Skip to content

Scary Question: Did Shakspere Write Shakespeare?

July 11, 2017

Before walking into the dark alley that is the Shakespeare authorship question, let us briefly explore another scary question: Why did some apes become bipedal millions of years ago?

Humans are class: mammals, order: primates. Like some other mammals, but unlike any other primate, we have a head-to-toe layer of subcutaneous fat. Like some other mammals, but unlike any other primate, we have fairly smooth skin. Under the right conditions, human infants routinely swim and dive before they learn to walk.

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-9-46-10-am

The swimming primate.

In the 1930’s, Alister Hardy theorized that our ancestors were coastal apes whose posture, skin, and fat allowed them to swim and forage in moderately deep water. It’s not such a shocking theory: all aquatic and semi-aquatic mammals that exist today evolved from land mammals. Hardy simply believed the physical differences between humans and other primates began with our ancestors’ steps down a well-worn evolutionary path.

After thirty years, Hardy finally spoke. His colleagues who supposedly understood evolution scoffed. More years passed. Elaine Morgan, shocked to learn Hardy’s idea was not being seriously discussed by professional anthropologists, wrote a series of books that were five parts evidence, three parts clarity of thought, one part scathing criticism. Professionals scoffed anew.

The authorship question has been subjected to exactly the same knee-jerk treatment as the aquatic theory. Some professionals resort to word games: “Of course Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.” Mainstream scholars sometimes ask you to “look at the title pages” if you aren’t sure who wrote the plays. Here’s a good example of the official argument.

No matter of who doubts the official line, regardless of credentials, experience, Nobel Prizes, and so forth, the mainstream remains firm in its conviction that the question is not worth asking. There is great concern among the mainstream that discussing the authorship question will discredit Concordia University, the University of Massachusetts, Washington State University, Brunel University, York University, and other institutions where scholars insist on delving into this silly issue.

Of course, the mainstream may be quite right — not in its insistence that universities not question conventional wisdom, but simply because Shakspere may have actually been Shakespeare.

To begin, we note that “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare” is catchy, but not accurate: William “Shakspere” was baptized with the same family name as his seven siblings, all Shakspere; William’s two marriage certificates to two different women on adjacent days spell the name “Shaxspere” and “Shagspere” (he married the woman who was pregnant). William’s three children were all baptized as Shakspere; William’s burial record reads Shakspere; finally, his grandson, born to his younger daughter the year he died, was baptized Shaksper (first name).

Right from the beginning, we see the mainstream absurdly overstating its case. It’s not a good sign and it is certainly not necessary: there is a perfectly reasonable case for Shakspere writing Shakespeare. It’s only the mainstream’s insistence that it’s case is 99.99% bulletproof that sends them off the rails. There’s no way Shakspere is 99.99%.

Between 1593 and 1609, Shakspere of Stratford, a businessman, grain dealer, and real estate investor was spending time in London (a three-day ride from Stratford) where he was made investments in the theater industry. There was a lot of money to be made in London theaters at the time, not by writers or actors particularly, but by people such as Edward Alleyn or William Shakspere who possessed the necessary capital and business acumen.

In London, Shakspere acquired a piece of the Globe theater and a piece of the Blackfriars theater. He was a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men. His name, even in London, was still Shakspere: two signatures on a London real estate document use the “Shakspere” spelling or something close to it.

None of this stops Shakspere from being Shakespeare. In fact, in the text of the document he signed and in the text of other London documents that refer directly and personally to the investor-shareholder, Shakspere’s name is spelled “Shakespeare.” Thus, the documentary record tells us of Shakspere of Stratford, real estate investor and Shakspere/Shakespeare of London, theater investor.

That it was all one money man making these investments is confirmed by Shakspere’s will which contains a cash bequest to three of his fellow members of the King’s Men. Shakspere/Shakespeare may also have graced the stage at some point though his acting career is not especially well-documented — we don’t know what parts he played, for example.

globe

The Globe Theater today. Shakspere/Shakespeare was a part owner of the 1590’s theater which, like the modern version (designed to be similar to the original), could accomodate at least one thousand paying customers. The original owners may have crammed 3,000 people into the space.

Despite the mainstream’s evident insecurity about their case for Shakspere as a writer, they do have four good reasons for believing as they do: (1) he definitely has more or less the right name; (2) he was definitely involved with the theater as an investor; (3) seven years after he died, twelve published Shakespeare plays and twenty-four unpublished or badly published plays were (thank goodness) collected in a single volume — this publication included prefatory material identifying Shakspere not as an investor but specifically as the great author; (4) there is a monument at Shakspere’s gravesite in Stratford spelling his name “Shakspeare” and saying he was a great and wise artistic genius — Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil rolled into one.

The mainstream therefore states as FACT that a literary genius named Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. Doubters regard the mainstream’s case as reasonable but grotesquely overstated. Doubters say there is some posthumous evidence that seems to support the THEORY that an astute businessman named Shakspere may have written Shakespeare.

Doubters regard the posthumous evidence as a likely hoax and note that the hypothetical responsible parties, as powerful as they may have been, could not alter the documentary record of Shakspere’s life which indicates that he was a semi-literate businessman.

In rejecting the posthumous identification of Shakspere as Shakespeare, Mark Twain and others have focused on the following fact: from the time of the first Shakespeare publication in 1593 to Shakspere’s death in 1616, no one, no friend, no colleague, no patron, no publisher, no authority, no family member ever said or implied or suggested anything about having any connection whatsoever to the greatest writer in England. Simply stated, there was much ado about real estate but nothing about writing.

Even hard-core, we-know-Shakspere-wrote-Shakespeare biographers have noticed the extraordinary gap-void-chasm in the documentary record: they could hardly have missed it.

Shakespeare in Wonderland

Perhaps we should despair of ever bridging the vertiginous expanse between the sublimity of the subject and the mundane inconsequence of the documentary record. — Schoenbaum

There is an inverse ratio, a little beyond our analytical skills, between Shakespeare’s virtual colorlessness and his preternatural dramatic powers. — Bloom (Only a little beyond?)

[Shakespeare] seems to have flourished with a certain annihilation of the sense of himself. — Honan (Wow!)

If one lists all these various [documented] activities . . . one wonders how the dramatist found time to go on writing plays. — Honigmann

What did fellow townsmen make of the distinguished playwright of the Chamberlain’s company and admired poet of love’s languishment who sojourned each year in their midst? — Schoenbaum

See “The Schoenbaum Effect” below for Schoenbaum’s answer to his “townsmen” question.

How do you annihilate the sense of yourself?

Writers in London were writers to friends, family, publishers, patrons, and legal authorities. Ben Jonson is the perfect example. His work was popular and acclaimed on par with Shakespeare’s. Jonson’s writing activities were well known to the authorities of the time: he was questioned repeatedly and jailed twice for writing the wrong thing. The documentary record shows Jonson being paid explicitly for writing. While he lived, Jonson was referred to again and again as a writer by people close to him.

Shakespeare wasn’t. Pick a piece of Jonsonian evidence that a biographer would pore over. Pick any piece. Now look for something similar for Shakespeare. It isn’t there.

But someone wrote two epic poems, thirty-six plays, and a book of sonnets. In 1593 and 1594, the epic poems introduced the Shakespeare byline. In 1598, Love’s Labors Lost became the first Shakespeare play to be published with a byline. The sonnets were circulating privately by 1598 (no one knows who the early readers were) and were published as “SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS” in 1609.

Shakespeare was a massive literary force in London. Between 1593 and 1609, Shakespeare plays and poems were printed in more than forty editions. It was a feat “staggering and unprecedented.” One thousand or more printed copies per edition meant tens of thousands of books blanketing a city with a population of two hundred thousand.

But locating the writer in London is “a little beyond our analytical skills.” Is it really possible for a man to remain “virtually colorless” as fifty thousand copies of his books rain down upon Elizabethan London?

London was a place where writers loved to name-drop as in the following from John Selden: “I went to the well-furnisht Librarie of my beloved friend, that singular poet M. Ben: Jonson.” Selden had borrowed a book from his beloved friend — we even know what book he borrowed. The period overflows with personal literary references like this one, not only for Jonson, but for authors far less famous.

Someone in London was blowing the lid off of literature itself. Someone was simultaneously strangely elusive, like the Cheshire Cat. Meanwhile, Shakspere/Shakespeare was highly visible as a businessman and theater investor.

A literary shadow-creature and a wealthy theater man of similar name occupying the same space at the same time was bound to draw some interesting commentary as indeed it did. We begin with a pointed accusation from John Davies. Next, there is quite the scolding from Ben Jonson. A hilarious group of college students hammed it up and over the top. Finally, we hear from a bitter Robert Greene.

The Cheshire Cat and the Clever Capitalist

John Davies wrote verse “To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.” Terence was a Roman writer who is described in Elizabethan texts as a man who took credit for the works of two Roman aristocrats, Scipio and Laelius.

Ben Jonson published an epigram describing a “Poet-Ape” who “would be thought our chief.” This man, said Jonson, was “so bold a thief” that he made “each man’s wit his own.” Jonson’s commentary was 14 lines long with three rhyming quatrains (abab) and a rhyming couplet (aa) — the form of a Shakespearean sonnet.

The Parnassus Plays put on by students made fun of a bumbling actor who didn’t like the “smell” of Ovid but who nevertheless thought his “fellow [actor] Shakespeare” was God’s gift to writing, moronically unaware that Shakespeare was an Ovidian poet. The man is portrayed as so outrageously stupid that he thought his “fellow Shakespeare” was a better writer than “that writer Metamorphoses.”

In one of the earliest references to Shakespeare, Robert Greene wrote of a big-mouthed “upstart Crow” who had been “beautified with our [literary] feathers” and who was so arrogant he thought he was the “only Shake-scene in a country.” He had a “tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide” [alluding to a Shakespeare play]. This knave was an “Ape” and a “Usurer” and “rude” and was someone Greene warned his fellow writers to avoid at all costs.

The contemporary references may, as always, be interpreted according to a dizzying variety of preconceptions (fuller quotes appear below). Obviously, assuming Davies, Jonson, Parnassus, and Greene were on about a phony Shakespeare is easy enough. But, if you go down this road, you are stuck with a conspiracy perpetrated in 1623 to make that “phony” Shakespeare seem real.

This, in short, is the meat of the matter: mainstream observers trust the posthumous evidence and regard a deliberate deception as inherently unlikely. If there was a hoax, the mainstream says, then prove it. Otherwise, all you have is a “conspiracy theory” that isn’t worth discussing.

Doubters cannot prove anything. They say, simply, that the possibility of a deliberate deception should be considered based on the documentary record from Shakspere’s lifetime and the contemporary references to Shakspere/Shakespeare, the actor/writer or actor/thief.

To form an opinion, you need knowledge — unexpurgated knowledge, knowledge that has not been carefully pruned so that it will take a preconceived shape.

Debating is a silly waste of time and energy — a useless game that only gets in the way of truth-seeking. A doubter of the official story such as the present author loses nothing by presenting mainstream arguments in their full force. After all, the mainstream might be correct in its basic assumption. There is much to gain by an honest accounting.

In what follows, the case for at least considering the issue to be worthy of discussion will be made in some detail based largely on the work of Diana Price. The mainstream point of view will be clearly represented throughout though stripped of prejudicial word play and goal-oriented fact-pruning. The mainstream’s “nuclear bomb” — the prefatory material in the First Folio — will get its own section.

Here is Shakspere/Shakespeare’s documented life in Stratford and London. All spellings are as in original documents. All events and transactions take place in or near Stratford unless otherwise indicated. Theater associations are in purple and are all in London. Documents clearly identifying Shakspere/Shakespeare as a writer are in orange.

1564: Born Shakspere.
1582: Marries as Shagspere.
1583: Daughter born Shakspere.
1585: Twin boy and girl born Shakspere.
1587: Court re: real estate.
1592: Loans money to Londoner John Clayton.
1595: Kempe, Shakespeare, and Burbage paid for performances.
1596: Son dies.
1596: Applies for coat of arms, London.
1596: Formal complaint in London that William Shakspare is dangerous.
1597: Cited for tax evasion, London.
1597: Purchases one of the biggest houses in Stratford.
1598: Tax evasion, London.
1598: Cited for grain-hoarding during a famine.
1598: Neighbors Sturley and Quiney exchange letters re: Shakspere, money.
1598: Sells stone.
1599: Coat of arms document, London.
1599: George Buck asks Shakespeare who wrote an obscure play. 
1599: Shakespeare, theater shareholder.
1599: Tax evasion, London
1600: Sues John Clayton, London, to recover debt.
1600: Tax evasion, London.
1601: Father dies.
1601: Shackspeare, theater shareholder.
1602: Real estate, 100 acres from John Combe.
1602: Real estate, buys cottage.
1602: Law student, diary, heard Shakespeare stole woman from Burbage.
1603: Shakespeare, acting company member.
1604: Shakespeare, “player” issued ceremonial cloth for procession. 
1604: Sells malt in commercial quantities to Philip Rogers.
1604: Loans money to Philip Rogers.
1604: Sues Philip Rogers to recover debt.
1605: Makes substantial agricultural investments.
1605: Augustine Phillips, actor, cash bequest to Shakespeare.
1608: Sues John Addenbroke to recover debt.
1608: Document indicates “Shakespre” owes money on agricultural investment.
1608: Shakespeare, theater shareholder.
1609: Continues legal action re: Addenbroke debt.
1610: Real estate transaction involving John Combe.
1611: Agricultural investments yielding good returns.
1611: Real estate document re: lease of barn.
1611: Real estate documents re: road improvement, default protection.
1612: Testifies re: third-party domestic dispute, London, illegible signature.
1613: Real estate purchase, theater, two legible but inconsistent signatures.  
1613: Shakspeare and Burbage paid for tournament accessory.
1614: Real estate documents re: pasture enclosures.
1615: Real estate document, theater, Shakespeare.
1615: John Combe, cash bequest to Shackspere.
1616: Will with three semi-legible consistent signatures, one assisted.
1616: Will with real estate, sword, silverware, bowl, bed, “household stuff.”
1616: Will, cash bequest to three actor “fellows” Heminges, Condell, Burbage.
1616: Jonson’s works published: Shakespeare on cast lists.

1616-23: Stratford monument identifies “Shakspeare” as a great genius.
1623: First Folio identifies Shakespeare as the man buried in Stratford. 

Following in the footsteps of Elaine Morgan, Diana Price examined the evidence and employed simple, careful reasoning. Her book, “Shakesepeare’s Unorthodox Biography,” discusses a question she is not afraid to ask: Did Shakspere write Shakespeare?

Price’s scary answer: “Probably not.”

cheshirecat

There was a writer who annihilated the sense of himself. There was a wealthy theater man. There was a thieving Poet-Ape. Two of these were the same person. Which two?

Diana Price and Her Followers

The simplicity of Price’s approach makes her difficult to ignore. Ben Jonson, like Shakespeare, was quite famous. His life, like Shakspere’s, was well documented. Thus, Price argues, the documentary record whose analysis fills years in the lives of Ben Jonson’s biographers is a useful measuring stick to hold up to Shakspere/Shakespeare.

To begin, we know the man born into the “Johnson” family and named Benjamin was the writer known as “Ben Jonson” not because the names are similar (!) but because when Ben Jonson died in 1637, he was buried in Westminster Abbey where he kept company with Geoffrey Chaucer (d. 1400), Edmund Spenser (d. 1599), and Francis Beaumont (d. 1616).

Jonson’s estate included a library with over one hundred books. It included letters received from friends and colleagues. Many of these letters discussed writing. Some of his friends owned gift copies of his books inscribed with his signature; they saved letters received from their friend discussing writing. As stated above, Jonson was sometimes paid and sometimes jailed for his writing. A 40-page handwritten manuscript survives along with more than a dozen poems in Jonson’s hand.

Like Shakspere/Shakespeare, Ben Jonson lived and died with his name spelled inconsistently. The memorial in Westminster Abbey has “Ben Johnson” with the ‘h’ carved in stone, for example. He was called “Johnson” frequently during his lifetime despite the fact that he had dropped the ‘h’ on purpose, preferring the more distinctive version of his name.

Johnson/Jonson creates no uncertainty. Nor is it necessary to say, “Jonson wrote Jonson because his name appears on the title pages.” Ben Jonson was known to his friends as the writer Ben Jonson, was buried in Westminster Abbey, and left behind a clear documentary record of his life as a writer.

As a result, a Ben Jonson biography is most illuminating. There is more information about Jonson’s literary activities in one typical paragraph of a Jonson biography than you find in hundreds of pages of a Shakespeare biography.

That is Price’s point.

benjonsongrave

Ben Jonson was buried in Westminster Abbey with Chaucer, Spenser, and Beaumont.

Obviously, not every Elizabethan author left a trail like Jonson’s. Most weren’t as well-known or as successful for one thing. We hardly know anything, for example, about the John Webster whose name appears on the printed title pages of The Duchess of Malfi.

Nevertheless, the name John Webster appears on published verse praising a fellow writer (Heywood) whom Webster describes as a “friend.” A third writer (Rowley) praised his “friend” John Webster for writing The Duchess of Malfi. A fourth person (Henslowe) recorded payments to “John Webster” specifically for writing. That’s not much, but it’s something.

The evidence for John Webster as a writer (NOT the title pages on the printed works) constitutes what Price calls a “personal literary paper trail.” It’s a simple idea: if someone or something can be reasonably placed within handshake-distance of the writer, that’s personal. If not, not. It is beyond bizarre that even Webster has a stronger personal literary paper trail than Shakespeare.

The mainstream decries Price’s insistence on personal evidence, claiming she splits hairs in order to make it look like Shakspere wasn’t a writer. Price directs the mainstream’s attention to the comments made by mainstream biographers who have each run into the same brick wall that is the Shakspere/Shakespeare documentary record. See the embedded quotes in Shakespeare in Wonderland, above.

Mark Twain thought the mainstream’s interpretation of the nonexistent Shakespeare paper trail was laughable.

We are The Reasoning Race, and when we find a vague file of chipmunk-tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there.  I feel that our fetish is safe for three centuries yet. — Mark Twain, 1909

Speaking of fetishes, the mainstream seems less and less likely these days to argue that the printed title pages themselves identify Shakspere as Shakespeare. We are pleased with this development from a logical and rhetorical perspective and also from the standpoint of propriety and modesty. However, we sincerely hope mainstreamers will nevertheless feel free to indulge their title-page fascination in private.

A Closer Look

Let us review the case for Shakspere writing Shakespeare.

We know William was in London in the 1590’s. It was most likely William who renewed his family’s application for a coat of arms. In a 1596 document created in London, William’s father is referred to as “John Shakespeare.” Through the 1590’s and beyond, William, whose name is now often spelled “Shakespeare” on legal documents, is a shareholder in London’s leading acting company. In his will, Shakspere of Stratford leaves cash to his “fellows” Heminge, Condell, and Burbage, three members of the acting company, “to buy them mourning rings.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 4.41.34 PM

A London clerk used the Shakespeare spelling for the family name.

We are one small step away from Shakespeare the author. If theater investing, theater acting, and theater writing were intertwined in Shakspere’s life to the point where the three vocations were effectively one, then we have all we need.

Shakspere the real estate investor goes to London and becomes Shakespeare the theater investor. Shakespeare is part of an acting company and appears on cast lists; thus, he is an actor as well. Acting and writing, for Shakespeare, are two sides of the same coin. The actor = writer assumption is a simple but crucial and often unspoken part of the traditional biography. It is obviously an assumption, but it is strongly supported by the posthumous evidence. Therefore, Shakspere wrote Shakespeare. QED.

Great. Even resisting those deliciously tempting title pages, we have put together a perfectly good case for Shakspere.

But let us channel some of Price’s trademark clarity. There is one posthumous document and one posthumous monument saying Shakspere was a writer. This must stand against an avalanche of evidence from Shakspere’s lifetime.

Shakspere owned one of the biggest houses in Stratford. He left a three-page will disbursing the house and the possessions therein along with his real estate empire; the house remained in his family for many years. You will not, at this point, be surprised to learn Shakspere did not quite have one hundred books in his library.

He didn’t have a library.

In 1616, London bookstores were full of Shakespeare books. But Shakspere’s three-story, twelve-thousand-square-foot house apparently had no books in it at all. Of course, his books may simply not have been mentioned in his will, but we would also have to assume that the books owned by England’s greatest (and richest) writer all simply disappeared.

However, Jonson, Nashe, Spenser, Peele, Harvey, Chapman, Drummond, Marston, Heywood, and Kyd all left behind books. This isn’t surprising: they were Elizabethan writers.

Shakspere’s estate also differs from Jonson’s in that there were no letters discussing writing. Neither has anyone found letters written by Shakspere to anyone else discussing writing.

One would expect to see a few letters if not about writing then about Shakspere’s favorite topic: real estate. Unfortunately, no letters written or received by Shakspere about any topic survive. There were no papers or written materials of any kind in his estate.

What terrible luck! Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Spenser, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drayton, Chapman, Drummond, Marston, Lily, Lodge, Dekker, and Kyd all left behind correspondence.

But wait! A Stratford man by the name of Quiney exchanged letters with another Stratford man named Sturley in which they discussed borrowing money from “Shakspere.” Quiney even wrote a letter to “Shakspere” to ask for money, but he never sent it and eventually this unsent letter became part of Quiney’s estate. Also, a clerk in Stratford named Greene referred in his own records to two letters he had written to “Shakspeare” about real estate, but these have been lost.

So we don’t have much for Shakspere, though the evidence indicates at least two people seemed to believe he could read. As a consolation prize, we do have solid evidence that Quiney, Sturley, and Greene could read and write.

As you know, none of these men and no one else in Stratford or London ever referred to their friend, neighbor, or colleague Shakspere/Shakespeare as a writer while he lived. If Shakspere was an Elizabethan writer, he was unique in this respect.

Shakspere invested in real estate, sold stone, malt, and grain, loaned money, invested in the theater and maybe acted. But fifty-thousand-plus books raining down on London for more than twenty years didn’t lead to a single document connecting Shakspere to them: no records of payments for writing, no contact with publishers or patrons, no legal actions to block unauthorized publications, nothing.

Elizabethan writers typically were explicitly paid for writing and/or had a patron whom they actually met. In this category we have Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Spenser, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drayton, Chapman, Marston, Munday, Greene, Lyly, Heywood, Lodge, Middleton, Dekker, Watson, Kyd, and even our friend Webster.

Finally, though there is no reason to belabor a point that has already been overwhelmingly made, manuscripts were (of course) not part of Shakspere’s estate.

At this point we would have been surprised if we found out the bookless house of a businessman had a manuscript in it. Why would it?

Handwritten manuscripts from Elizabethan times are not as common as one might wish, but they are far from unheard-of. Manuscripts survive for Jonson, Nashe, Daniel, Massinger, Peele, Harvey, Drummond, Munday, Heywood, and Middleton. Jonson, by the way, lost all of his papers in a fire in the middle of his writing career; otherwise, we might have much more than just fifty or sixty pages of handwritten manuscript for him.

The Signatures

That ends of the “absence of evidence” part of the discussion. As the mainstream correctly proclaim, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. They have a point: direct evidence that Shakspere wasn’t a writer would be more convincing.

As always, one should be careful what one wishes for.

We have five intact signatures on legal documents. These lead to a simple, inescapable conclusion: Shakspere couldn’t write his name.

The Not-so-literate Writer

Shakspere’s five signatures are as follows:
(1) legal document, illegible;
(2) mortgage document, in a completely different hand;
(3) copy of the same mortgage document, in still a third hand;
(4) last will and testament in yet a fourth (!) hand;
(5) will, again, last name consistent with fourth signature (finally!).

Have a look.

Ben Jonson’s signature.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.09.06 AM

Shakspere’s first known signature, 1612.

Two printed “signatures” on two copies of a 1613 document.

Joseph Jackson’s two signatures on those same documents.

William Johnson’s two signatures on the same two documents.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.20.13 AM
Shakspere’s first and last name on his will (second page).

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.23.56 AM

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.23.20 AM

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 10.23.43 AM

Shakspere’s last name on his will (third page).

The authorship question is not some mind-bending paradox in Special Relativity. But sometimes it seems to be.

For example, one can say Shakspere was a shareholder in an acting company which performed his plays and so, therefore, since he wrote the plays, he was paid out of the profits of the acting company and that constitutes evidence that he was paid for writing.

One can go on to say that since the two epic poems included loving dedications by “Shakespeare” to the Earl of Southampton, that therefore, since Shakspere was Shakespeare, he must have known the Earl and so therefore he must have met a patron at some point who would have supported his work.

One can also say Shakspere’s signatures don’t give one a moment’s concern and that they are really similar to signatures of other Elizabethan writers, but, at this point, the mathematics underlying the mainstream’s case is far beyond that of even the most esoteric physics.

The Schoenbaum Effect

Many reasonable people reject the apparent verdict of the documentary record because they find the idea of falsified posthumous evidence hard to swallow. This stance need not be embarrassing so long as one does not attempt to repair the documentary record using circular reasoning or, especially, altered reality: the man’s name was Shakspere, not Shakespeare and his signatures are a problem plain and simple.

Many people choose to accept the apparent verdict of the documentary record. They regard the continuing search for even a single sentence written by Shakspere as equivalent to the search for the Loch Ness monster. They note, quite reasonably, that conspiracies do actually happen sometimes.

There is no proof either way, but we are “the reasoning race,” so we can think it through, can we not? Samuel Schoenbaum was most helpful in this regard.

Schoenbaum, ever the optimist, boldly accepted the challenge posed by the acute lack of literary documents and wrote a classic biography of Shakspere as Shakespeare. It was an important and clarifying work as Schoenbaum was very much aware of the strangeness of the documentary record. Price is one of many people who initially believed the authorship question was a silly one, but who changed their minds after reading Schoenbaum.

I call this phenomenon “The Schoenbaum Effect.” Schoenbaum himself, of course, was immune.

“What did fellow townsmen make of the distinguished playwright of the Chamberlain’s company and admired poet of love’s languishment who sojourned each year in their midst?”

” . . . They probably troubled their heads little enough about the plays and poems. Business was another matter; they saw Shakespeare [sic] as a man shrewd in practical affairs.”

No doubt they did. But they never called him “Shakespeare.”

Schoenbaum knew the “they” in his discussion of Stratford residents extended to Shakspere’s two adult children. Schoenbaum avoided authorship quicksand, steering clear of Judith and Susanna. My own anti-authorship-question steering system has never functioned up to specs, so, with apologies to Professor Schoenbaum, I’m going to careen into a discussion of Shakspere’s daughters.

As the wealthy landowner lay dying, his illiterate (!) daughters, Judith and Susanna, were, we imagine, by his side. They would have had tears in their eyes as Time’s scythe (Sonnet 12) took the man who, with his pen, had dared Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time (Sonnet 16).

Shakespeare’s battle with his own mortality had frequently energized his pen and the great writer foresaw in Sonnet 74 his eventual capitulation to the “bloody tyrant.” He would be, inevitably, the coward conquest of a wretch’s knife. At the same time, he would live on in his poetry, forever — My life hath in this line some interest. 

Judith and Susanna knew nothing of this.

If only they had learned to read. The final two lines of Sonnet 74 — The worth of that is that which it contains / And that is this, and this with thee remains — would have given them comfort in their time of loss.

If only Shakspere’s house had contained copies of the sonnets, they could have at least held the precious books close to their chests. Susanna’s husband, John Hall, might even have read a sonnet or two to them. Hall was a literate Stratford doctor whose handwritten diaries survived.

The man who didn’t teach his daughters to read was himself so well-read that mainstream observers marvel at the sheer number of books that “echo through his plays” — a set of readings so immense that even the Queen’s own library would not have satisfied Shakspere/Shakespeare. His non-fiction sources spanned human knowledge from botany to law to medicine to seamanship; his literary sources were similarly broad and not limited to English: literature in French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Greek influenced him as he updated and recast old works, some of which had yet to be translated.

Despite the tragedy of two young women trapped in darkness, unable to read of brilliant Beatrice, wise Portia, or moral Cordelia, to say nothing of French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Greek literature, there is a silver lining here: their father’s shrewdness in practical affairs ensured their financial security long after he passed on.

For those of you who can read, here is Sonnet 74.

But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead;
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.

The death of the Stratford businessman, possibly the most well-read man in England, possibly the greatest writer the English language had ever seen, possibly the most absent father in history was duly recorded in April, 1616.

To his wife, he left his second-best bed. Judith and Susanna he covered with the careful financial arrangements that make up the bulk of his will. To three of his “fellows” in London, members of the King’s Men, he left cash.

The wealthy Combe family of Stratford was especially near and dear to Shakspere’s heart: he had purchased 100 acres from them in 1602 and had been the recipient of a cash bequest in John Combe’s will. To John’s nephew, Thomas Combe, Shakspere bequeathed his sword.

William Shakspere, one of the richest men in Stratford, was quietly buried at the Holy Trinity Church in the town of his birth.

“His death evoked no great outpouring of homage. That was reserved for his rival Jonson, who was accorded, six months after he expired, an entire volume of eulogy.” — Schoenbaum (and no, no one believes Schoenbaum was a closeted doubter)

There would be no Westminster Abbey burial for the great writer: Chaucer, Spenser, the still-warm Beaumont, and the still-alive Jonson would have to journey to eternity without their “chief.”

Jonson, as we know, used the word “chief” in his Poet-Ape complaint-poem. Here it is in full. It was published in book of epigrams in 1616; the date of composition is unknown.

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own:
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours;
He marks not whose ‘twas first: and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool! as if half eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece?

But Jonson’s commentary must not mean what it sounds like it means. How could it? We must interpret Poet-Ape in a way that fits the facts as we know them. Jonson must have been talking about someone else.

It must be so, because Shakspere wrote Shakespeare. Really, he did.

The Mainstream Has Its Day

Sometime after Shakspere’s death, the documentary record turns dramatically in the mainstream’s favor, suddenly becoming deeply orange. Between 1616 and 1623, a monument was built at the Holy Trinity Church commemorating “Shakspeare” as the equal of Nestor, Socrates, and Virgil for wisdom, genius, and art respectively.

The misspelt monument well and truly built, the repairs to a terrible oversight of history continued: Shakspere of Stratford was finally documented as a writer.

In 1623, the First Folio combined in a single volume ten plays published accurately during Shakspere’s lifetime, two plays published in both accurate and corrupted versions during  his lifetime, five plays published only in corrupted versions during his lifetime, two plays published in unrecognizable versions during his lifetime, one play published accurately after his death, and sixteen plays that had never before been published.

The First Folio saved the day as far as the Shakespeare canon is concerned.

But it was the prefatory material included in the First Folio that completed the transmogrification the doubters believe occurred: Shakspere the businessman-actor became Shakespeare the famous author. On the other hand, perhaps the prefatory material ensured that Shakspere would get the credit he deserved.

In the all-important prefatory material, the “Stratford moniment” is mentioned in a memorial addressed to Shakespeare. Two of Shakspere’s “fellows” from the King’s Men, mentioned as such in his will, together signed each of two letters — one to the reader and one to the two earls to whom the First Folio is dedicated. In their letters, they refer to Shakespeare as their “fellow” and “friend.” Shakespeare is called the “Sweet Swan of Avon” by none other than Ben Jonson. Shakspere was born and died in Stratford-upon-Avon.

First_Folio_open_book_image

The prefatory material is powerful evidence for the mainstream.

So there we have it. Either the businessman-actor who was Shakspere of Stratford and also Shakespeare of London was also Shakespeare the writer or someone highly placed went out of their way to make it look like Shakspere wrote Shakespeare when in fact some nobleman or other had actually been using the name Shakespeare as a pseudonym.

There is no smoking-gun evidence for the theory that the prefatory material and the monument are fraudulent. No one has produced a written exchange amongst the perpetrators outlining their nefarious plot, for example. We don’t even have a written accusation by a contemporary observer that the monument and prefatory material are fakes.

Thus, we may wish to take the posthumous evidence at face value. In that case, we need to explain (or at least try to explain) the mismatch between Shakspere’s documented life and the life of a writer.

It is a difficult exercise, but not an impossible one.

Maybe Shakspere’s work as an actor/investor/landowner/money-lender simply overshadowed his work as a writer; maybe this explains the lack of personal references to Shakspere the writer. Maybe, since Shakspere’s daughters were country girls as opposed to Beatrice, Portia, and Cordelia from his fiction, Shakspere didn’t feel his real-life daughters needed to learn to read. Maybe it wasn’t his decision. Perhaps, in general, Shakespeare/Shakspere wanted his life as a literary Londoner and his life as a Stratford businessman kept separate. Maybe he disposed of his books and letters before retiring in Stratford around 1610.

So far, the mainstream has not attempted to explain the oddities in the Shakspere documentary record; they seem more sanguine with the claim that the oddities either don’t exist or that they actually support Shakspere as the writer.

Let’s look at some of the impersonal references in detail.

As you know, in 1610, John Davies published an epigram referring to Shakespeare as “our English Terence” and, in the same epigram, portrayed Shakespeare as an actor playing parts. Terence, the mainstream will tell us, was a great Roman writer. Shakespeare was thus clearly being portrayed by this poet as both actor and writer and this is extremely powerful evidence that Shakspere was Shakespeare.

But really, the mainstream would be far better off if this poem never existed. Here are excerpts from two Elizabethan books in four editions identifying Terence as a person who put his name on other’s work.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Roger Ascham, Queen Elizabeth’s tutor, The Scholemaster, 1570, 1579, 1589: “It is well known that . . . some Comedies bearing Terence’s name were written by worthy Scipio and wise Laelius.”

Michel de Montaigne, Essays ca. 1580, John Florio translation, 1603: “. . . to prove this labor to be theirs [Scipio’s and Laelius’s], the exquisite eloquence and excellent invention thereof doth sufficiently declare it: and Terence himself doth avouch it.”

Mainstream:  Davies refers to Shakespeare as an actor playing parts and as a “Terence” who was a great writer of humble origins. Therefore, Shakespeare was both actor and writer. We know Shakspere was an actor. Thus, Shakspere is Shakespeare. QED.

Price: Um . . . Houston, did you copy that last message?

As you know, the Parnassus Plays feature an actor who refers to his “fellow Shakespeare,” the great writer. Not only that, but the actors being portrayed are named: they are members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the company that included Shakspere as a member. Not surprisingly, the mainstream loves Parnassus.

Here are some key lines.

The Joke is on Us

Actor playing Kempe: Few of the university pen plays well; they smell too much of that writer Ovid and that writer Metamorphoses . . . [laughter]. Why here’s our fellow Shakespeare [the Ovidian poet] puts them all down — ay, and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow . . . our fellow Shakespeare has given him a purge that made him bewray his credit.

Actor playing Burbage: It’s a shrewd fellow indeed.

Mainstream: Shakespeare is portrayed as an actor in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and as a great writer. Therefore, Shakspere is Shakespeare.

Price: Um . . . Metamorphoses wasn’t a writer any more than Shakspere was.

The Parnassus Plays aren’t the disaster for the mainstream that “our English Terence” or “Poet-Ape” is. The mainstream is actually quite fond of Parnassus. But they may be misguided: a close reading actually hurts their case.

Finally, there is the open letter written by Robert Greene and published after his death that is the first reference to Shakespeare. It is not complimentary.

From Greene to (presumably) his fellow writers Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe: . . . trust them not: for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. O that I might entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses: and let those Apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions. I know the best husband of you all will never prove a Usurer . . . for it is a pity men of such rare wits, should be subject to the pleasure of such rude grooms.

Mainstream: Again, Shakespeare is an actor and a writer.

Price: Again, Shakspere is an actor and a thief.

According to Greene, Shakespeare was a “player” which was a term used for actors. With his Tiger’s heart, he perhaps had pretensions of being as good a writer as Greene, Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe. He’s an arrogant “Johannes factotum” (jack of all trades) who thinks he can do it all. Thus, says the mainstream, Shakespeare was clearly both an actor and a great writer.

Price points out that reading Greene’s complete work of which this letter is one part makes things rather clear. In the scene played out before the letter, a character “Roberto” (an obvious stand-in for Greene himself) is taken advantage of by a “gentleman player” who is clueless but rich and who hires the destitute Roberto to write plays for him.

To the mainstream, Greene is jealous of a mere actor who can write better than he can. For doubters, Greene, like Jonson, is complaining about a wealthy thief.

The Fetish Becomes a Phobia

Except for the First Folio and the monument, centuries of searching for a clear connection between a man who (apparently) owned no books and who (apparently) wrote no letters and who (definitely) was not buried at Westminster Abbey and the author William Shakespeare have yielded what Price contends is an incredible mountain of nothing.

In fact, the clearest connection between Shakspere and Shakespeare is the “our English Terence” poem by Davies which is overt, direct, and quite clear. It seems a huge stretch to assume Davies was not familiar with Terence’s reputation. By itself, the lifetime documentary record of the businessman is enough to instill reasonable doubt. Terence, the signatures, and the ever-living sonnets (discussed below) turn reasonable doubt into deep suspicion.

For mama-duck Price and for the very scary people the mainstream really do call “her followers,” the Shakespeare authorship question is a mystery worth exploring.

It is not clear why the mainstream has moved from its title-page fetish to a duckling phobia, but it is what it is. For those readers who don’t wish to wear the mainstream’s straitjacket and who are willing to permit a very small amount of speculation, we can discuss an intriguing possible explanation for the whole farce (cue mainstream screaming bloody murder).

Ducks

Mama Price and her anti-Stratfordian chicks.

Food For Thought

To say the Earl of Southampton — the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s epic poems and possibly the subject of the first 126 sonnets — was controversial would be an enormous understatement. As the reader will expect at this point, there is no record that would suggest Shakspere and Southampton ever met unless you first assume Shakspere is Shakespeare and then cite the dedications as evidence for a presumed meeting. Ivy league scholars are embarrassingly susceptible to reasoning in precisely this way.

Let us pause to empathize with our ivy league friends. Let us wait a moment for the red in our faces to clear. Let us now consider the implications of the fact that Shakespeare’s one and only dedicatee, the Earl of Southampton, was convicted of high treason in 1601 along with five other people, including the Earl of Essex. This incident is known as the Essex Rebellion.

The four knights and one earl, fools all, were summarily executed. They died, and not quickly. Then Southampton’s sentence was commuted to life in prison (!) by Queen Elizabeth. Then Elizabeth died and King James ascended the throne. Then Southampton was pardoned and released (!!) with his earldom fully restored. Then, that same summer, he was promoted (!!!) by the new King. This is where you say, “OH MY GOD.”

Southampton’s five co-conspirators were worm-food while the very fortunate Henry enjoyed his new goodies (he was made Captain of the Isle of Wights and a Knight of the Garter in the summer of 1603).

Conspiracy theories are of course inherently unlikely. However, we know a convicted traitor who survived and was then rewarded. Is the overwhelmingly special treatment of someone who targeted the throne directly and who was convicted of doing so a big enough and clear enough conspiracy for the mainstream to consider? Don’t answer.

Let us suppose, briefly, that Southampton was not only the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s two epic poems published in 1593 and 1594, but that he was also the “lovely boy” of Shakespeare’s first 126 sonnets published in 1609. He is now and has always been a leading candidate if not the leading candidate for the subject of the sonnets, so we are not sticking our necks out very far at all in making this assumption.

In the sonnets, Shakespeare repeatedly tells Southampton that he (Southampton) will live forever in his verse (“such virtue hath my pen”). But the author won’t for some reason. He says to Southampton the following:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.

The origin story of the sonnets assuming Southampton as subject is as dramatic as any Shakespeare play. We don’t have absolute proof of the (rather obvious) connection between the sonnets’ story and Southampton’s survival, but the sister article to this one (previous link) will give any reasonable person who is not an ivy league professor food for thought.

This diet is unpalatable in the extreme to the poor mainstream: most would sooner eat worms and some would sooner be eaten by worms than admit even the possibility that the sonnets tell the story of Southampton’s outrageous good fortune. It’s a shame because they are not only missing out on a great story, they are missing an opportunity for productive scholarship.

If you mention the sonnets and Southampton’s luck and turn your back, the mainstream will likely have mounted its horse and galloped away before you can turn again. The sonnets, they will say mid-gallop, are NOT personal. The fact that they were written in the first person to a particular individual, were concerned with private matters, and were kept private for at least ten years before being published (1609) is irrelevant.

Just before the behorsed mainstream disappears over a rise, they will shout hoarsely that the publisher’s dedication in the sonnets’ prefatory material does NOT mean the poet was dead in 1609.

Sonnet-Dedication

Sometimes you eat the prefatory material. Sometimes the prefatory material eats you.

Pity the Poor Mainstream

We may sympathize with the poor, frightened mainstream in this field and in other fields. For when the schoolchild says Africa and South America fit like puzzle pieces, the idea MUST be disregarded: think of the embarrassment if she is right!

When a professional anthropologist wonders if bipedalism was an adaptation to coastal living, ridicule is de rigueur: we are brave hunters, not fish!

When a researcher with temerity but without an ivy league professorship waves the documentary record like a red flag, it is imperative that she and “her followers” be gored to death: Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare; just look at the title pages!

I do apologize for exaggerating: the ivy leaguers aren’t really so bad. But they could learn a thing or two from history.

In 1905, Einstein sent Special Relativity to a journal. The editor naturally assumed the theory was wrong. But, he thought, what is lost by discussion? The discussion would likely disprove the scary new idea, but this too would have value.

The editor knew what to do. Later, historians realized that a number of other scientists had discovered much of Special Relativity prior to Einstein’s paper, but simply hadn’t been able to quite make themselves believe that something so surprising could be true and therefore hadn’t turned their findings into a coherent theory. Interesting, don’t you think?

Epilogue

I need your help. I’m offering ten dollars.

tendollars

I need someone to do the following:

  1. Analyze every letter Shakspere wrote.
  2. Analyze every letter Shakspere received.
  3. Catalogue all letters written or received by Shakspere’s two daughters.
  4. Read every book in Shakspere’s library in the original language.
  5. Read every book known to have been in the hands of Shakspere’s two daughters.
  6. Examine all correspondence regarding Shakespeare produced by his publishers and patrons.
  7. Create a timeline for interactions with authorities concerning his writing.
  8. List every person who both knew Shakspere personally and knew him as a writer.

N.B. A similar effort for Jonson took years.

If you devoted one minute to reading the eight requirements and another minute to realizing the names Heminge and Condell are all you need, then my ten-dollar offer is equivalent to three hundred dollars per hour.

I’ll send the ten dollars in cash to the first person to write “Heminge and Condell” with a mailing address in the comments section.

Advertisements

From → Shakespeare

4 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    Thanks for sharing your pieces on this subject. I just discovered them and have enjoyed reading them. (I’m the pest who commented on the Trinity Church monument name-spelling after a couple of your other posts.)

  2. Andrew permalink

    Wow. Very interesting. I have read “The Aquatic Ape” by Elaine Morgan and found that work fascinating. Her theory never gained much of a following possibly because Morgan was not an anthropologist. It is very difficult to alter the cannon of scholastically accepted “knowledge”, knowledge that is not necessarily supported by the facts but supported by consensus of a privileged group of university professors unwilling to risk their positions. However, the scientific method makes no mention of consensus, it is experimentary. Consensus would imply that McDonalds is great food and that Congress is filled with the best representatives money can buy.

    Question: Who profited from the publishing of Shakespeare’s works? Following the money. And how does the Earl of Southampton fit into this theory? Are you saying that the Earl was Shakespeare?

    • Thanks for reading. If the subject of the sonnets is Southampton and if they also tell the story of his remarkable pardon by Queen Elizabeth, release by King James, and promotion by King James, then they would have been written by a nobleman close to the Earl though not necessarily by the Earl himself.

      If we take the sonnets at face value, the writer loved the Earl, wished him to live a long and happy life, and was very pleased (and rather well informed) about his “good luck.” Some people say the love expressed in the sonnets may be of a sexual nature, but that sounds absurd to me (advising a young man to marry to produce an heir and waxing poetic about the beauty of his mother in the lovely April of her prime doesn’t sound lke sexual love to me, for one thing). Still, the sonnets are subject to interpretation so there can be no proof either way.

      Sorry I can’t give a better answer, but anything I say would be highly speculative. Since the mainstream won’t even look into the matter, there is an unfortunate lack of research so it is hard to even weigh opposing ideas. Of course, many people have been proposed as the “real” Shakespeare, but all the cases are circumstantial so far.

      Still, there is a candidate for Shakespeare who has garnered a lot of attention (the mainstream would say it is a fad and the silly authorship doubters will latch onto someone else as soon as they tire of the latest sensation). The sister article to this one might be worth your while. It’s called “A Rational Person Reads Shakespeare (Sonnets, Origin Story).”

      Best,

      Thor

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Scipio Who? | HardThinking

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: