be Shakespeare's name, not that of William Strode or of some other W. S., who would first come to mind. It has been noted by Strode's editor, Bertram Dobell, that another Oxford manuscript—one with unusually close ties to the Rawlinson volume—contains a Strode poem subscribed "W. Sh."58 The Rawlinson scribe may have found a similar error in his own copy-text. If so, it is an error that did not find its way into Alston's book.

"Shall I die" is quite unlike Strode's manner. But just as we find poems by William Strode that are ascribed in these manuscripts to other poets, so do we find Strode's initials attached to poems he did not write. A striking example may be found in Bodleian MS. Rawl. poet. 142 (fols. 15v-16r). Immediately following a wellknown song by Thomas Carew ("In her fair cheeks two pits do lie"), in darker ink and a different hand, we find a note that reads,

Spend that nick of time upon my
father. Last, to subscribe myself
most affectionate to serve you

W. S.

It would appear from this that "W. S." has claimed the poem as his own—and one can hardly ask for more reliable external evidence than a copy signed by the author himself. But, in fact, the poem immediately preceding Carew's is by William Strode ("Oft when I look I may descry"). "W. S.," presumably Strode himself, has taken the first available space to autograph the manuscript (since there was no room available between his own poem and Carew's). To add to the confusion, Strode's poem ("Oft when I look") somehow found its way into the posthumous edition of Carew's Poems (1640). Such are the vagaries of seventeenth-century manuscripts. One learns not to depend too heavily upon their unproven testimony.

No one knows, finally, who wrote "Shall I die, shall I fly." The principals are dead and cannot be consulted. We have only the second-hand report of an unknown scribe, one who seems not to have known much more than we do about the poems in his commonplace book. If the attribution were sustained by compelling internal evidence, it might yet be credited. But the external evidence is not by itself enough to carve a lasting place for this lyric among the poems of William Shakespeare.

The central issue of canonical study in recent years has been the continuing dispute over the proper role to be played by "internal" versus "external" evidence in the identification of authorship. At one extreme stand various advocates of stylistic analysis. The "basic premise" of Arthur Sherbo, for example, is that "internal evidence deals with essentials while external evidence deals with accidentals." "Short of an unequivocal acknowledgment by the author himself," writes Sherbo, "the value of internal evidence outweighs any other."59 At the opposite extreme stands S. Schoenbaum, who argues that "External evidence may and often does provide incontestable proof; internal evidence can only support hypotheses or corroborate external evidence."60

We shall do well, I think, in forever laying to rest that futile debate. The canon of our best authors has never depended upon a precise ratio of internal to external evidence, or on a certain measure of either. What matters finally is not the ratio but the quality of the evidence and the manner in which it is produced. When new questions arise (as with "Shall I die") or new testimony (as with the Harleian text of "Take, O, take those lips away"), we must present our data responsibly, truthfully, and with humility, that is, with a recognition under whose jurisdiction the verdict properly belongs: it belongs to all informed readers, to all those who have come to know William Shakespeare through the words he left behind. No one can add to the canon a single word, even by way of emendation, by personal fiat; for there is no individual, whether stationer or scribe, editor or scholar, who can speak for that larger community of readers who will exercise their communal authority regardless. The wise editor is therefore sensitive not just to the integrity of the text but to the integrity of shared opinion concerning what constitutes "Shakespeare."

There are, of course, many points at which "shared opinion" has proven elusive, and it is here that we may find the cutting edge of future attributional research. Various lyrics and epitaphs, ascribed to Shakespeare either in the seventeenth century or in modern scholarship, have yet to be examined with the kind of precision necessary to reach even a tentative verdict. Questions remain concerning the extent of Shake speare's hand in at least a dozen plays, not just in Edward III, Pericles, and The Two Noble Kinsmen (none of which appears in the First Folio), but in such "canonical" plays as the Henry VI trilogy, Timon of Athens, and Henry VIII Thanks to the painstaking labor of such careful scholars as David Lake and Cyrus Hoy, we have begun to tackle these problems, but there remains much unfilled ground.

In the years ahead we are unlikely to discover much that is new in the way of external evidence for any Shakespearean text (or for works by any other major Elizabethan poet). We have now about as much external documentation as well will ever have. Yet dozens of questions remain. We must therefore rest content in our ignorance, or else seek to refine our methods for evaluating style and content. The latter alternative seems to me far preferable. Indeed, the day may yet come when we shall resolve formerly insoluble problems simply by tracing the poet's stylistic fingerprints with the help of carefully controlled statistical analysis. That day seems a long way off. If and when it comes, we shall still have to weigh the evidence as we have always done—according to our best collective judgment. Arriving at a verdict, in some cases, may require a labored and tedious deliberation. At times our investigation may amount to little more than groping in the dark. But if we value the author of Hamlet and King Lear, it is imperative that we continue to explore the fragmented edges of what we have learned to call The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.


1 John Fletcher, The Bloody Brother, Ql (London, 1639), sig. H4v; Q2 (Oxford, 1640), sig. I2r-v. Other texts that contain the song, entire or in part, are William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, in Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, First Folio (London, 1623), p. 75; John Benson, ed., Poems. Written by Wil Shakespeare. Gent. (London, 1640), sig. K6r; MS. Harleian 6057, British Library (c. 1640), fol. 36v; John Wilson, Select Musical Ayres and Dialogues (London, 1652), p. 24. In the collations below, these are denoted, respectively, as Ql, Q2, Fl, Ben., Harl., and Wils. The song also appears in three Bodleian manuscripts that are not at my present disposal: Ashmole 47 (fol. 130v); Mus. b.1 (fol. 19v), with music by John Wilson; and Rawl. poet. 65 (sig. 26v). The text as given here follows Ql.


2 that] which Q2

3 like] the, Fl, Ben., Harl.; that Wils.

3 day] days Wils.

4 lights that] Harl.; light that Wils.; Lights which Ben.

5 being] bring Fl, Q2, Ben., Harl., Wils.

5 Fl: bring againe, bring againe

6 F1 : but seal 'd in vaine, seal 'd in vaine

6 seal'd] seals Wils.

8 which] that Q2, Ben., Harl., Wils.

8 blossome] bosome Q2, Ben., Harl.

10 Aprii] Aprils Ben.

10 Are of] Are yet of Q2, Wils.

11 Ben.: But my poor heart first set free

12 in those Ioy] in those Icy Q2, Wils.; in ivory Harl.

2Troilus and Cressida, III.i.115-26, beginning, "Love, love, nothing but love" (British Library MS. Harleian 6057, fol. 36r).

3 Printed with the kind permission of the Keeper of Western Manuscripts, the Bodleian Library (Bodleian MS. Rawl. poet. 160, fols. 108r-109v). This transcription attempts to represent the text exactly.

4 See, for example, J.A.W. Bennett and H. R. Trevor-Roper, The Poems of Richard Corbet (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), pp. lx, 82-84, 171; E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), I, 550-51; Margaret Crum, First-Line Index of Manuscript Poetry in the Bodleian Library, 2 vols. (New York: MLA, 1969); C. B. Gullans, "Ralegh and Ayton," Studies in Bibliography, 13 (1960), 191-98; C. H. Herford and Percy and Evelyn Simpson, Ben Jonson, 10 vols., VII, VIII (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925-1952); Agnes M. C. Latham, The Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951), pp. 115-17, 140-42; Falconer Madan, Summary Catalogue of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, 7 vols., III (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1895-1953), 317-18; Edmond Malone, The Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, 16 vols. (Dublin, 1794), I, 107-8; L. C. Martin, The Poetical Works of Robert Herrick (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), pp. xxx, 404-18, 492-95; Claude M. Simpson, The British Broadside Ballad and Its Music (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 778-94. My own students at the University of California considered the "Shall I die" attribution as early as 1984, and rejected it.

5 See Sidney Lee, et al., A Catalogue of the Shakespeare Exhibition Held in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Hall, 1916), pp. 58-59.

6 Joseph Lelyveld, "A Scholar's Find: Shakespearean Lyric," The New York Times, 24 November 1985, p. A40.

7 Simon Freeman, "Oxford Find may be Lost Shakespeare Love Poem," Sunday Times, 24 November 1985, p. Al.

8 Herbert Mitgang, "Two U.S. Experts Excited by Find," New York Times, 24 November 1985, p. A40.

9 Gary Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," New York Times Book Review, 15 December 1985, p. 11; Mitgang, p. A40.

10 William Shakespeare, The Complete Works, eds. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1986), p. 883.

11 The Yale manuscript (MS. Osborn bl97) is an octavo miscellany of about 250 pages, containing some 270 poems. For a detailed description, see Peter Beal, "Letters," Times Literary Supplement, 7 March 1986, p. 248. Bodleian MS. Rawl. poet. 160 and Yale MS. Osborn bl97 bear also a close relationship to Bodleian MSS. Ashmole 38 and C.C.C. 328, which contain many of the same items.

12 Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," p. 12.

13 See Ephim G. Fogel, "Salmons in Both, or Some Caveats for Canonical Scholars," Evidence for Authorship: Essays on Problems of Attribution, eds. David V. Erdman and Ephim G. Fogel (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 69-101.

14 Shakespeare's use of the definite article is remarkably consistent, varying only slightly in relative frequency from one work to the next. Yet "Shall I die" contains no occurrence of "the." Thomas Pendleton, in an unpublished essay, reports that "if we treat the occurrence of the as a random event in Shakespeare's language, the mathematical probability of its not appearing in 429 opportunities is .000000569—a little better than one in two million."

15 Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," p. 12.

16 Donald Foster, "Letters," New York Times Book Review, 19 January 1986, p. 4.

17 If I read the Rawlinson text correctly, the woman's "Pretty chin doth win / Of all that's called 'commendatious.'" This is arguably the cleverest line in the poem, if indeed the woman's chin—one of many such feminine "baits and deceits"—is both commendable and mendacious. To commendatious may be compared such words as disputatious, execratious, flirtatious, ostentatious, and vexatious, along with such seventeenth-century coinages as commendatitial (1601), commendatory (1611), and commendate (1625). Taylor concludes that the Rawlinson scribe intended to write "commendations," as in the italic hand of the Yale text, and he may be right; but, as Taylor himself has noted, "all thats call'd commendations" makes no sense. Since u and n are identical in the secretary hand, we must judge from the context which of these was intended: the Rawlinson scribe, in writing admirations, uses the old orthography for the suffix, thus: "admiracõns." To this may be compared "suspitious" in stanza two. The scribe thereby differentiates between -tions and -tious. Moreover, if I am right in thinking that the Rawlinson text reads "comendatious," and that the original version read thus as well, it explains the unusual plural that follows ("admirations") as an attempt by the poet to modulate an imperfect rhyme. In the Oxford Complete Works, "all that's called" is again emended, but differently, to read "all their culled."

18 According to Taylor, "'shew' .. . is a contemporary spelling of sue, which makes better sense and rhyme. The sh- form of the word is very rare, but occurs at L.L.L. 3.1.204" (Taylor, "A New Shakespeare Poem? The Evidence," TLS, 20 December 1985, p. 1447). But the editors of the OED, in surveying one thousand years of the English language, do not locate a single example. Ql and Fl of Love's Labor's Lost read shue, not shew, which is a different matter altogether, for shue was a standard phonological spelling found in non-Shakespearean texts as well.

19 Early Modern English usage varied considerably in the pronunciation of such words as sew (or sow), shew (or show), shrew (or shrow), strew (or strow), as noted by Fausto Cercignani in Shakespeare's Works and Elizabethan Pronunciation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), pp. 208-10. For some Jacobean and many Carolinian poets, shew:rue was a perfect rhyme. It was not until about 1610 that the spellings shew and show, formerly interchangeable, came to denote different pronunciations. Thus, for example, Herrick, Strode, and Phineas Fletcher, who wrote shew for rhymes in -ue and show for rhymes in -ow. Shakespeare, a typical Elizabethan in this respect, rhymed shew it:bestow it (Sonnet 26, 11. 6-8); strewn:thrown (Twelfth Night, II.iv.61-63), and shew:know (many times); to which may be added other examples.

20 Other emendations that are not indicated as such in Taylor's edited text (as printed in The New York Times, 24 November 1985, p. A40) are fend for "tend" (stanza 1), venture for "venter" (stanza 2), and seems for "seemd" (stanza 9); but perhaps these are simply mistakes in reading the manuscript. Ten new emendations appear in the new Oxford edition. These changes include six variants from the Yale text, plus four unnecessary conjectural emendations, as follows: conceiving for breeding (stanza 2); neat for next (stanza 6); all their culled for all that's called (stanza 7); and misshape for mishap (stanza 8).

21 Robin Robbins, "And the Counter-Arguments," TLS, 20 December 1985, p. 1149. Robbins considers Daniel, Drayton, Sidney, and Spenser. As my only cross-sample I have checked Phineas Fletcher and Thomas Carew. I find twenty-five of the "Shall I die" word-pairs in Fletcher, eighteen in Carew, despite a much smaller sample than is provided by the Shakespeare canon.

22 I have of course included all those word-pairs that (like brows:those and near:rare) would not have been extraordinary in a Shakespeare poem even if they sound odd to a modern ear. In addition, I have counted the following as "possible" Shakespeare rhymes: baits:deceits (though Shakespeare rhymes bait:state, bait:straight, and deceit:repeat); complexion:inflexion, perfection:election and affection:affliction (though rhymes in -ction are rare in Shakespeare, and -ection:iction rhymes, non-existent); scorn:mourn (though Shakespeare seems to have distinguished between - orn and -ourn); how e'er:bear (though how e'er is rare in Shakespeare before 1604, appearing only three times); and away:away (though Shakespeare generally eschewed redundant rhymes, including this one). Lastly, I have counted seven pairs that contain eight words foreign to Shakespeare's manifest vocabulary.

23 "I hate a lie and yet a lie did run" (Rawl. poet. 160, fol. 23r; Yale MS. Osborn bl62, p. 130). [John Jeffries], "Fair piece of angel gold" (Rawl., fol. 41r). "We lived one and twenty years" (Rawl., fol. 162v; Yale, p. 33). "Old Paul's steeple fare thee well" (Rawl., fol. 164r). "At Delphos' shrine one did a doubt propound" (Yale, p. 39). All these are from 1637. The Yale volume contains one poem, at the end, from 1639 (p. 241), the year of Alston's death. It is followed by only two more entries in Alston's hand.

24 Sir George Radney, "From one that languisheth in discontent" (Rawl., fols. 117v-118v; Yale, pp. 206-8), ascribed here to George Radnor.

25 In both surviving texts, the last stanza begins, "Whilst I dreamt, I, exempt for all care, seem'd to share . . ." (my punctuation). The source from which the Yale and Rawlinson texts both evolved undoubtedly read thus, but (as noted by Taylor) "exempt from all care" seems necessary here.

26 These are found in folios 13v-25v, 33v-36v, 45r-48v, 55v-76r, 106v-109v (including "Shall I die"), 156v-159r, 165r-170v, and 171v-175v.

27 The fourth cluster, in which "Shall I die" appears, contains "You'll ask perchance wherefore I stay," by Thomas Carew (Rawl., fol. 106v; Yale, p. 237); an anonymous poem, possibly unique to Rawlinson ("It is not long since I could see," Rawl., fol. 107v); "Thou sent'st to me a heart," by Robert Ayton (Rawl., fol. 107v; Yale, p. 38); "Shall I die" (Rawl., fols. 108rr-109v, Yale, pp. 135-36); and "You violets that do first appear," by Sir Henry Wotton (Rawl., fol. 109r-v; Yale, pp. 44-45); all these appear to date from the 1620s.

28 Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," p. 13.

29 [A]nnoy (n.), bare (n.), besot (v.), exempt (adj.), exile (v.), impair (v.), inferior (adj.), mishap (n.), repenting (n.), scape (n.), star-like (adj.), suspicious (adj.), tresses (n.), twine (v.) and wantonly (adv.); Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," p. 13.

30 Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," p. 13.

31 As follows: annoy (n.), 3x; exempt (adj.), 6x; exile (v.), 5x; impair (v.), 2x; inferior (adj.), 6x; mishap (n.), 4x; scape (n.), lx; suspicious (adj.), 4x; and tresses (n.), 2x. This count presumes that Taylor's 1596 cutoff includes Err., 1H6, 2H6, 3H6, R3, LLL, Tit., Shr., TGV, Rom., R2, MND, and Jn. But we can extend the sample to 1599, including MV, 1H4, 2H4, H5, Ado, and JC, and the figures remain essentially the same, with only one more instance of scape (n.), in MV. Though excluded from Taylor's count, the early poems contain seven additional occurrences, and the later poems, six: Venus and Adonis: annoy (n.), 2x; mishap (n.) and twine (v.), lx each. Lucrece: annoy (n.), 2x, and scape (n.), lx. Sonnets: annoy (n.), impair (v.), inferior (adj.), tresses (n.), and wantonly (adv.), lx each. "A Lover's Complaint": bare (n.), lx.

32 Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," p. 13.

33 If we divide Shakespeare's dramatic career chronologically into four periods of approximately equal volume (Err.-Rom, MND-JC, TN-AWW, and Mac-TNK), we find a gradual increase in contracted "is" with the passing of years, but never, even after 1605, does Shakespeare approach the "Shall I die" poet (Fletcher's portion of TNK and H8 have been omitted from the count). . . .

34 David Lake, The Canon of Thomas Middleton's Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 279-86.

35 Herbert S. Donow, A Concordance to the Poems of Sir Philip Sidney (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1975); Stephen L. Bates and Sidney D. Orr, A Concordance to the Poems of Ben Jonson (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 1978); Homer C. Combs, A Concordance to the Poems of John Donne (Chicago: Packard, 1940); Charles Crawford, A Concordance to the Works of Thomas Kyd (Louvain: Uystpruyst, 1906); Charles G. Osgood, ed., A Concordance to the Poems of Edmund Spenser (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1915); Marvin Spevack, A Complete and Systematic Concordance to the Works of Shakespeare, 9 vols. (Hildesheim: Olms, 1968); Louis Ule, ed., A Concordance to the Works of Christopher Marlowe (Hildesheim: Olms, 1979).

36 Unlike the author of "Shall I die," Shakespeare often avoids the participial forms: he prefers admiration, content, desire, repentance, and wrong for substantive use.

37 Michel de Montaigne, The Essayes, trans. John Florio (1603; rpt. London, 1634), p. 492; Phineas Fletcher, "Piscatorie Eclogs" [written c. 1610], III.xii.7, in The Purple Island (Cambridge, 1633), p. 17.

38 Though a date of 1610-15 is possible for "Shall I die," 1620-24 seems a more likely date, by which time Fletcher had forsworn all but religious verse. Nor is anapestic verse characteristic of Fletcher. Other features that conflict with Fletcher's practice include the scorn:mourn rhyme; Fletcher rhymes mourn with -urn, scorn with -orn. It is perhaps worth noting, however, that Fletcher is linked to a "W. Sh.," William Sheares, who published his Sicelides in 1631; and to poet/playwright William Sampson, another "W. S.," with whom Fletcher resided from 1616-21.

39 I find only a few "Shall I—" poems earlier than 1600, none of which is as strikingly similar to "Shall I die" as Dowland's "Shall I sue." The earliest is "Shall I thus ever long" in Tottel's Miscellany (1557), sig. T2r.

40 Sung to the tune of "What Care I How Faire She Be," a name derived from Wither's refrain.

41 See, for example, Margaret Crum, First-Line Index of Manuscript Poetry in the Bodleian Library (cited in note 4), II, 259-60.

42 Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," p. 14.

43 Stephen Gosson in 1595 mentions "naked paps" among the "newfangled" snares of gentlewomen. This, I believe, is our earliest mention of the fashion, but his meaning is not altogether certain. Other writers, Fynes Moryson, for example, mention "naked breasts" or "bare bosoms" while making it clear that the breast was sometimes "naked" under a pinner of lace or cobweb lawn. Stephen Gosson, Pleasant Quippes for Vpstart Newfangled Gentlewomen (London, 1595), sig. A4r; Fynes Moryson, An Itinerary (1617; rpt. New York: Macmillan, 1908), pp. 220, 235. Illustrations of the fashion may be found in Valerie Cumming, A Visual History of Costume in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Drama, 1984); C. Willet and Phillis C̀unnington, Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century (London: Faber, 1966); and in William Chappell and J. W. Ebsworth, eds., The Roxburghe Ballads, 8 vols. (1875; rpt. New York: AMS, 1966).

44 See, for example, Joseph Hall, "Righteous Mammon" (1618), Works (London, 1628), p. 720; Samuel Purchas, Purchas his Pilgrim. Microcosmus (London, 1619), pp. 255-59; Hic Mulier (London, 1620), and Haec Vir (London, 1620), both anonymous, rpt. in Katherine Usher Henderson and Barbara F. McManus, eds., Half Humankind (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1985), pp. 265-89.

45 Henry Parrot, Epigrams (London, 1608), sig. Glv; Phineas Fletcher, The Purple Island (Cambridge, 1633), II.viii.1-7 and X.xxxvii.1-7.

46 Moryson, pp. 230, 235.

47 Taylor, "Shakespeare's New Poem," p. 13.

48 Taylor, "A New Shakespeare Poem? The Evidence," p. 1447.

49 Taylor, "The Evidence," p. 1447.

50 See C. B. Gullans, "Ralegh and Ayton," Studies in Bibliography, 13 (1960), 191-98.

51 "Psalm 79," like "Shall I die," has survived in the Yale and Rawlinson volumes and apparently nowhere else; it is ascribed here to "Jno. Rayment" (fol. 76v) and in the Yale manuscript to "Ja: Raynalls" (p. 108). They cannot both be right. This psalm is followed by two others ("Psalm 91" and "Psalm 104," fols. 77r-78r), ascribed here to Thomas Carew (and elsewhere to Carey), though neither appears in Carew's posthumous Poems (1640). Two others are ascribed to "G. H." ("To the Queen of Bohemia" and "L'Envoy," fol. 84r-v), which George Herbert's editor, F. E. Hutchinson, classifies as "doubtful" Herbert poems.

52 "Love, that great workman" (fol. 103r_v) is ascribed elsewhere to other poets, though not to anyone with the initials "E. M."

53 "Who would have thought" (fols. 85v-86r), by "Dr. Brooke"; three poems by Herrick (fols. 165r-168v); and Donne's "Autumnal" (fols. 103v-104v), by "J. D."

54 Peter Beal, "Letters," TLS, 3 January 1986, p. 13.

55 Gary Taylor, "'Shall I die?' immortalized?" TLS, 31 January 1986, p. 123.

56 Between 1610 and 1630, a great many anapestic lyrics were written to the popular tune "Whoop! Do Me No Harm" (the song is mentioned in The Winter's Tale, IV.iv. 198-200). Other popular anapestic tunes include "Packenton's Pound," "The Corranto," "I'll Go No More A-Wooing by Night," and "Fiddler in the Stocks," for which sundry lyrics were written during the same period.

57 The longest, "To the Tune of 'Bonny Nell,'" is 940 words long (Yale, pp. 68-72). Another immediately follows of 740 words. Still another, a song in anapestic verse to the tune of "Whoop! De Me No Harm," appears in both miscellanies. This song of 609 words, which begins "When the king came of late with his peers of state," was written in December 1624 or shortly thereafter. It was printed at Cambridge by William Smart (another "W. S."). Numerous other songs in the Rawlinson and Yale volumes are from 500-750 words, including "The Huntsman's Song," which was written for a masque (Yale, pp. 235-37).

58 MS. C.C.C. 328, cited by Bertram Dobell, The Poetical Works of William Strode (London, 1907), p. 31. C.C.C. 328, like the Yale manuscript and Bodleian MS. Ashmole 38, has exceptionally close ties to Rawl. poet. 160, consisting largely of the same items.

59 Arthur Sherbo, "The Uses and Abuses of Internal Evidence," Evidence for Authorship: Essays on Problems of Attribution (cited in note 13), p. 7.

60 S. Schoenbaum, Internal Evidence and Elizabethan Dramatic Authorship (Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1966), p. 150.

The "New" Poems: "The Funeral Elegy

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 18756

Richard Abrams (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: "W[illiam] S[hakespeare]'s 'Funeral Elegy' and the Turn from the Theatrical," in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 36, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp. 435-60.

[In the following essay, Abrams argues that signs of Shakespeare's authorship of the poem "The Funeral Elegy " are evident in the poem's allusions to the theatrical profession and to Shakespeare's works. Abrams also maintains that the poem's narrator reveals "biographical coincidences" which point to Shakespeare, as the elegist.]

On 25 January 1612 in Exeter, after a day's drinking with two friends, a thirty-year-old Devonshire country gentleman, William Peter, was murdered. Nineteen days later in London, Thomas Thorpe, the publisher of Shakespeare's Sonnets, registered as ready for publication a 578-line poem entitled A Funeral Elegy in Memory of the Late Virtuous Master William Peter. This poem, signed W. S. on the title page and in the dedication, was introduced to Shakespeare studies by Donald Foster who, in Elegy by W. S.: A Study in Attribution, noted the possibility of Shakespeare's authorship but did not then, in 1989, feel he could press his arguments with confidence. More recently Foster and I have presented a greatly augmented case for Shakespeare's authorship at professional conferences and in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement.1 Needless to say, the attribution has not met with universal assent. Much of the dry, repetitious Elegy does not sound like the Shakespeare we know. Nonetheless, on examination many signs of Shakespeare's authorship emerge: biographical coincidences, verbal echoes of Shakespeare's canonical works, including plays not yet printed in 1612, and verbal anticipations of a play or plays (The Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII) not yet written in 1612, together with a host of characteristic, even idiosyncratic stylistic mannerisms. That all this was managed in probably well under two weeks (allowing for news of Peter's death to travel the 160 miles from Exeter to London) by a grief-stricken W. S., who courted a resemblance to Shakespeare, who enjoyed (on the poem's testimony) success sufficient to provoke envy, and who had access to the publisher of the Sonnets, is highly intriguing. Consequently, scholars who at first were skeptical, even dismissive, of claims for Shakespeare's authorship have begun to listen hard to the evidence.

This essay is planned as a companion piece to Foster's new study, which will appear in PMLA. Employing traditional tools of literary analysis 1 discuss W. S.'s allusions to the theatrical profession; also, I call attention to singularities in the elegist's manner of alluding to Shakespeare. On both scores, I argue, W. S. must be Shakespeare himself. If the Elegy diverges stylistically from Shakespeare's other writings, then these divergences may be explained as the poet's deliberate accommodation of his art to the "Unhappy matter of a mourning style," an accommodation for which the Elegy supplies abundant metapoetic evidence of intention.2 In a further turn of my discussion, I contextualize this stylistic transformation by linking it with tendencies in proximate Shakespearean texts. My attempt in this latter regard is speculative, falling outside the bounds of my evidentiary argument. Others who accept the poem as Shakespeare's may wish to build other bridges. I am persuaded, though, that bridging of some sort is in order if the Elegy is to be truly assimilated to the canon and not just to orbit around it indefinitely, like the little-read, though widely-accepted A Lover's Complaint. I come to this view through observations of responses to the Elegy in the past few months. Certain responses have suggested to me that even if the extensive evidence for Shakespeare's authorship stands up to scrutiny, the Elegy's future may be clouded. Emotional resistance can run high because of the kind of poem this is: no trifle like the late, unlamented "Shall I Die?" Rather, in a record starved of first-person testimony, the Elegy promises to be that thing we have sorely lacked: an intimate document from the poet's final years in which Shakespeare, in something like his own voice, extemporizes on the way of the world and his own sense of place in it.

It is precisely because the Elegy would seem to be a poem not just by Shakespeare but about him that it may be expected to provoke unreasoned resistances beyond those provoked by such trivial (and mistaken) attributions as "Shall I Die?" and Edmund Ironside. Our latent bardolatry may feel violated to hear a voice so alien (jaded, hurt, chiding) proposed as that of the author with whom we feel most comfortable. Of course, there are many Shakespeares, from Arnold's demigod "out-topping knowledge" to the New Historicist's cipher, the locus of collaborative cultural forces; but probably the most familiar—paradoxically, the most international—is the one who first appeared in a heading of Ben Jonson's commonplace book: "De Shakespeare nostrati. " Since Jonson's time "native Shakespeare" has been naturalized to states unborn and accents unknown; he has been rebaptized "our Shakespeare," and readers around the world hold him dear. These feelings of personal attachment are threatened by the strange voice in the poem, a voice that can strike our ears like that of Richard II disowning his followers: "For you have but mistook me all this while" (III.ii.174). To begin with the strangeness, I turn to a passage in which W. S. muses on his own deviation from familiar norms.


In his dedication to William Peter's brother John, W. S. seems sheepish about his present endeavor:

Exercise in this kind I will little affect, and am less addicted to, but there must be miracle in that labor, which, [but] to witness my remembrance to this departed gentleman, I would not willingly undergo.3

W. S. does not say here that he is a stranger to poetic exercise as such but only to "Exercise in this kind," to elegy-writing, which, he facetiously remarks, is so remote from his usual poetic mode as to require a minor miracle to see him through the labor of composition. That W. S. is a practicing poet appears both in direct assertions in the Elegy and in the poem's many felicities such as its smooth versifying, which implies practice. However, even if W. S. is a veteran poet, to suppose that his wonted genre is dramatic poetry would seem unwarranted on two grounds. The first ground, that the Elegy lacks the elements of conflict and tension that make for effective theater, is not critical. Though the poem is indeed undramatic, this feature owes less to want of skill on W. S.'s part than to an easily comprehended artistic program. Rather than dignify Peter's murderer, Edward Drew, by placing him center-stage with his victim, W. S. reduces Drew's visibility, making Peter the victim of cosmic forces, of "time, and his predestinated end" (line 1). With Peter's antagonist out of the picture, what drama remains centers on W. S.'s own relationship with the deceased, and here to an extent the Elegy does deliver conventional theatrical satisfactions. Vividly staging his struggle with loss, W. S. rises to a poignant finale in which he makes peace with his friend's death.

The Elegy's finale goes far to remove impressions of mediocrity. But more often the poem so lacks the colloquial vitality we expect from a dramatist as to render seemingly ludicrous a Shakespearean attribution. This flatness may be variously rationalized, e.g., with reference to the poem's hasty composition or to the poet's grieving distraction. Only bardolatry would insist that Shakespeare never had his off-days, and most readers would agree in principle that a work need not be good to be his. These rationalizations, though, are vulnerable to further objections. So far as we can tell, no deadline prevented the poet from working until he had what he wanted—and in any case the Elegy's style seems all wrong. When Shakespeare errs, he errs on the side of exuberance. His metaphors swarm, compete for dominance. From such a poet's grief we might have expected seething excess, not the Elegy's pallid abstractions.

The issue of Shakespearean language, as it bears on attribution, needs to be carefully theorized, rescuing the Elegy from the iron whim of readers prepared to pronounce yea or nay on the basis of mere taste-testing. In inquiring what strikes us as the genuine Shakespearean ring, we may consider a passage in the Elegy which does sound like the Shakespeare that finds its way into anthologies. One of the poem's few quotable gems is its evocation of apocalypse:

For when the world lies winter'd in the storms
Of fearful consummation, and lays down
Th'unsteady change of his fantastic forms,
Expecting ever to be overthrown.

(lines 171-4)

Presumably, if the Elegy contained more such writing, it would win its way sooner into the canon. The passage appeals not only in its subtle alliteration and its bold predicate-adjectival use of "winter'd," but in these elements' coordination with what may be called, inadequately, the image. Contemplating an apocalyptic storm W. S. distances himself from myriad creaturely terrors of "consummation"; he seeks comfort in the prospect of creation's surrender of its overstrained "fantastic forms," much as Leontes in The Winter's Tale rages for the "purity and whiteness of [his] sheets" (I.ii.327), without knowing what it is he longs for. To gauge the importance of the stylistic criterion of the image in authenticating language as Shakespeare's, we may listen to David Willbern, who writes of "metaphor, analogy, terms of likeness," as the cornerstone of Shakespeare's mind and art.4 Or we may listen to a scholar who voices this concern precisely with regard to the Peter elegy. Affirming that Shakespeare's "language is concrete . . . supercharged with metaphor that constantly stimulates . . . imagination," MacDonald Jackson rejects a Shakespearean attribution on the grounds that W. S. "does not really think in images," and Jackson is right; W. S. does not.5 Yet what Jackson fails to consider is whether, occasion warranting, W. S. might not have forborne writing in images, much as he foregoes dramatic complication. Late in the century John Dennis will remark, "No sort of imagery ever can be the Language of Grief. If a Man complain in Simile, I either laugh or sleep."6 If the elegist shares this decorum, we are inhibited from speculating about how he thinks, since how W. S. writes depends on conscious discipline. Yet if we cannot penetrate the elegist's mask of art to intrinsic habits of mind, if W. S. trains his faculties to suit an artistic program, then at least we may comprehend that program by attending to W. S.'s treatment of imagination. His remarks on the topic point all in one direction; they reveal the poet's fully conscious theorizing of his elegiac practice.

In a posture that is clearly symptomatic, W. S. blames imagination for its role in Peter's murder. Throughout the Elegy he censures "fond conceit," "disguise," "affect[ation]," which he opposes to Peter's earnest. Worshiping novelty, the age is ever ready to devise "Which way to wound with defamation's spirit" (line 416). But Peter, speaking "in tongue most plain," avoided "the complemental phrase of words" and "never was addicted to the vain / Of boast" (lines 325-8). So within this model, which conflates errant social uses of imagination (the murderer's skylarking) with literary uses (fantastical poetry), W. S. chooses his norm. Rejecting the stylistic equivalent of Drew's swaggering, he commits himself to sincerity and directness, the qualities of a man "Not hir'd . . . / By vain conceit . . . /Nor servile to be lik'd" (lines 229-31). The notion of an overweening imagination evidently held special associations for this poet. A different author might never think to connect imagination with the violence that ended Peter's life. Moreover, these associations presumably impel W. S. to rein in his own imagination in writing the Elegy. Like Prospero drowning his book because he is reluctant on his return to society to hold godlike sway over his fellow creatures, W. S. disdains to use imagination to bully or bedazzle. And Prospero becomes a pertinent comparison in the further respect that the terms that W. S. presses into service to characterize the rabid imaginations of Drew and his kind generally admit of theatrical implications. Affectation, disguise, "glad sleights" (line 73): these terms suggest not just literary art, but that branch of literary art which "court[s] opinion" on a daily basis (line 92). Those who labor in the public theater are always "servile to be lik'd," because it is by virtue of the audience's indulgence—as they like it—that the players thrive.

If then W. S. employs an uncustomary style, as he asserts in the dedication, the possibility arises that his custom was dramaturgy—an art "servile to be lik'd," which, in writing elegy, he felt occasion-bound to repudiate. The greater evidence for this thesis lies in a series of oblique but systematic allusions to the theatrical profession taken up the moment W. S. enters the poem as a persona. Delaying his use of "I" until the Elegy is well under way, W. S. eventually remarks:

But that I not intend in full discourse
To progress out his life, I could display
A good man in each part exact and force
The common voice to warrant what I say.

(lines 79-82)

Eschewing narrative form, the Elegy scants Peter's history. Yet had he wished, W. S. asserts, he might have "progress[ed] out" his subject's life, depicting its various phases with such vigor as to "force" acclamation of Peter's merit. At first glance, the remark suggests an oratorical context. Ticking off highlights of Peter's life as in a funeral oration, W. S. will compel readers, fictionalized as hearing the oration, to assent vocally to his own estimation of the deceased. But this reading runs aground on "force," used in conjunction with "The common voice." Normally, greatness, not goodness, compels "common" (=vulgar; cf. line 327) admiration; hence W. S.'s remark better suits a figure of public mourning like Mountjoy, whose career Samuel Daniel "progressed out" in a funeral poem from which the Peter elegy borrows.7 Unlike Mountjoy, Peter died lacking noble works, as W. S. concedes in the next lines. His life was one of quiet virtue; he was a "good man," not a great one. And though good lives solicit respect they don't compel it—at least not in the world of the Elegy, whose moral blindness. W. S. never tires of rebuking.

By this logic we may guess that if a narrative of Peter's modestly virtuous life has power to "force / The common voice," the power resides not in the life as such but in the representation or "full discourse" that converts that life to spectacle. This hint is borne out by W. S.'s comment that were he to tell Peter's story we would observe a good man "in each part exact," a statement that can mean that Peter was a good man in each and every quality. But "part" is also a latent theatrical metaphor which the adjacent lines activate. Peter's life comprised a series of roles which he performed with exactitude. Thus, if W. S. thinks theatrically in claiming ability to narratize his friend's life, displaying a good man in each enacted part, then his boast about forcing the common voice points not necessarily to readers fictionalized as an audience, unfailingly discerning of moral virtue. Rather, the common voice's endorsement becomes the manipulated response of literal spectators confronting the poet's "display." Judged by the deeds he lived to perform, Peter's deserts must seem meager. Yet had W. S. chosen, he could have heightened the illusion of greatness by resort to customary means. The implication is that W. S.'s custom is dramaturgy. When "part" is read as "role," the whole passage reads as the boast of a professional poet vaunting ability to enforce vocal approbation in the public theater.8

After signaling his professional status W. S. continues to use theatrical language casually for awhile, saluting Peter's enactment of "judicious parts" which "win / Applause" (lines 102, 115-6). Then, picking up the rhyme in "force / The common voice to warrant what I say," he formally designates Peter a fit subject for drama: "Not any from this frailer stage is gone / Whose name is like to live a longer day" (lines 127-8). Here, the "stage" on which Peter acted is his home soil as opposed to more visible venues, the court and the public theater ("Though not in eminent courts or places great / For popular concourse" [lines 129-30]).9 Peter's life was fit "matter" for the poet's pen ("style") to "rehearse" (lines 150-1) precisely because he lived it untheatrically. His custom of "suiting so his habit and desire / As that his virtue was his best attire" (lines 95-6) contrasts with the wicked who "Court . . . opinion with unfit disguise" (line 92), and also with a weakened W. S. who himself "court[s] opinion" (line 572). The theatrical basis of these contrasts is affirmed when W. S. characterizes the wicked as both actors—"loose mimics" mouthing "An empty sound of overweening passion" (lines 275-6)—and playwrights "plotting . . . / . . . / For popular applause" (lines 447-50); and the analogies justify W. S.'s break with theatrical style. Though others act and plot, not they but Peter, "attire[d]" in virtue and performing "judicious parts," "soonest win[s] / Applause." So if Peter wins through rectitude what lesser men achieve by mimicry and plotting, W. S. is induced to practice like restraint, forsaking customary activities shared with the wicked.

In noting the conformity of W. S.'s poetic style to his friend's outspoken plainness, we are in a position to survey the Elegy's fundamental strategy. If W. S. is a player and a plotter like the men who court opinion, if Prospero-like he resembles the Drews and Antonios of this world more than he cares to admit, then Peter was something finer. Yet Peter was also a poet of sorts, inscribing his deeds in human memory and God's book (lines 160-70, 179-80). And Peter may have been a literal poet, competent to write W. S.'s eulogy had W. S. predeceased him (lines 236-40). But because Peter died first, W. S.'s question became: how to praise Peter in a manner befitting Peter's virtue. The answer was obvious; harmonizing his style with the dead man's, W. S. scrupulously mortifies his own habitual play of fancy. So if W. S. not only praises Peter but emulates his restraint, the Elegy, disdainful of the stage's huckstering values, nonetheless becomes a kind of impersonation. What the poem achieves as mimesis is not entertainment but homage. W. S. bears witness to Peter's virtue both by describing it and by drawing on a plain voice in himself to exemplify it. In thus stylistically binding himself to the departed, he performs a ritual gesture; in effect he continues a friendship that he celebrates throughout the Elegy as double selfhood.

Let me be clear about my argument, lest I be accused of special pleading for a Bad Poem. To my mind, the Elegy is not a bad poem; though arduous reading, it contains many passages of distinction. But the real issue, as regards attribution, is not whether one likes or dislikes the Elegy, but whether the poem sustains levels of competence that corroborate the considerable evidence of Shakespearean authorship, and whether its project may be plausibly assimilated to Shakespeare's canonical texts. Stylistically, the poem may not excite the majority of readers, yet the Elegy can be shown to succeed on its own terms. That is to say, W. S. sets forth in Peter a stylistic ideal to which he makes himself answerable. Yes, a wag might interject, an ideal of Dullness. But it would be rash to speak peremptorily of stylistic failure, when the Elegy so clearly embodies the plainness and directness it proposes to our admiration. Though the narrative posture may strike us as odd for Shakespeare, the very fact that the Elegy employs an answerable style should disarm a certain kind of criticism. What is clear is that the Elegy's nontheatricality cannot be used as an argument against Shakespeare's authorship because the Elegy exhibits an antitheatrical style—a style which in its own terms is free from "affect[ation]," "disguise," "glad sleights," however much we might miss these entertaining vices. To summarize: "I could write a play about Peter, compelling applause," the Elegy's argument runs, "because no fitter subject ever passed from the stage of this world. But I won't, because to do so would belie Peter's avoidance of pretension. Instead I'll imitate Peter's lack of contrivance in a text that is both emulous and plain. I will do these opposite things at once, and in doing them I become two people at once: both W. S. and W. P. united."

To my mind, W. S.'s skill in staging the transformation of his wonted theatricality is an impressive performance, though whether W. S. then achieves force as a plain speaker of an unorthodox kind (unorthodox with respect to such singularities as the poem's complex syntax, which typifies late Shakespeare) is beyond my present scope. In all events, by observing the elegist's association with the stage in his self-presentational quatrain, lines 79 to 82, and in similar passages threaded through the poem, we are in a position to affirm his identity, because now we are dealing not just with a poetic W. S. but with one who lived his life in the public eye. Donald Foster's Elegy by W. S. proceeds by whittling down an exhaustive list of W. S.'s (and G. S.'s, G. for Gulielmus) until only Shakespeare remains as a plausible candidate. One reviewer, questioning this method, leaps on Foster's admission that "any number of poetic W. S.'s" may have been alive in England in 1612, not just those on Foster's list; if the elegist was a provincial who wrote just this one surviving work, he argues, W. S. would be untraceable.10 The evasion will no longer serve. Playwrights work with companies; they lead visible careers. If W. S. wrote for the stage and can boast power to force the common voice, his achievement would have left a record. Yet the Short-Title Catalogue shows no other professional English playwright with the initials W. S. alive in 1612. If W. S. truly possesses the background he implies, only Shakespeare fills the bill.


Besides the metapoetic evidence I adduce, the Elegy offers a further clue to W. S.'s identity in its manner of alluding to Shakespeare's work. Though anyone can echo the Bard, the Elegy's allusions, spanning the breadth of Shakespeare's career, cannot be explained as mnemonic residue in the mind of a London theatergoer. Nor can they be explained as copying from quartos in the elegist's possession, because some recollected passages were not yet in print by 1612. Of most immediate interest to our discussion, certain echoes occur anomalously in contexts in which W. S. exhibits patent hostility to poetic art. In the quatrain preceding the evocation of a world wintered in apocalyptic storms, W. S. explains that if high art should fail to memorialize his friend, "Time would to time his honesty commend":

Whiles such as do recount that tale of woe [Peter's murder],
Told by remembrance of the wisest heads,
Will in the end conclude the matter so,
As they will all go weeping to their beds.
For when the world lies winter'd . . .

(lines 167-71)

The allusion of course is to Richard II Richard instructs his Queen to sit by the fire "In winter's tedious nights" and, hearing "tales / Of woeful ages long ago betid," to "Tell .. . the lamentable tale of me, / And send the hearers weeping to their beds" (Richard II, V.i.40-5). W. S. reproduces the details of winter, tale, woe, "weeping to their beds"; moreover, his adaptation survives a shift of tone and address in the original. Turning to Northumberland, Richard prophesies a day when "foul sin gathering head / Shall break into corruption"; W. S. foresees a "day of doom" when "much affected sin / Shall ripen to a head" (V.i.58-9, FE, lines 157, 175-6). Either W. S. had passages of Richard II off by heart or he had access to the 1597 Quarto. Could he then have been merely an admirer of Shakespeare's? Doubtful; for the close fit of the reworked material with W. S.'s narrative of stylistic conversion underscores the likelihood of authorial self-allusion. To show this, I turn to the Elegy's first lines, in which W. S. sets the problem he later resolves by adapting Richard II

W. S. begins rhetorically, "What memorable monument can last / Whereon to build [Peter's] neverblemish'd name / But his own worth?" (lines 5-7), then reiterates his position in our passage under discussion. Should Peter "lie obscur'd without a tomb," W. S. explains, his "memorable" "worthiness" will nonetheless endure to the world's end in homely tales (lines 159, 156). Saluting oral tradition, W. S. implicitly calls in question his own artistic attempt to devise a lasting poetic monument for his friend. Poetic art participates in a world of brittle forms. Yet after cosmic annihilation, Peter's deeds, "The gainful fruit of well-employed wit," will live on "in a book where every work is writ" (lines 179-81). In the elegist's dialectic, honest folktales and God's "book" counterpoise studied art and creation's "fantastic forms." And into this dialectic W. S. imports—on the wrong side of the battle line if he is a poet other than Shakespeare—testimony from Shakespeare himself. That an obscure author should at this juncture of anti-art in the poem seek authority from the famed playwright would be anomalous. But for Shakespeare in a spirit of retraction to cite his own words against himself, pointedly reminding himself of what his pride lets him forget—this strikes me as plausible and effective poetic and spiritual practice. The same passage, adapted from Richard II, that would adulterate the integrity of an unknown W. S.'s censure of the stage by incongruously soliciting poetic authority becomes, in Shakespeare's hands, an admonition of the vanity of his own art.

Not only does the Elegy's sustained adaptation of Richard II read better as palinode than as a second author's fusion of assault and homage, but the King's Men playwright John Ford seems to have read the passage this way. In his pious 1613 meditation Christes Bloodie Sweat Ford bases his Christ on Peter (his Devonshire neighbor) and echoes W. S.'s adaptation of Richard II, conflating it with its Shakespearean source:

In after-times, when in the winters cold,
Folkes use to warme them by their nightly fires;
Such Parents as the time of life termes old,
Wasting the season, as the night requires:
In stead of tales, may to their children tell,
What to the Lord of glorie once befell.

(lines 1729-34)11

From W. S. Ford borrows the detail (absent in Richard II) of parents telling tales of woe (line 161), and from Richard II he borrows the detail of "winters cold," absent in the Elegy (or rather, displaced into the wintry apocalypse). The precise politics of Ford's intertextual gesture is elusive, yet it is safe to say that in fusing the two texts, Ford dignifies the elegist rather than placing him in Shakespeare's shadow. And from this we may deduce that Ford supposed W. S. to be Shakespeare, for were it otherwise he would have been indiscreet, in 1613, when he was launching his own theatrical career with the King's Men play An Ill beginning has a Good End (not extant), to yoke the company's principal dramatist with an upstart W. S. who crowded Shakespeare by imitation and who accused the stage of tawdriness, with its "loose mimics" and plotters for "popular applause."

But in another sense Ford would have guessed that Shakespeare shared W. S.'s attitude. Perhaps all London would have guessed, if The Tempest struck contemporary spectators as the retirement play it has seemed to later audiences. And even if The Tempest's reports of Shakespeare's retirement are greatly exaggerated, Ford still would have guessed, because he would have ascribed to Shakespeare the sentiments of the 1609 Sonnets. One hesitates to raise the topic; the most slippery questions that arise from attributing the Elegy to Shakespeare concern its relation to the Sonnets. But leaving aside larger issues, it can be shown that W. S.'s disdain for the theater coincides with Shakespeare's disdain, e.g., in sonnet 110, in which Shakespeare winces at making himself "a motley to the view," at "gor[ing his] own thoughts," at selling "cheap what is most dear." Linking the two works, we may conjecture that if Shakespeare indeed wrote the Elegy, he made good a pledge to himself, finally wearing with pride a style "barren of new pride" (sonnet 76). As the sonneteer chafed against "art . . . tongue-tied by authority" and "folly . . . controlling skill" (sonnet 66), so W. S. boasts a pen "free from control," whose freeing will cause "pain to many men" fearful of the truth (lines 231-2). If Shakespeare is the elegist, his style not "servile to be lik'd" reflects a hard-won integrity.

Again, regardless of whether one links Peter with the Fair Youth, it's of interest that the Elegy takes up the Sonnets' theme of immortalizing art. Thus, the Sonnets open with the lovely boy's procreative power to immortalize himself, and move quickly along to the poet's ability to grant eternity: "Nor shall Death brag thou wand'rest in his shade / When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st. / So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee" (sonnet 18). The Elegy relinquishes this fantasy:

Here, then, I offer up to memory
The value of my talent, precious man,
Whereby if thou live to posterity,
Though't be not as I would, 'tis as I can:
In minds from whence endeavor doth proceed,
A ready will is taken for the deed.

(lines 241-6)

Aware that his talent (skill, coin) can barely supplement Peter's purchase with his own merits of an eternal name, W. S. concedes that if Peter "live to posterity, / Though it be not as I would, 'tis as I can": if not in a great poem, then in the best I can write. But also: if not in the flesh ("as I would"), then in "eternal lines," alas! As the contracted "it" shifts reference, W. S. muses on the difference between real life and the life verse can give. And with this reflection, which dashes poetry's eternizing pretensions, he signs himself "A ready will." The locution echoes two Sonnets-mannerisms: in a typographically set-off couplet, W. S. presumably puns on his forename of Will. Moreover, he adapts the language of theatrical epilogue: good will substitutes for achievement (other adaptations: "If we offend, it is with our good will" [Midsummer Night's Dream, V.i.108]; "And when good will is show'd . . . / The actor may plead pardon" [Antony and Cleopatra, II.v.8-9]). If W. S. is not Shakespeare, he certainly strives to look like him. Yet why do so, given his antitheatrical bias? If the elegist possessed a settled puritanical disdain for theatrical excess, would he seek Shakespearean authority for his position? As in the Elegy's adaptation of Richard II, so with Ready Will's wry retraction: the hypothesis of Shakespearean palinode works better than that of a second author's jumble of assault and homage.

It is possible also to elaborate connections with the late plays. If, antitheatrical in plainness, the Elegy was written at the end of Shakespeare's career, then its style may reflect on Shakespeare's reasons for ending that career. We are accustomed to reading The Tempest as a sui generis valedictory play; yet by raising the possibility that Shakespeare systematically wrote himself out of the theater, the Elegy points to another late play, The Winter's Tale. As a portrait in excessive imagination, Leontes anticipates dreads that resurface in the Elegy. Revulsed by the world's wickedness, seeking the peace of annihilation, he displays oracular, punitive characteristics that recur in W. S. Such a view, of course, jars with the antiquated Dowdenesque picture of a poet serene in retirement, a picture that lingers on in some quarters. Nonetheless, it bears observing that Leontes's excesses key with similar vices in Prospero, who exhibits sexual repugnance in lecturing Ferdinand, and who rides herd on Caliban and the comic plotters with the Leontean hounds "Fury" and "Tyrant"—an action that causes Prospero to take stock and drown his book. Such correspondences suggest that Shakespeare may have staged as antisocial in Leontes and Prospero personal tendencies which he then brought under control, responsibly espousing in the Elegy. Taken together with the Peter elegy, the two final romances evince a bad taste in Shakespeare's mouth. A young man's former delight in his own mellifluousness is later experienced as a Sir Smile's slipperiness—the indulgence of a Leontes or a Prospero throwing his imaginative weight around.

In reading autobiography in Shakespeare's fictions I place myself in unenviable company. However, if Shakespeare indeed wrote the Elegy, this late-life credo sets on a firmer footing our sleuthing attempts to extract an autobiographical subtext from the late plays, whose protagonists exhibit frequent distaste for human society. Of all literary arts, drama is the most sociable; its "essence . . . is human involvement."12 Yet from such involvement Shakespeare apparently fled, living in "his elder days . . . at Stratford: and supplied ye stage with 2 plays every year."13 Helpful in understanding the temperament behind this apparent flight from London life is E. A. J. Honigmann's work on the Last Will and Testament and on contemporaneous observations of Shakespeare the man. Over against the sociable bard of tradition Honigmann poses an alternative Shakespeare, a melancholic such as John Aubrey invokes: "not a company keeper [he] wouldn't be debauched, & if invited to[,] writ .. . he was in paine."14 To proceed speculatively, though from a fact that has been allowed astonishingly little resonance in Shakespeare biography, Aubrey's antisocial Shakespeare mirrors the voluntary solitude of the heroes of the final tragedies. Except for Antony, the late tragedies present a series of "lonely dragons"—Lear, Timon, Macbeth, Coriolanus—whose disdain for society strains the possibility of drama as an art of interactions. Similarly, though traditional interpretation renders Shakespearean romance a nostalgic, autumnal celebration of the world of story and his own art, this sentimental approach, invested in fantasies of Shakespeare the Friendly Genius's drive to bourgeois contentment, ignores the romances' disconcerting tendency to build comedy around the plights of isolated older men. Pericles needing a miracle, "who for this three months hath not spoken / To any one"; gruff importent Cymbeline, cut off from his family and his court; paranoid Leontes, "speak[ing] a language" his dearest "understand not"; even Prospero operating through the tricksy Ariel—these are men who in a profound sense have lost the will to play. Though it is distasteful to imagine Shakespeare's becoming this grave man, the Elegy's reiteration of the Sonnets' aversion to the theater and its reinforcement of the attitudes of the protagonists of the late tragedies and romances tells a consistent tale. From the Elegy's vantage point, Shakespeare tired of staging the eleventh-hour social reintegration of aging male solitaries.15

By reading palinode in W. S.'s Shakespeare allusions, and by tying W. S.'s attitudes to the Sonnets and the late plays, we establish the Elegy's relevance to the canon. Granted, if W. S. was a poet other than Shakespeare, he may have found congenial the voicings of ressentiment he heard in these late works and may have been encouraged to seek in Shakespeare a prestigious ally. Yet this bedfellows-explanation raises more questions than it answers, because it grounds itself in the affinity of W. S.'s and Shakespeare's literary and social thought. Such a thesis, moreover, fails to explain the grateful voice of deliverance heard often in the elegist, a voice that may be referred to a poet recently "set . . . free" from artistic "crimes" (Tempest, Ep. 19-20), though otherwise hard to account for. We hear the voice in W. S.'s triple boast of a pen "Not hir'd [by a patron] . . . / . . . / Nor servile to be lik'd [by an audience], free from control [of the censor]" (lines 229-31). And if Shakespeare/W. S. expresses relief in wrenching free from recent servitude, Shakespeare's artistic production after Peter's death bears additional comment. As is now recognized, Shakespeare, on retiring to Stratford, did not quite abjure rough theatrical magic, as used to be imagined, but entered on a phase of managed decline in which he collaborated with John Fletcher on the lost Cardenlo, The Two Noble Kinsmen and, perhaps, Henry VIII. If Shakespeare mourned William Peter, his grief may have stamped his final work; and though this is not obviously the case with Henry VIII, which may have been drafted in part by the time of Peter's murder, it holds true of the single Shakespearean text which we know to postdate the Elegy. Despite differences in genre and tone, The Two Noble Kinsmen exhibits strong correspondences with the Elegy, correspondences which suggest that this final play in which Shakespeare had a hand may have served its senior author with an occasion for the continuing purgation of his grief.


One shared preoccupation that links the Elegy with The Two Noble Kinsmen may be inferred from the play's genetic relations in the canon. Like A Midsummer Night's Dream with which The Two Noble Kinsmen shares a major source, the play tells a story consonant with the death of William Peter: the story of a compulsive contest of masculine vanities resulting in senseless loss. Shakespeare had been over this ground before. Lysander and Demetrius, compulsively "try[ing] manhood" for the sheer contest of it (Midsummer Night's Dream, III.ii.412), are prototypes of Arcite and Palamon at their most inane. Similarly in Romeo and Juliet, which A Midsummer Night's Dream parodies, male rivalry dispenses with occasion ("Could you not take some occasion without giving?" [Romeo and Juliet, III.i.43-4]); Mercutio and Tybalt enter on a quarrel mystified in its origin as a spontaneous eruption of the season ("we shall not scape a brawl, / For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring" [III.i.3-4]). As the Veronese brawlers' blows are "bred of an airy word" (I.i.89), so is the kinsmen's rivalry. "That sigh was breath'd for Emily" (Two Noble Kinsmen, III.iii.44), exclaims Palamon, reintroducing hostilities into a scene that had grown amicable. Not Emilia necessarily but the bare thought of her can spark a quarrel when the mad blood stirs. In The Two Noble Kinsmen contention is self-generating, a "peevish odds" about which it is impossible to "speak / Any beginning" (Othello, II.iii.184-5).

In claiming the same for W. S.'s handling of Peter's murder, I shall seem to contradict an earlier contention. I asserted that the Elegy elides the degrading fact of human antagonism, making Peter a nonpareil while absorbing the murderer into the force majeure of "time, and his predestinated end." But the elegist has it both ways. Peter is saint-like, destiny's plaything; the villainous Drew scarcely appears. Nonetheless, even as the elegist endlessly rehearses the perfections of the dead man who "doubly lives, / Once in his proper self, then in his name" (lines 495-6), he hints that his doubly living friend may have lived, also, a life of unwitting doubleness, too freely accompanying Drew on his mad spree. Thus, the favorite Shakespearean myth of rival brothers haunts the poem as a subtext. Vehemently opposing the suspicions he imagines arising in petty minds of Peter's fault in his own death, W. S. at another level himself opens "the text of malice," trading in "Close-lurking whisper's hidden forgeries" (lines 267, 417). Frequently, he calls Peter's virtues in question in the very act of asserting them. Peter possessed "short-liv'd deserts" (line 12); the ambiguous phrase can signify either the lifelong deserts of one dying young or deserts that themselves died early. Peter "Rul[ed] the little ordered commonwealth / Of his own self (lines 294-5): either a little orderly commonwealth or a commonwealth that was little-ordered. He was "[not] addicted wholly / To unbeseeming blushless vanities" (line 93-4): not wholly? just 99%? Through such equivocations W. S. insinuates a spectral subject that shadows the Peter of eulogy. With passive aggression he fuels the labors of those who would "conster . . . with corrupt commentaries" the dead man's life, "Comparing by thy death what thou hast been" (lines 265, 254).

One motive for W. S.'s insertion into his eulogy of the "hidden forgeries" he guards against is apotropaic. He seduces, then makes an example of, the seduced reader. Yet this rhetorical explanation of the elegist's slanders is overly generous, for W. S. does tar his friend, if mildly. By inserting into his eulogy traces of his own presumable reservations, he creates a densely private text. Moreover, by suggesting that Peter could fall, W. S., opening "the text of malice," does fall. He becomes a case in point of the corruption that undermines the honorable man who too easily slides into "loose mimic[ry]" of a besetting wickedness.

Now this jeopardy of insidiously turning into one's enemy is the kinsmen's topic from their first moments onstage. The cousins' dialogue, universally assigned to Shakespeare, echoes and complicates the language of the Elegy, hinting that, despite their vigilance, the kinsmen may become what they despise. Arcite speaks of a failure to negotiate Thebes's moral currents:

for not to swim
I' th' aid o' th' current, were almost to sink,
At least to frustrate striving; and to follow
The common stream, 'twould bring us to an eddy
Where we should turn or drown; if labor through,
Our gain but life and weakness.


From here the scene moves to a comedy of misprision in which Arcite's fear of insidious currents is borne out by each kinsman's swerve from his intended conversational course. First Palamon, then Arcite, falls "out" of role (I.ii.26, 34-5), till at mid-scene the spectacle of erraticism reaches its climax when Palamon, mocking Theban degeneracy, himself displays absurd affectation of the kind he satirizes (I.ii.44ff). Arcite's fear that, in Thebes, good intentions count for little is confirmed. The currents he associated with a dangerous social milieu are revealed already to reside within the kinsmen themselves.16

The motif of perilous waters recurs at play's end when Arcite's foreboding comes home to him. Crushed by his toppling horse, he in effect "turn[s and] drown[s]," while the survivor Palamon "labor[s] through" to a "gain [of] but life and weakness." Arcite becomes "a vessel . . . that floats but for / The surge that next approaches" (V.iv.83-4); awaiting death, he is at the mercy of internal currents, of his own constitution in revolt. And all this is anticipated by the Elegy. Like Arcite, Peter, killed on horseback, is associated early on with treacherous currents, though, in keeping with the poem's eulogistic ends, it is the elegist, rather, who becomes the victim of an evil tide. Peter, we are told, did not fall prey to dissolute influence but resisted "the assault of youth's encouragement":

As not the tide of this surrounding age

Could make him subject to the drunken rage
Of such whose only glory is their ill.

(lines 66-70)

In both poem and play, society's coercive tide operates internally, figuring similar conceptions of vice.17 Moreover, in both texts the sea imagery resolves itself with like irony. Though Peter defied "the current of besotted fashion" (line 274), and though (in a metaphor reconfiguring the biblical flood [line 178]) W. S. vows that the evil that killed his friend will not prevail against Peter's name, yet the besotted current may claim an alternative victim in Peter's alter ego, the poet. Grasping at the hope of someday seeing his friend reanimated, W. S. insists that he will cling to this consolation, "Although perhaps I ignorantly range / And court opinion in my deep'st unrest" (lines 571-2). The time-frame is ambiguous, allowing two meanings: (1) although I may someday backslide . . . ; but also, and more troublingly (2), although in this hope of bodily resurrection I already pursue a pious vanity.18 The elegist continues:

But whether doth [= even if] the stream of my mischance
Drive me beyond myself, fast friend, soon lost,
Long may thy worthiness thy name advance.

(lines 573-5)

In these verses but three lines from the Elegy's conclusion, W. S., "court[ing] opinion" (line 572), assimilates himself to the vices he has condemned. Though, throughout the poem, he has distinguished between Peter and himself on the one hand, Drew and his kind on the other, at the end he vexes the distinction. Whether by later returning to old ways or by already flattering himself with a false hope, he verges on similarity to the wicked who "Court . . . opinion" (line 92). Thus, whereas Peter stood fast against the current of falsehood, W. S. risks lapsing in the integrity which was Peter's dearest legacy to him. And in this state of heartsick contradiction, in which he fears he makes love to the very forces that killed his friend, W. S. draws on Peter's ordeal for a figure of his own extremity. Though Peter resisted the tide of evil influence, the dead man's "mischance" flows on in the poet, "Driv[ing him] beyond [him]self ' into a sea of aphasia, of self-loss.

This figure, toward which the whole poem moves, of the elegist swept downstream by grief, calls up the dying Arcite as a wrecked ship awaiting a fatal inward surge, and simultaneously translates the second scene's irony of Palamon's coalescence with his satirical object. The kinsmen inhabit a world of conjunct opposites; as Arcite warned: "here to keep in abstinence we shame / As in incontinence" (I.ii.6-7). Similarly, on Peter's death W. S. enters such a world. Courting opinion in his "deep'st unrest," he is estranged from Peter—becomes what he condemns—by reason of his very love for Peter. Yet if W. S.'s grief sends him reeling into the camp of Peter's tempters, then in a further paradox, this rupture, by sealing W. S.'s destitution of self, unites him more deeply with the deceased. The worst returns, if not to laughter, at least to solidarity:

But whether doth the stream of my mischance
Drive me beyond myself, fast friend, soon lost,
Long may thy worthiness . . .

Who is "soon lost," Peter or the elegist? Clearly both. The double grammar suggests either W. S.'s avowal to his "fast friend" (Drives me beyond myself, O fast friend, and I am soon lost), or his pity for his fast friend (who too soon, in youth, was lost); and this interplay, reinforced by the coincidentia oppositorum of the acoustically similar, conceptually opposite modifiers—(tied) "fast"/"lost" (loosed)—merges as twins in loss the dead man and the desolate survivor.

Twinship in loss is also the kinsmen's condition at play's end, and surprisingly so, because throughout the play the kinsmen's fates are projected as inversely related. Yet when loss occurs it is mutual. Winning by default Palamon grieves more for Arcite than he rejoices in Emilia. This paradox of double loss, articulated in Theseus's final speech, may be traced back through various transformations all the way to Arcite's exposure of the false options of swimming with or against the tide. Or it may be traced back further still, to a forelife in the Elegy. "To follow / The common stream," Arcite predicted, "'twould bring us to an eddy / Where we should turn or drown; if labor through, / Our gain but life and weakness." The prophecy may also be recapitulative; for Peter has already experienced a violent Arcite-like death, which has reduced the elegist, like Palamon, to mere "life and weakness." After Peter's murder W. S. must carry on with no "prop / Whereon to lean and rest" (lines 566-7), bearing a grief like that which dominates the play's conclusion. Indeed, it is tempting to seek the play's raison d'être in the sorrow that, coming unexpectedly at the end, never finds a proper catharsis. To put the matter provocatively, if Palamon's misery harkens back to the elegist's, then The Two Noble Kinsmen may be viewed as having been written from the subject position of its principal character. In act V's final moments, while Theseus busily seeks consolation, Palamon is self-condemning, mute. Disillusioned with his impending marriage, he no longer lives toward a desired future. Was it to express this emptiness tinged with self-contempt that the play was undertaken? Was the emptiness Shakespeare's? If so, then in relation to the Elegy the play's project may be read as one of publicly deriving the basis of an undischargeable grief, a reason for silence. After the false valediction of The Tempest Shakespeare moved on to a retirement that took. If we accept the Elegy as Shakespeare's, the poem becomes a key text in plotting his course beyond The Tempest to this final exercise of his theatrical powers.

To review the evidentiary implications of the Elegy's correspondences with The Two Noble Kinsmen: both poem and play employ sea-images to figure disturbances in the moral sphere; both distribute these images among paired characters (the two Wills, the kinsmen), and both climactically internalize the figure of sea-disaster to render an ironic double loss. To be sure, these correspondences do not in themselves prove authorship. Accepting them, one may argue that an unknown W. S. influenced Shakespeare as a reader. But such an argument lacks force because it fails to explain why an obscure imitator of Shakespeare could so strongly influence the aging dramatist on the eve of his retirement. In an early passage in The Two Noble Kinsmen Palamon, declaring himself and Arcite "masters of our manners," denies that "apes can tutor [u]s" (I.ii.43-4) and describes a buffoon show of mutual mimicry: apes imitating apes. To believe that Shakespeare in this play followed so closely at the heels of W. S. would make him an "ape" or "loose mimic" of the kind both he and the elegist decry.

A further reason why the Elegy's correspondences with The Two Noble Kinsmen imply Shakespeare's authorship of the poem is that Shakespeare's only other surviving play after The Tempest exhibits similar patterns. Foster discusses many overlaps of Henry VIII and the Elegy, to which we may add the pattern of sea imagery. As the Arden editor R. A. Foakes observes, the leit-motif of "sea, storms, and shipwrecks" constitutes Henry VIII's "most vivid imagery . . . reserved for highlighting certain especially dramatic moments."19 Particularly, the counterpoint of figures of watery peril in the falls of Wolsey and Katherine calls up both The Two Noble Kinsmen and the Elegy; and Wolsey's famous cognitio in which he washes out to sea, venturing too far on the puffed bladder of pride (III.ii.358-64), recalls the Elegy's conclusion. If, with some scholars, we assign Wolsey's speech to Fletcher, we must deduce that Fletcher too was influenced by W. S.; and we must assume that Shakespeare was twice influenced, both elsewhere in Henry VIII (cf. Foster, Elegy by W. S., pp. 122-3, 162-7) and in Kinsmen. Or if Henry VIII precedes the Elegy, we are driven to a hypothesis of reciprocal borrowing. W. S. borrows from Henry VIII (but how did he get hold of a manuscript?), whereupon Shakespeare in The Two Noble Kinsmen borrows back from W. S. Thrift demands a different explanation. The high incidence of sea-images in the final plays owes to Shakespeare's recent composition of The Tempest; and the parallelisms in the handling of these materials in Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and the Peter elegy support a hypothesis of Shakespeare's authorship of the Elegy.


If accepted into the canon, the Elegy will presumably oblige us to rethink many aspects of Shakespeare's life, career, and art, but in closing it remains to ask how we shall come to regard the poem itself. Granted its importance as a Shakespeare document, is the Elegy as artistically woeful as many readers have felt, or has "the method of this doleful song" (line 537) an unsuspected power to wind its way into our minds and hearts? Though much can be urged against the Elegy's repetition and frequent banality, other elements—the author's passionate sense of scruple, his rejection of literary sleight and pursuit of an unvamping diction—add up to a powerful ethical performance, with particular appeal to those "on whose foot the black ox of the world has tread." A funeral poem for a young girl published the same year as the Peter elegy supplies terms to discuss this performance. John Davies of Hereford writes:

If in this Paper Monument [the poem] there be
One Ornament of Arte that's worthy thee,
Or any Worke of Wit that may retaine
Thy Memory; my Labour for my Paine
Is too great Meed: sith by the same I show
Times future, what will better them to know.
So shall I in thy Praise include mine owne;
And making thee so knowne still, still be knowne.20

Davies's confession that he praises to gain praise is not only admirable in its candor but useful in throwing in relief the motives of the Peter elegist. In his resolute unpoetic-ness W. S. lives up to the sentiment of his dedication: "whatsoever is here done, is done to him [i.e., for Peter] and to [for] him only." Reading other elegists we may appreciatively tally "ornaments of art" which they garner to their own and their subjects' credit. But the Peter elegy invites appreciation, rather, as a "sacrifice" (line 206), a deep-fetched offering, where what is sacrificed is the narcissistic element of performance, and where wit serves to subvert its own selfpromotional wiles. To recall Hamlet's tribute to Horatio, "as just a man/As e'er my conversation cop'd withal" (III.ii.54-5): Hamlet assimilates himself to his bland object of praise. Yet his sober panegyric ballasts other highflying moments, and few would begrudge Hamlet his need to set feet on the ground. In praising Horatio, Hamlet reduces his own visibility as praisegiver. And most engagingly, he qualifies his fulsomeness, which has made Horatio uncomfortable: "Something too much of this" (III.ii.74). The strengths of Hamlet's modest performance are those of the Peter elegy.

In so praising the Elegy I don't wish to imply that the poem is all rigor and no humor. The fatal Cleopatra is alive and well, leavening for instance W. S.'s presentation of himself as "A ready will"—a drollery later darkened by the reflection that wrath "Gave death for free good will" (line 338), for Will Peter, that is. Verses in which W. S. emerges as a sly corrupter of words may serve as the entry many will wish to take. In these verses we feel that Shakespeare was simply too good a poet to master his follies, and chose instead to dramatize the struggle of fond conceit and moral earnest. However, the poem's ultimate claim lies not in this tension but in its resolution. W. S.'s effort is reparative, to engraft Peter new after time and human cruelty take from him; and to this end, despite continual falsenoting, a triumphal music swells at the close. If W. S. initially equivocates, entrapping uncharitable interpretation by commending Peter's "short-liv'd deserts" (line 12), he later removes ambiguity, recuperatively praising his friend's "flourishing and fair long-liv'd deserts" which Drew "could not touch," though he struck home "to [Peter's] frail and mortal parts" (lines 491-3). Though human frailty betrayed Peter to dubious "bypath[s]," death purged his fault, leaving in memory a "precious white," "free from such stains as follies are" (lines 41, 59, 19). And toward this "white"—an aesthetic equivalent of Peter's virtuous plainness or "pure simplicity" (line 350)—the poem moves, arriving only in its last verse, a verse which dispenses with ornaments of art, justifying itself by a "purity adorn'd/With real merit" (lines 359-60).

Until that verse, though, the purity must be earned, won-through-to by a progression of colors. The sequence begins with W. S.'s refutation of the odious saw, "'Such as is the end, the life proves so'" (line 366), against which he urges counter-instances, demonstrating that "all that can be said [of Peter]/Can be but said that 'He was good'" (lines 531-2). Then W. S. supplies a "sentence" of his own (line 535). Modifying Christian paradox he speaks not of God's love but of the love of the living which keeps the dead man alive: "'He died in life, yet in his death he lives'" (line 536).

The Christian platitude of life-in-death is cut down to human size by the substitution of earthly esteem for a heavenly reward. Yet even this cut-down paradox is too clever for the simplicity for which the poem longs. Continuing to mortify imagination, to "lay . . . down/Th'unsteady change of his fantastic forms" (lines 172-3) the poet presses toward a purity adorned only with merit.

Plunged into sorrow by his loss, W. S. is unsure of what remains for himself. Yet he is sure of one thing, Peter's deserving:

But whether doth the stream of my mischance
Drive me beyond myself, fast friend, soon lost,
Long may thy worthiness thy name advance
Amongst the virtuous and deserving most,
Who herein hast for ever happy prov'd:
In life thou liv'dst, in death thou died'st belov'd.

(lines 573-8)

Though W. S.'s opinion-courting links him with Drew and his kind, the next phrase reunites him with his fast friend. Swept downstream by grief, W. S. remains tied to Peter. Yet even if this tie comes undone, if unable to meet Peter again in heaven W. S. is lost beyond retrieval, he trusts in Peter's deserving. The poem's last verses affirm the worthiness that will keep Peter's name forever happy. And the very last verse reiterates the trope of conjunct opposites; life and death are reconciled by Peter's being beloved in both. The line is remarkable; my ear wants to hear a trite Christian irony: "In life thou died'st, in death thou livest." But no, that irony was used up some forty lines before, and what remains is plainer. Capping the progression of "sentences" that summarize Peter's life, the final verse catches up recent tropes (the stabilization of "hapless" in the immediately echoing "hope"; the reconciled dualities of "fast"/"lost"). The line seems replete, seems to house reserves of meaning, as Peter's laconism was said to be pregnant. Yet for all that, it is perfectly simple. In the Elegy's last line, Peter's epitaph, the poem achieves transparency. No further indulgence here of idiosyncratic propensities. Only a resolved voice: doleful, yet moving through sorrow to a "precious white," to a silence beyond this vale of theatrical ambiguities.


1 Donald W. Foster, Elegy by W. S.: A Study in Attribution (Newark DE, London, and Toronto: Associated Univ. Presses, 1989); quotations from the Elegy are hereafter cited in text and notes as FE. Conference appearances include Richard Abrams and Donald Foster, "Expanding the Canon? W. S.'s Elegy for William Peter," Shakespeare Association of America (25 March 1995), and "Another Shakespeare," Modern Language Association of America (30 December 1995); and Donald Foster, "Shakespeare Discoveries?" International Shakespeare Association (12 April 1996). Richard Abrams, "In Defence of W. S.," TLS, 9 February 1996, pp. 25-6. See also Richard Abrams, "Breaching the Canon: Elegy by W. S.: The State of the Argument," ShN 45, 3 (Fall 1995): 51-2, 54. Foster's new essay, "A Funeral Elegy: W[illiam] S[hakespeare]'s 'Best-Speaking Witnesses,'" will appear in PMLA III, 5 (October 1996).

2FE, line 150; citations follow Foster's lightly-edited text. Canonical Shakespeare citations are to The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

3FE, dedicatory epistle, A2r-v; Foster, Elegy by W. S., pp. 26-9.

4 David Willbern, "What is Shakespeare?" in Shakespeare 's Personality, ed. N. Holland, S. Homan, and B. Paris (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1989), p. 237.

5 MacDonald Jackson, review of Foster, Elegy by W. S., ShS 43 (1991): 258-61, 259. Jackson gives as his most damning of three instances of failed imagery, "his mind and body made an inn,/The one to lodge the other" (lines 113-4), remarking, "This is not complexity but confusion" (p. 259). Perhaps so, but the usage recalls Henry VIII, I.i.161-2: "his mind and place/Infecting one another, yea, reciprocally."

6 John Dennis, preface to The Passion of Byblis, in Critical Works, ed. Edward Niles Hooker, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1939-43), 1:2.

7 Foster, Elegy by W. S., pp. 82, 197-200.

8 The faintness of the theatrical allusions may raise doubts, but modesty was in keeping with the occasion; the poem's dedicatee, John Peter, would not have needed W. S.'s vocation to be spelled out. Contemporaneous usage supports a reading of W. S.'s wording as theatrical. In Winter's Tale (1610) "part" means simultaneously trait and role, I.ii.400; The Tempest (1611) twice mentions Ariel's "exactly" performing a quasi-theatrical charge, I.ii.238, 500 (cf. All's Well That Ends Well, Daniel's elegy, "A FVNERALL POEME. Vpon the Death of the late noble Earle of Devonshire" in Certaine small workes (London, 1611 ; first ed. 1606), probably suggested the figure of Peter as an actor: "let it now sufficient be, that I,/The last Scene of his act of life bewray;/Which gives th'applause t'all" (07r; cf. 03v "thou livd'st . . . to discharge/Those parts which Englands & thy fame should raise"). Daniel's view of Mountjoy's life as intrinsically dramatic, needing only to be disclosed, contrasts with W. S.'s proud refusal to enhance theatrically his subject's virtuous if uneventful life. John Ford, echoing FE in Christes Bloodie Sweat (1613), lines 889-94, in The Nondramatic Works of John Ford, ed. L. E. Stock et al. (Binghamton NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1991), p. 184, refers to the tragic dramatist's enforcement of an audience's sorrow; cf. n. 11 below.

9 A parallel pair occurs at FE, lines 570-1, where more outré venues are hinted: hope must "Play in the strongest closet of my breast,/Although perhaps I ignorantly range." Coordinated with the theatrical meaning of "play," "closet" suggests closet drama, and "range" a touring company.

10 E. A. J. Honigmann, review of Foster, Elegy by W. S., N&Q 37, 4 (December 1990): 465-7, 467.

11 Cf. also Richard II, V.i.35 and Christes Bloodie Sweat, lines 1735-6. For Ford and Peter's probable acquaintance, Foster, Elegy by W. S., pp. 178-9. Ford's conflation in Christes Bloodie Sweat of Richard II and FE turns on Richard II's treatment of Richard, and FE's treatment of Peter, as imitatio Christi (e.g., FE, lines 367ff). Indeed, Ford seems to model his Christ on Peter; hence, the emphasis on the head-wound produced by the crown of thorns, and on Christ's "sinking down." Ford further links Shakespeare and W. S. visà-vis Jesus when he writes that Jesus "di'd indeed not as an actor dies /. . . / In shew to please the audience," and glosses the audience's tragic pleasure as "The idle habit of inforced sorrow": "The Crosse [Christ's] stage was, and he plaid the part/Of one that for his friend did pawne his heart" (lines 889-94). Citing this passage in The Shakespeare Allusion-Book. A Collection of Allusions to Shakespeare from 1591-1700, re-ed. John Munro, 2 vols. (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1932), 1:237, the original editor C. M. Ingleby remarks, "This is perhaps the most curious allusion to a work of Shakespeare's made during his lifetime," and identifies the one who pawned his heart for his friend as "assuredly . . . Antonio" in the Merchant of Venice. If "inforced sorrow" echoes W. S.'s boasted ability to force the common voice, and if the one who pawned his heart was Antonio, W. S. and Shakespeare again merge. The pattern becomes still more interesting if (as the database SHAXICON indicates) Shakespeare performed the Merchant of Venice's Antonio, for then, recollecting Shakespeare/Antonio's desire to sacrifice himself for Bassanio, Ford suggests that, after mere theatricals, Peter took up Christ's part in earnest, "di'd indeed not as an actor dies." The intertextual weave is rich in that Ford's borrowing from W. S. in Christes Bloodie Sweat reciprocates W. S.'s borrowing from Ford in Fames Memoriali (1606); see Abrams, "Breaching," p. 52.

12 Harry Levin, Shakespeare and the Revolution of the Times (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1976), p. 312.

13 John Ward, in E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, 2 vols. (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1932), 2:249.

14 Cited by E. A. J. Honigmann, Shakespeare 's Impact on His Contemporaries (Totowa NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1982), pp. 1-24, 23. Cf. his Myriad-Minded Shakespeare (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989), pp. 4-20, and his "The Second-Best Bed," New York Review of Books 38, 18 (7 November 1991): 27-30.

15 Janette Dillon, Shakespeare and the Solitary Man (Totowa NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1981), chap. 10; on pp. 161-5 she observes that the romances exponentially increase the tragedies' insistence on the inevitability of solitude.

16 This meaning is reinforced by the scene's pervasive language of incontinence, including emetic and sanguinary purgation, bleeding, weeping, sweating, and lactation, I.ii.7, 20, 23, 33, 60-2, 76-7.

17 Cf. lines 98-9: "The float/Of fond conceit, such as this age affords." The secondary images figuring these vices also overlap. In both texts, the evil current to be resisted is a histrionic craving to feed on others' being; iniquity is not just morally untenanted but ontologically hungry, ready to devour and assimilate, to engulf innocence in its tide of debauchery. In Thebes, the city of oral "repletion" (I.ii.24; cf. I.ii.76-7), foppish "apes" theatrically transform themselves head to toe, "Affect[ing] another's gait," speech, costume, cut of beard, comportment (I.ii.44-58). In FE's corrupt social world, the wicked are "loose mimics," actor-like "disgest[ing]/An empty . . . passion," "Courting opinion with unfit disguise/Affecting fashions" (lines 275-6, 92-3).

18 The poet's ignorant ranging recalls sonnet 109, lines 5-6, "if I have rang'd,/Like him that travels I return again." Ranging is then glossed in sonnet 110, line 1, as "go[ing] here and there," and also, in 110, lines 5-6, as "look[ing] on truth/Askaunce and strangely." The two meanings correspond to those I assign "range" in FE. To the second, cf. FE's dedication in which W. S., unused to pious labors, seems almost surprised to find himself in the company of Christian sobriety.

19 Foster, Elegy for W. S., pp. 162-7; King Henry VIII, Arden edn. (London: Methuen, 1957), p. xxv. Cf. Frank Cespedes, "'We are one in fortunes': The Sense of History in Henry VIII," ELR 10 (Autumn 1980): 413-38, 423-4. Sea-loss imagery may have figured also in the lost Cardenio, to judge by Theobald's redaction, Double Falsehood, I.i.22-4. Roderick's hope that his scapegrace younger brother will "court Opinion with a golden Conduct" draws from their father the confidence that he, "by Fears weighing [the younger brother's] unweigh'd Course," suspects otherwise. If the nautical metaphor in "unweigh'd Course" echoes Cardenio, then the correspondence with phrase ("court opinion") and image in FE is exact.

20 John Davies of Hereford, Complete Works, ed. A. Grosart, 3 vols. (rprt. New York: AMS Press, 1967), "A Funerali Elegie, on the death of . . . Elizabeth Dutton," in The Muse's Sacrifice, or Divine Meditations (1612), 2:63.

Katherine Duncan-Jones (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: "Who Wrote A Funerali Elegie?," in Shakespeare Studies: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews, Vol. XXV, 1997, pp. 192-210.

[In the essay that follows, Duncan-Jones asserts that the poem 's tone, imagery, and literary allusions establish a profile for the author of the poemone that does not fit William Shakespeare.]

My approach to the 1612 "A Funerali Elegie" will be quite different from those adopted by Donald Foster, Richard Abrams, Lars Engle, and others. Rather than asking—as Engle has done—"If the Elegy were Shakespeare's, What Difference would it Make?"1 I want first to assemble some of the powerful arguments, both internal and external, against its being the work of Shakespeare. Some of these were touched on by Foster in his 1989 Study in Attribution, but many were not. To me these arguments rule out any possibility of Shakespeare's authorship, no matter what Professor Foster's database may reveal. In the process of doing this, I shall explore the poem for indications of the kind of person who appears to have written it, emerging with a "profile" very different from Shakespeare's. Secondly, I shall set out in some detail the credentials of a writer who, on the basis of this "profile," seems to me to be a strong contender for authorship.

Exit Shakespeare

In common, I imagine, with many other Renaissance scholars who have been lucky enough to work in Oxford's Bodleian Library, I first looked briefly at the Elegie many years ago, along with any other works I could lay my hands on that had the initials "W. S." attached to them. The STC makes such a search now quite a simple matter. A perusal of the author's dedicatory epistle, in which he speaks of himself as not a habitual or professing poet—"Exercise in this kind I will little affect, and am lesse adicted to"—soon dulled my curiosity. The writer is modest enough to admit that some divine intervention—indeed, a "miracle"—will be required to sustain his literary labor of love for his friend, the otherwise obscure Devonian William Peter. The poem itself seemed, and to me still seems, charged with that "passionate intensity" that Yeats, in "The Second Coming," attributes to "the worst" among his contemporaries. The quality of the writing, acknowledged by Foster and Abrams to be "aesthetically disappointing," strikes me as a good deal worse than this. Though by no means unintelligent, it is utterly devoid of literary finesse. The poem is slow moving, awkward, and repetitive, and includes lines and phrases of startling clumsiness, such as "O thou deceast!" (539). I suspect that many greater scholars, such as Chambers and Greg, may also have glanced at the poem in their time, turning from it again in disappointment. Certainly there is no evidence that anyone before 1989 ever considered attributing it to Shakespeare. Nor, perhaps more importantly, are there any general allusions to Shakespeare in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries as having any special gift for elegy, the extraordinary "Phoenix and Turtle" notwithstanding—whose utter difference from the Elegie as a dense, concise work of spectacular originality, should surely give us pause. While we may feel that the discovery of some of those pre-1598 texts of"sugred sonnets," as praised by Francis Meres, is still a remote but exciting possibility, there is no reason to believe that there are elegies by Shakespeare awaiting discovery or recovery. In respect of the lack of either specific attribution or general association, the claims of the Elegie are weaker even than those of the lyric "Shall I Die?," which at least is ascribed to Shakespeare in one seventeenth-century manuscript.2

I would like to begin by asking some broad thematic questions, prompted by passages in the Elegie, that bear on the probability or otherwise of Shakespeare's authorship. I have already touched on the dedicatory epistle, which seems to assert, a little pompously, that W. S. is not a habitual poet. But that aside, I wonder if A Funerali Elegie could possibly have been written by a professional player and dramatist? To be more specific, how likely is it that a writer whose most celebrated tragic hero envied the histrionic gifts of the First Player, in whom a mere "dream of passion" provoked "Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect," would have been moved to praise William Peter for his determinedly un-actorlike quiet sincerity:

this man (whiles yet he was a man)
Sooth'd not the current of besotted fashion:
Nor could disgest as some loose Mimicks can,
An empty sound of ouer-weening passion.


Of course, Shakespeare should not be wholly equated with Hamlet, and any of us may admire in friends qualities that we ourselves lack. Yet of Shakespeare's artistic and economic commitment to the acting profession and theater by this date there can be no possible doubt, and he had just celebrated theatrical illusion brilliantly in The Tempest. I find it impossible to believe that the mature Shakespeare, powerfully aware of the extent to which his status and success depended on the skill of "these our actors," would write so slightingly about their art, even in a passing simile. Indeed. it was in the very year of the Elegie, 1612, that Thomas Heywood used his Apology for Actors as an opportunity to refer to his colleague Shakespeare's settling of his scores with the piratical Jaggard. Clearly Heywood saw both Shakespeare and himself as firmly committed to the value of acting and writing. The word "mimic," OED B.1, refers specifically to a "burlesque actor," and is generally used, as it is here in the Elegie, with adverse connotations. Milton's Samson, for instance, complains of the gross Philistine entertainers with whom his enemies propose to display him, who are "Jugglers and dancers, antics, mummers, Mimics" (Samson Agonistes 1325). My suspicion is that the author who used the phrase "loose Mimicks" so contemptuously may have had far more in common with Milton, ideologically, than with Shakespeare, and positively disapproved of public theatrical performance. Certainly other ways in which this writer praises William Peter remove him far from the penumbra of the London theater. Peter seems to have dressed plainly—"his Vertue was his best Attire" (96)—and was neither drunken nor prodigal, but exhibited a "fit moderation" (77). He spoke little, says the poet, manifesting a "becomming silence" (97-104); and he chose to remain obscurely in his native West Country, rather than frequenting "eminent courts, or places great" (129). Would Shakespeare, one of the leading members of the King's Men, have viewed this as admirable? One creative commission that we know Shakespeare did carry out at this late period of his life was, with Burbage, the composition of an impresa for the Earl of Rutland for the King's Accession Day celebrations.3 Compared with this sort of prestigious work for a young nobleman, not to mention the writing or part-writing of such courtly plays as Cymbeline and Henry VIII, churning out a long elegy for a younger son of a fairly modest Devon gentry family seems a very dingy project. In more practical terms, also, if Peter is accurately described as being wholly committed to his native soil, what possible opportunities could Shakespeare have had for getting to know and like him? As far as his Oxford career was concerned—I know that Foster's suggestion is that it was in Oxford, rather than in Devon, that the poet got to know him—how much would Shakespeare, a nongraduate, have cared about the fact that William Peter was "double honor'd in degree"? More broadly, why would Shakespeare, notorious both for his reluctance to moralize and for his lack of interest in religion, have adopted the preachy, didactic tone that characterizes the Elegie, as in the rather cloudy passage on Peter's innocent trustfulness that opens with the dreary line "Loe heere a lesson by experience taught" (349)? Peter's death is treated as morally exemplary, and the poet demonstrates—at tedious length, despite an apologetic reference to "accents breefe" (538)—that his having been victim of a malicious assault in no way taints or compromises his integrity. Indeed, the writer seems to feel a special and personal sympathy for William Peter as an innocent victim of "malice": I shall return to this point in a moment. Many passages suggest that the author of the Elegie had strong Puritan leanings, unlikely to be encountered in any dramatist, and surely most implausible in the creator of Malvolio. Indeed, the writer appears to lay his religious cards on the table in the very first line, in which he alludes to William Peter's "predestinated end." Though his death was sudden and violent, it was, the writer claims, part of God's mysterious and immutable scheme. The word is used again in line 497, "Predestinated Time." This seems like an insistent proclamation of Calvinist beliefs. The nearest the canonical Shakespeare ever comes to using the word is in the opening scene of Much Ado, where Benedick jokily refers to Beatrice's shrewishness—"so some gentleman or other shall escape a predestinate scratched face" (1.1.123-5).

Moving on to some of the recently praised "literary" features of the Elegie, I am struck by the fact that many of these, like so much else in the poem, corroborate its insistently local, West Country connections. The strongest poetic echoes—one a quoted line—are from the elegies on Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire, by Ford and Daniel. Blount was M.P. for Bere Alston in South Devon. Ford was born at Ilsington, in Devon, and, like William Peter, went to Exeter College, Oxford, the normal destination of West Country students. Samuel Daniel was born near Taunton, in Somerset, and in later life owned a farm at Beckington, near Phipps Norton, also in Somerset. Though the writer is evidently an intelligent and bookish man with a wide and at times adventurous vocabulary, he seems to be much more interested in works by writers connected with his own particular "country," which he apparently shared with William Peter, than with those exclusively associated with "eminent courts, or places great." The chief exception to this, not noted by Foster, lies in a few conspicuous echoes of Sidney, whose poetic mistress Penelope Rich was married, by the time of his death, to Charles Blount. Sidney, too, thereby acquired a tangential association with Devonshire. The phrase in the dedicatory epistle, "what-soeuer is heere done, is done to him, and to him onely" is evidently adapted from Sidney's dedication of the Arcadia to his sister—"Now it is done only for you, only to you."4 Also, lines 463ff, on the nature of true nobility, which is personal rather than inherited, seem to echo Sidney's favorite personal motto, Vix ea nostra voco.5 "I scarcely call those things my own," from Ovid's Metamorphoses XIII. 140-41. Sidney used to place the words beneath his arms, to indicate his refusal to take credit for his ancestors' achievements. This may have inspired the lines:

Birth, blood and ancesters, are none of ours,
Nor can we make a proper challenge to them:

But vertues and perfections in our powers,
Proceed most truly from vs, if we doe them.

Another possible Sidney echo occurs in line 247, "my longest last farewell," which may pick up the palinodic motto that closes his Certain Sonnets, "Splendidis longurn valedico nugis, " [I bid a long farewell to splendid trifles].6 But the work most frequently echoed in the Elegie is the Bible, and especially those books most drawn on by Puritans, the Old Testament prophets and Revelation. For instance, lines 171-74, praised by Abrams as "One of the poem's few gems," derive from Dan. 9.27:

for the overspreading of abominations hee shall make it desolate, euen untili the consummation & that determined shall be povred upon the desolate

Likewise, a few lines later, the allusion to "a booke where euery worke is writ," in which William Peter's well-spent time has been recorded, refers to Revelation 20.12, "the booke of life: and the dead were iudged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." Another biblical passage may lie behind the image of "the path/Which guides to doing well": Joel 2.8:

Neither shall one thrust one another, they shall walke euery one in his path: and when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded.

Since Peter died from a stab wound delivered while he was traveling along a dark "path," this text would be peculiarly comforting in its aptness, but the verbal link here is a bit tenuous.

Putting all these things together, I believe that the Elegie's tone, preoccupations, imagery, and literary allusions point to its being the work of someone of strong Puritan faith, most probably a clergyman, living in the West Country. If such a man were in holy orders he would most probably be a university graduate, and his interest in William Peter's academic honors might reflect some preoccupation with his own. I have left till last those passages in the poem that appear to offer the strongest clues to the circumstances and identity of the author. While insistently emphasizing the purity of his own motives in memorializing William Peter, being neither "seruile" (210, 231) nor "hir'd, as heauen can witnesse" (229), the writer freely acknowledges a personal interest in Peter's death and a special insight into his sufferings. This insight is occasioned not simply by the fact that Peter was his friend, but by the fact that he has himself undergone malicious attacks analogous to the blow from Edward Drew that ended Peter's life. The longest passage about this comes in lines 137-52, in which the writer moves with disconcerting abruptness from praising Peter for living and dying "in that soile" in which he will continue to be remembered, to talking about troubles he himself has undergone, "Euen in which place"—the same place, it seems—wherein William Peter "Had education and new beeing." Hitherto lines 149-54 have been construed as alluding to Oxford, where Peter acquired his two degrees. Indeed, Foster in 1989 claimed that "the only thing we can say with any certainty is that the alleged sin took place in Oxford."7 But the reference in line 131 to the soil "Where hee inioy'd his birth, life, death, and seat" does not tally with this reading, for Peter was not born in Oxford, nor did he own land there. It is just about conceivable—this writer not being distinguished for lucidity—that the "soile" of line 130 is different from the "place" of lines 148-49, where the speaker has lost his credit, and where Peter enjoyed "education, and new beeing," but to me this seems rather unlikely. There is no doubt that Peter was born and grew up in the West Country, and that the family "seat" that, though a younger brother, he enjoyed at the time of his death, was just outside Exeter. In conjunction with "new beeing," which presumably refers to birth, baptism, or both, I think the poet is using "education" in OED's sense 1, current until the Restoration: "The process of rearing a child or young person." The phrase "education and new beeing" is a cumbersome expansion of the very familiar expression "bred and born" (see OED sv breed 11). Though we might anticipate the more correct chronological sequence "born and bred," the reverse order is quite common in Elizabethan usage, occurring, for instance, in Twelfth Night 1.2.22. W. S. appears to be forging a connection between the location of his own "indangered youth," where he experienced "My countries thanklesse misconstruction" and suffered injury to his "name and credit," and the region where Peter was born and bred, has been killed, and will continue to be remembered. This geographical coincidence gives the writer a particular sympathy with Peter's sufferings, and above all with the great damage to the dead man's reputation that may be caused by the manner of his death. This, indeed, seems to be the central purpose of the Elegie—to declare to posterity that, despite William Peter's violent death in somewhat compromising circumstances, "Hee was goode" (532). In order to understand the moral and literary problem posed by the manner of Peter's death for someone setting out to write an elegy, we should perhaps remind ourselves of the utterly different manner in which Milton's contemporary Edward King died, kneeling in prayer as the ship sank. Though King's death was unforeseen, he at least had time to prepare to meet his maker. Such a pious end was denied to William Peter, whose situation was more like that of the man described in Camden's Remaines, killed in falling from his horse, on whom "a good friend made this good Epitaph":

My friend, judge not me,
Thou seest I judge not thee
Betwixt the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I askt, mercy I found.8

Though we might imagine that a eulogy of a dead man by a writer whose own reputation has been damaged would itself be questionable, W. S. strongly denies this. As one who has undergone malice and calumny in the very same place where Peter was pursued and stabbed by the drunken Edward Drew, he claims to be uniquely qualified to perform the task of creating a poetic monument to his good name. It is this sense of shared injury, with a shared need for justification, rather than any poetic skill, that emotionally fuels the poem.

What kind of injury did W. S. undergo? Foster in 1989 was attracted to the suggestion "that Shakespeare ca. 1600 was denounced for homosexual conduct of some sort,"9 though there is of course no evidence for this whatsoever. To me it sounds much more like unpleasant trouble within some close-knit provincial community, such as a parish, county or diocese. If the author were a clergyman, the word "thanklesse" in "My countries thanklesse misconstruction" could suggest that the very group of people who ought to be most warmly responsive to his ministrations—his parishioners, perhaps—have, instead, misunderstood and maligned him. People whose own fortunes and reputations have declined

haue stroue to win
Iustice by wrong; and sifted to imbane
My reputation, with a witlesse sinne


I take it that "witlesse" may be one of W. S.'s fairly cumbrous play on words, like his plays on the names "Peter" and "Drew"—suggesting both an "unwitting" sin and one which entails an accusation of lack of "wit." A later passage indicates that W. S., who boasts of not being "seruile," may have been altogether too independent minded for some people's liking. He was, he says,

Not seruile to be lik't; free from controule;
Which paine to many men I doe not owe it.


This would suit a Puritan minister of stubbornly nonconforming tendencies. W. S. even hints that Peter's fatal disagreement with Drew may have concerned his "Faith" (331) in the religious sense, which was the greatest of his many virtues:

Hence sprung the deadly fuell that reuiu'd
The rage which wrought his end.


Perhaps "Faith" here simply denotes trustful friendship—the sort of good hearted trustfulness that allowed Duncan to lodge serenely in Macbeth's castle—but if my hunch that the writer was a clergyman is correct, there could be an additional suggestion that William Peter's religious sympathies were close to his own and at odds with those of Edward Drew. As for W. S. it seems that his own sufferings are never far from his mind. Though they are initially associated with the past—"my indangered youth," 147—it is clear that they are still to some extent with him—"those imputations I sustaine" (558). In the final lines of the poem he seems to be saying that he continues to be made deeply unhappy and insecure by both past and present injuries. He clings only to a fragile "Hope, " alluding to the proverb, Tilley H602, "Hope is the last thing that man has to flee unto," that if he exercises great self-control and lives quietly "in a poore content" all may yet be well. Indeed, agonized obsession with his own "mischance" (573) almost causes him to forget his chief purpose, to complete a poetic monument to his "fast friend, soone lost," which is suddenly wrapped up in only four further lines.

To me, then, the Elegie reads as if it is the work of a Puritan minister who has undergone severe trials and tribulations somewhere in the neighborhood of William Peter's birth and death. How widely the term "place" should be interpreted is open to question. For the geographical coincidence between the places of William Peter's birth and death with that of W. S.'s sufferings to make any real sense, there would need to be a reasonable degree of proximity, but whether that means that we should not look beyond the immediate environs of Exeter, or whether the whole of Western England could be in play, I am not sure. References to "my indangered youth" (147) and "my dayes of youth" (559) suggest that the writer's troubles began some time ago. It appears that he is still suffering from their consequences, but no longer views himself as being young. The phrase "o thou youth vntimely lost" (197) also implies that he is somewhat older than William Peter. An exact estimation of the writer's age is no more possible than an exact delimitation of "place," but I take it that the author was at least in his midthirties, possibly more. I do not detect any particular indications of firsthand knowledge of William Peter's Oxford career, though it is of course theoretically possible that it was in Oxford, as well as or instead of in the West Country, that W. S. became his "fast friend."

We are looking, I think, for a man of education and ability, who had got into some sort of serious trouble, perhaps for his religious convictions. These troubles were strongly linked with the same "place" where William Peter was born and died. This individual did not normally write poetry.10

Enter William Sclater, Minister of God's Word

Looking through the Bodleian Library's pre-1920 catalogue on CD-ROM for writers with the initials W. S. who published works in 1610-12, my eye was caught by the name of William Sclater (1575-1627). He published no fewer than five books during these years, one in 1610, one in 1611 and three in 1612. Evidently this, the year of William Peter's death, was a period of exceptional productivity for him. When I ordered the books up, I was startled to discover that every single one had a West Country dedication, all being addressed to local gentry rather than nobility, and that in one of these dedicatory epistles, the one prefaced to A threefold preservative against three dangerous diseases (1610), Sclater reveals that he has been subjected to calumnious attacks, by which he has been deeply injured, and from which he is evidently still smarting. It was the father of the dedicatee of this work, the elder John Colles of Wiveliscombe, who had persuaded the Cambridge graduate and former Fellow of King's to leave his curacy in Walsall, Staffordshire, for the living of Pitminster, in Somerset, of which Colles was the patron. Fuller gives an account of Sclater's career in his Worthies of England:

John Coles Esquire of Summerset-shire over-intreated [William Sclater] into the Western parts, where he presented him Vicar of Pitmister. Here he met with manifold and expensive vexations, even to the jeopardy of his life; but, by the goodness of God, his own innocency and courage, with the favour of his Diocesan, he came off with no lesse honour to himself, then confusion to his adversaries.11

It appears that trouble struck as soon as Sclater was inducted as Rector of Pitminster. These "vexations" had to do with Sclater's strong Puritan convictions, but the precise details are not entirely clear. His patron John Colles evidently supported him and shared his beliefs, which was why he "over-intreated him" to Pitminster. We should pause here to notice that "John Cole of Devon armiger," this man's son and heir and dedicatee of the A threefold preseruative, was matriculated as Exeter College, Oxford in November 1592, at the age of fourteen. He is likely to have become acquainted there either with William Peter or—more probably—with his elder brother John, dedicatee of the Elegie. When the elder John Colles died in February 1608 he left a will in which "he forbade mourning gowns at his funeral, or any 'solemnity' other than a sermon."12 It was, of course, William Sclater who preached his patron's funeral sermon, published posthumously by his son as one of Three Sermons (1629). When Sclater's troubles broke out, his "Diocesan," John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells, was clearly supportive. But he also had at least one powerful enemy in his own parish, William Hill, Esquire, of Pitminster, who engaged in litigation against him in 1607 for his refusal to wear the surplice or to administer communion to infirm parishioners in their houses.13 By 1612 it appears that Hill and Sclater had settled their differences, for Sclater dedicated The Christians Strength to him. This was one of two 1612 works by Sclater to be printed by Joseph Barnes in Oxford. He wished Hill "grace and peace," signing himself "Your worships in the truest loue." However, this may have been a fragile rapport. The epistle already mentioned, addressed to the younger John Colles in 1610, suggests that his troubles were still very much with him at this date:

vnreasonable men . . . (euen for paines) haue made me their by-word. It were long, to reckon up all slanders of the malicious. These are the chiefe, Vnlearned, singular, turbulent, factious.14

Sclater goes on to answer each of these charges, and in response to the allegation of Turbulentnes speaks of

my parting with many rights for peace sake: disgesting iniuries, I say, not onely without Reuenge, but euen without seeking for iust defence: raylings, slanders, assaults, hazard of life, indeed what not? and unlesse they will indite mee for not admitting sicam totam into my bowells, I know not what show of turbulentnesse they can accuse me of.

When taken in conjunction with Fuller's allusion to Sclater's "jeopardy of life," this passage is very striking. The Latin phrase sicam totam (the whole knife, in the accusative case) is given a marginal reference to "Cic. pro Rosc. Amerin," that is, Cicero's oration Pro Roscio Amerino—not to be confused with his defense of the more famous Roscius, the great Roman comic actor. Roscius Amerinus was accused of parricide. The phrase sicam totam does not occur. Sclater seems to have been quoting from memory, remembering section 12, in which Cicero cites the example of the calumniating Gaius Fimbria, who shamelessly slandered a man of great virtue who, on the contrary, deserved high praise. When asked why he did this, he replied "quod non totum telum corpore reeipisset" [because he had not received the whole of the weapon in his body]. According to the Loeb edition of Cicero, this alludes to gladiatorial combats, in which, if the audience shouted recipe ferrum (accept the steel) the gladiator had to bare his breast for a death blow. It may be revealing both that Sclater—who does not quote from classical literature very frequently—invokes this passage on popular assaults on a man of great virtue, and that he altered Cicero's totum telum—perhaps unconsciously—to sicam totam, "the whole dagger or poniard" (see Lewis and Short's Latin dictionary sv sica). I am told that the word sica often refers to a weapon used for assassination, as in the murder of Julius Caesar, while Cicero's telum generally refers to a military weapon.15 I wonder if the "hazard" or "jeopardy of life" we know Sclater underwent took the form of a knife attack. Perhaps he was wounded in this attack, and is suggesting grimly in the epistle to Colles that his enemies would prefer him to have received "the whole dagger." If this conjecture is right, news of the fatal stabbing of William Peter could well have reawakened memories of his own near-fatal trauma. Though a man of great courage in matters of principle, and a fiery preacher, Sclater was physically diminutive, as we learn from his son—he was "somewhat after the stature of Zacheus"16 A savage knife attack, especially if it came from one of his own flock, might have left him feeling shaken and vulnerable for many years.

I do not feel that I have got to the bottom of Sclater's troubles, and therefore find it hard to reach firm conclusions about the precise extent to which they seem to tally with those described by the writer of the Elegie. Thorough searches in Somerset and Devon Record Offices and in the Exeter City Muniments might reveal much more. What I have encountered so far suggests that there were several different ways in which Sclater may have gotten himself disliked. His vigorous attempts to reinstate the payment of tithes must have been much resented by landowners in his parish, especially if, like the enemies referred to in lines 140-41 of the Elegie, they were families whose fortunes had waned. Even more vexatious, perhaps, was his strong belief in particularizing sins from the pulpit. If he revealed to his flock in Pitminster specific cases of (say) adultery, it is easy to imagine that he might provoke a murderous response. Also, in addition to his litigious quarrel over pastoral practice with William Hill, I learn from Dr. Kenneth Fincham that

He was in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities in 1604-9 for not wearing the surplice, preaching without a licence17, and (in 1609) for administering communion to two Devon ministers, both deprived for nonconformity in 1605.18

One of these nonconforming ministers, Anthony Lapthorne, had been at Exeter College in the mid-1590s, and, like the younger John Colles, could have been a friend there of John or William Peter.19 After he had lost his royal chaplaincy and a benefice in Cornwall, Lapthorne took refuge with his brother-in-law at North Petherton, in Somerset, to the North West of Pit minster.20 He ended up being excluded from nearly half the dioceses in England. Sclater's courageous decision to offer support to Lapthorne was bound to jeopardize his own position—especially since Lapthorne was notoriously "aggressive and truculent" and seems to have been much disliked by all those who tried to control him.21 However, I doubt if this kind of trouble with ecclesiastical authority would have provoked the "hazard of life" alluded to by Sclater in 1610. Disagreements with individuals among his own parishioners seem more likely to have led to this.

Though I have found several links between Sclater and recent graduates of Exeter College, Oxford, such as John Colles and Anthony Lapthorne, I have so far searched in vain for evidence of a direct association between Parson Sclater of Pitminster and the Peters of Bowhay. However, I have found one quite strong indirect link. The first version of Sclater's treatise on the legitimacy of tithes, The Ministers Portion, one of the two 1612 works to be printed in Oxford, was dedicated to Mr. Thomas Southcot of "Moones-Otery in Devon," otherwise known as Mohuns Ottery or Awtrie, "the possession of times past of the Mohuns, from whom by right of marriage it came to the Carews," says Camden.22 This ancient seat was at Luppett, north of Honiton. Southcote may have been the grandest of Sclater's patrons. John and William Peter's mother, the wife of Otho Peter, Francis nee Southcote, was this man's aunt, being a daughter of Thomas Southcote of Bovey Tracy.23 The younger Thomas Southcote was therefore their first cousin. In this close-knit world of religious and family affiliation and faction such a bond could well be significant. If Thomas Southcote was favorably disposed towards the Puritan Sclater, having perused "the first rude draught" of The Ministers Portion and declared himself open to persuasion by its "unprofitable profitable conclusion,"24 perhaps his first cousins the Peters also knew him, shared his religious sympathies, and were shown draughts of his work in progress. Given that the author of the Elegie admits that he never indicated his love to William Peter while he was alive and believes that he had been married for nine years, rather than three, he may not have been on very intimate terms with him. Encounters with him at the house of some third party, such as Thomas Southcote of Mohuns Ottery, might meet the case.

Something should be said about the geographical "place" where Sclater lived and moved and had his being. Pitminster itself is in South Somerset, a few miles south of Taunton. On at least one occasion he gave the Assize sermon at Taunton25; his patron, John Colles, was to be Lord Lieutenant of the County. Pitminster is only a couple of miles from the Somerset-Devon border. The dedications of Sclater's works link him to a large number of other places within a thirty or forty mile radius of Pitminster, ranging from Mells in North East Somerset to Mohuns Ottery in South Devon. From Pitminster it was quite easy to get to the main road that led to Exeter, via Honiton, and any man of Sclater's level of education—he was hard at work on the biblical commentaries that were to gain him a Doctorate of Divinity—would surely want to make regular visits to Exeter, often called the "second London," for the sake of its book shops, cathedral, and cathedral library. It is also clear that Sclater regarded it as his mission to give sermons far beyond the bounds of his parish, since he believed the whole region to be shamefully badly provided with good preachers.26 Indeed, as has been pointed out, unlicensed preaching was among the activities that got him into trouble. Because of the formation of their valleys, the borders of Devon and Somerset constituted a distinct geographical area, in which, in addition to roads, a network of rivers provided an unusually effective means of transport and communication. As Wallace MacCaffrey says:

The Exe Valley provides a pathway into the heart of North Devon and into western Somerset. . . The tributary valleys of the Culm, Yeo, and Creedy open up additional routes of access. No East Devon valley can boast a haven such as that of the Exe.27

Like St. Paul, another diminutive preacher, Sclater may have traveled by boat to the outlying locations of his ministry. Not only were internal communications unusually good in the Devon-Somerset borders, the sea route from Exeter to London also was generally excellent, because of prevailing winds and currents in the English Channel. The sea journey could often be accomplished in four or five days. Whoever put the Elegie in the hands of the publisher Thomas Thorpe may have dispatched it by this route, which would be less subject than an overland journey to the hazards of winter weather. To me it seems quite believable that both the "soile" and the "place" referred to in the Elegie—that region where William Peter was killed and the poet calumniated—may correspond with the Somerset-Devon borders.

As for age, Sclater was just over thirty when he was presented to the living of Pitminster, and was thirty-six or thirty-seven at the time of William Peter's death. I have not as yet discovered the date of his marriage, but since his son, also William, was born on Easter Day, 1609, it most probably took place after he came to Pitminster. He may have thought of the time of his curacy and bachelorhood as his "dayes of youth." But I must confess that I cannot make very good sense of the passages about "my indangered youth" with reference to Sclater, unless the point is that he was exactly the same age as William Peter when he suffered an attack similar to the one that was fatal to the latter. The fact that Peter, though addressed as a "youth," was just thirty makes this possible, for Sclater was thirty when he first arrived in Somerset.

Neither time nor the specifications of the present forum allow me to make a thorough analysis of verbal and metaphoric links between Sclater's many published works and the Elegie. I must confess that a rapid perusal of his published writings does not immediately make me feel, on stylistic grounds, that he definitely composed the Elegie. His sermons and treatises are forceful and carefully labored and are characterized by a vigorous sharpness and clarity that the Elegie, in my view, lacks. Indeed, as the work of the author of these sermons, I, too, would call the Elegie "aesthetically disappointing." However, we know that all these prose works were the outcome of slow and painstaking labor, while the Elegie was produced at very great speed and perhaps—if written by Sclater—composed by a writer in a state of emotional shock, and certainly by one deploying a genre that was not his habitual medium. There is no doubt that Sclater was an adventurous writer in terms of style and vocabulary and would have been quite capable of such a coinage as "possibilitied." The OED includes several hundred citations from Sclater's works. Many of them are extremely idiosyncratic, such as "curre-megients," "dimidiate," "Dutchman-like drinking," "enodation or descision," "exauctorating," "fiduciarily," "gange of body," "mangled and halfed," "handsmooth," "ill hostlership"—to offer only a small selection from the letters A-H. Few of these citations offer links with the diction of the Elegie, yet given its complete difference, both in genre and subject matter, from any of the prose works, this may not be significant. Certainly there is a distinctively theological slant to some of the poem's diction that would suit Sclater, as in the strangely elliptical lines

Learning my dayes of youth so to preuent
As not to be cast downe by them againe


The word "prevent" is presumably being used in OED's sense 4b, "Theol, " "said of the action of God's grace, held to be given in order to predispose to repentance, faith and good works." The rather contorted suggestion is perhaps that God's prevenient grace will ensure that the speaker is not, in the future, "cast down" by his troubles, as he was in his "dayes of youth." One of the words shared by Sclater and the poet is "unrest," used in the sense of "disturbance, turmoil, trouble." OED quotes from Slater's posthumously published Sermons Experimentall (1638), "A sweet soliloquie of David with his soul, checking it . . . for the disquiet and unrest it passionately had plunged it self into"; compare the author of the Elegie's distracting preoccupation with "my deep'st vnrest" (572). Undoubtedly there is a scattering of verbal links between Sclater's works and the Elegie, though on the strength of these alone I would not be inclined to conjecture common authorship. For instance, in the dedicatory epistle of A threefold preservative Sclater speaks of the "fond imputations" brought against him by his enemies; compare line 558 of the Elegy, "those imputations I sustain." Likewise, both in The Christians Strength and in The Ministers Portion, there are passages concerning "the terme of double honor" due to a minister of God's word; compare the description of William Peter as "double honor'd in degree," 332. Compare also Sclater's "There are many by-pathes misleading a christian"28 with "Such in the By-path and the Ridgway lurke," line 41 of the Elegie.

But it is the general spirit and tenor of Sclater's prose works, rather than their precise verbal texture, that I find most consonant with the Elegie. To give just one, perhaps important, example, consider A threefold preservative. This is the text of a sermon preached at Paul's Cross in London in which Sclater uses the occasion to attack both urban vices and rural bigotry: "The Court and City full of effeminate delicacy; the Country of hellish profanenesse."29 I can well believe that such a man might both have admired William Peter for absenting himself from "eminent courts" and have felt that he shared with him the unhappy distinction of being a victim of provincial malice. Sclater's extremely self-abasing modesty also seems to me to resemble the tone of the poet. In the epistle to Thomas Southcote, for instance, he asks "to be heard on even termes with men, I freely confesse, of far greater gifts." He also shows himself, like the author of the Elegie, rather concerned to indicate the degree of affection he feels to exist between himself and his patrons, as when he signs himself to John Colles "Your thankfull ' obseruant fauorite."

Sclater's attested works were published and printed by a wide variety of men, including Joseph Barnes of Oxford. Though none was published by Thorpe, he could have known enough about London publishers and their particular interests to think him an appropriate man to publish a poem. Like Sclater, Thomas Thorpe had connections both with Oxford and with Somerset. In 1608 he had published a collection of epigrams by Richard West of Magdalen College, Oxford; and some longstanding connection with the university is suggested by the fact that he was to end his days in an alms room at Ewelme, which was under the patronage of Oxford's Regius Professor of Medicine. In 1611 Thorpe published The Odcombian Banquet, a jokey tribute to one of Somerset's most celebrated writers, Thomas Coryate, and named after Coryate's native village. If Thorpe was himself a regular visitor to the West Country and happened to be there in January 1612, perhaps enjoying the aftermath of the Christmas holidays, this might account for the extraordinary speed with which the Elegie reached his hands, being entered in the Stationers' Register only nineteen days after Peter was murdered. An alternative possibility—that the manuscript was sent by sea on one of the ships regularly plying between Exeter and London—has already been suggested.

The chief points in favor of Sclater's authorship of the Elegie are, to sum up: (1) his initials; (2) his being a published writer active in the years 1610-16; (3) his connections with gentry families in the Somerset-Devon borders, including a cousin of the Peters; (4) some verbal links between his published works and the Elegie; (5) his links with Oxford30; (6) his recent experience of calumnies and vexations, which may even have included a knife attack; (7) his Calvinistic piety; and (8) his not being a habitual poet. The author of the Elegie is engagingly candid about the difficulty of his "taske" in writing about Peter in verse, and the inadequacy of the results:

Heere then I offer vp to Memory,
The value of my tallent (precious man)
Whereby if thou Hue to Posterity,
Though't be not as I would, tis as I can:
"In minds from whence endeauor doth proceed,
"A ready will is taken for the deed.

Sclater's "tallent"—by no means inconsiderable—was as a preacher and a theologian. If he is indeed the author of the Elegie—my mind is not quite made up on this subject—it is hard to know whether the clergyman or the playwright would be more surprised to learn of the recent confusion caused by the coincidence of their initials. As writers, they are poles apart. Shakespeare is notorious for his refusal to moralize; and the author of the moralistic Elegie makes much of his lack of expertise in poetry. To me it reads entirely plausibly as the work of a Puritan clergyman accustomed to addressing a captive, church-going audience.


1 Paper presented to Professor Dubrow's seminar on "The Sonnets in the Twentieth Century," World Shakespeare Congress, Los Angeles, April 1996.

2 See Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, William Shake speare: A Textual Companion (Oxford, 1987), 450-55.

3 Samuel Schoenbaum, Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (Oxford, The Clarendon Press, 1975), 220.

4 Jean Robertson, ed., Sir Philip Sidney: The Countess of Pembroke 's Arcadia (The Old Arcadia) (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1973), 3.

5 As testified by Edmund Molyneux in Holinshed's Chronicles (1588); cf. K. Duncan-Jones ed., The Oxford Authors: Sir Philip Sidney (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1989) 314.

6 Sidney, Arcadia, ed. cit., 38

7Study in Attribution, 172.

8 William Camden, Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine (1605), "Epitaphes" 55.

9 Foster, Study in Attribution 173-74.

10 Though Donald Foster has made admirably thorough searches, chronicled in his 1989 Study in Attribution, for writers with the initials W. S., I believe he has made a "category error" in confining his most intense scrutiny to poets with these initials. Most probably, on the evidence of the dedicatory epistle and several passages in the Elegie, this writer was not a poet.

11 For fuller biographical details, see Dictionary of National Biography.

12 P. W. Hasler, The House of Commons 1558-1603 (Her Majesty's Stationery Office 1981), 1.632.

13 Someset Record Office, D/D/Cd 30, Depositions 1606-7. I owe this reference to Dr. Kenneth Fincham.

14 William Sclater, A threefold preseruative against three dangerous diseases of these latter times (1610) sigs. A2r-v.

15 Personal communication from Dr. Miriam Griffin.

16 William Sclater, A Brief and Plain Commentary, with Notes . . . upon the whole Prophecie of Malachy (1650) sig. blr.

17 Presumably in outlying parishes in the Somerset/Devon borders, since he was licensed to preach in his own Pitminster.

18 Personal communication from Dr. Fincham, July 1996.

19 C. W. Boase, Register of Exeter College, Oxford (Oxford Historical Society, 1894), 84.

20 Kenneth Fincham, Prelate as Pastor: The Episcopate of James I (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990), 224-25.

21 Ibid.

22 William Camden, Britaine (1610), 206.

23 F. T. Colby, ed., Visitation of the County of Devon in 1620 (1872), 210, 269.

24 William Sclater, The Ministers Portion (Oxford 1612), sigs. A2r-v.

25 William Sclater, A Sermon preached after the last generali Assise holden for the County of Somerset at Taunton (1616).

26 Fincham, Prelate as Pastor, 193-94.

27 Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Exeter, 1540-1640: The Growth of an English County Town (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1975), 6.

28 William Sclater, The Christians Strength (Oxford, 1612), 9.

29 Sclater, A threefold preservative, sig. Elr.

30 Detailed study of the history of the two surviving copies, in Balliol College and the Bodleian, might be rewarding. The Bodleian copy is included in the 1620 printed catalogue as "Will. Peter. A funerali Elegie in memory of him, Lond. 1612." At that date it was already bound up with its present companions, four of which are works of Puritan theology, and at least two—those by Thomas Tuke and Hugh Broughton—by Cambridge graduates. Thomas James—if it was he who put these six works together—may not have known who the author of the Elegie was, but might have known that William Peter was himself a Puritan, and have felt that this was an appropriate location for his poetic monument. It is possible also that William Peter, a younger son, and a man who had taken an M.A. as well as a B.A., was himself considering ordination at the time of his death.

Further Reading

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Abrams, Richard. "Breaching the Canon; Elegy by W.S.: The State of the Argument." The Shakespeare Newsletter XLV, No. 226 (Fall 1995): 51-4.

Discusses the discovery of the poem and offers an overview of the criticism surrounding the poem and its authorship, concluding that "the Elegy has a strong claim to be Shakespeare's own."

Dantanus, Ulf. "Shakespeare: In Search of a Solid Life." Moderna Språk LXXXVII, No. 1 (1993): 6-13.

Provides a brief analysis of Charles Ogburn's contention that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays.

Foster, Donald W. "A Funeral Elegy: W[illiam] S[hakespeare] 's 'Best-Speaking Witnesses'." PMLA 111, No. 5 (October 1996): 1080-105.

Argues that "A Funeral Elegy" is indeed Shakespeare's work, "not because there is incontrovertible proof that the man Shakespeare wrote it (there is not) nor even because it is an aesthetically satisfying poem (it is not), but rather because it is formed from textual and linguistic fabric indistinguisable from that of canonical Shakespeare."

Harbage, Alfred. "Shakespeare as Culture Hero." In Conceptions of Shakespeare, pp. 101-19. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966.

Explains the attacks on Shakespeare's authorship as having arisen from a compination of social and psychological tendencies to make a myth out of a man.

Hope, Warren and Kim Holston. The Shakespeare Controversy: An Analysis of the Claimants to Authorship, and Their Champions and Detractors. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1992, 255 p.

Explores the cases of such claimants as Bacon, Marlowe, Rutland, and Derby. Also includes a chapter on J. Thomas Looney's theories on Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Matus, Irvin Leigh. Shakespeare, In Fact. New York: Continuum, 1994, 331 p.

Examines such aspects of the authorship controversy as the public documents regarding the life of Shakespeare of Stratford, records regarding Shakespeare's theatrical affiliations, the publication and dating of the plays, Shakespeare's contemporary reputation, and the case for (and against) the Earl of Oxford.

Ogburn, Dorothy, and Ogburn, Charlton, Jr. Introduction to Shakes-peare: The Man Behind the Name, pp. 1-25. New York: William Morrow Company, 1962.

Outlines the apparent deficiencies in Shakespeare's education and life experiences, and argues that Edward de Vere—seventeenth Earl of Oxford—possessed the necessary credentials to have authored the plays and poems.

Sobran, Joseph. Alias Shakespeare: Solving the Greatest Literary Mystery of All Time. New York: The Free Press, 1997, 311 p.

Analyzes the "Shakespeare myth" and presents the case for the Earl of Oxford as the author of the plays and poems.

Whalen, Richard F. Shakespeare—Who Was He?: The Oxford Challenge to the Bard of Avon. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994, 183 p.

Discusses the life of the man from Stratford as well as the "ambiguous" evidence connecting him to the Shakespeare works and argues the case of the Earl of Oxford as the true author.

Wilson, Ian. Shakespeare: The Evidence. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993, 498 p.

Examines the evidence for and against the man from Stratford as the author of the Shakespearean canon.

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