Thoughtful Revolution

A Little Shakespeare

There are a handful of things that I believe are incontrovertibly worth saying about Shakespeare.

I’m not talking biographical details, or trivia — though it’s certainly interesting that Shakespeare passed away on his 52nd birthday (the same day that, across the ocean, Miguel de Cervantes died), or that he famously willed his wife his “second-best bed,” or that his most famous detractor was killed by a dish of spoiled pickled herring, none of those factoids are critical to an understanding of Shakespeare.

10. Shakespeare wrote for voices, not eyes.
In a number of Elizabethan grammar schools, teachers would have their students perform plays, usually morality parables or tales from Greek mythology, as a way of quietly forcing them to learn and understand the material. Whatever else might be said about the critically flawed Renaissance-era school system, I think this is an absolutely brilliant idea. I’m not saying that every class on Shakespeare must begin with a performance — though I wouldn’t turn that down — but any teacher who refers to “Julius Caesar” as a “book” and assigns readings, or who begins and ends an entire Shakespeare course without forcing students to act any of the text, ought not to be teaching Shakespeare. Textual interpretation for playwrights is based so much on the realities of human voices and rhythms; after all, the plays were written as such. It’s much, much easier to understand Shakespeare when you’re not only reading it aloud, but reading it with appropriate passion — suddenly, meanings flow out of inflection and movement that would have been undetectable on the page. Expecting students to understand Shakespeare while treating him like a novelist is like expecting students to understand “Moulin Rouge” from an in-depth silent reading of the screenplay: it’s counterintuitive.

9. There’s no reason Shakespeare should be anyone other than Shakespeare.
Some people may insist that Shakespeare wasn’t William Shakespeare, a grammar-school-educated glover’s son from Stratford-upon-Avon; he was instead Francis Bacon, or Edward de Vere, or Christopher Marlowe, or (I swear to God I’ve heard this) Queen Elizabeth herself. This is a ridiculous belief. There is a good deal of evidence, beginning with the conveniently similar name, that Shakespeare was Shakespeare. There is no evidence whatsoever that Shakespeare was anyone other than Shakespeare, and the evidence provided is either fudged (e.g. theories that have Marlowe writing “Hamlet” after his confirmed date of death) or cryptic enough that it could prove anything from Shakespeare’s secret homosexuality to Shakespeare’s past life as a potato. As such, it is — like Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, or, say, Bertrand Russell’s invisible teapot — impossible to rationally disprove, as it is so based in fervent anti-realistic faith that no argument will sway it. And what could possibly be the motivation for such a faith? Why on earth would so many aristocrats, public intellectuals and “beautiful people” steadfastly believe that a middle-class, public- and self-educated prole could never be the real Shakespeare, despite largely irrefutable evidence? Why, when pressed to offer new candidates, are those candidates always moneyed, titled Renaissance celebrities, and not artisans or priests or schoolteachers or even actors? Guess.

8. Shakespeare loved spectacle.
And that doesn’t mean you can’t do a minimalist production of Shakespeare — far from it. Some of the best Shakespeare shows I’ve seen were minimalist; some of the worst were as lavish as shows can be. Spectacle need not be based in money: it can be music, or dance, or “performance art,” or the frantic waving of 75-cent sheets of colored cotton. And Shakespeare, even with his set-less, effect-less venue, wrote a tremendous amount of spectacle into his plays, and to deny that spectacle when it appears is to deny a quintessential element of Shakespearean writing. If you’re doing it consciously, to subvert the general spectacular conventions of “Cymbeline” or “Pericles” or what have you, the more power to you; if you’re just doing it because spectacle doesn’t seem right on a modern stage, you really should be directing another playwright’s play. Shakespeare, in part because of his mistreatment onstage, has come to seem dry, stuffy, devoid of visual beauty. He — this man who filled Twelfth Night with music, who ordered ships to wreck onstage and statues to come alive and gods to descend from the heavens — would be furious.

7. Shakespeare loved sex.
There is nothing I can say about this except: When the Victorians held up Shakespeare as an exemplar of morality, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

6. Shakespeare was almost certainly homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. There is no evidence to determine which. — paraphrased from Stephen Booth.
We can assume nothing. The sonnets, though beautiful pieces of writing, cannot count as historical proof; they are an assortment of love poems to people whose identities we will never know. We don’t know if he was in love with the Dark Lady or the Fair Youth or the Rival Poet. We don’t know if their genders were changed, or their situations fudged for artistic merit, or if they existed at all. They could have been the crepuscules of a brilliant mind. One thing is certain: we cannot take stereotypes and vague poetic hints as concrete evidence that Shakespeare “swung” one way or the other.

6. Despite his little “Richard II” slip-up,* Shakespeare displayed amazing political savvy.
Why is Henry Tudor a god and Richard III a monster? Because Henry Tudor was Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather. One thing is certain: Shakespeare knew how to choose a subject. Note that he conveniently saved “Henry VIII” until after Elizabeth’s death, and avoided all historical subject matter that might defame the Tudors, instead opting for patriotic material and the occasional bit of revisionism. This behavior wasn’t restricted to Elizabeth’s reign: King James was Scottish, and “Macbeth” was born. And our playwright was a favorite of both rulers. Well played, Mr. Shakespeare.

* After a performance of “Richard II,” a play in which a philosophical but ineffective ruler is violently deposed, Elizabeth famously said “I am Richard II, know ye not that?” and demanded an audience the troupe. We don’t know what happened in that audience, but luckily, if heads rolled, they weren’t the actors’.

5. Just because Harold Bloom disagrees with them doesn’t mean they’re worthless.
The famous curmudgeon may claim that those demon Marxist-feminist-multicultural-revisionist-neo-historicist critics today are destroying Shakespeare, but that says more about Harold Bloom than the state of contemporary Shakespeare criticism. Modern critics — even (or, I might say, especially) those peering at Shakespeare through a specific lens — have breathed new life into a stagnating discipline powered by professorial white men; whether or not you concur with their perspectives on Shakespeare, writers like Gary Taylor and Gail Kern Paster have raised points and provided food for thought that thoroughly energized the field. (And everyone interested in history and/or literature should read Taylor’s revolutionary Reinventing Shakespeare, a fabulous, though surely not Harold Bloom-approved, upending of what we might call “the Shakespeare myth.” It may not always be easy to agree with, but it’s an excellent read.) Harold Bloom… well, he will always be Harold Bloom, and he will always feel it his responsibility to bring back the good old Victorian days. It’s nothing but a fancy. Let it pass.

4. Shakespeare’s tragedies were funny, and his comedies were sad.
It’s one of his great virtues as a writer (and, while working on Ariel Dorfman’s relentlessly high-drama “Death and the Maiden,” one comes to appreciate it even more) — he calls life as he sees it. And his situations may be exaggerated, and they may be far beyond anything we plebeians will ever experience, but they have those little elements of emotional variation that ring true. No life is pure tragedy, or pure comedy; there will always be a drunk doorman to greet you after the murder, or a nasty rumor to spoil the fun of a new relationship, or a friend spitting potty jokes into the face of death. So it is in Shakespeare.

3. Shakespeare’s women were ahead of their time.
He wasn’t, of course, the first writer to give us an engaging heroine — the Greeks supplied a few, even if they were often closer to ciphers than fully fleshed characters. Still, he created the first real female characters in Renaissance drama. Cleopatra, Rosalind, Imogen, Isabella, Beatrice all dominate the worlds they inhabit; many more of the women he wrote, Lady Macbeth and Juliet being prime examples, are equal to the men in personality, humor, intelligence, character. Virginia Woolf was the first to point out how unusual, and how extraordinary, this was. After all, Shakespeare drew these remarkable stage women at a time when real women were forcibly kept illiterate and treated as their husbands’ property, and where the women of literature (despite Queen Elizabeth’s prominent presence) were universally chaste sex objects or broad, low-comedy wives. Shakespeare saw more variety and depth in women than an entire culture could, and this leap of faith in itself would be enough to rank him in our literary canon.

2. Shakespeare wasn’t perfect.
He was a decidedly privileged inhabitant of a decidedly insular world; as such, we cannot expect him to be immune from the prejudices of his day. He was certainly racist. He was arguably an anti-Semite, though a convincing argument can be made either way. He had that peculiar bourgeois attitude wherein he hated money and its “corrupting influence” but set absolute faith in the class system; he was classist and a philosophical proponent of divine right. He believed — or so his writings would imply — that nobles were inherently more graceful, more beautiful, on the whole better people than poorer folk. (The rural poor are not, as some would argue, exempt; he romanticizes their pastoral lifestyle while simultaneously portraying them as dolts, oafs, clowns undeserving the paradise they inhabit.) This doesn’t invalidate contemporary readings of his work; we have the right to subvert the text, or to reinterpret it. Such is a benefit of theater. But, in the general absence of evidence for the defense and profusion of evidence for the prosecution, we can’t assume that he originally spoke in irony or in sympathy, no matter how much we would like to.

1. Shakespeare is our most underrated poet. — Stephen Booth
And that is a fact.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Michael Dunn says:

    Dear sir,

    The reason we doubt Shakespeare has nothing to do with snobbery. It’s because every other writer of his day left plentiful documentary evidence from their lifetimes that they wrote for a living: receipts, diary entries, letters, records of education, notice at death as a writer, and so on. From the famous like Ben Jonson to the obscure such as John Webster, any writer of note, from middle class lads like Jonson to aristocrats such as Phillip Sydney left hard evidence that they were writers. There’s only one glaring exception: the most famous of them all, for whose authorship the only evidence is either posthumous (the Folio, the monument) or impersonal (names on title pages and literary reviews, which were frequently faked in that day as in this). Turn up a letter by WS in which he refers to his writing, and the whole thing goes away.

    It’s an entirely reasonable controversy, and is based on evidence – and the lack of it where it should be. It was a well-documented era, and the writers left evidence that they were writers. Except you know who. And the plentiful documents from the years of WS’s life all indicate a grain-dealer, money-lender, theatrical shareholder, and sometime actor: none of it documents a poet or playwright.

    So we simply ask: why is that?

    Hence the very reasonable controversy. We were not taught this in school, because the received wisdom was off, that’s all. For more information, see

    Best wishes,

    Michael Dunn

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
    • * thoughtfulrevolution says:

      Dear sir,

      For what it’s worth, I am in fact a “miss.” Shocking, I know.

      The question you propose is an interesting one — one that, I think, can be easily answered. If Mr. Shakespeare was, in your words, “a grain-dealer, money-lender, theatrical shareholder, and sometime actor,” it is easy to imagine that his stated profession would not be “poet” or “playwright.” Why? Because his stated profession would not have been. He wrote not only to support himself, but to support the theatre in which he played a profound onstage and offstage role; it is no wonder that we know him in his papers as a man of the theatre and not as a Poet. His papers confirm his status as a theatrical type first and foremost, and what more do we need from him as author than his title pages and reviews? We cannot, unfortunately, expect every great writer before 1900 to have kept a diary. And as for records of education: the “man from Stratford” was not tutored privately, did not attend a formal institution of higher learning. What, in this middle-class, rural upbringing, can we hope for in terms of educational records?

      I suppose what I’m saying is that, if the shoe fits, wear it. We can question it, certainly, but in the absence of convincing evidence for any other candidate (and there is none. Dates conflict, writing styles are widely disparate, etc. etc.) we must refer to our Bard as Shakespeare, because that’s what he called himself. It’s certainly much less of a mouthful than “that mysterious ghostwriter who penned Shakespeare’s plays.” Far more sensible to take fairly convincing evidence that our Shakespeare was indeed Shakespeare, and allow lost biographical information to be a function of the 400-odd years that have passed, than to ride clouds and search for some cryptic hint that he was not. I simply see no motivation to fly in the face of all the clues we have and start at the beginning; it’s less a quest for knowledge than a willful subversion of what we do indeed know. Which is okay. I’m all for subversion — just don’t count me in until you can provide me a reason to join.

      But you’ve raised some interesting points, and I’m glad you stumbled upon this little blog!

      Thanks and all the best.
      Ms. Thoughtfulrevolution

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  2. * Editors says:

    We over at LOVE this post. Feel free to repost it or link to it over there!

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
    • * Michael Dunn says:

      Dear Ms. Thoughtful,

      Thank you for your courteous reply. I would like to note that you really didn’t address the point. “What more do we want than reviews and names on title pages?” you ask. What we want, and have every reason to expect, is the evidence that is there in plenty for all the other writers, yes, ALL of them, left contemporary (i.e. from their lifetimes), personal (i.e., not a review or a title page but personally generated by them), literary (i.e., touching directly on their profession as writers) evidence that they were in fact the authors of the works attributed to them.

      Will Shakspere of Stratford left nothing but posthumous and impersonal evidence. We simply ask, why is that? And these other authors have not been subjected to the greatest battery of research ever focused on a single human being. 400 years of search for documents on the guy, and all we can turn up is irrefutable evidence that someone by that name was born, was wed, and was buried in Stratford, bought grain, lent money, sued his neighbors for the recovery of petty sums, was fined for hoarding grain during a famine, bought the Blackfriars gatehouse (a Catholic hotbed, which raises eyebrows), was a theatrical shareholder, and sometime actor (Ben Jonson’s citation notwithstanding, Shakspere has a plentiful lack of documentation for his supposed status as an actor).

      I repeat, it was a well-documented era. Sir Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre, Regius Chair of History at Oxford University, an expert on the English Renaissance, regarded it as “absurd” that Shakespeare’s life should be so little documented. He lived in the thick of literary London in its glory, but no one save Jonson seems to have known him personally. Phillip Henslowe’s very thorough diary mentions him not at all, and lists the Shakespeare plays without naming the author. Edward Alleyn’s diary, full of theatrical detail, is also completely without mention of “the soule of the Age.”

      This isn’t about fantasy, or snobbery. It’s about evidence. There’s a huge, weird, unique documentary void for Shakespeare where the life of a writer should be. Why is it there in plenty for everyone else but him? And why is his documented life so empty of anything remotely writerly? And why does the canon itself fairly reek of profound erudition, inside court intrigues, with scholars citing hundreds of books the man must have read, five different languages he must have spoken, and deep grounding in the law that he must have had, with multiple highly detailed references to places in France and Italy which must have flown straight over the heads of all but the most well-traveled courtiers in his audience.

      It was an era in which authorship disguise was common, and in which there was a documented circle of courtier poets and playwrights who were said to “suffer (their works) to be published without their own names to it, as if it were a discredit for a gentleman to seem learned.” This same contemporary historian (George Puttenham, writing in 1583), also cited Edward de Vere as chief among this circle.

      Your post, I’m afraid, does the usual Stratfordian dance: fall back on sentiment and speculation. But what you need is evidence, and I’m afraid, at this late date, that there’s none left to be found.

      More turns up everyday for Edward de Vere. I was once in love with the Stratford myth, too. I grew up with it, I acted in Shakespeare professionally, and I too scoffed at the snobs (so I assumed) who doubted my idol.

      But the fact is that the idol is a cipher. And his days are numbered. The web has spelled his end, and it will come sooner than most of us think.

      Best wishes,

      Michael Dunn

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
      • * thoughtfulrevolution says:

        Mr. Dunn —

        For starters, I would be interested to know the evidence for de Vere that you continually cite. He occasionally wrote under pseudonyms, as many writers do. I’m genuinely curious; please do tell me.

        But I suppose it’s worth noting that the evidence against him personally is profound. He was dead in 1604, before a) many of Shakespeare’s plays were published and b) events that are commonly cited as inspiration (e.g. the Gunpowder Plot, the wreck of the Sea Venture) transpired. Now it’s quite possible that Shakespeare was eerily prescient, and imagined his inspiration before the events took place. It’s also possible (though somewhat less) that the dating of the later plays was falsified or done in error — I give you that. But, reading the work we do have of the Earl of Oxford, one cannot escape the fact that it is wildly different than Shakespeare’s. Unless he had a certain writing style that he reserved exclusively for his pseudonymous work, and made sure that everything under his own name was in stark contrast, it is impossible to make a connection on the pages. And why would he choose Shakespeare to hide behind — though, given his other, unveiled work, it again seems unlikely? He was a living person at the time; do you argue that de Vere used him as a compliant front, or simply managed to organically generate the same name? Either is implausible; the first especially so, considering the class structure of the age.

        Beyond that, I repeat — and I could have sworn I’d said this before; we may be running in argumentative circles — there is good reason that we do not have the same evidence for Shakespeare as we do an earl or duke. He was of a different class. Paper was expensive, candles even more so, and we do not know that he would have the luxury of money or time to keep lengthy diaries. And we do have references to him as a writer by his contemporaries, including one that lists de Vere and Shakespeare as separate writers; the fact that he is not mentioned in Henslowe’s diary could more likely speak to narcissism, or a falling-out, or any number of the personal factors that work their magic on diaries, to his utter nonexistence. if the only thing that is lacking is a promise of authorship in his own hand, tell me, do you believe that Isabella Whitney was actually Elizabeth I writing in a pseudonym? She, too, was of a different class than the aristocrats you cite; she, too, left little to no evidence behind. We cannot assume that the life of a grain-seller, theatrical shareholder and poet can be measured by the same trappings as a lordling poet — in fact, it is highly unlikely.

        It is also not impossible for a young man to learn a tremendous amount, or to have traveled a middling distance, especially when we have a certain period in which he could have done just that. It is certainly as likely that he should understand the language of the court — just by virtue of political savvy and a talent for observation — as the thought that a sheltered nobleman could understand so thoroughly the language of London’s workaday burghers. Mark Twain did not grow up in the aristocracy, yet he could write “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” as brilliantly as “Huck Finn.” Chaucer was at Shakespeare’s station in the class hierarchy. Genius, particularly literary genius, does not always require streams of money.

        You accuse me of sentiment and speculation — I ask you, what exactly do you think you are resting on? We have plenty of documentation for Shakespeare’s life, and far more for Oxford’s life. We have no evidence whatsoever that the two were in fact connected, and you have presented none. At such a distance, barring any new discoveries, we can do little but speculate. And considering that we will continue to refer to him as Shakespeare, considering that the plays will continue to exist no matter what we might figure out, considering that there is no real reason to doubt an author’s name, the controversy is entirely theoretical. It certainly will not help your cause to back it up with vaguely apocalyptic pronouncements; the folks inclined to write the Oxfordian theory off as fantasy will take the bait.


        Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  3. * Michael Dunn says:

    Dear TR,

    You ask excellent questions, and they are entirely reasonable. Let’s start with chronology, the so-called 1604 problem. You state that many of Shakespeare’s plays were published after Oxford’s death in that year. True. And nearly half the canon first saw the light of day seven years after the Stratford man’s death, so you can’t really use that one. The chronology question is well answered at this link:

    Orthodox scholars are beginning to hedge away from the chronology as an Oxford-killer, perhaps because the more careful ones know what shaky ground they stand on. There is good reason for speculating that many of the plays were written 15-20 years earlier than the Stratford chronology suggests. For example, we have a 1589 reference to Hamlet that scholars are forced to conclude (without much backup) refers to an earlier version by somebody else, that Shakespeare then adapted. But this is primarily because inferring the obvious – that this is indeed a reference to Shakespeare’s play – completely explodes the Stratford theory: few scholars are willing to suggest that Shakespeare wrote a mature late tragedy that was common enough knowledge for Thomas Nashe to refer to it in 1589 – during the so-called “Lost Years” when Shakspere had disappeared from Stratford, but hadn’t shown up in London.

    As to the idea that Oxford’s writing under his own name is in contrast to or far below Shakespeare, another anomaly in the Shakespeare canon is the absence of juvenilia – he bursts out of the bush (according to the orthodox) with a highly sophisticated send-up of the overly ornate poetic style called Euphuism with Love’s Labors Lost. Other writers show a progression: Shakespeare shows up a master of multiple rhetorical forms. Many of the works that have come down to us under Oxford’s name are in fact song lyrics, and are likely from his teen years.

    And then there’s the Benezet test, intermingling lines of Oxford and Shakespeare. Can you tell them apart? (see lines below the end of this post).

    And your contentioh is quite valid that there’s no reason a young fellow from a provincial market town such as Stratford could not get himself within haling distance of a courtier or two, or chat up foreign travelers for details at taverns, or work as a law clerk and absorb the legal knowledge, or serve as hunting servant to an aristocrat and learn the arcane language of falconry, or be a ball boy on the tennis courts at Hampton Palace, and learn how to pun on this rare and royal game, or study ornithology, or faultlessly use mariner’s terms, or know Venice like the back of his hand, or wriite plays using sources that were only available in French, Italian, and Spanish, or have read the more than two hundred source books identified by scholars that were not taught in the Stratford Grammer School curicculum (and which certainly didn’t show up in Shakspere’s non-existent personal library: his will lists not a single book, a valuable item), or have somehow had access to the one copy in existence of Lawrence Nowell’s translation of Beowulf (a source for Macbeth, owned by an acquaintance of Oxford), or have absorbed Arthur Golding’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses so deeply that scholars think the bard memorized the whole thing (never mind that Golding was a guest in Oxford’s home when he wrote it)….and I could go on and on.

    Yes, there is no reason that young Shakspere couldn’t have done these things. What is not reasonable is that there should be absolutely no evidence that he did. In a well-documented era. You are forced to fall back on speculation, as the existing evidence from his lifetime is all non-literary.

    And yes, earls were better documented than commoners. But why then do we have plentiful personal contemporary literary evidence for so many commoner poets like Drayton, Jonson, Fletcher, Beaumont, even the lamented Marlowe, but have none, repeat none, for Shakspere? We have reviews, we have a monument, we have the Folio….and then a unique void where the life of a writer should be.

    As to why Oxford needed a disguise, his class would have required it. And there is evidence indicating that he may have been serving the Queen’s propaganda needs as guiding hand behind what Thomas Nashe called the “Policy of Plays” whereby the regime sought to influence the public. Such a hand needs to be hidden.

    As to the choice of pen name, it was probably a happy coincidence. Oxford’s nickname was “Will” or “sweet Willie,” and an encomium by Gabriel Harvey speaks of how Oxford’s warlike “countenance shakes spears.”

    Just another coincidence, I suppose….:)

    And a play-broker and plagiarist named Shakspere such as described by Robert Greene would be a handy front man.

    But on that we are speculating. But Oxfodians are speculating based on documentation. Stratfordians must speculate based on thin air. It’s a tough position to defend, and will get tougher.

    See the Benezet test comparing Oxford and Shakespeare’s lines below. Can you tell which is which?

    Best regards,

    (Proposed by the late Professor Louis P. Benezet of Darthmouth College, in “Shakspere, Shakespeare, and de Vere”, Manchester, NH, Granite State Press, 1937)

    If care or skill cold conquer vain desire
    Or reason’s reins my strong affections stay:
    There should my sighs to quiet breast retire,
    And shun such sights as secret thoughts betray;
    Uncomely love which now lurks in my breast
    Should cease, my grief by wisdom’s power oppressed
    My reason, the physician to my love,
    Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
    Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
    Desire is death, which physic did except.
    Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
    And frantic mad with evermore unrest.
    Fain would I sing, but fury makes me fret,
    And rage that sworn to seek revenge of wrong;
    My mazed mind in malice is so set,
    As death shall daunt my deadly dolours long;
    Patience perforce is such a pinching pain,
    As die I will or suffer wrong again.
    For, if I should despair, I should go mad,
    And in my madness might speak ill of thee:
    Now this ill-wrestling world has grown so bad,
    Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
    Love is a discord and a strange divorce
    Betwixt our sense and rest; by whose power,
    As mad with reason we admit that force
    Which wit or labour never may endower.
    My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
    As random from the truth vainly express’d;
    For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright,
    Who are as black as hell and dark as night.
    Why should my heart think that a several plot
    Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
    Or mine eyes seeing this, say this is not,
    To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
    Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?
    Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?
    Who filled your eyes with tears of bitter smart?
    Who gave thee grief and made thy joys tofaint?
    Who first did paint with colors pale thy face/
    Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?
    Above the rest in court who gave thee grace?
    Who made thee strive in honor to be bgest?
    Who taught thee how to make me love thee more?
    The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
    O, though I love what others do abhor,
    With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
    When only sighs must make his secret moan:
    A silent suit doth seld to grace aspire,
    My hapless hap doth roll the restless stone,
    Yet Phoebe fair disdained the heavens above
    To ‘joyu on earth her poor Endymion’s love.
    And shall I live on earth to be her thrall?
    And shall I live and serve her all in vain?
    And shall I kiss the steps that she lets fall?
    And shall I pray the gods to keep the pain
    From her that is so cruel still?
    No, no, on her work all your will.
    And let her feel the power of all your might,
    And let her have her most desire with speed,
    And let her pine away both day and night,
    And let moan and none lament her need;
    And let all those that shall her see,
    Despise her state and pity me.
    Let him have time to tear his curled hair,
    Let him have time against himself to rave,
    Let him have time of Time’s help to despair,
    Let him have time to live a loathed slave,
    Let him have time a beggar’s orts to crave,
    And time to see that one by alms doth live
    Disdain to him disdained scraps to gtive.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  4. * Spencer says:

    Dear Mr. Dunn & Miss TR,

    I have read with interest your dialogue and, as a devoted Stratfordian, feel compelled to put in my two cents.

    As to the Stratfordian point of view, I defer to TR’s excellent defense of the orthodox position. I would also point to the numerous contemporary references, by Ben Jonson, among others, who wrote of the “Sweet Swan of Avon” and the “Stratford Moniment”. William Basse explicitly states in his writings that Shakespeare died in 1616. And, posthumous though some of these references may be, I see no reason why we ought to reject them on that basis. Finally, there is the somewhat important point that when Shakespeare dies, the plays stop being written.

    Which brings me to Oxford.

    First and foremost, chronology. I do feel that you write the problem of 1604 off rather quickly. How do you explain the influences of the Gunpowder Plot and of the Sea Venture? Or the allusions to the death of Henry Garnet in 1606?

    Furthermore, you mention the fact that Shakespeare seems to have sprung onto the literary scene fully-formed. Not so. Almost none of his early works display the maturity and complexity of his later pieces. The Henry VI plays, the first histories to appear, rely heavily on clumsy dramatic machinery and manifest a strong influence from the tradition of chronicle plays. Or, consider Titus Andronicus, hardly to be thought of as on par with Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet, Othello, etc, but containing elements that would germinate into the more fully-formed tragedies. Or contrast the Comedy of Errors, which is essentially Plautine, with Twelfth Night or As You Like It. It’s also worth noting that most scholars consider Love’s Labours Lost was written no earlier than 1595, which puts it at around the same time as Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard II, and the Merchant of Venice.

    You also mention Hamlet. I see little reason why the Ur-Hamlet, the play mentioned in 1589, should be the poison in the ears of Stratfordians. This argument holds no water because it rests on the assumption that the play performed in 1589 is the same as the one written by Shakespeare and published in 1599. There is no definitive proof that this is the case. A title and a ghost do not a play make. Possibly, as Harold Bloom and others posit, it was written by Shakespeare, constituting an earlier draft of the 1599 Hamlet. Or perhaps it was a totally different play, written by someone else, that Shakespeare then used as inspiration. But I see no proof that the Ur-Hamlet is necessarily one and the same as the Hamlet of 1599.

    Finally, I offer the following quote from the extraordinary television series Homicide: Life on the Streets: “When you see a black and white horse, you call it a zebra.” I acknowledge that you’ve presented circumstantial evidence that support Oxford as possibly being the author. What I do not acknowledge is any direct evidence that Shakespeare was not the author of the plays. As William of Ockham said, “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity”.

    Very Sincerely,

    Spencer Weinreich

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
    • * Michael Dunn says:

      Dear Spencer,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree that the posthumous evidence for Shakespere of Stratford’s authorship of the Shakespeare canon is important and should not be dismissed. And obviously the title pages and the identity of name combined with the posthumous evidence constitute a prima facie case for the traditional attribution. But the authorship problem did not arise out of thin air, or out of the fantasies of snobs. It arose, not because Shakspere of Stratford’s life is poorly documented compared to an aristocrat’s (as TR suggests), but because, in fact, his life is abundantly well documented. We have over 70 documents springing directly from the Stratford man’s life and doings. We know of his tithe-buying, his baptism, marriage, death, grain-buying, money-lending, tax delinquency, neighbor-suing, his purchase of New Place and the Blackfriars gatehouse, and numerous other petty transactions. The problem is that none of these documents are even the least bit literary or theatrical. As Gertrude Stein said of Los Angeles, there is no “there” there.

      It is a straightforward case of damning absence. The other writers (both commoners and the few nobles) are not nearly so well documented (perhaps because they have not been subjected to the intense search we have expended on the bard for 400 years), and yet of these few fragments, consistently a goodly portion of them testify to their literary doings. It is reasonable to ask how a man can supposedly live in the thick of literary London during its golden age, be circulating his immortal sonnets “among his private friends,” have his plays “so delight Eliza and our James,” be referred to by his greatest rival as the “Soule of the Age,” generate some 70 personal documents that are still extant, and yet leave no literary correspondence (nor, in fact, correspondence of any kind), leave no record of education, leave no reciepts of having been paid to write, to have escaped notice at death as a writer, to have had no encomiums written by him to other writers (such as everyone else except noble poets did), to have had no encomiums written by other writers about him (such as everyone else did), to have no reference to him personally during his lifetime by himself or his family testifying to his literary profession, and….prepare yourself, for this one’s really bad….never taught his children to read and write. Yes, that’s right, Shakspere’s children were illiterate. (so were his parents for that matter, but never mind).

      Please consider also that most scholars agree that Shakespeare largely retired from active participation in publishing his plays around 1604 (the date of Oxford’s death), and also that this is the year the Stratford man retired in his prime to his hometown – a town which HAD JUST OUTLAWED THE PERFORMING OF PLAYS!

      When we also consider that 400 years of search have failed to turn up a single book owned, borrowed, or written in by Shakspere of Stratford – he whose reading must necessarily have been voluminous, well – credulity begins to be badly strained.

      And please remember this about the monument, the Folio, and the title pages. They are exactly what we should expect in a case of authorship disguise. They are dead easy to fake. What is not easy to fake is the personal contemporary literary evidence – the paper trail left scattered throughout the archives of the realm during the life of a living, breathing writer. If any of those records that we have for the other writers turned up for Shakspere, the whole question would go away. But they don’t exist. All that exists is the thin and easily faked props of the monument, the Folio and the title pages. As I said, important stuff, not to be dismissed out of hand. But in the unique and bizarre absence of a literary paper trail, very suspect stuff.

      Looking at the big picture, then, what we see is a well-documented life that has nothing of poetry, playwriting, or poetry in it (and which is utterly at odds with the evidence of an immensely erudite and well-traveled life found in the canon), in an age when authorship disguise by aristocrats was a documented reality. And yes, the authorship question did in fact exist from the start. It is clear from the Stationers Register that more than one writer assumed they could get away with putting Shakespeare’s name to stuff he didn’t write (and they were right: not a peep from the highly litigious Will of Stratford when this occurred, nor again when the sonnets were pirated and printed without his participation in 1609), and also that some people thought Drayton had written Romeo and Juliet.

      We all projected our love of the poet onto the image on the Stratford mugs, and we are to be forgiven for wanting to defend our beloved genius. It just so happens that the image is a false idol, because a necessary case of political subterfuge got passed down to posterity undisputed, and has been received wisdom ever since.

      But not for much longer, I think.

      Best regards,

      Michael Dunn

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  5. * Spencer says:

    Dear Mr. Dunn,

    Thank you, in turn, for your courteous response. A few points:

    First of all, you still do not address the issue of chronology. It seems to me a case of the mote in my eye and the beam in yours. We can quibble about documentation all we like but at the end of the day a large portion of the plays whose authorship we are contending do not appear until after your candidate is dead.

    Secondly, I return to the circumstantial evidence. What you present is an argument ad ignorantium. You take a lack of evidence and use it as proof. Just because we have not recovered any such documents does not mean they did not exist, and well-documented age though it was, it is a fact that the vast majority of documents from that era have not survived. As I said before, I see no conclusive evidence that Shakespeare did not write the plays, nor indeed any conclusive evidence that Oxford did.

    Thirdly, in reply to your discussion of the life of the author of the canon, our notion that an author’s works are a reflection of their life was not around in Shakespeare’s time. That idea became prevalent during the Romantic movement, and it is anachronistic to apply it to the Elizabethan age. Furthermore, I think your comments about the life of the man who wrote the canon skate pretty close to snobbery, to be perfectly honest. Genius is genius, regardless of class or resources. Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Benjamin Franklin, Alexandre Dumas, and hundreds of others came from poor backgrounds, with little or no formal schooling, but went on to become some of the great thinkers and writers of their, or indeed any, era.

    Fourthly, you contend that “Shakespeare largely retired from active participation in publishing his plays around 1604”. I’m not sure what scholars you refer to, because every scholar I’ve ever met or read shares the conclusion that Shakespeare apparently never had any interest whatsoever in the publishing of his plays.

    Finally, as to your last sentence, I’m inclined to doubt it.

    Very Sincerely,

    Spencer Weinreich

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
    • * Michael Dunn says:

      Dear Mr. Weinreich,

      I am enjoying this very reasonable exchange, for which thanks again. To address your points, in order:

      1). You state: “We can quibble about documentation all we like but at the end of the day a large portion of the plays whose authorship we are contending do not appear until after your candidate is dead.”

      The same, of course, is true of your candidate. Nearly half the canon appears for the first time in 1623, seven years after Will Shakspere of Stratford died. Chronology is a slippery issue when it comes to this discussion. You speak as if there was an official chronology of the Shakespeare plays. There is not – scholars differ widely in attempting one. And the process involves taking the plays and attempting to shoehorn them into the presumed arc of the Stratford man’s life.

      For example, The Riverside Shakespeare, a textbook used in many classrooms, dates eleven plays to after 1604 (the year of Oxford’s death): King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, Henry VIII, and The Two Noble Kinsmen. On the other hand, some orthodox scholars dare to speculate that Shakespeare stopped writing in 1604. Alfred Harbage’s Pelican/Viking editions of the plays (1977), provides a range of dates for the likely composition of each play. Only King Henry VIII and The Tempest are posited as post-1604. And as Mark Anderson points out in “Shakespeare By Another Name,” (Gotham Books, New York, 2005, the 19th century German literary historian, Karl Elze dated both these plays to the period 1603-04, reasoning that Henry VII was originally written to celebrate the 70th birthday that Elizabeth never lived to see, while The Tempest, Elze stated, “would at latest fall to the year 1604.”

      The only firm way of fixing a date for the composition of a play is a first record of performance or publishing. Anderson goes on to point out that, starting in 1593 with the appearance of “Venus and Adonis,” new Shakespeare works appeared in print on average, twice a year. Then, in 1604, Shakespeare fell silent. Five years later, during the year when Oxford’s widow, Elizabeth Trentham, was moving out of the home they had occupied, four previously unpublished Shakespeare works appeared (Pericles, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida, and the Sonnets). Then in 1622, we get Othello, followed the next year by the First Folio, in which eighteen previously unreleased plays first saw the light of day.

      Let me leap ahead somewhat to address your fourth point: the idea that scholars agree that Shakespeare took no interest whatever in the publishing of his plays. I beg to differ: the early publishing history stands in contrast. The pre-1604 publishing history may be roughly divided into two categories: bad quartos – shoddy reconstructions from actors’ memories, or otherwise inferior pirated versions; and “good quartos” such as the second edition of “Hamlet” (1604), or the 1599 second edition of “Romeo and Juliet,” or the third edition of “Richard III” (1602), all of which boast that they are “newly corrected, augmented, and emended,” or “newly augmented,” or (with Hamlet) “newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much again as it was, according to the true and perfect copy.”

      After 1604 the “newly correct(ing)” and augmenting stops. The Shakespeare operation appears to have shut down.

      So it is clear that there was authorial involvement in the publishing process. The poet did care about the publishing, and he saw to it that his works were presented correctly. That is, until 1604, when his involvement mysteriously ends.

      Let us address the Macbeth, Henry VIII, and Tempest questions, as these are the most frequently cited by those who would use Oxford’s 1604 death to rule out his authorship. The drunken porter in “Macbeth” is said to refer to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in his lines about “an equivocator,” which was a defense used by Father Henry Garnett, one of the accused, “equivoation” being a Catholic policy which absolved the faithful of wrong-doing if they chose to deceive Protestants by use of sophisticated evasions when being interrogated. But (again, my thanks to Anderson) equivocation was hardly new in 1605. In 1583, Edward de Vere’s father-in-law, the powerful Lord Burghley, wrote a tract on the question. A 1595 trial of English Catholic martyr Robert Southwell raised the issue in his defense. There is nothing in “Macbeth” that makes an allusion that can be tied specifically to the Gunpowder Plot.

      As to Henry VIII: in 1613 the Globe Theater burnt down during a performance of the play, which was referred to at that time in extant letters as being “new.” It is, of course, quite possible that the play was simply new to the public at that time (as 18 previously unheard-of plays in the Folio would have been “new” had they been performed then also). But then again, fifty years later, we have Samuel Pepys referring in his famous diary to Henry VIII as being “new.” So the letters can hardly be taken as conclusive. And it is worth noting that before Oxford’s authorship was put forward, many prominent Shakespeare scholars placed Henry VIII. Distinguished scholars Samuel Johnson, Lewis Theobald, George Steevens, Edmund Malone, and James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips all found it very unlikely that a fervently pro-Tudor plays would have been composed during the reign of King James, who never forgave the Tudors for the beheading of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots. Edmund Malone wrote:

      “It is more likely that Shakespeare should have written a play, the chief subject of which is the discrace of Queen Catharine, the aggrandizement of Anne Boleyn, and the birth of her daugher (Elizabeth) in the lifetime of that daughter, than after her death: at a time when the subject must have been highly pleasing at court, rather than at a period when it must have been less interesting.”

      Let us address the most frequently cited “Oxford-killer”: The Tempest, and your mention of the 1610 voyage of The Sea Venture, which is assumed to be a source for the play. The Strachey Letter describing the wreck of the Sea Venture uses language markedly similar to passages in the Tempest. However (as one may see at more leisure and in more depth at this link: there were multiple other sources extant in 1604 that used quite similar language, including many passages found elsewhere in Shakespeare. Orthodox scholars are now backing away from The Sea Venture as an indisutable post-1604 reference. In 1978, the literary scholar Kenneth Muir notes (in his work “The Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays”:

      “The extent of verbal echoes of the Bermuda pamphlets has, I think been exaggerated. There is hardly a shipwreck in history or fiction which does not mention splitting, in which the ship is not lightened of its cargo, in which the passengers do not give themselves up for list, in which the north winds are not sharp, and in which no one gets to shore by clinging to wreckage.”

      In addition, recent scholarship has pointed out that the Strachey Letter, assumed to have been composed in 1610, could not in fact have made it to England before the first performance of The Tempest, and that Strachey was a noted plagiarist whose work was not published until 1626, in which case he may have been copying from The Tempest rather than the other way round.

      2) Addressing your point that the lack of documentation does not prove that Shakspere of Stratford is not the author. You state:

      “What you present is an argument ad ignorantium. You take a lack of evidence and use it as proof. Just because we have not recovered any such documents does not mean they did not exist, and well-documented age though it was, it is a fact that the vast majority of documents from that era have not survived. As I said before, I see no conclusive evidence that Shakespeare did not write the plays, nor indeed any conclusive evidence that Oxford did.”

      You are correct in this: just because 400 years of the most intensive battery of research ever focused upon a single human being has not turned up any personal documents from his lifetime that reference his supposed literary activity does not mean that such records do not exist. But it is at this point a reasonable inference, especially considering that this massive effort has in fact turned up a wealth of documents on Will Shakspere: again, seventy documents on grain-dealing, money-lending, tithe-buying, etc. While the unique and bizarre absence of a literary paper trail does not, it is true, in and of itself conclusively prove that Shakspere could not have written the plays, it certainly gives us compelling grounds for reasonable doubt when we consider that so many other writers (far less well-researched) have left us plentiful documentation that refers to their literary activities. Statistically, however, it seems a near impossibility that only non-literary documents should have survived in such a well-documented life.

      What we do not have, and what would blow the authorship question sky-high in a flash, would be even a smidgen of the personal, contemporary, literary evidence that we have in spades for Jonson, Middleton, Fletcher, Beaumont, Marlowe, Kyd, Lily, etc. Just a letter from WS in which he refers to his work (such as we have for Jonson) would end the question at once. But we have no such letter. In fact we have nothing in his hand whatsoever expect a collection of very disparate, highly dubious, and nearly illegible signatures on legal documents, none of which is related to plays, poetry, or publishing.

      3) You state that literature as a reflection of a biography did not come into vogue until the Romantic era. It would be more true to state that writers began consciously to proclaim the viability of such an approach as an overt literary style at that time, rather than that all previous poets and playwrights mysteriously refused in their work to access their life-experience, including places they had traveled, prominent persons they had known, traumatic incidents in their lives, and underlying emotional themes.

      Let us simply take the strange case of “All’s Well that Ends Well” – a weird and nearly unplayable piece that no one bothered to stage until the 18th century. It tells us of an arrogant young earl who is a ward of the crown, who is forced against his will to marry beneath his station a girl who grew up in his household, whereupon he flees to the continent, declaring that he will not consummate the marriage, and that if the girl becomes pregnant it won’t be by him. Then a “bed trick” is practiced upon him wherein he unknowingly sleeps with the girl, resulting in a child.

      Are we to find it merely an utterly bizarre coincidence that Edward de Vere was an arrogant young ward of the crown, who was pressured to marry Anne Cecil, whose house he grew up in after the death of his father, and that he left for Europe, but not before telling the Queen that if Anne became pregnant it wouldn’t be by him. And that an Oxford family legend from a generation later states that Anne’s father, Lord Burghley, arranged for a bed trick so that the marriage would be consummated, resulting in a child?

      This is merely one of hundreds of highly specific parallels in the canon with the life of Oxford. If writers refused to be biographical at that time, then what would be the reason that the glove-maker’s son from Stratford would be so obsessed with details from the life of Edward de Vere?

      And lastly, you state:

      “Furthermore, I think your comments about the life of the man who wrote the canon skate pretty close to snobbery, to be perfectly honest. Genius is genius, regardless of class or resources. Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Benjamin Franklin, Alexandre Dumas, and hundreds of others came from poor backgrounds, with little or no formal schooling, but went on to become some of the great thinkers and writers of their, or indeed any, era.”

      Yes, genius is genius, I grant it gladly. I never stated (nor do most Oxfordians that I know of) that genius cannot rise from humble origins to great heights. It is not reasonable, however, to expect that it can do so in a well-documented age, and leave no trace of the process. Stratfordians look at the abundance of legal knowledge and postulate that he served as a law clerk, but there is no record of it (law clerks left signatures which are abundantly extant). They look at his knowledge of French and Italian and speculate that he traveled, or that he was tutored in an aristocratic household, but there is no record of it. They look at the hundreds of source books cited by scholars and speculate that he had access to a nobleman’s library, but there is no record of it. They look at his vast knowledge and speculate that he studied at a university, but there is no record of it. I could go on at length.

      Just take middle-class lad Ben Jonson. We know he rose from humble origins, and we know how: he thanks his mentor in his writings.

      All Stratfordians can do is wishfully speculate, because their theory is based on posthumous and easily faked pillars (the monument, the Folio, and the title pages) and they are woefully lacking in the personal literary paper trail left by every other writer of note, while an embarrassing wealth of highly detailed circumstantial evidence points in the direction of someone else.

      It is sadly true that at this point Oxfordians still lack the “smoking gun.” But so do Stratfordians. However, Oxford would undoubtedly be convicted on the authorship in a court of law, where circumstantial evidence that reaches so high convicts people every day.

      But Oxfordians do have items that come very close to the smoking gun, and as more research is focused upon Edward de Vere, it is reasonable to expect that more will be found. Already, authorship studies programs have been instituted at universities in the UK, and in the States. Meantime, there is, for one example, the only extant manuscript copy in the world of any Shakespeare work. The poem “When that thine eye hath chose the dame” appeared in print in 1599 in “The Passionate Pilgrim by W. Shakespeare” But it appears in manuscript form in the “commonplace book” of Anne Cornwallis, which contains her transcription of works by such noted writers as Sir Phillip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Sir Edward Dyer. Anne Cornwallis was the daughter of William Cornwallis, a family friend of Edward de Vere, who in 1589 moved his family into the house that served as Oxford’s home and literary salon in the 1580s. The commonplace book that Anne inscribed now rests in the vaults of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

      The gold lettering on the spine of the book reads “MSS. POEMS BY VERE EARL OF OXFORD &C.”

      Thanks for your patience. I look forward to your response.

      Michael Dunn

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  6. * Spencer says:

    Dear Mr. Dunn,

    I find myself returning to Ockham’s Razor. Consider, you ask me to believe that a nobleman wrote the plays under a pseudonym. The only extant work we know to be from this nobleman’s pen is of a style far different from that of the author of the canon. This nobleman dies, but, despite a number of references that would indicate their composition after said death, plays that he wrote while alive appear after his death. Furthermore, after both the nobleman and his “front-man” are dead, it is somehow contrived to fake a will, a funeral monument, and an entire edition of the plays. And, in the entire course of this scheme, no contemporary accounts choose to expose on the “true” author of the canon.

    Can you really defend such a roundabout construct as more plausible than the simple explanation that Shakespeare wrote the plays which bear his name? Furthermore, I’m not sure I understand your continued contention that there are no contemporary references to Shakespeare as a writer. Robert Greene’s verbal vitriol, for one, the references brought up by TR for another (including a case in which De Vere and Shakespeare appear, separately, on the same list). Also, what about the many mentions on the Stationer’s Register?

    Which brings me to another point. I have no doubt that your response would be that the plays mentioned on the Stationer’s Register bear Shakespeare’s name as De Vere’s pseudonym. But, if you do so contend, than you have built a very convenient positive feedback loop for yourself.

    The perfect example is Freud. Freud’s theory of the Oedipus Complex has come under criticism for the fact that he structured it not as a theory, but as a fact. He said everyone has an Oedipus Complex. If someone said they didn’t, the Freudian reply is that they are merely repressing it. Hey presto, there’s no way out. So what you’ve done is preclude rational argument, at least in this particular case, by assuming to be already true that which you are positing as true.

    As to the Folio, which makes more sense, that it was, as it claims to be, a posthumous publication of Shakespeare’s works, or that, almost twenty years after Oxford’s death and seven after Shakespeare’s, the publishers were carrying on the charade? Why would they?

    I look forward to your response,

    Spencer Weinreich

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  7. * Michael Dunn says:

    Dear Mr. Weinreich,

    Thanks for your response. But I begin to wonder if we are actually having a conversation. You don’t seem to be responding to my answers to your questions. I have provided evidence that removes the chronology arguments against Oxford’s authorship. You do not respond to this evidence, but merely reiterate your position that the play chronology rules out Oxford’s authorship, which I believe I have shown that it does not.

    As to the putative stylistic difference between Shakespeare and works under Oxford’s name, I provided side by side comparison and invited you to tell me which lines are Oxford’s and which are Shakespeare’s. Again, no comment from you, but merely a reiteration of your position, as if I had not responded.

    This is a bit disconcerting. Though quite convinced of the validity of my position, I remain open to seeing contradictory evidence, since I sincerely want to know more about the true poet, whoever he was. I hope your mind is similarly open.

    Nevertheless, I will respond to your latest post, but will do so in the hope that you will actually address my answers, rather than act as if I had not given them.

    The question of why the decision was made to preserve a temporary political disguise and pass it down to posterity is a valid and fascinating one. As I mentioned earlier, we have documentary indication that the Tudor regime sponsored a “Policy of Plays” designed to manipulate public opinion. Oxford’s associate, the wag and wit Thomas Nashe, in his pamphlet “Pierce Penniless,
    His Supplication to the Devil” refers specifically to this policy ( as follows:

    “There is a certain waste of the people for whom there is no use but war; and these men must have some employment still to cut them off; Nam si foras hostem non habent, domi invenient.1 If they have no service abroad, they will make mutinies at home. Or if the affairs of state be such as cannot exhale all these corrupt excrements, it is very expedient they have some light toys to busy their heads withal, cast before them as bones to gnaw upon, which may keep them from having leisure to intermeddle with higher matters.

    To this effect, the policy of plays is very necessary, howsoever some shallow-brained censurers (not the deepest searchers into the secrets of government) mightily oppugn them. For whereas the afternoon being the idlest time of the day, wherein men that are their own masters (as gentlemen of the court, the Inns of the Court,2 and the number of captains and soldiers about London) do wholly bestow themselves upon pleasure, and that pleasure they divide (how virtuously, it skills3 not) either into gaming, following of harlots, drinking, or seeing a play; is it not then better (since of four extremes all the world cannot keep them but they will choose one) that they should betake them to the least, which is plays? Nay, what if I prove plays to be no extreme, but a rare exercise of virtue? First, for the subject of them, (for the most part) it is borrowed out of our English chronicles, wherein our forefathers’ valiant acts (that have lain long buried in rusty brass and worm-eaten books) are revived, and they themselves raised from the grave of oblivion, and brought to plead their aged honors in open presence; than which, what can be a sharper reproof to these degenerate effeminate days of ours?”

    So here we have the rather rash Nashe (who would later be imprisoned for a scandalously seditious play – lost to history – called “The Isle of Dogs”, which so infuriated the regime that they closed all the theaters in retaliation), imprudently revealing that among the “deeper secrets of government” is a policy to manipulate the idle classes through history plays.

    We do not have direct documentary evidence of Oxford’s role in directing this project, but there are some very suggestive facts: he writes to Lord Burghley of being hindered in “mine office” – a service he provides to the Queen, but the public records do not show what that service was. In June of 1586, just as the Privy Council was issuing strict new censorship guidelines for literary activity, a munificent annual allowance was granted by the tight-fisted Elizabeth to Edward de Vere, of a thousand pounds per year: secretly paid with no accounting required for how he spent it. As war with Spain was threatening, and the whole country, her regime, and her very life was in peril, it is reasonable to speculate that the Queen would not have spend such a vast sum frivolously. Oxford is cited in numerous contemporary documents as the leading poet and playwright of the age, the “best for comedy” at the Queen’s court, “the first among noblemen poets…if their doings could be made known.”

    So the stakes in this disguise are quite high. And since the poet was none too fond of the Queen’s strings on him (as in the sonnet that speaks of the pain of “art made tongue-tied by authoritie”), he used his artistic license to send up some of the most powerful people in England: it is commonly thought by even orthodox scholars that Polonius in “Hamlet” is a send-up of Lord Burghley, though they do not explain how a glover’s son from Stratford could expect to get away with the sort of thing that landed Nashe in jail, or cost Thomas Stubbs one of his hands. But if the playwright was Burghley’s son-in-law, well, there you go.

    Though Oxford had the tact to withhold printing of “Hamlet” until after Burghley’s death, the old man’s son, Robert Cecil, who quickly seized the reins of power, would have been equally anxious to protect the family name (it didn’t help that the deformed Robert Cecil himself was likely sent up as the wicked crookbacked Richard III).

    By the time of the Folio, however, Oxford and Cecil are both dead, so why, as you reasonably ask, need the disguise continue?

    Now we must deal with the “incomparable paire of brethren” who sponsored the First Folio: the earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, both of whom were suitors to Oxford’s daughters, with one of them succeeding. Thus the publishing of the First Folio was a family affair controlled by the “grand possessors” (mentioned in the preface to the 1609 edition of “Troilus and Cressida”) who would have had family access to Oxford’s private papers.

    It is crucial here to realize the political climate in the early 1620’s. England was aflame with controversy over the proposed marriage of King James’ son Henry to Spanish Infanta, which many feared would mean a return of Catholicisism, an episode known as “The Spanish Marriage Crisis.” Leading the popular resistance to this proposed match were two prominent noblemen: Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (famous as Shakespeare’s supposed patron), and Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, the son of Edward de Vere. The success of the Spanish Marriage would have been a threat to everything these two earls stood for: the preservation of the Anglican Reformation, and the survival of the nobles who supported the Tudor regime that begat that reformation. The Shakespeare canon represents, on one level, a masterly defense and celebration of the Tudor regime, and of the Anglican establishment. Yet at that point, eighteen of the plays remained unpublished and unperformed. If the Spanish Marriage were to succeed, the last chance to immortalize Edward de Vere’s legacy would be gone: the plays would never see the light of day with a Catholic queen as consort.

    And the plays could be used as a popular weapon to rally public opinion against the proposed match, reminding the public of the glories of Elizabeth’s reign, and of the triumph over Catholic oppression.

    Then, too, for Pembroke and Montgomery to consider, there was the rising tide of Puritanism to contend with, a balancing act that Elizabeth was adroit at, and at which the Stuart regime was to prove fatally clumsy, costing King Charles his head, and plunging England into civil war some years later. A Puritan triumph would mean even less opportunity for the ribald, sex-soaked, Shakespeare canon to be passed down to posterity.

    Thus the evidence that the Folio was a rush job, hurried into print to serve a political purpose. Given the peril in which the Southampton and the 18th earl of Oxford found themselves, it would have been the height of folly to reveal the true authorship of the canon, and expose to public view the court secrets of the Tudor regime – secrets which were meant to be veiled behind a phony author.

    So the stand-in had to be immortalized, and immortalized well, if the legacy was to survive at all. And really it was probably not very hard. A book, a monument, and an epitaph for the curious.

    By the way, in the list you cite that mentions Shakespeare and Oxford separately, we have two possibilities: either the compiler of the list did not know of the pen name arrangement, and listed them separate names innocently (and by the way, we have modern instances of authors who wrote under separate names being listed as if they were different people), or the compiler knew of the disguise, and naturally thought it imprudent to publicly expose a state secret, and embarrass one of the highest ranking noblemen in the realm.

    As to Robert Greene’s “verbal vitriol” that is a two-edged sword for Stratfordians. In context of the whole work (“Green’s Groatsworth of Wit”) Greene is warning fellow writers against an “upstart Crowe, beautified with our feathers.” A crowe is an Aesopian reference, meaning a plagiarist, who feathers his nest with the works of others. It is the portrait of a money-grubbing play-broker who takes advantage of the work of university-trained writers, and leaves them to starve, taking credit for their work. (I recommend Diana Price’s groundbreaking work, “Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography”).

    And yes, if we are positing a state-sponsored “policy of plays” in which the regime is hiding its hand, then the official Stationers Register listings of the plays under the pen name are easily understood. And please recall that the SR lists plays under the WS name that we know were not written by the poet. It is reasonable to speculate that this was because it was an open secret among the writers that the popular WS brand-name was just a front, and that the real writer could not stand up to protest if his name was affixed to something he didn’t write, even though the name would guarantee a good seller. Shakespere of Stratford however, as we know, never lost an opportunity to sue for his money, so his silence on this score (as with his silence on the pirating of the sonnets) is telling.

    As to your contention that I employ Freudian circular reasoning, I must point out that this is actually a fatal tendency of orthodox defenders, one which you yourself have already indulged in. You stated that scholars agree that Shakespeare took no interest in the publishing of his plays. It would be more accurage to state that the biographical records of the man from Stratford do not indicate any interest in the publishing of the plays and poems that appeared under the name William Shake-speare. After all, he retired to Stratford in 1604, and showed no interest when the intensely private and personal sonnets were pirated in 1609, nor when the small spate of plays were issued at that same time without his profit or participation. But just try to avoid paying him back a loan of twenty shillings! He’d be all over you in small claims court, and if you were broke, he’d go after the man who co-signed. That’s our Will, all right. (an attitude at marked contrast to the blithely spendthrift tone of the author).

    If I state that the Stationers Register is suspect, I do so on documentary grounds. That is the primary difference between our positions. The Oxfordian links to the canon are documented but circumstantial. The Stratfordian links to the canon are posthumous and impersonal, with the life of the writer (reflected in the hundreds of utterly fantasized biographies) are, as Mark Twain put it, a “brontosaur” made up of a handful of slim bones and a few tons of plaster of Paris to fill in the massive gaps.

    That’s all for now. I’d be grateful if you’d care to respond to the actual details of the evidence I’ve presented.

    Best wishes,

    Michael Dunn

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  8. * Spencer says:

    Dear Mr. Dunn,

    I acknowledge that I have not been able to answer several of your points. I will freely admit that I have not made any sort of detailed study into the authorship question. I also admit that, having not made a study of it, I cannot readily reply to many of your more detailed points. I will say that I share the same concerns for your treatment of my points as you hold for mine. You raised issues, for instance, about Shakespeare’s development as a writer. I addressed them, with no response from you. But I realize that a round of finger-pointing is unproductive at best.

    Where I believe we run into problems is that there are certain issues of fact on which we have no consensus. The chronology for instance. As you said, dating the composition of the plays is a tricky and uncertain business. But, as you also said, “The only firm way of fixing a date for the composition of a play is a first record of performance or publishing.” And almost every scholarly chronology I’ve come across does not end at 1604. I know that you disagree, but I remain unconvinced. And because we cannot agree on our set of facts, I fear for the grounds on which a dialogue can continue.

    Moreover, my fundamental objection remains. Given the two explanations, the Oxfordian point of view seems to me too roundabout, too far-fetched, too needlessly complicated. I regret being unable to respond to your more detailed points, but, as I say, this is not my area of expertise. I can only say that, so far as I can tell, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Given the Byzantine explanations for every twist and turn, the numerous entities that the Oxfordian view has to bring into play, the number of assumptions that it makes, and so on, it just doesn’t hold water for me. It just doesn’t make sense.

    In any case, I have certainly enjoyed the dialogue, and I look forward to your response,

    Spencer Weinreich

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
    • * Michael Dunn says:

      Dear Mr. Weinreich,

      Thanks for your courteous reply. I sympathize with your position. TR started this blog by ridiculing an issue that, like most of us, she was not educated in. Academics cannot afford, as a matter of professional survival, to be seen taking the authorship issue seriously, so they dismiss it airily out of hand without actually studying it (not saying that TR is an academic). Hence they find themselves caught by surprise when confronted with all these uncomfortable facts that they were never taught, and feel they can’t really be bothered to study it now, because after all, it’s all poppycock, right?

      It does tend to remind one of a brontosaurus glancing idly up at that meteor streaking across the sky, and going back to chewing on treetops.

      But that worm is turning: hundreds of degreed academics have signed the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt ( and respected theater professionals such as Sir Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Brannagh have come out in favor of Edward de Vere.

      I find that Occam’s Razor cuts both ways here: if all the noted writers in a given era leave plentiful paper trails that document their profession, but the most famous one did not, then the simplest explanation is that he wasn’t the writer. It is the Stratfordian position that gets needlessly complicated here.

      I have seen Stratfordians scramble helplessly for rational explanations for the many gaping holes in this story. Logically, a separate explanation is needed for each variety of record that Shakspere failed to leave.

      No record of education? Defenders will say, well, he must have attended the Stratford Grammar School, mustn’t he? (I will grant the likelihood, but the records aren’t there).

      No record of being paid to write? Defenders will say, well, it was a poorly documented era, what do you expect? (but so many other writers left receipts, why not he? And in fact, it was a well-documented era, with plentiful surviving records)

      No record of correspondence touching on literary matters? Well, he was too busy writing plays to bother writing letters, they’ll tell you. (Yes, and they are plays full of highly literate characters who are always writing letters). And don’t tell us he couldn’t write at all, they’ll say, as the Stratford Birthplace Trust assures us that have “many” letters. Actually they have one, and it was written by a neighbor to WS asking for a loan, but was apparently never sent, as it was found in the neighbor’s attic a century later.

      No notice at death as a writer? Well, he’d been off the scene for a bit, they’ll say, or he was modest and retiring and people just forgot about him. Right: the “soule of the age, the delight, the applause, the wonder of our stage.” Every other writer of note was the subject of numerous memorial verses on the occasion of their death….with one exception.

      Didn’t bother to have his own children taught to read? Well, even Stratfordians tend to be stumped at that one, though some will tell you that girls weren’t taught to read anyway. Right. The man writes a canon filled with highly literate, letter-writing, witty, intelligent heroines like Beatrice, Rosaline, Miranda, etc., but doesn’t bother to have his own children taught their letters. As a father-daughter relationship, Prospero and Miranda it ain’t.

      For example, TR offered that the reason Shakspere of Stratford didn’t leave the paper trails left by the others is that his personal papers are those of a man of the theater, who played a “profound role” onstage and off in providing for that theater, and didn’t hang out with literati. But his onstage role is very dubious: there are voluminous extant records that document the actors of the era: he is nowhere to be found among them. But then we have the odd fact of the posthumous reference from Jonson, and in the Folio, naming him as a prominent player. Here again, the posthumous record of the Folio (easily faked) is at odds with the documents scattered throughout the archives of the realm (not easily faked).

      And the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and King’s Men records that list him as a principal shareholder in the companies list him in the place where the man who was financially responsible would be listed – not as a playwright, or as an actor. The personal and contemporary documents on Shakspere of Stratford are very consistent: he is a smart businessman, looking after his interests very vigilantly, and leaving numerous records of those transactions. If he were busy writing the great and prolific Shake-speare canon, he would have left a paper trail of that activity. Instead, we have him, during the busy 1604 court season, when the King’s Men were having their golden chance to impress the new monarch, off in Stratford buying grain. It’s alternately sad and amusing to watch biographers try to fit the round peg of his records into the square hole of the authorship.

      As to your point regarding the playwright’s development, it is true that there are early plays that are more awkward, and later ones far more sophisticated. But even the earliest ones show a mastery of rhetoric, and a sophistication of literary device, that is hard to square with someone newly arrived in London from a largely bookless town in the provinces. Yes, you will say, he could have been studying, he could have been traveling, he could have been hanging out at the house of a nobleman with a big library. To be sure, he could have. The problem is that his whole writerly biography is made up of “could haves” because all his personal documents are those of a businessman. His first record in London is not that of a poet, it’s that of a moneylender.

      What is notable here, in regard to your point about development, is that there is a total absence of juvenilia. It is likely that the poems that have come down to us under Oxford’s name are just that, the missing Shakespeare juvenilia: early teenage attempts, song lyrics, and one of the earliest experiments with the sonnet form that would later come to be called Shakespearean (Google “love thy choice”). It is even possible that the Shakespeare source “Romeus and Juliet” by an otherwise unheard of person named Arthur Brooke is a teenaged effort by the necessarily disguised aristocrat who would later revise the work into the great romantic classic.

      Stratfordians tend to find Oxford-champions rather tiresome, because we are always energetically bringing up these annoying facts about an issue that they regard as non-existent, and have not bothered to study. But it’s truly a very rewarding subject. As a former Stratfordian myself, I can tell you that the real life, the real human being, behind the works is one of history’s most poignant, fascinating, and compelling figures. As his story becomes known, it will greatly enrich global appreciation of the works, and will bring what had been a bland cipher to vivid life.

      Readers will find many helpful sources, including an online debate, at


      Michael Dunn

      | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
      • * Michael Dunn says:

        Dear Mr. Weinreich,

        You may find the following link helpful. It is brief and pithy. Professor Stanley Wells, Chairman of the Stratford Birthplace Trust, offers objections to statements in the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt (, and is answered by a representative from the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, which sponsored the Declaration:


        Posted 9 years, 4 months ago
  9. * Michael Dunn says:

    For those who still may be interested, I offer below a fairly complete list of the reasons that rational, non-snobbish, non-conspiracy-theorist, well-educated people are convinced that “Shakespeare” was a pen name for someone other than the man from Stratford. At the very least, it is reasonable to ask that the subject be regarded as one worthy of study.

    I acknowledge independent scholar Robert Brazil for compiling this list.

    Thanks to Ms. TR for sponsoring this little debate.

    Michael Dunn
    1. There has never been found any authentic writing of any sort by
    William Shaksper of Stratford beyond 6 shaky signatures found affixed to
    legal documents. Each of these differs from the others and they are all
    from the end phase of his life: 1612-1616. Three of these signatures are
    on his will, one is on a deposition in a breach-of-promise case, and two
    are on real-estate documents. None are related to plays, poetry, or

    2. No books have emerged that bear his signature, bookplate, or any other
    such identifier. His children inherited no books, not even a family
    Bible. [There are some forged WS signatures that were added to old books
    in the 18th century, but these have all proved to be fakes.] In
    Shaksper’s Last Will, no books, papers, or unpublished MSS are mentioned.
    A separate inventory, in which such items might have been specified, does
    not exist. As far as we know, Shaksper did not have a private library of
    any sort.

    3. Shaksper’s parents were illiterate. His daughters remained illiterate
    and uneducated. Judith Shaksper affixed a mark instead of a signature.
    The Shakespeare plays abound with intelligent educated female characters
    who read, discuss philosophy, and are in every way literate. In a
    household where erudition and wit would have erupted daily, how could
    Shakespeare’s daughters remained uneducated and uninfluenced?

    4. There is no record of education for William Shaksper, either
    elementary or higher. His name does not appear in any College
    matriculation rolls. How he educated himself, if he did, is a mystery.
    The profound learning and familiarity with French, Italian, Latin, and
    even Greek that emerges in the Shakespeare plays had to come from

    5. There is nothing to suggest he was a writer in the accounts of
    contemporary Stratford-on-Avon. The men of Stratford knew William
    Shaksper only as a grain dealer and property owner. Contemporary writers,
    historians and poets, writing about famous people and places in
    Warwickshire, do not mention William Shaksper or Shakespeare.

    6. The link in Shaksper’s will, to Hemynge, Burbage, and Condell of the
    King’s Men, is a visible interpolation, an after-the-fact addition. While
    the interpolation may be authentic, it only confirms Shaksper’s named
    connection to these men in a shareholding document. Shaksper’s will
    contains nothing about shares in the Globe or Blackfriars theaters, and
    his heirs were not involved in the theater, nor did they ever receive any
    payments, nor did they seek any. In fact, Shaksper had dropped out of the
    Blackfriars partnership early on. He is also conjectured to have dropped
    out of the Globe partnership after it burned down in 1613, because his
    name was not among the new investors and shareholders.

    7. All of the contemporary allusions to Shakespeare the writer are
    curiously non-specific and lack personal identifiers. These printed
    passages in no way refer to the man from Stratford. It was not until
    1623, seven years after Shaksper’s death, that the Stratford man was
    first loosely identified as the dramatist, in the First Folio of
    Shakespeare’s plays.

    8. There are but three or four references to a Will Shakespeare connected
    with the Chamberlain’s Men and the King’s Men, and they are limited to a
    brief period of 1598 to 1603. However, there is not a single reliable
    eyewitness report, anecdote, story or remembrance of Shakespeare as an
    actor on stage, either during his lifetime or afterwards. There are
    numerous eyewitness accounts that survive about Edward Alleyn, Tarleton,
    and dozens of Elizabeth actors. Nothing is said of William Shakespeare,
    though in the modern popular myth the first thing said about him is that
    he was an actor. We don’t know what Shaksper’s actual role was in the
    theater, outside of collecting and dispersing money and, in one case, red
    cloth. It appears that this Shaksper was acting as an agent or go-between
    for the troupe. There are no records of Shaksper being paid for writing
    or delivering plays, though such records do exist for other playwrights
    and rewrite men of the era. Several key instances have been misstated.
    Stratford defenders say that the cast lists for Ben Jonson’s Every man in
    his Humour 1598, show that Shakespeare acted in that play. But the cast
    list doesn’t appear in the 1598 quarto, only in the 1616 Collected Workes
    of Jonson. The same is true for the Sejanus 1603 references; they date
    from 1616. Jonson never identified William Shaksper or Shakespeare until
    Shaksper-of-Stratford was dead.

    9. There were no eulogies to Shakespeare published in 1616 when Shaksper
    died. His passing was a non-event, while Philip Sidney had been given a
    funeral of near-Royal proportions. Eulogies to the author “Shakespeare”
    appeared in the First Folio of 1623.

    10. Shaksper of Stratford was involved in numerous petty lawsuits and
    small claims court proceedings that indicate an attachment to money, of
    any amount, which is antithetical to the point of view of the author of
    the Shakespeare plays and poems.

    11. When Shaksper died in 1616, there were at least 19 Shakespeare plays that
    had never been published. Othello appeared in quarto alone in 1622. The
    18 other plays appeared in print for the first time in the Folio of 1623.
    Many of these plays were not even performed in the era in which they were
    allegedly written. If Shaksper wrote for money, why would he not exploit
    the potential market value of his “back catalog”?

    12. Shakespeare is claimed to have written for the Chamberlain’s Men and
    then the King’s Men. But of the 37 standard dramas in the canon, 15 plays
    have no reliable link nor recorded performances by the Chamberlain’s Men
    or King’s Men.

    13. When the Sonnets were published in 1609, Shaksper of Stratford was
    alive. He took no action to prevent or recall this publication, and as
    far as we know, he received no compensation. The introductory epistle
    implies that the author of the Sonnets was dead. The naughty eroticism
    and personal revelations of the Sonnets do not match Shaksper’s known
    lifestyle. Assuming that the sonnets are not simply abstract exercises –
    but are the closest thing we have to the author’s mental notes – it is
    unlikely that a living author would permit such a private diary of secret
    thoughts to be issued publicly.

    14. Shaksper’s rustic Warwickshire lifestyle is ridiculed in the plays.
    There are only scant references to small farm animals. The numerous
    references to horses highlight equestrian sports and warfare as opposed
    to horses of everyday commerce. Many birds are noted, but from the point
    of view of an aristocratic birder, and there are descriptions of hawks
    and other animals more familiar to the nobility.

    15. There is no indication that Shaksper left Stratford for London prior
    to 1585. His wife gave birth to twins that year, and while he may have
    left in a hurry, all evidence is that he had been “down on the farm” from
    1564 to 1585. His sojourn in London after 1585 is mostly conjectural. But
    allusions and topical references in many of the Shakespeare plays clearly
    appear to refer to Court intrigues and personalities in the 1576 to 1585
    time period, and if so, there is no way Shaksper could have known about
    these matters first hand. Moreover, a significant number of Shakespeare
    plays are apparently “adapted” or rewritten from “old repertory plays”
    that predate Shaksper’s conjectural period of writing. So much of what we
    consider “Shakespeare” is resident in the older versions of the plays
    that one has to consider Shaksper a shameless plagiarist (many do) or
    admit that the real Shakespeare, another man, author was responsible for
    both the old plays and the rewrites.

    16. There is nothing in Shaksper’s biography to indicate his exposure to
    or knowledge of sea voyages, knowledge of Italian customs, hawking,
    jousting, military service, legal training, Court manners and intrigues,
    foreign languages, or classical literature.

    17. The monument to Shakespeare, which everyone visits at the church at
    Stratford-on-Avon, is a bizarre final tribute. It is most likely not the
    original monument, which was sketched in the 17th century and shows a man
    holding a sack, not a man writing on a pillow. The wording on the
    monument is extraordinarily peculiar, and can be shown to reveal that
    Shaksper was a front man for someone else.

    18. All attempts at finding additional relevant material about
    Shakespeare by tracing descendants of the Shaksper family and other
    Stratford families have come up empty-handed. The only possible exception
    was Rev. James Wilmot, who searched Stratford in the mid-1700s to find
    materials for a biography. Later in life, frustrated that the only papers
    he had found suggested that Shaksper of Stratford was NOT the author
    Shakespeare, and someone else was, burned this evidence and we still have
    no idea what exactly Wilmot found. There may have been more purging of
    the records along similar lines over the centuries, blurring the links to
    the true author while keeping the case for the Stratford man intact.

    19. There is nothing to link Shaksper-of-Stratford to the Earl of
    Southampton, his alleged patron. The dedications to Southampton in Venus
    & Adonis and Lucrece suggest that the author knew the Earl, and was not
    just using his name from a distance in a bid for patronage. Scholars have
    turned England upside down to find even a scrap of paper connecting
    Southampton to the man from Stratford. No such documents have been found.

    20. Although there are plenty of pay-records for other professional
    dramatists of his day, which clearly indicate payment for a piece of
    named theatrical writing, there is no such data for Shaksper. The Folio
    of 1623, arguably edited, in part, by Jonson, lists William Shakespeare
    as an actor in all his own plays. It is this posthumous wholesale claim
    that has become the basis of the popular idea that Shakespeare was a
    popular actor. While there are a few deliberate mentions in the Folio
    prefatory material that loosely links the playwright and the man from
    Stratford, (“…thy Stratford Moniment”, “Sweet Swan of Avon”) the question
    is: are these advertisements trustworthy? Is there any evidence left
    behind from the life of the Stratford man to corroborate the claims of
    the Folio? We have seen that the evidence contradicts the public
    relations branding of Shakespeare-of-Stratford in 1623.

    21. The evidence that we do have about how Shaksper of Stratford earned
    his money, through shareholding, money-lending, commodity trading, and
    real estate investments, is enough to explain his expensive Stratford
    purchases. Money he might have earned as a writer would have been
    inadequate to explain his financial position. As early as 1592 he was
    able to make a loan of seven pounds. We can trace the various commercial
    activities through which he made money, and none of those activities
    involved writing.

    22. There is no known personal link between Shaksper and any of the known
    writers of his day. The first direct testimony is posthumous and comes
    from Ben Jonson who tells both sides of the story, by praising
    Shake-speare (in the Folio) while pointing out his lack of learning.
    However, while Shaksper was alive, Jonson lampooned him, as “Sogliardo”,
    the colorful country self-made-man who tries to buy a coat of arms in
    Every Man Out of His Humor.

    23. Edward Alleyn was the most famous Elizabethan actor and the builder
    of the Fortune theater. He knew everyone in the world of Elizabethan
    entertainment. Alleyn wrote a prolific number of letters and kept a
    diary, yet he never even once mentioned Shakespeare by name.

    24. Henslowe’s theatrical diary never mentions Shakespeare, even though
    he recorded the names of other famous writers including Chapman, Day,
    Dekker, Drayton, Heywood, Jonson, Marston, Middleton, Munday, Webster and
    others. All these fellows either worked for Henslowe and got paid, or
    borrowed money from him. That Henslowe recorded the names of certain
    anonymous plays (which we now call Shakespeare’s) but had nothing to say
    about their alleged author is certainly interesting. Whatever his role in
    the theater world actually was, it was markedly different than all of his
    contemporaries. And none of these men, left us with any personal
    remembrances of Shakespeare, save Jonson, who did so enigmatically.

    25. Shaksper allegedly lived in London for more than twenty years. But
    there are no personal remembrances of him or anecdotes of actual personal
    encounters with him by the contemporary writers and diarists of the time.
    The few possible exceptions, on close inspection, turn out to be
    statements based on third-hand hearsay or inventions based on seeing the
    brand-name Shakespeare on a play or poem. John Davies’ epigram of 1610-11
    is a generic address or open letter to the curiously spelled and
    punctuated “Will: Shake-speare” from someone who didn’t seem to actually
    know the man. It begins, “Some say…”. The John Manningham diary note of
    1602 (which may in fact be a 19th century forgery) is also third-hand and
    anecdotal. It begins, “Upon a time…” [which is the equivalent of the
    modern “Once upon a time …”, i.e., the clue that you are about to be told
    a story]. Finally, the Groatsworth 1592 allusion to “Shake-scene” and the
    Kindhearts Dream answer are not clear unambiguous or necessarily truthful
    representations of Shakespeare-of-Stratford. There has been so much
    contradictory speculation on the identity of “Shake-scene,” that it is
    enough, for our purposes to disqualify this as personal eyewitness
    “evidence”. Robert Greene and Henry Chettle were satirists and
    propagandaists when addressing Shake-scene in early 1590s.

    26. How is it that Shakespeare, the person, was also unknown to the
    intelligentsia and VIPs of his era? The only thing close to a witness of
    a personal visit by Shakespeare to a country manor is the anecdotal
    remembrance, recorded in the mid-1800s, that “once upon a time,” a letter
    had existed that said that “the man Shakespeare” had been invited. We are
    left to conclude that either: a) Shakespeare the author was never seen or
    met by anyone, or, b) the author veiled as “Shakespeare” was known to the
    diarists and gossips only by his real name, or, c) all such remembrances
    have been culled from all sources and destroyed. Since “c” is nigh
    impossible, and “a” unlikely, the “b” scenario – that Shakespeare was a
    pen-name – is the most credible explanation for the lack of personal
    remembrances of a man who must have been an incredible wit, storyteller
    and poet-singer; an all-around memorable person. Yet critics
    knowledgeable of inside politics and intrigues of the Elizabethan era
    have demonstrated that Shakespeare the author seems to have known the
    most intimate details of the private lives of England’s aristocracy.
    Critics have found Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burghley, the Earl of Leicester,
    and myriad actual Tudor Englishmen and women mirrored and revealed in the
    Shakespeare plays. If “Shakespeare” knew them, they must have known him;
    perhaps he was even one of them. Could the ruling class of London have
    known the Bard by another name?

    27. William Camden’s Britannia, 1610, contains several references to
    Stratford-on-Avon. But he makes no mention of Shakespeare or Shaksper.
    Camden certainly knew about the Shakespeare plays, and had praised
    “Shakespeare” the writer, but in no way connects them or their author
    with Stratford-on-Avon. Camden’s list of “Worthies” for Stratford in 1605
    does not mention Shaksper, nor does his “Annals” for the year 1616
    mention Shaksper’s death. William Camden, a prodigious historian and
    antiquary, who knew everything and everyone in England and had even
    signed off on Shaksper’s application for a coat of arms, clearly didn’t
    think that this Shaksper was notable, and certainly did not connect him
    in any way with the writer named Shakespeare.

    28. Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion, 1613, contains detailed maps and an
    epic poem of all the interesting places in England. His map of
    Warwickshire does not even include Stratford-on-Avon. Drayton, who hailed
    from Warwickshire himself, would have known and remembered Shaksper, if
    the man had been Drayton’s inspiration, Shakespeare.

    29. The Globe Theater burned to the ground on June 28, 1613. In a
    published account of the disastrous fire, reference is made to Richard
    Burbage, Henry Condell and other Globe officials but nothing is said
    about Shaksper or Shakespeare.

    30. The contemporary writer Thomas Lodge never mentions Shakespeare,
    though he named Lyly, Spenser, Daniel, Drayton, and Nashe as “divine
    wits” in Wit’s Miserie, 1596. On the page previous to this list he makes
    a joke about the play Hamlet, which had been seen on stage as early as
    1589 (as recorded by Nashe) and was still, in 1596, apparently anonymous.
    Was Lodge just ignorant or was he covering up? Lodge answers himself by
    next paying tribute to “unnamed professors or friends of poetry.” Thomas
    Lodge knew that “Shakespeare” was a pen-name early on, and preferred not
    to mention it at all!

    31. Dr. John Hall was a prominent physician who married Susanna Shaksper
    in 1607. He was thus “Shakespeare’s son-in-law”. Dr. Hall logged every
    volume in his library but there was no mention of Shakespeare books,
    manuscripts or memorabilia. As Susanna and Dr. Hall were the residuary
    legatees and executives of the estate of William Shaksper, it is
    incredible that there was not even a scrap of material which attested to
    the alleged literary career of her father, nor any tangential reference
    to such activities in any other sort of document. Dr. Hall kept a
    detailed log of patient histories, and anecdotes, but he never mentioned
    his father-in-law William Shakespeare. Admittedly, the diary we have
    begins with a case dated 1617, the year after Shakespeare died. But the
    diary contains reminiscences and digressions, yet Shakespeare never is
    mentioned. It is interesting that Hall had an earlier diary, one which
    might have contained references to Shakespeare, but it is missing and has
    never been seen, unless it is part of what was found by Wilmot and
    destroyed. Dr. Hall does note that he treated Michael Drayton, the other
    notable poet of the era from Warwickshire. “Mr. Drayton, an excellent
    poet, I cured him of a certain fever with syrup of violets’.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: