Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pinksen on Marlowe, Canadian Radio & Print

Did Christopher Marlowe write the works attributed to Shakespeare? Click here to listen to a podcast of Daryl Pinksen's December 14 interview on the CBC's "The St. John's Morning Show." Click here for a December 19 piece about Daryl in the Telegram, Newfoundland and Labrador's largest newspaper. Daryl Pinksen, a regular MSC contributor, is the author of Marlowe's Ghost, Grand Prize Winner of the 17th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.
Why Christopher Marlowe is Shakespeare

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nor Oxford Either! by Isabel Gortázar

A few reasons why the Earl of Oxford could not have written Shakespeare

Some people commenting on my recent piece on Bacon have asked whether I could give equally cogent reasons against the Earl of Oxford’s claim. I can.

Even if I could believe for a split second that an Elizabethan Earl would stoop to the “indignity” of writing plays for the public theatres under cover of a front man, I would still find ample reasons to argue against the Earl of Oxford’s authorship of the Canon. I shall, however, leave to my colleagues arguments of style, character, etc., and concentrate here on two points: a) The class objection and, b) The dates of composition of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale. I will also leave for another time my comments on the various attacks against Oxford that we find in the Canon, including the extraordinary All’s Well that Ends Well and, by omission, the unhistorical absence of the Earl of Oxford among King Hal’s small band of brothers, in the Battle of Agincourt.

Things that an Earl would not do

In the 1580s, writing plays for the public theatres was a mere notch above bear baiting. While monarchs, aristocrats and courtiers were busy writing poems, plays for private performances, such as the Countess of Pembroke’s Antonius; and even some long narratives, such as Sir Philip Sydney’s Arcadia, the job of entertaining the masses was left to the professionals, as indeed was being done in the continent, by the various Mecenas who sponsored composers and dramatists. The Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga (1562-1612), for example, was a conspicuous and generous patron of Opera and Drama, including the groundbreaking commedia dell’arte, but nobody has suggested that he wrote any of the plays or librettos, although he probably slept with the sopranos.1

The much-discussed appearance of Oxford in Francis Meres' Palladis Tamia (1598) must be considered in this light. After assigning to Shakespeare all the Shakespearian comedies that had appeared so far, Mr. Meres includes the name of “Edward, Earl of Oxford” among “the best for comedy.” As he doesn’t explain to which comedies he refers, Oxfordian followers have taken for granted that he must be referring to the very comedies that he believes were written by Shakespeare. But how can that be?

By declaring the Earl of Oxford to be among “the best for comedy,” Meres is surely telling us that he has had the opportunity to watch at least one comedy that he knows to have been written by Oxford. So, either he is referring to a funny poem and not a play at all, or he must mean a private performance of some (untitled) play or masque written by the Earl for his guests or friends; otherwise we must believe that the Oxford/Shakespeare secret was so little a secret that the likes of Francis Meres knew about it. And, even worse, that he not only knew about it, but that despite the efforts made by the Earl to keep his authorship secret, he could not prevent/destroy/explain Mr. Meres’ tell-tale document.

We know that many aristocrats, courtiers and lawyers wrote masques and plays, often in Latin; quoting the sources for this information would be an endless task. Francis Meres’ reference would be most satisfactorily explained by one, or more, private performances he may have attended, of which fact he was proudly showing off; his comment cannot be but an attempt at flattery. Had he put his foot in it by disclosing an activity that Oxford was, allegedly, taking such pains to keep secret, his flattery could have backfired most distressingly. The Earl of Oxford was not a man to take such a faux pas sitting down; getting Palladis Tamia out of circulation would have been child’s play to him. The reason why he didn’t was surely because it never occurred to him that anybody would interpret Meres’ reference to mean what the modern Oxfordians, brought up in a class-less society, think it means.

When around 1586 a very young "Shakespeare"2 wrote The Famous Victories of Henry the Fift (an anonymous play, the authorship of which is much debated by scholars), he did not disguise his flattering intentions towards the Earl of Oxford; unlike Henry V, written in 1599, The Famous Victories has an Earl of Oxford permanently present, both where his presence was historically correct and where it wasn’t. The fact that on 26th of June of that year, the Earl had just been granted by the Queen an annuity of one thousand pounds for no clear reason,3 has led to the conjecture that the sum was granted so that he could organize and pay for the production of “historical” plays that would enhance the virtues of the Lancastrian/Tudor Monarchs. If this were the case (and we don't know that it was), we can hardly wonder at the young "Shakespeare" lavishing praise on a glorified Oxford, King Hal’s friend and advisor. In that scenario, we can easily guess also that a man who, apparently, had a gift for comedy, would have added to such plays, written by one or more professional dramatists, a few speeches of his own, just as Hamlet does for his “Mousetrap." An officious Francis Meres would have considered any of such speeches excuse enough for his flattering homage to a powerful Earl.

But, as I say above, one would need to understand why the Earl of Oxford, if he were Shakespeare, when turning Famous Victories into Henry V, totally obliterated his ancestor from the play, thus depriving his own name of deserved fame and glory.

Henry V: Act IV, scene 3: Agincourt.
“….then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.”

Alas, poor Oxford! To have risked his life for King and Country in this glorious battle, and to be removed from the list of “household words” by his own descendant!

But wait! A new theory is now being aired that explains the absence of Oxford from Agincourt: According to the Oxfordians, Edward de Vere was not really the Earl of Oxford, (although he did use the title and, it seems fraudulently, passed it on to his own son), because he was Queen Elizabeth’s illegitimate child. As far as I know, there are already three would-be “Shakespeares” making the same claim: Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford, and a new one, William Hastings.4

One wonders how the poor Queen managed to keep all those little bastards secret from the Puritans, and from her people in general, despite the amount of midwives, nurses and other necessary servants, both at the palace and in the homes of the respective foster parents, that would have known the truth and gossiped. But maybe it’s all true and Queen Elizabeth was for several years giving birth to sundry little Spear-shakers.

But then there is the puzzling fact that, except for Faulconbridge in King John, Shakespeare doesn’t like bastards very much; some of his most despicable villains, Prince John in Much Ado, and Edmund in King Lear, are illegitimate.

The dates

And now let me move on to more scholarly arguments. When arguing Oxford’s authorship of The Tempest, his followers wave aside the date of 1609 and the wreck of the Sea Venture in Bermuda, saying, not unreasonably, that tempests are all very much the same.5 The tempest in The Tempest could have been any tempest, and since the the Earl had died in 1604, the tempest of 1609 could not be the tempest in The Tempest.

That is not the case for other historical events, though. The story of Prospero and Antonio surprisingly echoes the rivalry between the eccentric Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II and his brother Matthias. Matthias repeatedly betrayed Rudolph and, as early as 1606, convoked a family (Habsburg) meeting in order to have Rudolph declared incapable of ruling. However, it was not until, precisely, 1611 that Matthias succeeded in forcing his brother to abdicate so that he, Matthias, could be elected Emperor.

The description that Prospero makes of himself when he says that he, as Duke of Milan, had been for the liberal arts /without a parallel, matches Rudolph’s reputation as a lover of astronomy, alchemy and chemistry; he was a patron of Occultist painters, such as Arcimboldo, and scientists such as Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. He was obviously uninterested in politics, and had often left Matthias in charge of political concerns while he, like Prospero, remained rapt in secret studies. This strange Emperor, who died in 1612, is confusedly reputed to have been a scientist, a magician and a freethinker as well as a Catholic. He established his Court in Prague, which became the European centre of Occultism.

So, although perhaps all tempests are much alike, Occultist Habsburg rulers being dethroned by their brothers in connivance with their families don’t grow on trees. While looking at those Habsburg royals in The Tempest, acting towards each other in the play, more or less as they did in reality, one wonders what is Shakespeare trying to tell us. That this historical parallel may help us to fix once and for all the date of composition of The Tempest, sweeping the “comedy-loving” Earl of Oxford off the board, is a bonus, and, as far as this essay is concerned, it is a major bonus. However, the main object of our author for having all those Habsburgs on stage seems clear enough to me: To establish a firm link between Spain and the redeemed Magus, Prospero. The name Prospero is the Spanish/Italian name for the Latin Prosperus, and it is synonymous to Fausto/Faustus, and thereby hangs a tale, to be told in the ripeness of time.

The Spanish links and sources

As it happens, the historical Duke of Milan in 1611 was the Spanish Habsburg King, Philip III, who was also King of Naples, which means that there are seven Spanish royals in The Tempest: Prospero, Antonio, Miranda, Alonso, Claribel, Sebastian and Ferdinand. Rudolph and Matthias were their Austrian cousins, so our author is keeping the parallel in the family. Moreover, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia (a good option for the nickname “Claribel”) was in fact “next heir of Naples," as we are told Claribel was, in the same scene6 where we are unnecessarily informed that Widow Dido’s Carthage and Claribel’s new kingdom, Tunis, are one and the same place.

The historical Infanta, later known as Archduchess Isabella, Regent of the Netherlands, was also heiress to the rest of the Spanish Empire, should her brother die childless (as is feared in the play), but more relevant to our story, she was the official Catholic Pretender to the English Throne, after the death of Mary Queen of Scots. Plots and counter-plots on Catholic issues in reference to England and the continent would have been discussed at the Catholic centres of power, such as the Jesuit-run Royal Seminarie College of St. Alban, in the city of Valladolid, where King Philip III settled his Court between 1601 and 1606, and the nearest of such colleges to the previous centre of power, Madrid. That the English government was taking Claribel’s claim seriously seems to be proven by, among other things, the fact that the Earl of Essex during his trial in February 1601, openly accused Robert Cecil of favouring her claim over King James’ of Scotland.7

But the links to Spain do not end there. Try as they may, Stratfordians have found it difficult to ignore Antonio de Eslava’s Noches de Invierno (Winter Nights).8 Eslava’s collection of tales was published in Pamplona in 1609 (so five years after Oxford’s death), but to believe that William Shakespeare could read books in Spanish is too much even for Stratfordian Bardolaters. There is no record that the book was translated into any language, until a German version appeared in Vienna in 1649: Winternächte…aus dem Spanischen in die Teutche Sprache, by Mateo Drummer. Some of the tales are ingenious, but their pseudo-philosophical background is rather trite. Despite the book’s lack of special merit, there are some coincidences worth mentioning.

Both The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale are supposed to have been written late in 1610 or early 1611. We have a “digest” of The Winter’s Tale left by Dr. Simon Forman, who saw it at the Globe on 15th May 1611.9 In Eslava’s Winter Nights, the story of Milon and Berta and the birth of their son, Orlando/Roldan,10 nephew to the Emperor Charlemagne, has a happy ending after a series of adventures not altogether unlike the happenings in The Winter’s Tale, as we know it today, but no more than that.11 The official source for The Winter’s Tale is Robert Greene’s Pandosto (1588), in which the falsely accused Queen really dies; sixteen years later, Pandosto falls in love with his recovered daughter not realizing who she is, and ends up committing suicide.

The Tempest and The Tale were performed at Court that same year, on November 1st and 5th respectively, and although none of Eslava’s stories are as obvious a source for The Winter’s Tale as his King Dardano’s tale is for The Tempest, it is nevertheless curious to find that in the corresponding Revels Accounts (5th November) the title of the play is A Winter Night’s Tale. So, in 1611, Shakespeare used Eslava’s title for one of the plays, and one of Eslava’s tales for the other.

In his Arden Edition of The Tempest, Prof. Kermode12 gives a summary of the story of Niciforo and Dardano,13 and comments: “More attention has been paid to Eslava’s story, which has found supporters from Garnett to Hardin Craig. This tale has no magic island, but it has a dethroned king, skilled in magic, who is forced to sail away from his Kingdom, taking with him his daughter; he builds himself a palace under the sea and eventually leads to it the disinherited son of his enemy, as a husband for his daughter.” Etc. Kermode goes on to quote Hardin Craig: “This Spanish tale (...) in its political intrigues, its adventures and its use of tempest and sea, has much in common with The Tempest.”14

So we find that some Stratfordians have reluctantly agreed that Eslava’s tale may have to be considered as a source for Shakespeare’s play, while others have gone to much trouble trying to find the thread by which the man from Stratford could have possibly known/read the story; as usual, after much scholarly digging, the thread became so elaborate that the further they delved into it, the more questions it begged. Prof. Kermode gave up the struggle with the following comment: “This weird structure of Bulgarian, Byzantine, Latin, Italian, Spanish and German testimony is a prize mare’s nest, and it is politic to avoid stirring it any further.”15 Quite.

And here is Eslava’s tale: Dardano, King of Bulgary, being dethroned by his enemy Nicífero, Emperor of Greece, has to flee in a boat with his daughter, Serafina. He builds a magic palace at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea where he teaches his daughter philosophy and history. They live there happily until such time as Serafina reaches a marriageable age. Meanwhile, Nicífero has died, disinheriting his eldest son, Valentiniano, a nice, amiable man, in favour of his second son, Juliano, proud and arrogant. Fearing for his life, Valentiniano approaches a port in the Adriatic Sea, looking for a ship. An old man, no other than Dardano, offers to take him in his small boat; Valentiniano is then transported by magic to the sea palace where he falls in love with Serafina. Meanwhile, Juliano has taken sail in order to marry the daughter of the Emperor of Rome. During the return voyage, a fierce tempest breaks out. At this point, Dardano emerges from the bottom of the sea and shows himself to all those who believe him dead. He then accuses Juliano of being worse than the cruel Hyrcanian tiger. Shortly after the tempest, Valentiniano and Serafina become the king and queen of the joint kingdoms.

Well, if this is not a source for The Tempest, I don’t know what is. Which means, among other things, that the author of the play had to read Eslava’s book in Spanish and after 1609, either in the edition published in 1609 in Pamplona, or in the edition published in Brussels in 1610. Which doesn’t look good for William Shakespeare or, indeed, for the Earl of Oxford, dead since 1604. And if anybody is tempted to suggest that both The Tempest and Eslava’s story may derive from a common, earlier source, they will still need to explain the coincidence in time of The Tempest with the title of The Winter Night’s Tale.

Isabel Gortázar

© Isabel Gortázar, December 2009  Emmerich Anonymous Shakespeare
Isabel Gortázar is an independent scholar, specializing in Shakespeare and Marlowe studies. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Marlowe Society (UK) and a founding member of the International Marlowe Society. She divides her time between London and Bilbao, Spain.

1Bellonci, Maria. Segreti dei Gonzaga. Milan, 1947.
2A revision of the original Famous Victories of Henry the Fift was published anonymously in 1598. This revised version, which contains heavy Marlovian clues, introduced the character of Sir John Oldcastle, turning him into a clownish figure. This instantaneous transformation of Sir John in the very first act, is accepted by scholars to be the origin of Falstaff.
3The National Archives E 403/2597, ff.104v-105 1.
4Nield, Robert. Breaking the Shakespeare Codes. CC Publishing, 2007.
5Stritmatter, Roger and Lynne Kositsky. "Shakespeare and the Voyagers Revisited." Review of English Studies 58, 2007. p. 447-472. I am grateful to Donna Murphy for bringing this essay to my attention.
6The Tempest, Act II, scene 1.
7THE HELMINGHAM MS: The Arraignment, conviction and condemnation of Rob. Earle of Essex, and Henrie Earle of South­ampton houlden at Westminster the XlXth. of Febr.. 1600 43rd Reg. before the Lord high Steward1 appoynted for that daye beeing the Lord Treasurer of England, as followeth: ETC.
8Antonio de Eslava’s Noches de Invierno, 1609, Pamplona, Spain. I must thank my late friend Roberta Ballantine for bringing Eslava’s book to my attention, well before I found the Stratfordian comments on it.
9Forman, Dr. Simon. Book of Plays. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 1611.
10Eslava, Antonio de. Winter Nights, Chapter VIII: Do se cuenta los amores de Milan de Aglante con Berta y el nacimiento de Roldán y sus niñerias.
11In his synopsis of the play, Dr. Forman does not mention the statue of Hermione, so either he was a forgetful spectator or the statue was not there in May 1611; Perdita, however, was duly “lost” (as befits her name) for sixteen years, like the girl in Pandosto. Which means that the happy ending, as far as the slandered Queen was concerned, was not in the original play as seen by Dr. Forman.
12Prof. Frank Kermode’s edition of The Tempest, in the Arden series, is dated 1954, revised 1961-2.
13Eslava, Antonio de. Winter Nights. Chapter IV: Do se cuenta la soberbia del rey Nicifero y incendio de sus naves y la arte mágia del rey Dardano.
14Craig, Hardin. Interpretation of Shakespeare. 1948. p.345.
15Kermode op cit. p. 66.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Questions All Oxfordians Must Answer by Peter Farey

In my earlier piece "Oxfordians and the 1604 Question," I showed how in dramatic verse between the 1580s and 1620s there was a steady move away from the constant repetition of the regular end-stopped iambic pentameter by the increasing use of open lines and feminine endings.

I also showed graphically how Shakespeare’s plays exhibited a change in the same direction although—if the dates used are similar to those estimated by most Shakespearean scholars—the rate with which his use of these techniques increased was even greater than that of his contemporaries. The increase was nevertheless surprisingly consistent and the correlation between the estimated latest date for when the play was written and the frequency with which either or both of these techniques was used extremely high.I have shown these figures with an extended range, because I want to compare this chart with one based upon dates assumed by Oxfordians, and their dating necessarily starts much earlier.

In fact there is no agreed Oxfordian chronology as such, although there have been various theories and conjectures about when the plays were written. The nearest thing to a recently published one at the moment appears to be in a Wikipedia entry entitled “Chronology of Shakespeare’s Plays – Oxfordian” which is largely based upon estimates given by Charlton Ogburn in his seminal Oxfordian work, The Mysterious William Shakespeare.1 We are promised a more generally accepted one eventually, but as yet this is all we have to work with. Let’s see (below) what happens when we use the latest dates they suggest instead of those given by Elliott and Valenza.2

The reason I use the latest date in each case is that the counts of both open lines and feminine endings were obtained from the texts of plays as they have come down to us—in fact the Riverside edition—so what is needed is the nearest date we can find to the one in which the verse must have stabilized to more or less what it is today. This means that earlier versions of the plays, no matter who actually wrote them, are for these purposes quite irrelevant. What can be seen quite clearly is that the hugely valid trend identified with orthodox dating is completely wrecked, the necessary correlation between the date and the usage rate ignored, and the need to squeeze everything in before Oxford’s death (in 1604) shamelessly evident. The difficulty Oxfordians must necessarily have in finding a chronology which avoids these problems is that it is also essential for them to provide evidence, whether internal or external, in support of each chosen date, and it seems that they have as yet found no way in which this can be done.

Even this, however, is by no means the greatest problem created for them by the increasing use of the two techniques over the years, since most Oxfordians tend to claim that almost all of Shakespeare’s plays had in fact been written by 1598.

Here I have listed all of the Shakespeare plays considered by Elliott and Valenza, and sorted them in ascending order according to the rate of their usage of open lines and feminine endings. Where appropriate, I have indicated in each case (1) if the play was included in the list of Shakespeare plays published by Francis Meres in 1598, (2) if it’s been shown not to have been in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s repertoire when Meres’s list was published, and/or (3) if Elliott and Valenza gave it a date after 1604.

Here then are those questions which—according to the title—I say must be answered by anyone before they have really earned the right to call themselves true Oxfordians.

1) As most Oxfordians claim that the majority of Shakespeare’s plays had been written by 1598, what explanation would you give for Meres including in his list, published that year, only those with the lowest frequency of open lines and feminine endings?

2) As the use of open lines and feminine endings is no longer of any real significance in the way plays are dated by Shakespearean scholars, what explanation would you give for all 11 plays given a "post-1604" date by Elliott and Valenza appearing among the 13 plays with the highest usage rates?

The odds against either of these things happening just by chance are so astronomical that there must be a reason for each of them. The obvious reasons are that Meres referred only to those “Shakespeare” plays which had been written and performed by then, and that the Elliott and Valenza chronology is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, neither of these options is available to Oxfordians.

So, over to you guys!

Peter Farey

© Peter Farey, November 2009  Emmerich Anonymous

Peter Farey has been manning the Marlovian barricades on the internet for the past 11 years. His Marlowe Page is one of the most respected sites about Marlowe on the web. He is a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society.

1Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Man and the Myth. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1984.
2Elliott, Ward and Robert Valenza. "And Then There Were None: Winnowing the Shakespeare Claimants." Computers and the Humanities 30, 1996. pp. 191-245.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Could the Earl of Oxford Have Written the Works of Shakespeare? by Donna N. Murphy

Edward de Vere (1550-1604), the seventeenth earl of Oxford, was a fine dancer and jouster, a lover of music and falconry. He was a respectable poet, as evidenced by the 16 to 20 poems by him that have survived. Oxford garnered praise for his writing in The Arte of English Poesie and in Henry Peacham’s The Compleat Gentleman, in a section paraphrasing The Arte of English Poesie. Francis Meres named Oxford one of seventeen men who were “best for comedy.”1 Unfortunately, no known play by him exists. There is mention of one on a 1732 list of documents that a scholar intended to print, but never did: “a pleasant conceit of Vere, earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English court, circa 1580.”2 Parallels between the life of Oxford and Shakespeare’s works have been well documented.

But could he have written Shakespeare? Besides the circumstance that he died in 1604 (a date no one disputes) and that scholars believe eleven of the Bard’s plays were written after his death (a position Oxfordians certainly dispute), a man as self-centered, unethical, vindictive and materialistic as he was lacked the moral make-up to do so. If one believes that the works of Shakespeare were written by a sage man to reflect core ethical values and mirror human nature back to the audience, an inestimable gift to humanity, one would need to assume a massive transformation of character at some point in Oxford’s life. There is, however, no evidence that Oxford changed. This article discusses Oxford’s moral make-up, apparent references to him in Thomas Nashe’s Summers Last Will and Testament and William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and Oxford’s general writing ability.

Various episodes demonstrate the Earl of Oxford’s character over time. Oxford married Lord Burghley’s daughter Anne at Oxford’s own request in 1571, when he was twenty one and she was fifteen. He did not sleep with her. One theory explaining why he did not share Anne’s bed was that Oxford wished to manipulate Burghley into securing a pardon for his cousin the Duke of Norfolk who had been accused of treason and, after Norfolk was executed, to revenge himself by denying Burghley grandchildren.3 Oxford did lay with his wife, however, in October 1574 at Hampton Court (he admitted this) before heading off on a trip to Europe the following January.4 Baby Elizabeth was born to Anne on July 2, 1575.

European travel was expensive, and Philip Sidney spent £750 - £1080 during his three-year tour of Europe. In contrast, however, Oxford burned through £4,561 in fourteen months of travel.5

Before he returned, Oxford heard unspecified, derogatory information about Anne. As a result, he refused to see his wife and child for five years. Whatever it was that Oxford heard, a less arrogant, more considerate man would at least have taken his wife’s feelings into account and talked to her face to face about his suspicions. He would at least have agreed to meet a child that looked up to him as her father. A year later Oxford wrote Lord Burghley, “For always I have and will still prefer mine own content before others.”6

When thirty years old, Oxford got a maid of honor to the Queen pregnant. Sir Walter Ralegh and the Earl of Southampton fell in love with maids of honor, too, and Ralegh got his paramour with child. Both men, however, were unmarried at the time, and wed the ladies. The reaction of the already-married Oxford to Vavasour’s pregnancy was talk of flight to Spain. She had a miscarriage, but he got her pregnant again. Knowing the Queen would react poorly toward him as Anne Vavasour began to show, Oxford chose Vavasour’s sixth month of pregnancy to re-embrace Protestantism and publicly denounce three friends who, along with himself, had turned Catholic (one of them was Charles Arundel, who later slandered him). Oxford’s maneuver backfired, however, as the Queen was unhappy about being forced to act against these three whom she esteemed. After Vavasour delivered a son and was placed in the Tower of London, the rumour that Oxford would escape abroad caused the government to monitor the ports; instead, he joined Vavasour for a brief stay in the Tower, Queen Elizabeth’s usual punishment for this type of transgression.7 The following year, Oxford reconciled with his wife.

At age thirty eight, Oxford refused an assignment during the Armada year to govern the seaport of Harwich and the two thousand men appointed to defend it because, he said, the position would do him no credit. He vowed to go over the Earl of Leicester’s head and ask the Queen for a different post.8 A less egocentric man would have served the Crown in whatever capacity was requested of him, particularly since the two fleets had engaged in battle a few days previously and England was in a state of crisis.

Three years later, Oxford signed over Castle Hedingham to Lord Burghley to be placed in trust for his three daughters, since he had otherwise spent their inheritance.9 Before parting with Hedingham, however, Oxford ordered the property to be stripped or razed.10 Oxford repeatedly thought of himself before others, even his own children. Burghley raised Oxford’s three daughters after their mother died in 1588. Oxford’s dereliction of duty was recorded for all time on the Burghley tomb in Westminster Abbey: the girls’ grandfather “has the care of all these [Oxford’s daughters] children.”11

Edmund Spenser alluded to this self-centeredness in his 1590 dedication to Oxford, one of a series of dedications to aristocrats in The Faerie Queene:
And also for the love which thou dost bear
To the’Heliconian imps [Muses]—and they to thee—
They unto thee and thou to them most dear:
Dear as thou art unto thyself.12
In letters written between 1590 and 1602 Oxford complained of poor health, infirmity and lameness. In March 1603, as the Queen lay dying, he railed against her unofficial successor, the Scots King James VI, and spoke with the Earl of Lincoln about the possibility of sending Lord Hastings to France to raise troops. But as the commander of the Tower of London later reported to Cecil:
I knew him [Oxford] to be so weak in body, in friends, in hability, and all other means to raise any combustion in the state as I never feared any danger to proceed from so feeble a foundation.13
The author of the Shakespeare plays was a premier judge of character. It is therefore noteworthy that Oxford employed as one of his most trusted servants a man named Rowland Yorke, who would later sell out English positions in the Netherlands to the Spanish. William Camden called Yorke a “man of loose and dissolute behavior and desperately audacious...the first that...brought into England that bold and dangerous way of foining [thrusting] with the rapier in dueling.” Oxford biographer Mark Anderson termed him “the most venal man who ever served the seventeenth earl—a real distinction, considering the Elizabethan rogues and hooligans who at one time or another wore the livery of the blue boar [were employed by Oxford].” Some of the Earl’s servants were highwaymen, and one was hung for murder.14 Oxford himself killed a man, an unarmed undercook, but was declared not guilty by a Burghley-influenced jury that found the unfortunate fellow had committed suicide by “running upon a point of a fence-sword of the said earl.”15

Thomas Nashe appears to have held a low opinion of Oxford—a blow that is, in my view, fatal, given the close interrelationship between the works of Nashe and Shakespeare. While we cannot, of course, assume that any fictional character represents a real person, it is worth reporting instances where fiction and reality seem to intersect. In his Summer’s Last Will and Testament (written c. 1592, when Oxford was forty two years old), the character Spring is consistently called “Ver” (Latin for “spring”) whereas the other three seasons are called by their English names. Nashe specialist Rita Lamb and Oxfordian Mark Anderson both view Ver as a stand-in for Oxford.16 Nashe calls Ver a “monstrous unthrift,” employing an adjective contemporaries used to describe Oxford: Fulke Greville called him a “monstrous villain,” while to Arundel he was a “monstrous adversary.”17

Ver refuses to live within financial bounds, and claims that since the world is transitory and is made of nothing, he must help consume it to nothing. Oxford had entirely consumed a fortune worth between £3,000 and £12,000 per year by the time Nashe wrote. Summer—a representation of Queen Elizabeth—who has been quite generous to Ver, as Elizabeth was to Oxford, responds, “So study thousands not to mend their lives/ But to maintain the sin they most affect.”

All’s Well That Ends Well

According to Francis Osborne, writing fifty years after Oxford’s death, Oxford was the target of a “bed trick.” He was brought to Anne’s bed under the notion that he would be sleeping with a different lady, and impregnated his own wife. From this union, a baby was born.18 The account identified the baby as Susan de Vere, but this makes no sense, as Anne bore two children between 1584-6 before Susan’s birth in 1587. Osborne may well have gotten his names wrong and meant their first child, Elizabeth, with Oxford being tricked into sleeping with Anne at Hampton Court in 1574.19

In All’s Well That Ends Well, Count Bertram is forced into marrying Helena, whom he believes is beneath him. Bertram refuses to sleep with her and goes off to war. The lady is patient and virtuous, as was Anne; Bertram is rash and unbridled, as was Oxford. Bertram makes plans to sleep with a chaste woman who, unbeknownst to him, is outraged by his behavior. The word is spread that Helena is dead; then the woman has a still-living Helena take her place in bed. Bertram gets his wife pregnant without knowing that it is her, and they reconcile.

To a large extent, All’s Well That Ends Well follows its source, which was ultimately Boccaccio’s Decameron, the ninth novel of the third day. Boccaccio had not yet been translated from the Italian, but this story had been included in William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure, 1566. On the basis of slight differences in character names, H.G. Wright argued that Shakespeare employed the French translation of Boccaccio by Antoine le Maçon.20 All three works have been considered possible sources for the purposes of this discussion. The bed trick is contained in all of them, and is an old ruse which dates back to the Bible.

How does All’s Well That Ends Well differ from them in ways that link it to the Earl of Oxford? In all three sources, Bertram is always called “Count.” French and Italian do not have a linguistic equivalent to “Earl.” Yet in Shakespeare’s version, twice he is called an earl. After Bertram's father dies, he is “left under the royal custody of the king,” according to Painter, “nelle mani del re lasciato,” according to the Italian, and “sous la garde-noble du Roi” in the French. In All’s Well That Ends Well, Bertram says, after his father’s death, that he was “in ward” to his majesty, using the word which best applied to Oxford, who was brought up by Lord Burghley as a ward of the crown after his father’s death. In the play a clown says, while speaking about Bertram, “I know a man that...sold a goodly manor for a song.” (III.ii.8-9) The remark may well refer to the fact that Oxford signed over a family estate to a musician he admired, Chapel Royal organist William Byrd.21

In all three sources, Bertram’s wife bears him twin sons; at the end of Shakespeare’s play she is still pregnant, leaving the sex of her child (no twins are implied) unstated. Finally, Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well comes off as a harsher character than in the sources. Shakespeare’s ending is less satisfying, with Bertram given only one line to signal a shift from hating to loving his wife, and that line starts with “if.” There is no sense that Bertram has become a caring, honorable man.

Some who think the Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare cite All’s Well That Ends Well as evidence.22 But if the play were intended as a mea culpa, Bertram ought to have undergone a heart-warming transformation at the end. Instead, Oxford seems to be memorialized in an unfavorable light. All’s Well That Ends Well was first published in the First Folio, and is traditionally assigned a composition date of 1603/4. The Earl of Oxford died June 24, 1604.

A few words about writing ability: regarding Oxford’s existing poetry, his themes are conventional and his work is not timeless. But Oxfordians believe that Oxford wrote the bulk of Shakespeare’s plays in the 1590’s, while his poetry dates mostly from the 1570’s, and ability can improve over time. B.M. Ward pubished ten of Oxford’s letters, however, that date from 1590-1602, and letters speak volumes. The letters of contemporary author John Lyly are clever, even when his purpose is to request something; they display his euphuistic writing style, his wit, his ability to craft a joke and turn a phrase.23In Christopher Marlowe’s one existing letter, a sixteen-line dedication to the Countess of Pembroke, he incorporates numerous classical allusions (including to Philomela, whose story influenced Titus Andronicus), hyperbole, metaphors, antithesis and personification.24 It sounds like something he would write. Oxford’s letters are straightforward. They are neither clever nor interesting to read. The few metaphors are commonplace. They are not at all like something one would expect from the pen of the Bard.25 The same, of course, can be said of William Shakspere’s will.

It might be argued that Christopher Marlowe did not have the moral make-up to have written the works of Shakespeare, either, because he was accused of heresy. Jolly olde England, however, was a time of spies and secrets, an era when agents provocateurs slandered enemies, leading to their ruin and death. Marlowe parodied Richard Baines, an English intelligencer who posed as a student at the Rheims seminary, was arrested, and confessed that he had suggested killing everyone at the seminary by adding poison to the communal well or to the soup. In The Jew of Malta, Barabas bragged that he went about poisoning wells, and proceeded to kill an entire religious community by tainting its broth. This is the same Baines who accused Marlowe of coinage in Flushing, and then wrote the Baines Note, with its allegations of heresy against Marlowe: there was bad blood between these two.

Fellow author Thomas Kyd denounced Marlowe as well, but he did so in prison under the duress of torture. In Lenten Stuffe, Thomas Nashe railed against torture, complaining that it would make a man confess he crucified Jesus Christ rather than abide the extremities of suffering. The two extant documents by Kyd regarding Marlowe were written after the news of Marlowe’s “death.” At that point Kyd would have viewed it as too late to save Marlowe’s skin; he was desperately trying to save his own.

Free thinkers were sometimes accused of heresy in the era during which Marlowe lived, Galileo Galilei and Sir Walter Ralegh being famous examples. Marlowe, at least, stood in honorable company. The same cannot be said, however, for the Earl of Oxford, the band of hooligans he employed, the friends he betrayed, the children he failed to support, and the opponents to the succession of King James with whom he associated toward the end of his life.

Donna N. Murphy

© Donna N. Murphy, November 2009

Donna Nielsen Murphy is currently teaching English in Tokyo and working to determine authorship of English Renaissance literature via linguistic analysis. She has been published in Notes and Queries, Cahiers Élisabéthains and The Marlowe Society’s Research Journal and Newsletter. She is a former economic analyst and author of the novel Heaven on Earth.

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Donna Murphy for co-winning the 2010 Calvin and Rose G. Hoffman Prize for a Distinguished Publication on Christopher Marlowe.

1Oxford’s poetry is collected in “The Poems of Edward DeVere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford and of Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex,” ed. Steven W. May, Studies in Philology 77 (1980).
2Anderson, Mark. Shakespeare by Another Name (New York: Penguin Group, 2005), 154.
3Anderson, 48-9,60-1. Two sources report that Oxford was refusing to sleep with Anne in 1572. The first, apparently written before Norfolk’s execution, said that Oxford forsaking Anne’s bed was a result of “Burghley’s role in Norfolk’s predicament,” and the other, written afterward, that servant Rowland Yorke was barring Anne from Oxford’s bedchamber, presumably at Oxford’s command (Anderson, 51, 60). Nelson reported that Oxford was not sleeping with his wife during the period leading up to October, 1574 in Alan H. Nelson, Monstrous Adversary. The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Liverpool University Press, 2003), 145.
4Nelson, 145.
5Anderson, 93; and Kathryn Duncan-Jones, Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), 69.
6Anderson, 121.
7Anderson, 163-6.
8Nelson, 317-8.
9A challenge to Oxford by Thomas Vavasour dated January 19, 1585 speaks of “thy [Oxford’s] forlorn kindred, whom as thou hast left nothing to inherit so thou dost thrust them violently into thy shameful quarrels.” B.M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford 1550-1604 (John Murray: London, 1928), 229.
10Anderson, 248; and Nelson, 335.
11Ward, 262.
12Anderson, 246.
13Anderson, 291, 344-5.
14Anderson, 115, 66.
15“Edward DeVere,” Dictionary of National Biography.
16Lamb, R. “Does Nashe’s only surviving play contain satire?”, accessed September 28, 2009; and Mark Anderson, 254-6. Summer’s Last Will and Testament is quoted from The Works of Thomas Nashe, ed. Ronald B. McKerrow (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958), Vol. III, 243.
17Nelson, 197, 214.
18Osborne, Francis. Memoires on the Raigne of Queen Elizabeth and King James (London:1658), 79; cited in William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well, ed. G.K. Hunter (London: Metheun and Co., Ltd, 1966), xliv.
19Anderson favored the theory that Osborne meant Elizabeth instead of Susan, 484. In February, 1575, Anne asked for medicines that would induce an abortion, saying, “[I] stand in doubt whether he [Oxford] pass [judgment] upon me and it [the pregnancy] or not” (Anderson, 119). If Oxford had been tricked into sleeping with his wife, at the time he might have told her that he would disavow a child if he had made her pregnant. One can only hope that Anne was rewarded by a special place in heaven for all the suffering Oxford caused her during their marriage.
20Wright, Herbert G. “How Did Shakespeare Come to Know the ‘Decameron’?” Modern Language Review 50 (1955): 45-8.
21Anderson, 66.
22See, for example, J. Thomas Looney, “Shakespeare” Identified (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1920) and Charlton Ogburn, The Mysterious William Shakespeare (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1984).
23The Complete Works of John Lyly, ed. R. Warwick Bond (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), Vol. III, 28-9, 64-5, 68-9.
24Marlowe’s dedication is published in its original Latin and Sutton's translation into English in The Complete Works of Thomas Watson (1556-1592), ed. Dana F. Sutton (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1996), Vol. II, 201.
25For Oxford’s 1590-1602 letters, see Ward, 329-44.

Click here for "The Case Against Oxford as Shakespeare," a compilation of some of this blog's articles on the Oxford theory. Emmerich Anonymous film
Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stratfordian Straws by Isabel Gortázar

During the past few years we have been observing some Stratfordians clutching at straws; the last case being Prof. Stanley Wells with his delighted discovery that the Janssen/Cobbe Portrait shows, at last, the face of their beloved Bard. In fact, it seems generally accepted that the man in the portrait is Sir Thomas Overbury, but Mr. Wells decided otherwise and announced it to the media. Not that this particular issue matters much in respect of the Authorship Question, because even if it were the case that the Janssen/Cobbe portrait is Shakespeare’s that would in no way prove that he wrote anything, only that he was wealthy enough to wear such an elaborate costume. Compared to the sober attire of the Chandos man and even the Monument man, this would indeed be revealing.

But what is remarkable is that despite all the research that Stratfordian academics continue to do, the information that has so far come to light is repeated evidence that William Shakespeare was an excellent businessman who combined his activities as a merchant in Stratford with his (necessarily light) theatrical activities in London. Such theatrical activities imply that he was either a principal actor (which we know he was not), or an important shareholder of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later the King’s Men. Apart from that, and as an anecdote, we know that he composed an extraordinary will, in which both the second best bed, the one and only legacy he left to his wife, and the rings that he left to his ffellowes John Hemyngs, Richard Burbage & Henry Cundell were afterthoughts.1

In an illuminating work called The Progresses, Processions and Magnificient Festivities of King James the First [...] Comprising Forty Masques and Entertainments [...], in three volumes,2 edited by one John Nichols, we are made aware of a curious situation.

Starting with Sorrowes Joy, the Cambridge Poems on the death of Elizabeth and Accession of James, the volumes follow King James’ reign from the moment of the Queen’s death, along his progress south from Edinburgh to London, all the way to his coronation and on to the end of his reign, including the various events that took place in Madrid, during Prince Charles’ visit to that city in 1623, in a last attempt to bring about the marriage of the Prince to the Spanish Infanta and her considerable dowry.

Along the pages of these three volumes, we find practically every name related to poetry and literature that we have ever heard of within that period (and even several names that I, at least, had never heard before). Prominent among these is Ben Jonson, with no less than thirty entries between masques and poems, in a total of one hundred and four events recorded.3

In other words, virtually every important poet and dramatist living during the reign of King James (vg: Jonson, Marston, Daniel, Middleton, Dekker, Beaumont, Munday, Drayton, Chapman, etc.) is mentioned at least once in these volumes, as having written and/or taken part in the said festivities, masques and entertainments. That is to say, every important poet and dramatist save two: William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Their names do not appear at all in the index of those one hundred and four events.

Shakespeare, however, appears once in the main text and twice in footnotes by Nichols, one of which footnotes is interesting enough to be reproduced, below. Fletcher is also mentioned in a footnote as “a celebrated dramatic poet." But here is the one and only piece of information on Shakespeare that appears in the main text. (Vol 1, 156) Dated 19th May 1603: “the Royal Licence was granted to Laurence Fletches, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Phillipes, John Heminge, Henrie Condell, William Sly, Robert Armin, Richard Cowley, and the rest of their associates, freely to use and exercise the arte and faculty of playing comedies, tragedies, histories, interludes, morals, pastorals, stage plays and such like others as they have already studied or hereafter shall use or study, as well as for the recreation of our loving subjects, as well as for our solace and pleasure, when we shall think good to see them, during our pleasure; and the said comedies, tragedies histories [etc.] and such like to show and exercise publicly to their best commodity, when the infection of the plague shall decrease, as well within their now usual place The Globe, within our County of Surrey.” This is an obvious list of actors and/or shareholders, not authors.

Then in 1614 we find the following entry (Vol 3, pg 26): A letter from John Chamberlaine to his faithful correspondent Dudley Carlton: “They have plays at court every night, both holy-days and working days, wherein they show great patience, being for the most part such poor stuff that, instead of delight, they send the auditory away with discontent. Indeed our Poets’ brains and inventions are grown very dry, insomuch that of five new plays there is not one that pleases, and therefore they are driven to furbish over their old; which stand them in best stead and bring them most profit.”

To this, J. Nichols adds the following footnote: “Had one of the enthusiastic annotators of Shakespeare met with this sentence, he would not have failed to twist it to his own advantage, by remarking that the career of the Immortal Bard was now closed or nearly so; that other dramatists could not satisfy the public appetite, lately pampered by his unrivalled productions, and that therefore his old plays were obliged to be revived; yet the year 1614 is affixed by Johnson and Steevens4 to the Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, which play and The Tempest Warburton5 calls ‘the noblest efforts of that sublime and amazing imagination peculiar to Shakespeare!’ It is a truth which requires no demonstration, that Shakespeare in his own time was little more thought of by the public than his fellow playwrights were; and yet it is a remarkable proof that such was the case, that we never find him mentioned by the ever communicative Mr Chamberlaine.” (My italics.)

We have a further example of Mr. Chamberlaine’s “forgetfulness” of, or simply indifference to, the man Shakespeare. Immediately after the information given above, about the Royal Licence, in which we have seen William Shakespeare’s name listed with the other shareholders and/or players, Nichols inserts a footnote on the burning of The Globe on 29th June 1613. In the eighteen lines of this footnote he quotes two letters, one from John Chamberlain to Sir Ralph Winwood, and another from Sir Henry Wooton to “A Friend." The letters are highly informative and include the two current titles of the play that was being performed when the theatre went up in flames: Henry VIII or All Is True,6 but neither the correspondences nor Mr. Nichols mentions the name of the author struck by such calamity.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is all that we find about William Shakespeare in the 2,553 pages (indexes and footnotes included) that Mr. Nichols managed to put together in an extraordinary collection of literary activities, court gossip and general goings on among the royalty, the aristocracy and the intelligentsia during the twenty-three years of King James’ reign. His observation that Shakespeare is never mentioned in Chamberlaine’s innumerable letters I find equally significant.

So, looking at Mr. Nichols' extraordinary collection of private performances and social activities, we see no Shakespeare at all between 1603 and 1616, except as an actor/manager. No Shakespeare! And yet we know that the author of the thirty-six plays in the FF was not above writing masques, such as appear, for example, in Love’s Labour’s Lost or The Tempest. Could the reason for this conspicuous absence be that all these masques, performed at court or in private circles by members of the nobility and even the royal family, required the physical presence of the authors in the proceedings? In Jonson’s Masque of Oberon, for example, performed at Whitehall on 1st January 1611, the part of Oberon was played by Prince Henry7; the Queen herself and Lucy, Countess of Bedford,8 performed in Jonson’s Masque of Blackness, Masque of Beauty and Masque of the Queens. Can we doubt that Jonson was present during rehearsals?

The Shakespere of the Coat of Arms was a man who liked his social climbing, and these masques and entertainments were all the rage, especially while Queen Anne was still alive (she died 1619); so can we believe that he would have missed the chance to hobnob with the royals and the nobility, while giving them stage directions? And the reason couldn’t be that he was too busy writing the, at least, ten plays that appear in the ten years between 1603 and the burning of the Globe in 1613; after all, the author of the FF should have been able to write a masque standing on his head.

So perhaps there was a different explanation for the absence of Mr. Shakespeare of Stratford, both in Nichols' masques and entertainments and in Mr. Chamberlaine’s letters.

Isabel Gortázar

© Isabel Gortázar, October 2009

Isabel Gortázar is an independent scholar, specializing in Shakespeare and Marlowe studies. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Marlowe Society (UK) and a founding member of the International Marlowe Society. She divides her time between London and Bilbao, Spain.

1The words “Item; I give unto my wife my second best bed with the furniture” are written above the main text, as an amendment; there is no other bequest to Mrs. Shakespeare in the will. Also, the words specifying the money left to his three ffellowes, xxvjª viijª Apiece to buy them Ringes, are written above the main text.
2Collected and published by John Nichols, FSA. Lon. Edinb. & Perth. Printed 1828. The third volume is double.
3As a matter of interest here, Beaumont contributes with just one Masque of the Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn, 1612-13, (later inserted into The Two Noble Kinsmen); so at the end of his writing career.
4“Johnson and Steevens”: This would refer to the 10-volume work The Works of Shakespeare with the Corrections and Illustrations of Various Commentators (1773), prepared by George Steevens (1736-1800). Known as the “Johnson and Steevens Edition," Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) is supposed to have contributed very little to the work.
5William Warburton (1698-1779) published his own edition of Shakespeare’s works in 1747, after working on it for nine years. It seems Dr. Johnson was not impressed by Warburton’s comments and opinions.
6In the FF, the play appears as The Famous History of the Life of Henry the Eighth, but the original title, according to contemporary letters was All is True.
7For those who believe that the Earl of Oxford would write plays for the public theatres under the alias of “William Shakespeare," I hope they don't believe also that Prince Henry used to steal away in the evenings to play Hamlet at the Globe under an assumed name, just because he enjoyed performing masques at court.
8The Countess of Bedford, Sir John Harington’s daughter, appears in the Anthony Bacon papers (Lambeth Palace Library) at the time of Mr. Le Doux’s visit to Burley in 1595/6. Lucy Bedford and her mother, Lady Harington, became constant companions of Queen Anne, while John Harington Junior became the intimate friend of Prince Henry.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shakespeare Scholars: A Lament by Anthony Kellett

It seems sensible that the approach to Shakespeare’s biography should be detached and scientific to yield meaningful and worthwhile results. However, many participants appear to connect so emotionally to their particular beliefs that they will go to great lengths to protect them; the destruction or creation of evidence has even been alleged. Why would someone do that? Let us dwell on this for a moment. I can grasp someone defending the reputation of the author by foul means, out of a misplaced loyalty, evolved from a love of the plays. Whilst reprehensible, I can at least understand that mentality. However, no one seeks to denigrate the plays or playwright; non-Stratfordians are merely seeking to identify him. Surely, any loyalty to Shakespeare of Stratford results solely from the belief that he wrote the works. If evidence contradicts that, why is there a continuing attachment to this man? Instead, one would think that former supporters, drawn to the Stratford man by the works, would be moved to seek the true author with renewed vigour; keen to find the bringer of joy, deserving of their hitherto misplaced admiration, denied to him for 400 years.

It could be that my expectations have been unreasonably raised by my long associations with those people I call “Scientific Historians.” Archaeologists and palaeontologists examine evidence and frequently extrapolate their findings to draw theoretical conclusions. However, in doing that (in my experience) they seek to uncover the truth and, furthermore, present the full evidence, enabling others to draw their own conclusions. Though I am sure there are bad apples in every barrel, personally I am yet to encounter a situation where these people distort or hold back evidence. Moreover, I have witnessed the joy as they uncover new evidence that destroys their own existing beliefs, and long-held theories are constantly adjusted to accommodate those changes.

I dismay at the scholarship standards applied to the Shakespearean authorship issue, on both sides of the argument. Unavoidably, the lack of facts requires the derivation of theories based on circumstantial evidence. My own piece on "William Shakespeare, Businessman" is merely my interpretation of what the evidence leads me to conclude. If facts were presented conflicting with this view, then I would adjust the relevant aspect or, indeed, the entire theory, if necessary. Therein lies the difference; those seeking the truth are constantly reassessing the data to find a suitable conclusion. However, Stratfordian scholars already have the immovable verdict; they are stuck with the conclusion that the Stratford man is the author. What chance does this give them of reaching a reasoned conclusion? Worse still, the necessity for “William Shakespeare of Stratford” to be the universal answer inevitably evolves into deceiving the general public and twisting arguments to manipulate opinions. Surely, this is wrong. Again, I have no problem with their having a theory to fit the known facts, but give the public the whole truth with which they too can form a valid opinion.

I am sure many readers will be shocked to read such allegations and call for me to be pelted with rancid fruit in the Stratford stocks for even suggesting such a thing. In that event, and as an appeal for clemency, here are several cases to illustrate my point.

This is a classic quote, regarding Shakespeare, from Collier in 1857: “A young man, so gifted, would not, and could not, wait until he was five or six and twenty before he made considerable and most successful attempts at poetical composition.” Excellent, some sanity at last; it appears Collier doubts Shakespeare’s authorship of Venus and Adonis. No, I’m afraid not, for he continues: “[W]e feel morally certain that 'Venus and Adonis' was in being anterior to Shakespeare's quitting Stratford [widely believed to be 1587]…it seems to have been written in the open air of a fine country like Warwickshire, with all the freshness of the recent impression of natural objects." For just one second there, I thought Collier had seen the light.

Shakespeare was age 29 when Venus and Adonis was published in 1593. The “five or six and twenty” used by Collier was his supposed age when he arrived in London. Notwithstanding this, can you see Collier’s problem? His logic dictated that Shakespeare would not have produced his first work at age 25 or 26, never mind at 29. However, it was equally impossible for Collier to conclude that Shakespeare did not write the poem, since that would contradict all that Collier held sacred. The only choice he had was to dispute the date of the work.

My bewilderment is not limited to nineteenth-century scholars. Jonathan Bate discussed, with Michael Rubbo in Much Ado About Something, how “we know” Marlowe could not write comedy. His justification was that Henslowe’s diary records payments to Mr. Bird and Mr. Rowley for the comic scenes in Dr. Faustus. Bate cannot be faulted, insofar as everything he said was, indeed, true. However, the facts he omitted tell us far more about the play and, significantly, Bate himself, than the truth he spoke.

Dr. Faustus was a very successful play; the Admiral’s Men performed it at least 25 times between 1594 and 1597. It is widely believed to have been first performed at least as early as 1592. All of which Mr. Bate surely knows. What he must also know is that the payments to Bird and Rowley were not made until 1602. Furthermore, I assume Bate is aware that the earliest extant copy of that play is Text A from 1604 (at best, prepared from foul papers). We can only guess at Bird and Rowley’s additions by comparing this earliest text with a 1616 extended version, known as Text B, not exactly a satisfactory solution. Therefore, Bate is judging Marlowe based on a play that had been enormously successful for as long as ten years before these scenes were added. Even now, Bate has never seen a copy of Marlowe’s original play so that he can properly judge the author’s vision. That is not acceptable scholarship, for me, from someone whose opinion will be taken as fact by an unsuspecting public. Can you imagine, 400 years from now, having no copies of Peter Sellers's work, we deduce that he could not play comedy because Steve Martin added comic lines to The Pink Panther?

If readers consider Bate’s claims to be misleading, they pale in comparison to the fables compiled by Michael Wood for his TV series, In Search of Shakespeare.

At the beginning of the second episode, Wood wonders how Shakespeare became such an immediate sensation on arriving in London since, he explains, “Ten years before, Shakespeare had been a teenage father in Stratford with no job and few prospects.” Adding, “What did he do in those ten lost years?” Wood therefore identifies “The Ten Lost Years” as 1583-1593, since Shakespeare could not have been a “teenage father” until May 1583, when his first child was born. The next scene sees us transported to Lancashire and the house of Sir Bernard de Hoghton and Wood tells us: “Sir Bernard and his family believe they have the key to William’s lost years.” We are shown the will of Alexander Hoghton that makes a bequest to a William Shakshafte which, this family claims, was actually William Shakespeare, living over 100 miles north of Stratford. The date of the will is omitted from the program.

In fact, this will was executed on August 3, 1581, when Shakespeare was only 17 years old and some 21 months prior to him having “a family to support” as Wood claimed in this section of the program. Having already covered the first “Lancashire-free” 19 years of Shakespeare’s life (including the birth of his daughter) in episode one, where does Wood suggest we insert this phase?

The worst part of Wood’s presentation is not, surprisingly, the shoddy and haphazard chronology. In the notes of his accompanying book, tucked away in the back (and out of sight of his TV viewers) Wood states that “the Shakeshafte theory has not survived closer scrutiny.” Since Wood first visited Hoghton Hall some twenty years earlier, I am staggered that he presented these spurious facts, to a worldwide audience, without that “closer scrutiny." It took me around 20 minutes to discover the slight chronological flaw in this theory, not 20 years; and yet it appears Wood has no problem leaving his television audience completely misled, as he grins his way to his next scholarly masterpiece.

Daryl Pinksen has recently produced a study of Greene’s Groat’s-worth of Wit and its reference to a “Shake-scene,” which Stratfordians maintain is William Shakespeare of Stratford. We all understand the desperate need for Stratfordians to claim this as fact. Without the Groat’s-worth allusion, there is no known reference to Shakespeare, connected to the London literary world, until the publication of Venus and Adonis in June 1593, around two weeks after Marlowe’s disappearance. However, whilst we cannot completely rule out Shakespeare as Greene’s target, the obvious conclusion to draw is that Edward Alleyn inspired Greene’s work. Greene had previously referred to Alleyn as “Aesop’s Crow” and Alleyn would be recognized (by the supposed addressees) as the great actor “beautified” by them, the writers. As far as we know, Shakespeare, by contrast, had never been mentioned by anyone, anywhere (outside the Stratford records) by 1592. Why would a reader be expected to guess Greene was referring to Shakespeare? Moreover, since Greene had already referred to Alleyn in these terms, even Alleyn would assume the “upstart crow, beautified by our feathers” in Groat’s-worth was referring to him. Greene, we are told, wrote this on his deathbed; he probably knew he would not be around to explain his warning to fellow playwrights. Why would he risk being completely misunderstood by referring to Shakespeare in terms that all his friends would assume to be Alleyn? This is not sensible to conclude “Shake-scene” was Shakespeare. The only connection is that it contains the word “Shake.” Seriously. That is not even scholarship, never mind good scholarship. Stratfordians would argue that Greene adapts a line from Henry VI, Part III. Indeed he does. “A tigers heart wrapped in a player’s hide” is the expression Greene used. This is a classic problem with a vast wealth of Stratfordian arguments. In order to prove Greene was referring to Shakespeare as the crow, you have to already assume Shakespeare wrote that line which is hardly established fact. Alleyn, on the other hand, very likely recited that line on stage since it was said by Richard Duke of York, the part Alleyn would most likely have played. It was a current play and so Alleyn had probably spoken the line very recently. What would a reasonable historian be expected to conclude?

Let us consider the recent contribution by Sally Jenkins, in the Washington Post Magazine. It is not unusual for even sports journalists to contribute to the debate since, as she explains, “all journalists are by nature untrained historians.” And Jenkins curiously affirms: “The Author Controversy persists despite considerable documentary evidence. We have the man from Stratford's pay stubs for performing at court, his certificate of occupancy for the Globe Theatre, and his will, in which he left memorial rings to some London actors. Funny he would do that if he was just a country burgher who didn't write the plays."

First, I do not wish to be pedantic, but we don’t have pay stubs for Shakespeare performing at court. We have a record that he was paid (with two of his other sharers) when his company performed at court. Whether Shakespeare performed is not known; though, in this context, it is somewhat irrelevant. Is Jenkins seriously claiming that, because Shakespeare was an actor, a theatre sharer and had actor friends, he therefore wrote the plays? Is that reasonable? Surely I am not alone in thinking this is a preposterous assertion. I suppose it reasonable, therefore, to conclude that the plays written by Burbage, Kemp, and Alleyn (all theatre sharers, actors and friends of actors) were the equal of Shakespeare’s but, we must assume, lost in the sands of time. I would suggest, to Sally Jenkins, that before she employs sarcasm to emphasise a blatantly obvious fact, she ensures the fact is obvious to everyone else. It would be far more “funny” as a result.

It is noteworthy that an expertise on the works of Shakespeare does not imbue people with similar authority on the authorship issue. A number of Stratfordian scholars are reluctant to enter into the debate and, as a result, cannot be assumed to know the arguments in detail. Nevertheless, their opinions are still held in great esteem, which does not so much remind me of Shakespeare, as it does Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote an immensely underrated and perceptive story called The Emperor’s New Clothes. Adapted to this situation, loosely, it would be a story about a person respected purely because he studied Shakespeare and, mistakenly, someone to whom others should listen. As Hans Christian Andersen astutely observed, the masses are quick to admire the things they think they should, when they have little or no confidence in their own judgment. It is a very human trait for one to assume that so-called experts are far wiser than you. This is a dangerous assumption. It is for this reason that some, such as Terry Ross and David Kathman, must be applauded for at least entering into a proper, scholarly argument of the issues and defending the Stratfordian corner on evidential grounds. It is only unfortunate that most their attention is directed towards the Oxfordian lobby, which is not the Stratford man’s strongest opposition.

Alexa Stevenson, Penn State University, recently wrote an article, on the ResearchPennState website, based on an interview with Patrick Cheney, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature. She says: “One of the chief arguments of those who doubt his authorship is that Shakespeare lacked the education and experience to have produced such a wide-ranging body of work. Not so, argues Cheney, noting that William Shakespeare had a superior education, some of it acquired from grammar school in Stratford, but much expanded upon as an adult.” Most know that this is pure speculation, but let us give Cheney some rope here. Stevenson continues: “Adds Cheney, research shows that even in a pre-library age, Shakespeare had a good deal of access to books. ‘Shakespeare was not simply a genius; he was by all accounts a voracious reader: the plots from nearly all his plays and poems come from books.’” Ah, it appears Cheney used the rope to hang himself! I would like to see that research. I have never come across anything to suggest “Shakespeare had a good deal of access to books.” I would also be keen to hear the “all accounts” that describe him as a “voracious reader.” Let me not be cruel; it is obvious what Cheney is really saying. If I reword the relevant passage (as an impartial historian may write it) it would look like this: “Research shows that, even in a pre-library age, the author had a good deal of access to books. The author was not simply a genius; he was by all accounts a voracious reader: the plots from nearly all his plays and poems come from books.” This is a proper, true statement of the facts and sensible assumptions. One’s evidence, in support of the Stratford man’s education, cannot be to cite the same plays that many claim he was unable to write because he had no education. Cheney may as well have said, “We know he was educated enough to write the plays because he wrote the plays.”

It could be that Cheney has far more convincing reasons for believing Shakespeare of Stratford was capable of writing the plays. This, after all, is merely the briefest comment from a short article. So, if that be the case, Professor Cheney, let us hear them; but do not treat Shakespeare’s doubters as idiots that can be swept aside with ill-considered sound bites. Non-Stratfordians have, in many cases, devoted as much time to their research as you have to yours. Therefore, (and probably very soon), you will need to be better prepared to defend your case than you are currently.

Then we have that Shakespearean giant, Stanley Wells. He even brings a smile to my face, as he grins like the proverbial Cheshire cat, proudly standing next to his “newly discovered” Shakespeare portrait – the Cobbe (in reality, the only thing that is “new” is Wells’s declaration, since the portrait has been debated for many decades now). There is a thorough analysis of this claim, by Ros Barber, on the Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection blog, with a link to Katherine Duncan-Jones’s TLS response, both of which I recommend you read for a more detailed account.

Wells has responded to Duncan-Jones’s criticism with a staunch defense. I apologize, in advance, for reducing years of toil to such simple terms, but space (and a finite lifespan) dictates that I do so. Simply put, Wells’s team claims the Cobbe to be the original of the Janssen portrait owned by Folger; whilst KDJ’s team claims the Cobbe is a copy of a Bodleian library-owned portrait of Sir Thomas Overbury. Let us assume the Cobbe is the original of the Janssen - a painting which may, or may not, be Shakespeare. I do not see that this helps us a great deal, since many believe there is no reason to think the Janssen portrait depicts Shakespeare either (including, amusingly, Folger’s own Erin Blake, who seems to think the Janssen might be Sir Thomas Overbury!). Wells disagrees, claiming that the addition of a receding hairline was not an attempt to mimic the First Folio’s balding Droeshout engraving, but was, instead, an early addition, proving the Janssen was “updated within living memory of him [Shakespeare].” I can see his reasoning: updating portraits is commonplace; I have recently had all the hair removed from a portrait of me, aged 22, just so it looks more current. However, why this negates someone mimicking Droeshout’s work, Wells doesn’t explain, but I assume it is obvious to him.

In fairness to Wells, the Cobbe does appear to have belonged to the Earl of Southampton, claimed to be the patron of Shakespeare because he dedicated two poems to the Earl. He may have known the author of those two poems, we don’t know. However, there is no evidence that Southampton, despite being an avid theatregoer, ever paid, met or even mentioned anyone called Shakespeare, let alone Shakespeare of Stratford. There is no evidence Southampton mourned when Shakespeare died; the First Folio was dedicated to the Herberts, not Southampton. Even so, we are supposed to believe that, if Southampton had a portrait of anyone in his house, it had to be of Shakespeare. Conversely, Sir Thomas Overbury was a great friend and political ally of Southampton, which, some say, adds weight to the claim that the portrait is more likely to be of him. Wells, once more, disagrees, claiming, “Overbury was notorious,” making it “astonishing” to suppose that multiple copies of his portrait had survived unnamed. The fact that multiple copies of a Shakespeare portrait survive unnamed is obviously far less “astonishing” to Wells, since he knows, as do we, Shakespeare’s name is rarely found where expected.

I would highlight one point here, in order that newcomers may become better attuned to a non-Stratfordian mindset. Imagine that Wells gets his day of glory and the Cobbe portrait actually turns out to be Shakespeare. What does Wells have: a portrait of the author of the plays and poems, or a portrait of the businessman from Stratford? The major contribution this would make is to link a man named Shakespeare with Southampton, but that is all. It will tell us nothing more about the roles of either Shakespeare, a writer or the Stratford man. Non-Stratfordians have no ulterior motive for doubting the provenance of the Cobbe portrait, other than a dislike of wild, illogical reasoning.

Since I am berating Stratfordian scholars for biased and ill-conceived theories, it would be remiss of me not to highlight similar transgressions committed by the non-Stratfordian lobby. They are far from innocent; and their amateur enthusiasm, for conspiracy at every turn, often manifests itself in far more outrageous claims than any Stratfordian would countenance. This piece is not the time or place to start debating the relative merits of various authorship theories. However, I am frequently baffled that a complete lack of the correct literary talent is not deemed a problem. Some, like Neville’s supporters, avoid this by the absence of any creative works whatsoever (all, presumably, written anonymously). Others seem to overcome this deficiency by seeing great genius in work that, in reality, contains little or none. Whilst it is not illogical to assume that an author, writing under a pseudonym, would have no extant works attributed to him by name, I find it a little more difficult to reconcile claimants with extant works of inferior (or, at least, ill-matched) quality. That said, perhaps there is even a logical explanation for that somewhere. I am trying to be as open-minded as possible (Stratfordians, look and learn). However, the fact that Henry Neville owned a foundry (Shakespeare, apparently, mentions metal a lot), is not really of major significance. Shakespeare’s canon is filled with expertise on many trades. If the author did not know about a particular subject, it is far more logical to assume that he simply asked someone in possession of that knowledge. Authors are not required to be experts in all subjects to which they refer.

The similarities between the life of Oxford and Hamlet, whilst interesting, are no sensible reason for concluding Oxford wrote the play. The similarities between Hamlet and Saxo’s Amleth are equally strong. Marlowe, at age 15, could, conceivably, have been Mary Sidney’s lover and fathered William Herbert. Then again, so could just about every poet, playwright, artist and scientist that visited Wilton House. It is for wild, unsubstantiated claims, such as these, that we chastise Stratfordians; and we must apply the same tests, to our own theories, that we demand of others.

It could be that I am completely wrong, comparing literary scholars with historians. Perhaps literary scholars do not consider themselves as historians, and would simply say to me that it was not their job to enlighten the world about Shakespeare in a fact-based way. If that is the case, then I apologize unreservedly. However, it raises the question, “Why do we not have some proper historians study this issue and bring more relevant expertise to the subject?”

I have an enormous admiration for the intellect and knowledge of men like Jonathan Bate and Stanley Wells. I could not begin to tell you what I would give to have that breadth of knowledge demonstrated by the author of Soul of the Age. It clearly displays an encyclopaedic familiarity with Shakespeare’s works. The “lament” of this piece is that I mourn the fact we do not have intellectual giants, like Bate, searching for the truth behind the authorship, rather than using that knowledge to manipulate the facts to support the Stratford man’s claim. Unfortunately, I am sure the response to this plea will be that these scholars have indeed examined the facts and completely satisfied themselves as to the validity of Shakespeare’s authorship claims. I am not suggesting they do not believe this with every fibre of their being. Moreover, I very much doubt it would be possible to render such a staunch defense of the Stratford man without this unshakeable belief. I do not question their sincerity for one second; I simply question their judgment.

Continued loyalty to the Stratford man is not a sensible reaction to the doubts about Shakespeare’s authorship and, in truth, is an improbable explanation for the staunch defense. It is far more likely that these scholars are defending their own reputations, not Shakespeare. For too long, the establishment has been fighting in William’s corner and it is far too late for them suddenly to see the light while maintaining their credibility. The battle for the hearts and minds of this generation of entrenched Stratfordians is, I’m afraid, one the doubters are never likely to win.

Anthony Kellett

© Anthony Kellett, October 2009

Also by Anthony Kellett: "Shakespeare's Anonymous Death" and "William Shakespeare, Businessman - Forgotten Genius"

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oxfordians and the 1604 Question by Peter Farey

The Earl of Oxford is known to have died in 1604, when according to virtually all Shakespearean scholars at least a quarter of Shakespeare's plays were yet to be written. Oxfordians - who unlike Marlovians generally accept the date upon which their candidate is supposed to have died - imagine that they can overcome this problem by claiming that these plays must have all been written before then, and that the scholars have simply shifted them into the period c.1592-1613 because that corresponds with what would have been the writing career of their author, William Shakespeare of Stratford. Oxfordian chronologies would have him writing everything some ten or more years earlier.

Unfortunately for them, however, it is not quite as simple as that. How much the blank verse used in English drama changed over the years cannot simply be ignored in this way. Let us look at one such change - the gradual but steady move away from a procession of end-stopped lines in regular iambic pentameter.

The opposite of an end-stopped line, an open line - or a run-on line, or enjambment - is one in which the meaning flows on to the next line without punctuation. For example, see Prospero's famous lines in Act IV scene 1 of The Tempest:
Our revels now are ended: these our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air.
It would simply not be possible to put any sort of punctuation at the end of the second line without wrecking the sense. That's an open line. And a feminine ending? The rhythm of Shakespeare's blank verse is the iambic (di-dum) pentameter (repeated 5 times). This is how lines two and three scan, but not line one, which has acquired an extra "di" syllable at the end. That's a feminine ending.

In a post to SHAKSPER ("The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference") on March 2, 1996, David Kathman wrote: "The use of feminine endings in blank verse increased steadily among English poets in general between the 1580s and the 1620s, just as the use of enjambment increased steadily in the same period; Shakespeare followed both of these trends"; and as Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza tell us: "The percentages of both indicators tripled over Shakespeare's lifetime."1

Here, using Elliott and Valenza's figures, are details of plays by Beaumont, Chapman, Daniel, Dekker, Fletcher, Greene, Heywood, Jonson, Kyd, Herbert (Mary), Lyly (that lone one at the bottom), Marlowe, Middleton, Munday, Nashe, Peele and Porter.2As we can see, even though the data come from many different playwrights, there is a clearly discernable trend, as indicated by the computer-generated trendline. Note in particular that before 1600 only two plays exceeded a usage rate of 35, whereas after 1600 only two plays did not exceed that level. By "usage rate," we mean the number of open lines plus feminine endings there are on average per hundred lines of verse.

Although there is no generally agreed chronology for the works of Shakespeare, the differences between the dates suggested by various scholars are relatively minor. Given that the figures being used in these graphs are those of Elliott and Valenza, it seems appropriate to use their dates too.

Here is a graph in which the usage rate for each Shakespeare play according to Elliott and Valenza is plotted against the date they suggest for it. It is worth bearing in mind that their intention in assembling this information had nothing to do with our reason for using it here. Even without the trendline, one can see how Shakespeare's figures increase over the years as David Kathman reported - in fact at a quite extraordinarily constant rate. What should be pointed out is that every one of the plays usually given a date after the death of the Earl of Oxford in 1604 has a usage rate greater than 45. Every other Shakespeare play (i.e. 1604 or earlier) except Measure for Measure (50) and All's Well That Ends Well (51) has a rate of less than that.

Although these dates are the ones given by Elliott and Valenza, the trend would have been no less evident if we had used the dates published by any other Shakespearean scholar. No matter which of the various orthodox chronologies one chooses, there is a highly significant trend by which these figures increase over the years. In other words we can be very confident that most if not all of those plays given a date after the death of the Earl of Oxford were indeed written after those given a date before it.

Some Oxfordians argue that the whole timetable could be moved back ten years or so, which would result in precisely the same trend in Shakespeare's works, and simply mean that the other writers took longer than we thought to catch on to the changing approach. Unfortunately for this argument, however, it would mean them bumping straight into the buffer which is Francis Meres.

In 1598 Francis Meres published his Palladis Tamia which, had it not been for its relevance to Shakespeare, might have been largely forgotten long before now. In this he gave a list of plays by Shakespeare, which clearly indicated that they must have been performed by that year. He said that Shakespeare was the "most excellent" English dramatist for both comedy and tragedy, and gave as examples of the former The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labour's Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice and the now untraceable Love's Labour's Won. For tragedy he cited Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, King John, Titus Andronicus, and Romeo and Juliet.

As Oxfordians are quick to point out, however, it's not a complete list of the plays Shakespeare had written by then, since it is fairly clear that the three parts of Henry VI and The Taming of the Shrew - although not necessarily with the same titles - had also been performed before 1598. So is there a specific reason for those plays to have been omitted which would not apply to any other? Yes, there certainly is.

This is what Edward Burns says in his Arden (3rd series) edition of 1 Henry VI (p.8), describing the first page of the theatre owner Philip Henslowe's accounts: "What follows is a day-to-day calendar of the plays performed that year at the Rose theatre by a company under the patronage of Lord Strange - hence 'my lord stranges mene'. About a third of the way down the page a line reads 'ne - Rd at harey the vj the 3 of marche 1591...iijli xvjs 8d'." "Harey the vj" is generally accepted as being 1 Henry VI, and there is no record of it ever being performed by any company other than Lord Strange's Men.

In his Arden 3 edition of 2 Henry VI (p.121), Ronald Knowles says: " seems probable that, by 1591, 2 and 3 Henry VI had been performed successfully, presumably by Lord Strange's company, since 'Pembroke's Men' appears on the title page of The True Tragedy [the 1595 quarto of 3 Henry VI] and this company is generally considered an offshoot of Strange's." 2 Henry VI had been called "The First Part of the Contention between the two great houses of York and Lancaster." That it was the "first part" may be taken to indicate that both plays were owned and performed by the same company.

All three of the Henry VI plays therefore seem to have been the property of the Strange/Pembroke companies and there is no record of their being associated in any way with the Lord Chamberlain's company. The reason for their omission from Meres's list is therefore fairly clear - he didn't know that they were by Shakespeare, resident playwright for the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

Similarly, The Taming of the Shrew had a quarto version called The Taming of A Shrew and, as Brian Morris (Arden 2, p.45) says, its title-page states, "As it was sundry times acted by the Right honorable, the Earle of Pembroke his servants." The next time we hear of it is in the First Folio of 1623.

Titus Andronicus was similar to this, although Meres did include it in his list. What we find in this case, however - despite evidence of it having passed through the hands of Strange's, Pembroke's and even Sussex's Men - is that when Q2 appeared in 1600 (only two years after Meres's list) it had added the Lord Chamberlain to the noblemen whose servants had played it, most probably before 1598.

There is no evidence of any of the rest of the plays on Meres's list having been played by companies other than the Lord Chamberlain's. It's been suggested that Richard III might have originated with the Strange/Pembroke group, but the fact that the 1598 quarto is ascribed to Shakespeare - and that there was a bawdy 1602 joke about Burbage playing Richard - makes it fairly certain that it was in the Lord Chamberlain's Men's repertoire by the time Meres mentioned it.

So Meres's list seems to consist only of those plays said to have been by Shakespeare which were in the Lord Chamberlain's Men's repertory by 1598. Most scholars therefore quite reasonably claim that the first plays written by Shakespeare were those Meres listed, plus the other four, and that any other plays of his made their first appearance after this date.

In considering whether this claim is justified it is interesting to see how much the two techniques are used in those first 15 plays of Shakespeare - the 11 on Meres's list for which we have data plus the four missing ones - when compared with the rest of his plays. If we do so we find that (with the exception of 1 Henry IV and The Merchant of Venice) every one of them has a usage rate lower than 35. In contrast, every other play of his (with the exception of The Merry Wives of Windsor which has hardly any verse to speak of) has a rate exceeding 35. This offers massive support for the Shakespearean scholars' claim.

That this matches the trend observed among Shakespeare's contemporaries is reinforced by the fact that in the first graph the contemporaries' trendline is only two points away from his level in 1598. By 1604, however, he is ahead by some ten points on average, and by 1613 that difference between them has grown to twenty per hundred lines of verse. Part of what made Shakespeare's verse so much greater than the rest was this appreciation of just how much freedom the two techniques offered.

To sum up:

1) Whether we are talking about Elizabethan or Jacobean playwrights in general or about Shakespeare in particular, there is a very clear trend in which the use of open lines and feminine endings tended to increase throughout Shakespeare's lifetime.

2) All of the orthodox Shakespearean chronologies show ten or eleven plays written after Oxford's death.

3) Every one of the eleven plays considered here has a frequency of open lines plus feminine endings which is more than that of any other play ascribed to Shakespeare bar two. The median (midpoint) value of the figures for these plays is 64 per hundred lines of verse.

4) Of the plays listed by Francis Meres as having been written by 1598 - plus those missing from his list for which there is evidence of earlier performance by the Strange/Pembroke companies - every one of them other than The Merchant of Venice and 1 Henry IV has a frequency of open lines plus feminine endings which is less than any of the rest of the plays attributed to him other than The Merry Wives of Windsor. The median value for all of them is only 26 per hundred lines of verse.

5) No matter which of the various orthodox chronologies one chooses, there is a highly significant trend by which these figures increase over the years. However, as the reasoning explained in Gary Taylor's chronology shows,3 the high correlation of the figures with the dates is not due to the latter being based upon the former, which plays little or no part in how the dates are arrived at. So the clear trend adds considerable support to the orthodox datings being substantially correct.

6) This leaves Oxfordians with the following options.

• Find reasons for shifting every one of those ten or eleven plays back before 1604, and pretend that the resulting demolition of the trend doesn't matter.

• Shift the whole canon back the requisite amount in time, which would retain the trend, but then explain why Meres had inexplicably omitted most of Shakespeare's finest plays from his list.

• Create an entirely new chronology for the post-1598 plays which retains the trend, but squeezes all 23 of them into the six-year period between 1598 and 1604. Without any justification for the "new" dates being based either upon internal or external evidence, however, this would of course be cheating.

• Hope that nobody notices and that it will all just go away, or

• Think it possible that they just might be backing the wrong candidate?

Peter Farey

© Peter Farey, September 2009
  Emmerich Anonymous Shakespeare
Peter Farey, a founding member of the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society, is the 2007 recipient of the Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize, administered annually by The King's School in Canterbury for a "distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe." He was also a founding member (with Derek Jacobi) of the UK's National Youth Theatre. Click here to reach Peter's website.

Are Oxfordians backing the wrong candidate? Click here for Peter's fascinating analysis of how Marlowe compares with de Vere on Shakespeare authorship criteria.

1Elliott, Ward and Robert Valenza. "And Then There Were None: Winnowing the Shakespeare Claimants." Computers and the Humanities 30, 1996. p.198.
2Ibid. pp.211-211. All of their counting was done by computer, and the authors acknowledge (p.215) that it is not as accurate as manual counting for feminine endings. For the present exercise, however, this is of less importance than having the same method used throughout.
3Taylor, Gary. "The Canon and Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays," in Stanley Wells, Gary Taylor et. al., William Shakespeare, A Textual Companion (1987, 1997). pp.81-2.

Click here for the blog's home page and recent content.