Ben Jonson’s Eulogy (8)

   “He seems to shake a Lance”

  Section 8 (65-70): Reference to the Author’s literary Heritage

                                Looke how the fathers face                    
    Lives in his issue, even so, the race

Of Shakespeares minde, and manners brightly shines
    In his well torned, and true filed lines :                              
[well-turned ]
In each of which, he seemes to shake a Lance,
    As brandish’t at the eyes of Ignorance.

    In the first part of this section Jonson may be putting in the suggestion that the Author did not write the plays alone, cloistered in his or her room (as is often imagined in the case of William Shakspere of Stratford) but that the plays were produced by the Author in the context of a literary culture.  In the case of Mary Sidney, Jonson’s lines may suggest that she received direct help and support from her own family members (“her race”), most of whom where steeped in the highest literary culture of the age.  This reference to "the father's face living in his issue" could also be a direct reference to Philip Sidney who was, in every way, the father to Mary Sidney's verse:

    "In The Countess of Penbrooke’s Love Breton would describe how Philip’s death had motivated Mary to do what she was now doing.  He has the countess plaintively ask her brother: But, what should I?shall I ? or can I give? / To thee: for all that thou hast given me? The challenge was formidable and the countess had to work hard to overcome her shortcomings so that her humble heart may inrepentance prove, / The dearest passage of thy love’s direction. She would be the conduit of his wishes – his literary oracle. Her goal in this was only to live to thee, in thee, and but with thee, / My dearest life, andonly truest love: / where heaven and earth do all the comfort see, / Thatfaithful passions in the soul mayprove. (Faulkes, Tiger’s Heart in Woman’s Hide, p. 89)

In the previous section Jonson makes it very clear that pure genius (that which may be given by Nature), without cultivation and personal effort (and without the support of a literary culture), could not have produced plays of such high quality.  Here Jonson is again rebutting the so-called “genius” argument which holds that a lone individual, on the basis of genius alone (without access to vast amounts of source material, education, the aristocratic culture he writes about, and the support of a literary culture and heritage) could have written the Shakespeare plays.

The last lines of this passage may serve as a final refutation of the first verbal attack leveled directly at Mary Sidney, by the satirist Thomas Nashe, who wrote a preface for, and illicitly published, the first printing of Philip Sidney's sonnet sequence. [For a complete discussion of incidents surrounding Nashe's preface
and the reaction to it by Edmund Spenser and Nicholas Bretonsee Fred Faulkes' brilliant discussion in Tiger's Heart in Woman's Hide].   >> See Nashe

     Direct help with the plays may have come from the Author’s nephew (Roger Manners, Earl of Rutland) and niece (Elizabeth Sidney, Countess of Rutland), as well as from her niece, Mary Sidney Wroth, her step-daughter, Susan de Vere (daughter of Edward de Vere), her relative William Stanley, Sixth Earl of Derby and also from close members of Wilton House, which could have included Samuel Daniel, John Harrington, and others.

     Ben Jonson, who was a regular member of Wilton Circle, may not have been fully aware of any collaborative or group effort which might have produced the Shakespeare plays nor does it seem, he knew, or suspected, that Mary Sidney was the primary Author of the plays. (Jonson was a known gossip—especially when prompted by a few ales—and he may have been excluded from the confidential “inner circle” at Wilton House.  Or, on the other hand, being a close ally of William Herbert, he may have been “in the know” as to the identity of the Author, from the beginning.)     

    Jonson’s use of the phrase “shake a Lance,” which is a clear reference to the pen name “Shake-speare,” may relate to one of Mary’s brothers, Philip or Robert, both of whom were knights and who were associated with the term “lance” (which was a weapon used by knights).  Jonson may be suggesting that the pen name “Shakespeare” relates to the Author’s “race,” to the Sidney-Herbert family, rather than to one individual.  This reading is supported by the tenet that the “Shakespeare” associated with Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, was different from the “Shakespeare” who wrote the main sonnet sequence, and both were different from the “Shakespeare” whose name is associated with the plays.  (This accords with my working theory which is as follows: William Herbert, with much help from Francis Bacon, or his tutor, Samuel Daniel, penned the two narrative poems; Mary Sidney Wroth wrote the main sonnet sequence; and Mary Sidney Herbert, wrote the plays.  In all three works the “Shakespeare” name indicated someone in the Sidney-Herbert family
.  Thus, the name "Shakespeare" (in its full form as“William Shakespeare”) was first used by the young William Herbert, who used the name on Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594); however, the same name was not used by the Author of the plays until 1598 (even though some dozen plays had been written before that time). It was only in 1597 that the Author decided to “put a name” on her plays; it was then that the name “Shake-speare” started to appear on the title page of the published plays.  The Author of the plays, looking for a pen name (so as to keep all her plays under one roof) may have opted to use the already-existing Sidney family pen name of “Shakespeare”—especially since, at that time, it became clear that William Herbert no longer had any interest in the name.  The fact that the early plays were published without a name on the title page, suggests that the Author did not want her real name associated with the plays; and the later publishing of her plays, after 1598, with the name “Shake-speare” on the title page, suggests that this was a pen name.  (Had "Shakespeare" been the Author's real name, we would suspect that all the plays published before 1597, which bore no name on the title page, would have had "Shakespeare" on the title page.  There is no satisfactory explanation as to why the Author, if named "Shakespeare," would include his name so prominantly on his two narrative poems, and then publish a dozen plays without the name, and then start using the name again in 1598.

Plays published anonymously, before 1623

Taming of a Shrew
Titus Andronicus
Henry VI, Part 2
(1594, 1600)
Henry VI, Part 3
(1595, 1600)
Romeo and Juliet
    (1599, 1609) — “Newly corrected, augmented, and amended:” 

Richard II
Richard III
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry V(1600) 

Plays published with name on the title page, before 1623

Love’s Labor Lost
(1598): “Newly corrected and augmented | By W. Shakespeare
Richard III
(1598): “W. Shakespeare”
Richard II
(1598): “by William Shakespeare” [first full name on title page]
Henry IV, Part
1(1599): “Newly corrected by    W. Shake-speare”*  **
Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600): “Written by William Shakespeare
Henry IV, Part 2
 (1600): “Written by William Shakespeare
The Merchant of
Venice (1600): “Written by William Shakespeare”
    (1619): “Written by W. S h a k e s p e a r e”

Ado About Nothing (1600): “Written by William Shakespeare
Merry Wives of
Windsor (1602: “By William Shakespeare
    (1619): “Written by W. S h a k e s p e a r e”

(1603): [title page missing]
    (1605, 1611):  “By William Shakespeare”
Henry IV, Part 1 
(1608): “Newly corrected by W. Shake-speare”*
King Lear
  (1608): “M. William Shake-speare”
   (1609): “By William  Shakespeare”
Troilus and Cressida
  (1609): “Written by William Shakespeare”

* States that the play was “newly corrected and augmented” by W. Shakespeare (or W. Shake-speare), which suggests that the play was not written by W. Shakespeare but only corrected and augmented. 
** In Henry IV, Part 1 (1599) there is a large space between “Newly corrected by” and “W. Shake-speare” which suggests that the name was added as an afterthought.

    “The title pages of Taming of a Shrew (1594), Titus Andronicus (1594), and Henry VI, Part 3 (1595), while listing no author, all state that they have been played by the Earl of Pembroke’s Men, the acting company sponsored by Mary Sidney and her husband.  Scholars [Campbell] believe that Henry VI, Part 2 (1594) was also played by Pembroke’s Men, documenting that at least three (and probably four) of the early, anonymous Shakespearean plays were played by the acting company sponsored by Mary.
      (Williams, Sweet Swan of Avon, p. 185)

    With respect to the Author’s plays, the full pen name “William Shakespeare” was first listed on the title page of the second edition of Richard II, 1598; the name was wisely left off the title page of the first edition of the play, printed the year before. This seditious play was the last place a playwright would want to place his name, so why do we find the full name, “William Shakespeare” on the title page of the one play which no author wanted his name associated with?  (The plays was considered seditious because it metaphorically implicated the dethroning of the Queen; and because its intent, as charged, was to incite social unrest
it was played throughout London on the eve of the Essex revolution).  Certainly if Shakspere of Stratford was in the business of making money with his plays, and establishing a brand name for himself, he would have put his full name on the title page of every play he had written, including Taming of a Shrew and Romeo and Juliet (which were published anonymously).  He certainly would not have affixed his name, for the first time, to the one play which could have landed him in jail.  When the play was published with the name “William Shakespeare” on the title page neither the Queen, nor anyone else, considered this to be the real name of the Author.  It was clearly meant to be a pen name. Neither the the name, nor the play, was ever associated with William Shakspere of Stratford.  (Had it been, he certainly would have been dragged in for questioning). When inquiries were made into the writing and production of the play—to see who would be jailed or put to death (for treason), Augustine Philips, a manager of the Globe, was dragged into court “in cuffs.”  (He stated that Essex’s men had paid his company double the usual rate to perform the play, one the eve of the Essex Rebellion.) William Shakspere of Stratford, who was in Stratford at the time, was never considered nor ever mentioned in the inquiry. (Had he, a commoner, written Richard II he would certainly been fined, jailed, or hanged and quartered.)  

The origin of the name, “Shakespeare”

The full name “William Shakespeare” first appeared on Venus and Adonis (1593) and then Lucrece (1594), rather than a derivative of the name, such as “W. Shakespeare,” or “Shake-speare” (which was how the name appeared on the earlier plays). However, the name was not so certain with respect to the plays; there appeared to be a floundering or uncertainty about the use of this name. The Author of the plays, after having had seven plays published without a name on the title page, decided, around 1598, to adopt the pen name, “Shakespeare,” just as how the name appeared on the two narrative poems.)  As one can see from the list above, the first plays were published anonymously, then with the name, “W. Shakespeare,” then with “W. Shake-speare” and finally arriving at the more consistent name of “William Shakespeare” in 1600.  The work of no other playwright of the age follows this pattern, as all had their recognizable names affixed to the title page.

    The tenet that the “Shakespeare” who wrote Venus and Adonis and Lucrece was the same “Shakespeare” who wrote the plays is unsupportable.  The difference in content and style between the narrative poems and the plays, the non-uniformed use of the name on the plays (versus the use of the name on the poems), the dedication of the poems (and not the plays), the wide difference in errors per thousand between the poems and the plays, and the fact that the poems were not included in the First Folio (which was edited by someone who knew the Author and her work) all support the tenet that the plays and poems were written by two different people—yet, perhaps, two people who were related and both part of the Sidney “race.” 

    The theory I presently hold (which was first proposed by Ben Alexander) is that the poems were written (in part) by the young William Herbert, age 13, with a great deal of help from an accomplished poet living at Wilton House, possible his tutor, Samuel Daniel.  This work was probably undertaken at the prompting and direction of his mother, Mary Sideny, who wanted her son to, at a very early age, pick up the poetic mantle of his famous uncle, Philip Sidney.

"If the Stratford Shakespeare was not the author then the question remains, who was?  Was it possible that a thritee-year-old boy working with an exceptional tutor or under the tutelage of his gifted mother could have produced Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece?  I guess that William Herbert was wanting to compete with the nineteen-year-old Henry Wriothesley and wishing to emulate his uncle, Philip Sidney, who died when William was six and at this most impressionable.  Whoever worked with William Herbert, whether his mother or hid tutor Samuel Daniel, it looks as if William was allowed to take the credit under the pen name “William Shakespeare”; the first heir of my invention would not make sense."  
    (Alexander, The Darling Buds of Maie, p. 158)

    It is likely that Herbert never felt comfortable with this poetic role his mother so dearly wanted to cast upon him.  Thus, he may not have had much interest in pursuing his poetic talent after these two poems were written.  (And addition, he was probably not the sole author of the poems).  Besides, this whole poetic thing was his mother's passion and not his own.  So, after two poems were published under the full name of "William Shakespeare" the name was abandoned.  The many "Shakespeare" plays which were published after 1594, were done so anonymously, without using the pen name Shakepseare.  Then, in 1598, when a name was needed to "bring together" all the plays under one name, the Author, Mary Sidney, wanting to keep everything in the family, used the name "Shakespeare."  William Herbert, who had little interest from the beginning, and no attachment to the pen name, had no problem with this.  (Conveniently, in that same year, an essay appeared in Mere's book, which systematically listed almost all of Shakespeare's written works

By all accounts, the author of Venus and Adonis was a) young, as the poem was the “first heir of his invention,” b) not the author of the plays, c) a friend and admirer of Henry Wriothesley (to whom the work is dedicated), and d) someone recently exposure to the work of Ovid.  All these criteria fit William Herbert, however, due to his very young age, it is almost certain that he received significant “help” from his trusted tutor (Samuel Daniel), or some member of Wilton Circle.  As such, the work was essentially a collaboration, where the themes were introduced by the young poet (and the work was his in that regard) but it was fully developed and brought into form by someone helping him.   If William Herbert was the first author to use the pen name, “William Shakespeare” he devised the name or it applied to him in some way. One possibility is that the name “Shake-speare” was derived from one of William’s childhood nicknames. “Shake” was a term applied to actors and the theater, and it seems that young William had acting talent.  (We know that both his mother and father were actively involved with the theater; and the acting company that his father sponsored, “The Lord Pembroke’s Men” as listed on several of the titled pages of Shakespeare’s plays, and being the first company to act them out.  “Speare” may have be derived  from halbert (a combination spear and battle-ax used in the 15th and 16th centuries); halbert may have been one of William’s nicknames due to its clear affinity with Herbert.  William may have been called Halbert and later Speare because of his pugnacious nature.

                               Looke how the fathers face                 
    Lives in his issue, even so, the race
Shakespeares minde, and manners brightly shines
    In his well torned, and true filed lines :                      
In each of which, he seemes to shake a Lance,
    As brandish’t at the eyes of Ignorance.

Look how the father’s face lives in his issue, even so [Just as the qualities of a father can be seen in his child][moreover, see how] the race of Shakespeare’s mind [the literary heritage and family which produced the Author’s mind and literary talent], and manners [the Author’s noble upbringing, or a direct reference Roger Manners, Fifth Earl of Rutland] brightly shines in [is profoundly evidenced in; has added brightness and luminosity to] his [the Author’s] well-turned[well-crafted] and true-filed [true to life] lines [—lines which were a direct product of the Author’s life experience and noble culture and upbringing.]  In each [line] of which [being pristine and embodying the Author’s noble heritage], he [the Author] seems to shake a Lance [a) express evidence of his noble heritage, b) express the true greatness of his name—symbolized by the  “spear” or pheon of the Sidney race] as brandish’t at the eyes of Ignorance [and the Author’s words clearly dispel any ignorant notion that such lines could have been written in isolation, by someone without the support of a literary culture, in a single draft, and without the proper education and noble life-experience]. [By her every word, the Author is telling usthat these lines could not have been written by one who lacked ‘a father’—a cultural heritage, and the education, and life-experience which one must have had to write such lines.  Thus, every one of the Author’s well-turned and true-filed lines, is like a lance which is brandished at (aimed at dispelling) the eye of ignorance—the ignorant eye that cannot see this truth written in her words.]

    The line, "he seems to shake a Lance | as brandish't at the eyes of Ignorance" could also refer to the ignorant words written about Mary Sidney by Thomas Nashe, in his preface to Philip Sidney's sonnet collection.  In that preface, Nashe urged Mary Sidney not to try and follow in her brother's footsteps, nor learn the literary art, but simply act as a good woman should.  In his preface Nashe makes a reference to Philip Sidney's "Lance" (and to Mary Sidney's carrying on his work): 
the "Laurel Garland [beautiful and praiseworthy string of literary gems] which thy Brother so bravely advanced on his Lance [pen] is still kept green [alive and growing] in the Temple of Pallas[Wilton House, Mary Sidney's abode]."  In the same preface Nashe insinuates that the Pembrokes (and specifically Mary Sidney) in not publishing Philip Sidney's sonnet sequence [and having it under wraps for more than ten years] "was hoarding something of value which they could not appreciate."  Nashe, in writing this, wrote it with eyes of Ignorance, since we was not aware of Mary Sidney's great literary talent. 
    Thus, in these lines Jonson is saying: the publication of the Folio, which clearly demonstrates the Author's skill with a Lance, will put to rest such eyes of ignorance---ignorance which held that Mary Sidney could not appreciate the work of her brother, and ignorance in the accusation (also by Nashe) that Mary Sidney should not try (and did not have the skill) to keep alive the literary standard started by her brother.

The Race of Shakespeare’s Mind

Just as a father’s face lives (and can be seen) in his child, likewise a) “the race of Shakespeare’s mind” and b) “manners” shines through the Author’s work.  The profoundest influence upon the Author’s work was her “race” and “manners.”  As indicated, “the race of Shakespeare’s mind” seems to mean, “the family and culture—the race of the Sidneys—which gave birth to the Author’s genius and literary talent.”  (This would also include Wilton Circle, which the Author and her brother formed, and which was the most influential literary circle of the age.)  This line could also be a direct reference to the Author’s brother, Philip Sidney, who was part of that race, and who had an all-reaching influence on the Author and her work—and indeed upon the literary culture of England as a whole. 

    The key word, manners is oddly suited, and unclear, and Jonson could have more cleanly used the word virtue.  We see nothing of the Author’s manners in her work; perhaps we see something of her cultural upbringing, and her sensitivity, but not her manners.  If we look at the passage again, and take things more literally, we might gain a clue as to whom most profoundly influenced the Author, and who may have most directly helped the Author with the writing of her plays.  Thus, “look how the father’s face lives in his issue” refers to a real father and a real daughter—and specifically to Philip Sidney and his daughter, Elizabeth.  She is implicated because the next line mentions the word “manners”—which might be a direct reference to Roger Manners, who was married to Elizabeth Sidney.  Both were brilliant poets and writers in their own right.


true-filed lines
: truth-filled line, lines which are true in the sense that they truly reflect what one has lived and one’s level of education and experience.

“As Epius Stolo said, that the Muses would speak with Plautus’ tongue, if they would speak Latin, so I say that the Muses would speak with Shakespeare’s fine filed phrase, if they would speak English . . . ”(Meres)

Wilton Circle and the Author’s
Literary Culture

"Surely there can never have been in any land an aristocratic clique which possessed such an exalted standard of education and culture as the Elizabethan upper classes—Oxford, Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, the 4th Earl of Derby and his sons William and Ferdinando, Rutland and Lady Rutland (Sidney’s daughter), Southampton and Lady Pembroke (Sidney’s sister), to mention but a few.  And to this galaxy of talent must be added the towering figure of Francis Bacon, who was intimate with all of them. . .
  These great men, though some violent quarrels are recorded, were mostly excellent friends and, as they often met at Court, were all well known to each other.  They frequently visited each other’s houses and Wilton House, on the Salisbury Avon, the home of the earl of Pembroke, was a favorite meeting place where the drama and poetry were the subjects of greatest common interests and entertainment.  They were nearly all scholars and linguists and many of them also concealed poets.  They spoke or read Latin and French with facility and some to them had a good knowledge of Italian and Greek as well.  It is my belief that it was by the interplay of wit, knowledge and criticism in the unique circle of brilliant individuals that the plays of Shakespeare were forged.  It would account for the vast store of varied knowledge in the plays, the immense vocabulary, the polish and repolish of lines.
   This would not mean that there were many Shakespeares, but it would meant that the combined wisdom of a group of outstanding intelligent aristocrats, who met frequently, who had ample time on their hands, whose greatest relaxation in life was the pursuit of Muses, who themselves provided and adequate audience and the severest critics, led my one master mind, formed a group—a magic circle, without which the divine works of Shakespeare could not have come to their full glory. 
     (Evans, Shakespeare’s Magic Circle, p. 39-40)

    “She began her public literary activities to commemorate her brother Philip by serving as patron to those who wrote in his praise, including Edmund Spenser, Thomas Moffet, and Abraham Fraunce.  Spenser wrote for her The Ruins of Time, praising not only Philip, but also others whom she had lost.  It was her family that was honored . . . . She did encourage those in her family and household to write, including her brothers Phillip and Robert; her children’s tutor Samuel Daniel; her physician Thomas Moffet; her son William; and her niece and namesake Mary Sidney, later Lady Wroth, author of The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania. . .  The lengthy list of dedications to her indicates that many other writers sought her favor and that of her wealthy husband.”
       (Hannay, Selected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, p.11)

Mary Sidney and Group Theories

The person who was most likely to have been, what we should now call, the honorary secretary of the Shakespeare society, was Mary, Lady Pembroke, Sir Philip Sidney’s sister, and mother of the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, to whom the First Folio was dedicated.  She was certainly a remarkable woman, outstanding not only for her charm but also for her leaning in the days when the education of women in the upper circles of England was extraordinarily high.  She was a prolific poetess, who wrote verses of much charm, learning and culture, though none which survived even approaches Shakespearean standards.  Numerous poets of the day praised her in verse—Thomas Nashe, Gilbert Harvey, John Davies, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Ben Jonson among others.  Daniel resided at Wilton as a tutor and dedicated his Delia to her.   But it is a friend and patron of poets that she most deserves to be remembered.
    Surely Mary, Countess of Pembroke, had much of value that she could bring to assist in the revision of the plays of Shakespeare and to increase their richness.  Being a Latin, Greek, Italian, and French scholar Mary may well have had some part in swelling the fantastic vocabulary of the plays by anglicizing French and Latin words and using them as Shakespeare so frequently did in their root meanings.  Once that “game” [of writing plays which included many references] had started it must have been an irresistible attraction to scholars in the “Circle.”  Moreover, as suggested by Slater, it is difficult to believe that there was not some feminine influence helping to form some of the characters and even some scenes in the plays.
     (Evans, Shakespeare’s Magic Circle, p. 68-69)

    There is no doubt that the Countess Mary was associated with her two sons, William and Philip Herbert, in editing and publishing Shakespeare’s works in folio form, though she did not live to see it through press.  Where had the hitherto unpublished, even unacted, plays of Shakespeare lain until they saw the light in 1623?  Not at Stratford-on-Avon, surely.  Then who were the ‘grand possessors’ from whom Heminge and Condell are supped to have obtained the MSS. to publish?  Not the illiterate daughter of William Shakspere, who had no autograph papers of her father’s to show, nor the ‘bucram gentlemen’ of the stage. . .
      (Amphlett, Who Was Shakespeare?, p. 199) 

    Is it a coincidence that the plays attributed to Shakespeare started to appear immediately after the Countess of Pembroke came out of mourning?  I think not.
    My feeling is that conduit through which the plays emerged was the Sidney-Herberts, either through patronage, or having written the plays themselves, or having modified existing or embryo plays.  Mary Sidney Herbert was known to have placed herself very much in the thick of things.  She was involved with a large number of literary personages who had the ability to write plays, but even closer to home were a brother, Robert Sidney, Mary Wroth’s father, and a Sir William of Powis.  Drama was certainly and are and a culture that the Sidneys and the Herberts enjoyed and supported.  It is hardly conceivable that their College was not involved with the development of dramatic plays.
     (Alexander, The Darling Buds of Maie, p., 108-158)

Another point to recall is the opposite, what Mary Sidney did not produce—she was a prolific writer and translator in the early 1590s yet she produced little or nothing, in her name, after 1593.  Did she suddenly stop writing or were all her written works now produced anonymously or under the pen name, “William Shakespeare”

Who was part of the “race of Shakespeare’s mind”

    In this section Jonson makes it clear that the Author did not write the plays in a vacuum, or even alone, but received help from those in her immediate family or ‘race.’   Who was close enough to the Author to be part of her trusted ‘inner circle,’ and who had the literary talent to help with the crafting of the plays?  Roger Manners (the Earl of Rutland) is clearly implicated by Jonson’s use of his name.  And, his wife, Elizabeth, is implicated by he own literary talents and because her father was Philip Sidney—the most influential person in the Author’s life.  Mary Sidney Wroth (daughter of Robert Sidney), was Mary Sidney’s niece, and she (Mary Sidney Wroth) fathered two children with Mary’s son (William Herbert).  She was a talented writer and, as it turns out (in a recently discovered manuscript), Robert Sidney—who was often overshadowed by his more illustrious brother, Philip Sidney, had great literary talent (which was revealed by a recent discovery of his writings).  Mary Sidney’s son, William, might have also been involved, especially with regard to generating story ideas and providing her with inside information about court.  Her other son, Philip, was married to Susan de Vere (daughter of Edward de Vere) and she might have been part of the ‘inner circle’;  they are married in 1604 and lived at or near Wilton House for many years.  Susan’s sister was Elizabeth de Vere, the wife of William Stanley, Sixth Earl of Derby (who is also a major authorship candidate).

     It is hardly possible that Mary Sidney would have formed the greatest literary collective of the age (at her Wilton House home) so she could write her plays in isolation.  The purpose of the Wilton Circle was to create an atmosphere of mutual exchange and creativity. (Had Mary Sidney been a lone figure in her room, fashioning these plays alone—which is the picture many people paint of the lone Shakespeare—it would seem highly unlikely that she would create the greatest literary circle of the age, and not gain direct help and inspiration from this select group.  Even more unfathomable is the idea that Mary Sidney, in the thick of this literary culture—and having been an accomplished writer herself—would not produce a single work in her name for some 30 years.  As surmised, she did not write anything in that period, from 1593 until her death in 1621—because she had devoted her literary pursuits to playwriting, under the name of “Shakespeare.”)  Thus, the plays written by Mary Sidney, under the name of “Shakespeare,” were not written in isolation, through the pure imagination of the Author, but as part of a vibrant exchange with great literary talents, most of whom gathered together at Wilton House, and most of whom were part of the Sidney-Herbert race.

The Earl and Countess of
Rutland Roger Manners

    Both the Countess and Earl of Rutland were brilliant literary talents (and The Earl of Rutland is a foremost authorship candidate himself).  Both the Earl and Countess of Rutland had a close relationship to Mary Sidney and both may have been part of her ‘inner circle,’ assisting the Author in some way.  Roger Manners, had a close association with Mary Sidney, beginning in 1582, (as evidenced by letters written to his father) and he may have been part of the Author’s inner circle before marrying her niece (in 1599)—and, indeed, the marriage may have been arranged because of Mary’s affinity with Roger Manners.  Manners’s direct knowledge of the Courts of Denmark suggests a contribution to Hamlet.

    We have already seen how useful Rutland might have been with his excellent library at Belvior, his scholarship and his knowledge of Italy.  Moreover, someone who visited Elsinore after the publication of the 1603 quarto (Q1) of Hamlet appears to have provided Shakespeare with detailed information which enabled him to make some interesting alterations in the 1604 quarto (Q2).   More Danish names are introduced.  The name, Corambis, for instance, in Q1 is changed to Polonius in Q2, a Latinized form of the aristocratic Swedish name of Plönnies.

(Evans, Shakespeare’s Magic Circle, p. 64)

Elizabeth Sidney Manners

Lady Rutland liked the society of literary men and kept what is known as a salon.  Beaumont and Fletcher, Daniels and Drayton were often her guests
    (Sykes, Alias William Shakespeare?, p. 174) The celebrated Countess of Rutland was the patroness of Donne and Daniel. Ben Jonson placed her talent on par with that of her illustrious father, Philip Sidney, and tells how she inherited his skill, and that it was like dowry given to her by Nature: 

To Elizabeth, Countess of
THAT poets are far rarer births than kings,

Your noblest father proved; like whom, before, Sidney.

Or then, or since, about our Muses’ springs,

Came not that soul exhausted so their store.

Hence was it that the Destinies decreed

(Save that most masculine issue [
Arcadia] of his brain)
No male unto him  who could so exceed

Nature, they thought, in all that he would feign.

At which, she happily displeased, made you :

On whom, if he were living now to look,

He should those rare and absolute numbers view,

As he would burn, or better far his book.
(Ben Jonson)

Epistle: To Elizabeth, Countess of

 . . . For what a sin ‘gainst your great father’s spirit,
Were it to think, that you should not inherit

His love unto the Muses, when his skill.

Almost you have, or may have when you will ?

Wherein wise nature you a dowry gave,

Worth an estate, treble to that you have.

Beauty I know is good, and blood is more;

Riches thought most; but, madam, think what store

The world hath seen, which all these had in trust,

And now lie lost in their forgotten dust.

It is the Muse alone, can raise to heaven,

And at her strong arm’s end, hold up, and even,

The souls she loves.  Those other glorious notes,

Inscribed in touch or marble, or the coats

Painted, or carv’d upon our great men’s tombs,

Or in their windows, do but prove the wombs

That bred them, graves : when they were born they died,

That had no muse to make their fame abide. . . .  
      (Ben Jonson)

The year of 1612

If Elizabeth and Roger Manners were prominently involved with the Author (and her playwrighting) this might shed some light on why the Author (Mary Sidney) abruptly stopped writing plays in 1612 (according to the most accepted dating schema).  Both the Earl and Countess of Rutland died in the summer of 1612.  Thereafter, no more “Shakespeare” plays were written or produced.  In early 1613 Mary Sidney left England and spent the next three years in Northern Europe (with her younger lover, Lister).  If the Earl and Countess of Rutland constituted Mary Sidney’s “inner circle of support and inspiration,” then the sudden loss of these two pillars might have been a major factor which ended the Author’s inspiration to continue writing plays after 1612.  The circumstances surrounding their deaths are suspect, as both died at a very early age and only two months apart from each other.

Roger Manners, Fifth Earl of Rutland  (1576-1612); died June, 1612, age 35 
Elizabeth Sidney, Countess of Rutland (1584-1612); died August 1612, age 28 
Married March 1599: Roger Manners (age 23), Elizabeth Sidney (age 15)

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