Notes, Questions and Answers

 Notes, Questions and Answers

Section 1:  Related Notes

Ben Jonson, William Herbert, and the First Folio

    To understand the First Folio and its genesis we must gain some understanding about the role played by William Herbert.  (We already know the role played by Ben Jonson: he oversaw and spearheaded the project, edited the plays, wrote the eulogy, selected the poets to write various poems in the preface, arranged for Hemings and Condell to act as the stand-in editors, and most likely wrote the Dedication and the "Note to the Reader," which is attributed to Hemings and Condell.) One foremost question, then, concerning William Herbert, is: “Was he a willing participant (in seeing that the works of “Shakespeare” were printed in a First Folio edition) or did he unwilling participate?   Perhaps it was a mixture of both—he was willing to follow his mother’s wishes (that all her plays be printed) but, left to his own devices, he might never have initiated the project. The most likely scenario is that Mary Sidney Herbert took the initial steps to have her works printed in a folio edition; when she died in the midst of the project (after only four plays had been completed), her son William, in deference to his mother’s intentions (and perhaps encouraged by his cousin, Mary Sidney Wroth, whom he was living with at the time) took over the project; and, with the help of his friend, Ben Jonson, brought it to completion some two years later.

    If Mary Sidney died without a will (which is highly unlikely) or if she did not specifically mention her wish to have Ben Jonson complete her work—but simply mentioned that she wanted all her plays published in a Folio edition—William Herbert would have contacted his friend Ben Jonson to help with this task.  Jonson, who held the art of the play writing in high esteem, and was first to have his complete plays printed in a Folio edition, in 1616, was the perfect man for the job.

    We can surmise that Mary Sidney wanted "the Shakespeare" plays to be printed in a complete collection, and that she wanted to publish the edition under the name of "Shakespeare."  We can paint several scenarios whereby William kept his mother's name hidden, despite her wishes—perhaps to protect his own reputation—but these would be far-fetched and speculative.  He did, after all, cover the vast cost of publishing the First Folio.  And, had Mary Sidney wished that her name be revealed as the Author, all of her family members, including her other son, Philip, would have been partial to her will.  Even though William was an extremely powerful man, he could not have kept her name hidden (at least not for long) if she wanted it revealed.  Most likely, Mary Sidney wanted her son William (who was Lord Chamberlain at the time) to insure that her name remain hidden; and the ploy to resurrect an obscure, long-forgotten stage man from Stratford (who happen to have a name similar to that of “William Shakespeare”) to pin the Author's penname upon
and suggest, but never state, that he was the author of the Shakespeare playsmay have been part of a well-conceived stratagem to insure that the Author’s true identity remain hidden.  For if the penname, "Shakespeare," were allowed to remain as a penname—and not associated with any identifiable personthen there would be much "throwing about of brains" to try and figure out the Author's true identity.  Pinning the name on the obscure, and largely forgotten, Shakspere of Stratford rested all those prying inquiries and effectively "closed the case"—at least for a century or two.

Strange Bedfellows 

Jonson was chosen by William Herbert to complete the First Folio because he was competent and personally known to Herbert but, moreover, because he could be trusted to keep the family secret.  Several things, however, suggest that Jonson and Herbert may not have been in perfect accord with respect to the project.  First, as indicated in Jonson’s eulogy, he wanted to openly praise the Author but was prevented from doing so.  By all accounts Mary Sidney wished that her identity remain a secret, and her son, William Herbert, supported this position.  Jonson, however, may have wanted to reveal her name, as the primary Author of the plays, despite her wishes. Recall that Philip Sidney wished that all his works be destroyed yet his sister, Mary Sidney, in this one thing, did not honor her brother’s wish: she had all his works published.  Jonson wanted to do the same for Mary Sidney but did not have the power to override William Herbert and other members of the Sidney family.  

    Another clue which indicates that Jonson and Herbert were not in complete agreement about the Folio is the quality of the work itself—which was of decidedly poor quality.  Jonson’s own folio edition, or his “Workes” (1616) was a carefully crafted volume, prepared and printed with much greater care than the First Folio.  William Herbert, who was perhaps the second rishest man in England at the time (next to the King), certainly had the means to honor his mother's work with high-quality edition. Thus, the poor quality of the Folio was not seen by Jonson as the proper way to honor the author and her works.  And although the line from his eulogy, “these were not the paths I meant unto thy praise,” suggests that Jonson would not have choosen to praise Mary Sidney so covertly, it may also suggest the poor quality of the Folio.  Jonson might be suggesting that, “this poor-quality edition is not the way I would have praised you—I would have put forth a more elegant edition, similar in quality and care to the one I put forth for my own work.”  (Note: in 1631 Jonson planned to put out a second volume of his Workes, to complement his 1616 folio; however, he became so dissatisfied with the quality of the printing, done by John Beale, that he canceled the project.)

    In his book, Shakespeare; The World as a Stage, Bill Bryson describes his visit to the Folger Library and his talk with one of the curators:
  “What is slightly surprising,” Ziegler said, “is that all the fuss is about a book that wasn’t actually very well made.”  To demonstrate her point she laid open on a table one of the First Folios and placed beside it a copy of Ben Jonson’s own complete works.  The difference in quality was striking.  In the Shakespeare First Folio, the inking was conspicuously poor; many passages were faint of slightly smeared.
“The paper is handmade,” she added, “but of no more than middling quality.”  Jonson’s book in comparison was a model of stylish care.  It was beautifully laid out, with decorative drop capitals and printer’s ornaments, and it incorporated many useful details such as dates of the first performances, which were lacking from the Shakespeare volume.” 

The poor quality of the First Folio could have been due to several reasons:
    First, it may have been finished in some haste, with more value placed on completing the project than on minute accuracy.  (This does not, however, explain the poor quality of the ink and paper.)  The production of the Folio, went to print in August 1621, yet had stopped in October 1621, shortly after Mary Sidney’s death.  We do not know how long the project was put on hold but it could have been “on hold” for over a year, even before Ben Jonson was called in to complete it.
   Second, William Herbert may have been obliging his mother’s wish to have her plays published in a Folio Edition but may not have felt the need to honor the printed versions of her plays with exceptional care (as Jonson displayed with the publication of his own plays).  Perhaps Herbert had a less than stellar opinion about the plays, especially since several of them seem to expose some of Herbert’s early flaws and missteps).  
Third, the poor quality of the production may have been in keeping with the rouse that the Folio was produced and edited by Hemings and Condell: if the Folio was done with the same pristine precision as Jonson’s Folio, then it would have been more obvious that Jonson (and Herbert) played a much larger role than is indicated.

    The last thing which indicates that Jonson and Herbert were likely at odds about key elements of the First Folio relates to William Shakspere himself.  Though Jonson knew the man, it was unlikely that he would have gone to the extreme of mis-attributing the plays to the Stratford man (as part of a rouse to keep the Author’s identity a secret).  Jonson, it seems, wanted to reveal the name of the Author; he certainly did not want to hide it behind someone he felt unworthyand the very country boor whom Jonson had openly mocked in his play, Every Man Out of his Humour, and in notes found after his death.  Jonson would have preferred to keep the question open and simply leave “Shakespeare” as a penname, rather than taking steps to attribute that name to an actual person.  It was clearly “out of Jonson’s humour” (i.e., his natural disposition), and against his grain, to intentionally assign the “Shakespeare” plays to a worthy-of-being-mocked country boor.  However, since Herbert was funding the project, and Lord Chamberlain at the time, Jonson had no choice but to begrudgingly oblige.   

Mary Sidney’s Will

    If Mary Sidney stated (in her will) that the publication of the Folio should be completed by her son, William—with the possible request that Ben Jonson oversee the project—this would explain why her will was never found.   Being that she managed several estates, and had many responsibilities—and surely wanted to insure that her long-time partner, Matthew Lister, be provided for—it is very unlikely that she would have died without a written will.  The most likely scenario as to why her will never surfaced was because she may have made mention of her plays (expressing her wish that they all be published in a Folio edition); or perhaps the document contained embarrassing provisions which her sons did not want revealed. 

    In all likelihood, Mary Sidney had a will—a will which revealed her identity as the Author of the Shakespeare plays.  Thus, after her will was read and understood—and agreed to be carried out amongst her family members—it was ‘misplaced’.  William was praised for the way he so generously handled his mother’s estate, in the absence of a will, yet, by all indications, William’s handling of her estate was a result of his carrying out his mother’s "unwritten" will.

Mary Sidney’s Death and the Publication of First Folio

    Apart from the dating of the Shakespeare plays, the dates surrounding the publication of the First Folio (i.e., 1621, when the publication of the First Folio began, and 1623, when it was fully printed) are crucial when considering the Authorship Question.  Surprisingly, the two major authorship candidates, the Earl of Oxford, and Francis Bacon, both miss the mark when it comes to these dates.  Simply put, Oxford died too early and Bacon died too late: Oxford died in 1604, before many of the plays were written (though this seemingly insurmountable discrepancy is rectified by a cumbersome re-dating of the plays).  Still, this re-dating does nothing to appease the fact that there was such a long delay (19 years) between Oxford’s death and the completion of the First Folio (and Jonson's eulogy).  Bacon died in 1626, after the publication of the First Folio and after Jonson wrote his eulogy to the Author.  As such, Jonson’s eulogy (to the deceased Author) and all the other poems found in the preface of the First Folio (to the deceased) would not make any sense.  The two authorship candidates whose deaths are within a reasonable range of the publication of the First Folio are William Shakspere of Stratford (who died in 1616) and Mary Sidney (who died in 1621).  Even though Shakespeare died within a reasonable time before the publication of the First Folio, there is nothing to satisfactorily explain the seven-year delay between his death and the printing of the First Folio nor can we find a reason as to why Ben Jonson would have waited some seven years to write his eulogy—and not write a eulogy, with the same glowing terms, upon the first hearing of Shakspere’s death, which took place some seven years earlier. 

    Thus, in terms of “fit,” the death of Mary Sidney most perfectly fits in with the First Folio publication dates of August 1621 (when the project was initiated), October 1621 (when the project was stopped), and November 1623 (when it was completed).

    The simple and most obvious scenario related to the publication of the First Folio, goes as follows:

    1. In 1621, as Mary Sidney was approaching the age of 60, she took steps to have all her plays printed in a Folio edition (and to have them published under her penname “Shakespeare.”)  Up to this time, only 12 “Shakespeare” plays had been published, which is far less than the complete 37 plays found in the First Folio.  

    2. In August 1621 Mary was residing in London, on Aldersgate Street (and not at her country estate in Wilton). Thus, it is most likely that Mary Sidney specifically arranged to be in London during the summer of 1621 to oversee the printing and publication of the First Folio. 

    3. In August 1621 the printing of the First Folio began; four plays delivered to the printer.  These plays were: The Tempest, Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Measure for Measure.   On the title page of the First Folio it states, “Published According to the True Original Copies.”  This may have been Mary Sidney’s initial intention (when the Folio was contemplated and when the title page was printed)—and this statement seems to apply to the first four plays of the Folio—but this statement loses its truthfulness when applied to rest of the plays in the Folio. The first four plays in the Folio were printed from fair copies, copies made by a professional scribe, whereas the other plays seemed to have been stitched together from several sources. “If the editors had planned to continue the practice [of using fair copies] throughout the volume, however, they abandoned it after the fourth play and turned instead to a variety of sorts of copies. (Bevington, Complete Works p. lxxxvi) 

    The publication of the First Folio began without being licensed, which was not unheard of, but quite rare, especially for a work of such scope and cost.  (The reason why a publisher would not go to press without a license is that when it came time to sell the work, and the publisher failed to get a license, he would lose all the time and money invested in the project). “Before a play could be printed, it had to be licensed.  The licensing agent responsible for printed matter was a panel of London clergymen . . . operating under the authority of the Privy Council, the Bishop of London, and Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Lord Chamberlain [who was William Herbert at the time].”  (Willoughby, A Printer of Shakespeare, p.21).  Thus, by all accounts, William Herbert was involved with the First Folio—and would insure its licensure from its inception; that is why the publishers could confidently go to press without first securing a license.  (As it turns out, the First Folio was licensed the day before it went on sale).

    4. In September 1621 Mary Sidney died in her London home on Aldersgate Street (one month after the printing of the First Folio had begun).

    5. In October 1621 (less than one month after Mary Sidney’s death) the printing of the First Folio was stopped.

    6. The task of carrying out his mother’s will, and completing the publication of the First Folio, fell onto her eldest son, William Herbert.  William Herbert contacted his friend, Ben Jonson, and commissioned him to oversee and complete the First Folio, as begun by Mary Sidney.  (At this time, Ben Jonson may not have been aware that Mary Sidney was the primary author of the Shakespeare plays).  Ben Jonson, admirably took to the task of editing the plays, overseeing the production of the First Folio, and writing a eulogy for the Author.

    7. In November 1623 (more than two years after it first went to press), the First Folio, “Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies” was published. 

Ben Jonson as Editor

    Assuming that Ben Jonson was chosen by Mary Sidney (or William Herbert) to complete the publication of the Folio he would have been chosen for a number of reasons: a) he had the competence and wherewithal to complete the project with care; and he knew the value of publishing one’s work in a Folio edition, b) Mary Sidney had a favorable relationship with Jonson, and knew he was a man of sincerity, c) Jonson was on good terms with Mary’s two sons, having been crucial to their stellar rise in court, and d) Jonson was the only one determined and influential enough to see the Folio through to completion—and this doggedness would have been needed in the event that Mary’s son, William, was reluctant, or unwilling, to have her plays printed.  

    "Generations of experts have agreed that the Preface and the Dedication, both signed by Heminges and Condell, were actually written by Ben Jonson, who was the real editor of the Folio."  
    (Michell, Who Wrote Shakespeare?, p. 77)

Hemings and Condell as the "Editors"

    Even though Jonson was the one who compiled and edited the plays in the Folio, he could not present himself (“To the Reader”) as the editor (and compiler) for a number of reasons.  Thus, Jonson needed to enlist a pair of “front men”—the best candidates of which were Hemings and Condell because both were associated with the London theater where some of the plays were performed—and both were fellows of William Shakspere of Stratford.  Jonson could not be listed as the editor of the Folio because this would bring up a lot of revealing questions—such as where did he place the original, hand-written plays?  Jonson would also have to explain how he came to be hired for this task, how he acquired the plays; from whom did he get the plays, etc.  And if Jonson did not have the original manuscripts, then what did he do with them?  Thus, to displace some of the focus away from the true Author, and to minimize the attention on Jonson, Hemings and Condell were brought in as believable ‘front men.’  (Anyone in the know knew quite well that these two journeymen were not capable of writing the scholarly and classic-based material, found in the First Folio, to which their names were affixed.)  In their note to "the Great Variety of Readers"—which most scholars agree was written by Jonson—Hemings and Condell explain how they obtained the papers from their friend, and out of love for him had them published in this Folio edition.  Their ‘reason’—though hopelessly transparent and unsupported—would do well enough to appease the sentiments of the general masses but not someone “in the know.”  It is clear that the scope and cost of such a venture was beyond the means and wherewithal of Hemings and Condell—and their philanthropic reasons for carrying out the project is convenient fiction.

Authorship of "The Epistle Dedicatorie" and the address "to the Great Variety of Readers"

     Quoted from: New Shakespeareana, vol. 3, 1905, p. 104-6
    The Shakespeare Society of New York

   Had Heminges and Condell studied law or read Pliny’s Natural History?  . . [If not] I shall wonder if “The Epistle Dedicatorie,” and the address “to the Great Variety of Readers”—prefixed to the First Folio—were really written by the two actors whose names are signed to them and whose personal histories are really pretty well known to us all!  In answering my own doubts, the first thing to observe is the surprisingly large number of legal terms in these two brief documents. “We have depriv’d ourselves of the defence of our Dedication”; “Have prosecuted with favor”; “Executor”; “Orphans”; “Guardians”; “beyond our own powers”; “Stand for your priviledges”; “A Magistrat to arraigne Playes”; “Had their trial already, and stood out all Appeales”; “By death departed from that right.” “Prosecuted with favor” certainly involves a very unusual if not unique use of the word, but one of course strictly correct etymologically.

    Next we might notice that the Epistle Dedicatorie is absolutely free from those expressions of fulsome flattery common to all other dedications addressed to Noblemen at that period; being couched in a tone of respectful but almost facetious familiarity as though the writer were addressing equals and friends, or those but slightly above him in social station—as a Viscount might address an Earl, for instance, if they were friends. That such an address should proceed from two humble players like Heminges and Condell to the Noble Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery is certainly inconceivable! And then the dignity, terseness and vigor of the style and the beauty of the imagery! There is no prentice hand in this.  But there is, of course, no argument about style.

    The “Address to the Readers” is of course written in a very different key. It does not aim at the dignity of the Epistle; but it is also terse, nervous and witty, showing clearly the pen of a ready writer. It might have been by Ben Jonson whereas the Epistle, I think, never could have been. But if Heminges and Condell did not write the pieces, who did?
    I think myself that the writer or one of the writers was probably a man familiar with the law; that he was a man whose social position permitted him to address two of the most exalted Nobles in the kingdom on terms of friendly equality and that he possessed a very remarkable command of the language.
    So we have gathered hints that the writer of the Epistle Dedicatorie was a) a lawyer, b) a courtier, c) a friend of some of the most distinguished nobleman in the realm, and d) a literary man of the very highest attainments.  May I suggest under all the pains and penalties in store for me that there was one man living in 1623 answering to all these qualifications.  I would suggest a comparison between the style of the Epistle and that of the preface to Bacon’s Wisdom of the Ancients. For example, “And this principally raises my esteem of these fables, which I receive, not as the product of the age, or invention of the poets, but as sacred relics, gentle whispers, and the breath of better times, that from the traditions of more ancient nations came, at length, into the flutes and trumpets of the Greeks.”
    The “Address to the Great Variety of Readers” certainly seems as though it might have come from the hand of Ben Jonson; as a comparison with the introductions to various of his works will show—Sejanus for example. The idea, moreover, gains likelihood from the fact that the Verses to the memory of the Author, immediately following the address, are by him.
   As Jonson was, at the time of the issue of the Folio, one of Bacon’s secretaries and a member of his household, some sort of co-operation between them is not improbable.

How did Shakspere of
Stratford come to stand in for “William Shakespeare, the Author”?

    In postulating an author (other than William Shakspere) the question which begs itself is this: “How and why did the plays come to be associated with William Shakspere, the business-actor from
Stratford, if he was not the true author?” Answer: if “Shakespeare” or “Shake-speare” was put forth as a pen name—and the true identity of the Author left as a mystery—this would have incited a never-ending train of  speculation and probing inquiries (and the eventual discovery of "Shakespeare's" true identity.)  Thus, having the plays attributed to someone other than the author—someone who was dead and forgotten—would be the best way to "close the case" and keep the true author’s identity a secret.  This is why Ben Jonson and William Herbert took pains to link the canon of plays to an obscure businessman from Stratford, who had some link to the London theater, rather than leaving the identity of "Shakspeare" a mystery. 

It seems that during the time the plays were written, and first performed, no one ever associated the writing of plays was William Shakspere of Stratford—this connection was invented in 1623.  Most people—including the Queen—assumed that “Shakespeare” or “Shake-speare” was simply a pen name (and being used by someone who did not want his/her name revealed).  Thus, by all indications, Shakspere’s link to the plays came ex post facto, as a pure invention of Jonson and Herbert—and specifically as a device to keep the author’s true identity a secret.  (Again, had no real person been linked to the text, everyone would know that “Shakespeare” was a pen name, and there would be much “throwing of brains” to try and discover the true Author’s identity.  Thus, the specious linking of the plays to a real person—someone who was conveniently obscure and forgotten, and not a Londoner—was a brilliant way to misdirect of the masses and keep the focus away from the true Author.  All this misdirection, however, did not sit well with Jonson; not only did he want to reveal the Author’s identity—and make her glory known to the world—but it curdled his blood to think that these masterpieces would be attributed to a common boor, whom he once knew---and someone completely incapable of writing anything resembling the work of the Author. So, Jonson was divided, and this division is clearly seen in his eulogy: on the one hand, he (and Herbert) resurrected the Stratford man, having him stand him in for the real Author, yet at the same time Jonson took great pains to make no singularly direct mention of the man from Stratford (in any of the prefatory material) and to constantly undermine the statements of Hemings and Condell which might suggest that their friend, Shakspere, was the Author.

   Those who knew Shakspere of Stratford knew quite well that he was not a playwright nor was he capable of writing any of the Shakespeare plays—though he might have been skilled at ‘editing down’ the plays so as to make them ready for public performance.  At the time the First Folio was printed (7 years after William Shakspere’s death) and during Shakspere’s lifetime, no one “in the know” ever considered the
Stratford man to be “Shakespeare” the Author.  Some anti-Stratfordians claim that Shakspere was a “play broker,” that he stole the plays of others and then put his name on them—but, this was not likely the case.  As mentioned, no one during that time associated the name William Shakspere of Stratford with William Shakespeare, the Author—especially those who knew him. Thus, no one ever disparaged Shakspere for stealing the plays of others and putting his name on them. (It is possible that Shakspere of Stratford was sometimes called "Shakespeare" by his fellows, as a nickname, so as to link him with the great playwright: it might have been upon this foundation that Stratford man eventually came to be used by Jonson and Herbert as the stand in for "Shakespeare," the Author.)


    In sum, the most likely scenario surrounding the publication of the First Folio is as follows: Mary Sidney, the Author, wanted to have her plays printed in a complete edition, and began the project, in 1621, but was unable to complete it due to her untimely death.  Before she died (either in person, or in her will) she asked that her son and/or Ben Jonson carry the project to completion.  Ben Jonson, working under William Herbert’s direction, arranged and edited the plays, wrote most of the prefatory material, and wrote his most famous Eulogy; both Jonson and Herbert put forth an imaginary ‘straw man’ in William Shakspere of Stratford, suggesting that he was the author, “William Shakespeare” so as to misdirect attention away from the true Author and keep her identity hidden.  Had they not done this, had they not pinned the name “Shakespeare” upon a real person—even an obscure, long-dead and forgotten person—a sustained inquiry would have followed so as to discover Shakespeare’s true identity.  Thus, to obscure the author’s true identity they could not simply leave the pen name as a pen name.  To further the extent of this misdirection, Jonson and Herbert enlisted two ‘front men’ (who were fellows of William Shakspere of Stratford) to ‘stand in’ as editors and collators of his work; this directed attention away from Jonson and any questions concerning how (and form whom) he obtained the manuscripts, and were had he placed them?   In addition, to further the notion that Shakespeare was a real person, an engraving of the supposed “Mr. William Shakespeare” was included in the Folio edition.  This mask-like engraving was meant to be as false as the man from Stratford, for it did not resemble any likeness of a person.  And to drive this point home, Jonson added a poem, on the page facing the portrait.

This Figure, that thou here seest put,

     It was for gentle Shakespeare cut;
Wherein the Graver had a strife

     With Nature, to out-do the life:
O, could he but have drawn his wit

     As well in brass, as he hath hit
His face; the Print would then surpass
     All, that was ever writ in brass.
But, since he cannot, Reader, look

      Not on his Picture, but his Book.


Section 2:
“Mr. William Shakespeare, gent.”
In the First Folio, the name listed on the title page is “Mr. William Shakespeare”—not “William Shakspeare” or “William Shake-speare.”  The first time this appellation of “Mr.” appears in association with Shakespeare the Author is in the First Folio.  Why did “the editors” (i.e., Ben Jonson) decide to add the title of “Mr.” to Shakespeare’s name when such a title was not needed nor ever found on any of the previous Shakespeare works?  We know that both John Shakspere, and his son William, proudly purported their status as “a gentleman”—and that Jonson knew of this somewhat absurd claim and even took to mocking it in one of his plays. From William Shakspere’s proud claim to being a gentleman, we would find it more than likely that had William Shakspere written anything which bore his name, after 1599, that he would have taken pains to include his status as a “gentleman” and to style himself as “Mr. William Shakspere.”  Yet, no “Shakespeare” work, published during William Shakspere’s lifetime ever identified Shakespeare as a gentleman.
    So why does Jonson, in the 11th hour, decide to add this appellation? How does the inclusion of the title “Mr.” fit in with Jonson’s (and Herbert’s) overall plan—which is to suggest (to the ignorant masses) that the Author was William Shakspere of Stratford while, at the same time, intending to send a message (to those in the know, who could read between the lines) that William Shakspere of Stratford was a mere “stand-in” for the Author, a red-herring thrown across the path (so as to divert people’s attention away from discovering the true identity of the Author)?   The answer to this question may relate to John Shakspere and his hard-won (or hard-purchased) status as a gentleman.

John Shakspere, gent.

Sometime around 1568, John Shakespeare applied to the Heralds’s College for a coat of arms.  For reasons not entirely clear (but possibly due to some financial or social difficulty) he did not pursue the application.  Some 18 years later, in October 1596 he applied again and was granted a coat of arms sometime before 1599.  This entitled him and his son, William Shakspere, to put “gentleman” after their names.

    In the  1596 application it states that John Shakespere was, “The Queen’s officer and chief of the town of Stratford upon Avon,” 15 of 16 years ago; that his lands, tenements, and possessions were valued at £500, and that he married the daughter of a gentleman:

    This John shoeth A pattern hereof under Clarent Cook’s hand.
    —paper. xx years past.
    A Justice of peace And was Bailiff The Q[ueen’s] officer & chief of the town of
Stratford upon Avon xv or xvi years past.
    That he hath Lands & tenements of good wealth, & substance 500li.
    The he married a daughter and heir of Arden, a gent. of worship.

    There had been some controversy as to whether or not John Shakspere deserved the title of “gentleman”; and his claim to that title was challenged by college officials (who also challenged 23 other application, approved by the same administrator).  In the end, Shakespere’s grant of arms, and his title as “gentleman,” was upheld    In his application, John Shakspere tried to establish some kind of lineage, or link to a noble line, yet nothing is convincing—and that may be one reason why his claim to being a “gentleman” was challenged.  His applications states:

“Wherefore being solicited and by credible report informed, That John Shakespere, now of Stratford upon Avon in the County of Warwik Gentleman, Whose parent great Grandfather and late Antecessor, for his faithful & approved service to the late most prudent king H[enry] 7 of famous memory, was advanced & rewarded with Lands & Tenements given to him in those parts of Warwikeshere where they have continued by some descents in good reputation & credit.  And for that the said John Shakespere, having married the daughter & one of the heirs of Robert Arden of Wellingcote [> an error] in the said county, And also produced this his Ancient cote of Arms heretofore Assigned to him whilst he was her majesty’s officer & Bailiff of that Town.”

    The legitimacy of John Shakspere’s claim to being “gentleman” was not from any noble pedigree but may have been on the grounds that he did not work for a living; his claim may also have been supported by his statement that, at one time (16 years ago) he was a Queen’s officer in Stratford on Avon:

Harrison, ii. 5 warns us that ‘whosever can live without manual labour, and thereto is able and will bear the port, charge and countenance of a gentleman, he shall for money have a coat and arms bestowed upon him by heralds (who in the charter of the same do of custom pretend antiquity and service, and many gay things.’

“As bailiff of Stratford he is properly described as the queen’s officer. This has been questioned, but under the charter of 1553 the bailiff of Stratford not only held the Court of Record, which was a court of the Crown, but also executed the officia of Escheator, Coroner, Almoner, and Clerk of the Market in the Borough. Moreover, J. Ferne, Blazon of Gentrie (1586), 60, says, “In the civil or political estate, divers offices of dignity and worship, do merit coats of Arms, to the possessor of the same offices: . . . as Mayors, Provosts, Viscounts, and Bailiffs, of Cities, and ancient Boroughs, or incorporated Towns.’ ”  
    (E.K. Chambers)

  This digression into John Shakspere and his application for a coat of arms may have some relevance to our overall discussion about William Shakspere in the following ways:

a) John Shakspere may have been granted the status of being a “gentleman” because he was not required to work or labor for his sustenance.  His son, William Shakspere, who also held this title with pride, and touted it along with his name after 1599, may have defended his claim to being a “gentleman” by his not having to work or labor for his sustenance.  William Shakspere may have fully come into the status of a non-working gentleman in 1601, after having come across a large sum of money (inherited from his father).  Thus, after 1601, holding to his claim as a gentleman, William no longer acted (or, as the case may be, wrote or doctored plays) for a living but lived solely on his investments and land holdings.  Thus, the status of being a gentleman suggests that William Shakspere did not earn his living from work as an actor or a writer.

b) In his application, John Shakspere states that his net worth was £500, which is a considerable sum.  Many people believed that this amount was an exaggeration of his true worth, falsely stated to make his application more favorable; however, from a review of legal documents, related to John Shakspere’s wool-trading business, and his illegal practice of usury, this amount appears to be an accurate reflection of his actual worth at the time. Many people wonder how young William Shakspere came upon so much wealth such that in May 1601 he could purchase 103 acres of land in Stratford for £320 in cash.  Most likely, he inherited it from his father (and did not acquire it as a grant from a wealth patron); and the fact that he purchased a large amount of land in Stratford, months after his father’s death, may have been because such a use of the money was provisioned in his father’s will.

  John Shakspere died in September 1601.  According to the English calendar (where the new year began on March 23) September was the seventh month of the year and May was the second month. In other words, William’s purchase of land in May 1601 came five months after his father’s death in September 1601.

c) Jonson found Shakspere’s concern with his coat of arms and the rank of a “gentleman” somewhat absurd, and worthy of being mocked in one of his plays.  Thus, shortly after Shakspere acquired his coveted a coat of arms Jonson wrote a play called Every Man Out of his Humour (first performed in 1599) where he mocks Shakspere’s misguided social ambition to obtain a coat of arms.  This “William Shakspere” whom Jonson openly mocks in his play, is clearly not the same person as “William Shakespeare, the Author” whom Jonson openly praises in his eulogy.

“The words ‘non sanz droict’ above the coat in the second draft of 1596 are generally taken to represent a motto.  It may be so, as no heraldic critic has claimed that they only represent as heraldic certificate of correctness. In the first draft they were originally written above the coat as ‘non, sanz droict,’ erased there and replaced by ‘Non, Sanz Droict,’ and also written as ‘NON SANZ DROICT’ at the head of the document. They do not appear in the draft of 1599. No motto is assigned in the text of any of the drafts. Guillim’s Display (1610), 271 says that a motto was ‘the Invention or Conceit of the Bearer’; and J. Woodward, A Treatise on Heraldry, ii. 378, say that a motto ‘has no inherent hereditary character, and may be changed at pleasure.’ If so, presumably no allowance by the heralds was called for. There is no evidence that Shakespeare or his heirs in fact used this or any other motto, unless it is to be found in the jesting allusion of Ben Jonson in E.M.O. (1599) where the rustic Sogliardo is chaffed for the purchase of arms. One of the charges is a boar’s head, and Puntarvolo says, ‘Let the word be, Not without mustard.’”   (E.K.Chambers)

    How did Jonson learn of the Shakespeare’s coat-of-arms application?  Certainly he did not review any of the applications or grants.  He must have heard about it from Shakspere himself who, after receiving the patent, proudly made it known to all the world that he had had attained the status of a gentleman.

    So, in the end, why did Jonson decide to refer to the Author as “Mr. William Shakespeare,” making clear that the Author was a gentleman?  It could have been a last mock of William Shakspere of Stratford (which would, in some way, indicate a distinction between William Shakspere of Stratford and William Shakespeare the Author).  It could have been a way to further indicate William Shakespere of Stratford, as the would-be author, and divert attention away from the true Author (which would help keep the Author’s identity hidden). Or, perhaps, Jonson may have wanted to indicate the following: it appears that the primary reason why John Shakespere had been granted the status of a gentleman was because he did not work or labor for pay; by extension, William Shakspere also had the right to use the title of a gentleman—and be addressed as “Mr.”—because he, too, did not work or labor to sustain himself.  Thus, the suggestion could be that “Mr. William Shakespeare,” being a gentleman, and not working for profit, did not write plays for profit (certainly not after 1599), nor plays at all, nor, by extension, the plays found in the First Folio.

In the initial presentation of Ben Jonson’s Every Man In His Humovr, (1598) “Will Shakespeare” was listed as a “principall Comoedian.”  Such a title is not found anywhere else nor indicated by any supportive evidence; it was even said that Shakspere was such a poor actor that "he never got past the ghost in Hamlet."  Thus, from all accounts, Shakspere was probably a poor or meager actor yet, as a financial backer of the plays, he may have bought his way onto the stage—similar, in many respects, to Mr. Fennymore’s role as an apothecary, in the movie, Shakespeare in Love.  One cannot help but think that Shakspere may have paid Jonson a few pounds for the distinction of having his name listed as a principal actor; and this would be something he could present to his fellows in Stratford—along with his new-gained title as a “gentleman.”  


From: Every Man Out of his Humour by Ben Jonson
First Acted in the Year 1599. By the then Lord CHAMBERLAIN his
Servants: with the Allowance of the Master of REVELS.

SOGLIARDO, An essential clown, brother to Sordido, yet so enamoured of the name of a gentleman, that he will have it, though he buys it.  He comes up every term to learn to take tobacco, and see new motions.  He is in his kingdom when in company where he may be well laughed at.

.  Nay, I will have him, I am resolute for that.  By this parchment, gentlemen, I have been so toiled among the harrots [i.e., heralds] yonder, you will not believe!  they do speak in the strangest language, and give a man the hardest terms for his money, that ever you knew.

.  But have you arms, have you arms?

.  I’faith, I thank them; I can write myself gentleman now; here’s my patent, it cost me thirty pound, by this breath.

  A very fair coat, well charged, and full of armory.

.  Nay, it has as much variety of colours in it, as you have seen a coat have; how like you the crest, sir?

.  I understand it not well, what is’t?

.  Marry, sir, it is your boar without a head, rampant.  A boar without a head, that’s very rare!

.  Ay, and rampant too!  troth, I commend the herald’s wit, he has deciphered him well:  a swine without a head, without brain, wit, anything indeed, ramping to gentility.  You can blazon the rest, signior, can you not?

.  O, ay, I have it in writing here of purpose; it cost me two shilling the tricking [i.e., for the drawing of the coat of arms].Carlo.  Let’s hear, let’s hear.

. [aside] It is the most vile, foolish, absurd, palpable, and ridiculous escutcheon that ever this eye survised.—Save you, good monsieur Fastidious.

    [They salute as they meet in the walk]

.  Silence, good knight; on, on.

.  [reads.]  “Gyrony of eight pieces; azure and gules; between three plates, a chevron engrailed checquy, or, vert, and ermins; on a chief argent, between two ann'lets sable, a boar's head, proper.”

.  How’s that!  on a chief argent?

.  [reads.] “On a chief argent, a boar’s head proper, between two ann’lets sable.”

.  ‘Slud, it’s a hog’s cheek and puddings in a pewter field, this.

    [They all shift places]

.  How like you them, signior?

.  Let the word be, Not without mustard: your crest is very rare, sir.

The phrase Not without mustard is a parody of the Shakspere motto, “Not without right” (which appears atop the Shakespere application for a coat of arms). Jonson is mocking this self-styled motto for its irony: Shakspere’s motto claims that he has the right (to be called a gentleman) when, in truth, he has no such right: this distinction was purchased (for 30 pounds) not decreed by any heraldic lineage.  Jonson is twisting the motto from “not without right” to “not without thick-headedness” or “not without stupidity.”  The word mustard refers to something thick, and by extension that which is “thick-headed” or “stupid.”  This notion of mustard being “thick” relates to the modern phrase, “cut the mustard” (as in “he cannot cut the mustard”); and also to a phrase found in Henry IV (2.4): ‘His wit’s as thick as Tewksbury mustard.”

    “Your crest” may be a pun on “your rise to the status of a gentleman.”  Thus, Jonson’s phrase, “your crest is very rare,” is likely a reference to Shakspere’s gentlemanship, and not his coat of arms design (which, incidentally, was challenged because it was too close in design to another family’s coat of arms; Sir Robert Sidney, brother to Mary Sidney, was on the committee which heard the case).  Jonson’s intended meaning may have been: “your overweening concern and misplaced pride with respect to your newly-obtained coat of arms, and your rise to the status of a gentleman, is a rare form of boorish stupidity, one which I have never seen before, sir.”
    Jonson’s light-hearted mockery of Shakspere, as an ignorant country bumpkin—hopelessly unsophisticated and boorish when compared to educated London folk—is consistent with Jonson’s mockery of Shakspere as found in a note among his papers after he (Jonson) died.  Jonson’s portrayal of Shakspere, here, is in contrast to the tone used by Jonson to describe the “Poet-Ape” (which depicts a man of craftiness and sophistication) and is wholly at odds with what Jonson had later written about Shakespeare, the Author.  The clear indication, from Jonson’s own words, is that the boorish William Shakspere of Stratford—likeable and worthy of being mocked—was neither the crafty Poet-Ape nor Shakespeare the Author (who had written a dozen plays, including The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard III ) before Shakespere of Stratford obtained his coat of arms).

How is it possible that the Author—being a person of such obvious mental stature and genius—would put so much stock on the bourgeois claim to being a gentleman—and then be openly mocked (and called, “an essential clown”) by Jonson?  Had a playwright of such stature been so concerned about his status as a gentleman, surely Jonson would have found that more worthy of being mocked than the simple ambition of a country bumpkin.


Section 3: Questions and Answers

Why didn’t the editors of the First Folio—not wanting to reveal the true identity of the Author—simple use the penname, “Shakespeare,” without attributing the name to some personage? 

In other words, why did they go to the effort to present a “straw man” in the personage of Shakespere of Stratford to then pin the name upon?  Why not just leave it a mystery, and unknown?  (Well, they didn’t openly state that the Author was Shakespere of Stratford, though it could be argued that they certainly suggested it; they lead the mass audience in that direction.)  Quite simply, if they used the name “Shakespeare,” without linking that name to a real person, however tenuous, then everyone—including the true Author—would be a suspect.  So, to preserve the unanimity of the Author, they needed to pin the name on someone—and who better than an uneventful businessman-actor, long dead, who had some link to the London theater?  And this misattribution could be made to stick because Shakspere of Stratford had a name which sounded similar to that of “Shakespeare”—but which was distinctively different in both pronunciation and spelling. 

You see, using the pen name Shakespeare—without associating that name with someone—would have exposed the penname as a penname, and may have directed inquiries in the direction of the true Author (since her two sons where the patrons of the First Folio).  So, the use of a “straw man,” long dead and forgotten, was perhaps the best way to keep hidden the true identity of the Author.

Now, Ben Jonson was an honest man—he was inclined to ridicule, satire, and perhaps misdirection, but not outright lying.  So, although he and William Herbert put forth this sham character, in Shakspere of Stratford, with the intention to misdirect the masses, Jonson never stated that the Author was Shakespere of Stratford.  It was vaguely insinuated in some of the prefatory material (attributed to Hemings and Condell but actually written by Jonson)—and this might have lead the imprecise reader to assume that the Author was Shakespere (especially in want of any other candidate)—but he was never stated as being the Author.  Jonson—in light of suggestion made in the prefatory material, that Shakespere was the Author—took pains in his eulogy to refute all possibilities that Shakespere, the businessman-actor of Stratford, could have been the Author.  (His poem accompanying the engraving also dispels the notion that the picture presented has any resemblance to the true image of the Author; and the fact that the engraving does not depict a real person, but presents a mask-like face, further weakens the affinity between the name “Shakespeare” and some real person from Stratford).  So, quite simply, the blunt reader might leave with the impression that Shakespere of Stratford—whose caricature we see on the cover—was the true Author, while a more discriminating reader would easily see that Shakespere of Stratford was not, nor could not have been, the Author. 

What tells us that Hemings and Condell where not the true editors?

They were not capable of editing the plays nor writing the prefatory material.  To insure this, Jonson put in several classical allusions in the dedication, something which could only have been written by someone versed in Latin and Latin texts.  Hemings and Condell did not know Latin, nor were they accomplished writers, capable of editing the plays.  William Herbert, who paid for the publication, knew every major writer of the age and could have had any number of people, of proven efficiency, edit the material.  Yet, he picked two unknowns, neither of whom had ever written anything worth reading.

Most scholars agree that Ben Jonson edited the First Folio, and wrote all of the prefatory material attributed to Hemings and Condell, and that Hemings and Condell were “puppet” editors, or editors by name.  Had Hemings and Condell been the true editors, and the ones who collected and safeguarded the plays, why was no mention of this directive was made in Shakspere’s will?  Also, new plays fetched a good sum, and competitive theaters were always on the look out for new plays.  So, if Hemings and Condell had in their possession and dozen or more “Shakespeare originals” why hadn’t these businessmen produced the plays or sold them for a nice profit?  Why would they have held onto the plays for so many years and wait to have them published—which was not a profitable venture?  Why, for that matter—having seen William Shakspere of Stratford diligently sue various people who owed him a few pounds—had Shakspere not sold his plays (at five pounds a piece) or had them produced in his own theater for a handsome profit after having written them?  Why had he spent so much time writing the plays only to let all that potential profit go to waste?

Was Shakspere a play-broker as some suggest?  Or, worse yet, did he “obtain” the plays of the true author and simply put his name on them?

The thesis that he stole the plays and then put his name on them is flawed in several respects.  First, he did not put his name on them.  His name was “Shakspere” or “Shakspur” or “Shaxbere,”  
He was known and William Shakspur.  The name on the plays was “Shakespeare,” or “Shake-speare.”  It is an entirely different name.  (Its like the difference between Peter Jensen and Peter Johnson—they are easily recognized as being two different names).  The other problem with this idea is that is assumes that William Shakspere of Stratford was associated with the authorship of the plays during the time he was alive.  In all likelihood, the first time that William Shakspere of Stratford was associated with the plays, and “assumed” to be the Author, was in 1623 when the First Folio was published.  Up till that time, no one linked William Shakspere with the plays.  Certainly those who knew him personally knew that he was not the playwright, for none had even seen him writing a play.  (He spent most of his time in business pursuits, as his primary concern, it seems, was to make money and establish himself in Stratford as an important person).  Only years after his death was Shakespere of Stratford “put forth” as “William Shakespeare.”

Being that the name “William Shakspere” is similar to “William Shakespeare,”—and being that Shakspere was involved in the theater business—and being person ever stepped forward as Shakespeare, Shakspere of Stratford been given the nickname, “Shakespeare,” as a kind of jest, and the spelling of his name may have morphed from “Shakspere” to “Shakespeare.”   We know that Shakspere of Stratford was very concerned with status and reputation, and that is one reason why he applied for a family coat of arms, and petitioned for the rank of “gentleman.”  Thus, it is possible, wanting to gain more status for himself, he increasingly changed the spelling of his name from “Shaxbere” or “Shakspur” to “Shakespeare.” 

How did this anti-Stratfordian notion of Shakspere as being a play-thief emerge?

It seems to have emerged from a misinterpretation of an epigram written by John Davies of Haverford.  One of his epigrams, published in 1610, was entitled, “To our English Terence, Mr. Will: Shake-speare.”  (The placement of the colon, and not a period, after “Mr. Will,” may suggest that
“Shake-speare” is another name for “Mr. Will”; had a period been placed after Mr. Will, it would suggest a simple abbreviation of William.”

People arguing against William Shakspere of Stratford seized upon the notion that Terence stole plays and put his name on them—thus indicating that Davies was putting forth the notion that William Shakspere of Stratford was stealing the plays of the true Author, and simply putting his name on them.  This theory is flawed in numerous ways.   The flaw I want to point out, which we already mentioned, is that William Shakspere of Stratford was never associated with the plays, nor assumed to be the playwright, during his lifetime—so the suggestion that he stole plays, and put his name on them, would not make sense to anyone reading the epigram at the time.  And, again, his name was “Shakspere” not “Shakespeare”—and certainly not “Shake-speare,” which is not a real name, but a clear indication of a pen name. 

So, if this were the case, why would Davies write an epigram about William Shakspere of Stratford?  And why—out of the blue, in 1910—would Davies write such an epigram?  Did it reflect anything current, anything that would be understood, as a “folly” by those who read it?  And this concoction that Terence stole plays and put his name on them is a convenient fiction.  During the time that the epigram was written, Terence was generally held as a great playwright who skillfully adapted plays, just as Shakespeare, the true Author, had done.  He did not steal plays but brought them to life with great skill.  In addition, Davies’s epigram is placed within a section of his collection where he is praising and honoring great personages.  So, by all accounts, this poem, and its link to the great playwright Terence, was meant to be something positive.

Epigrams 155-163, from Davies’s The
Scourge of Folly, 1610

    155: To my worthily-disposed friend Mr. Sam. Daniell.

    156: To my well-accomplish’d friend Mr. Ben. Johnson.

    157: To my much esteemed Mr. Inego Jones, our English Zeuxis and Vitruvious
        [Zeuxis—an ancient Greek painter; Vetruvius—an ancient Roman architect]

    158: To my worthy kinde friend Mr. Isacke Simonds.

    159: To our English Terence Mr. Will: Shake-speare.

    160: To his most constant, though unknowne friend: No-body.

    161: To my neere-deere wel-knowne friend: Some-body.

    162: To my much regarded and approved good friend Thomas Marbery Esquire.

    163: To my right deer friend approved for such, John Panton Equire.

    I will admit my error with respect to my original interpretation of this poem.  Jumping on the anti-Stratfordian bandwagon, I assumed that this was an unflattering poem written about William Shakspere of Stratford, a person who stole plays and put his name on them.  Yet, however much I tried, things just did not fit.  Some time later I came to the conclusion that this poem was not written about William Shakspere of Stratford but about William Herbert, or “Mr. Will.”  And this epigram was written right after the publication of “Shakespeare’s Sonnet”—which, for those in the know, involved William Herbert, or“Mr. W.H.” to whom the sonnets were dedicated.

    Thus, it seems, that Davies’s epigram was addressed to “Mr. Will,” William Herbert, and should be interpreted from that position.  Some may argue that William Herbert held the rank of Lord not “Mr.” and so the term “Mr. Will” could not apply to him; however, Herbert was playfully addressed as “Mr. Will” because that was the mis-title used for him in the dedication of sonnets).

The Authorship of the Narrative Poems

What is your view on the authorship of the sonnets and the two narrative poems
?  Were they written by the same "Shakespeare" as the Author of the plays?

    It appears that the primary Author of the plays was not the same as the primary author of the sonnets; and there is no evidence to suggest that the Author of the plays was the author of the two narrative poems.  The only continuity between these works is the name "Shakespeare" and can assume that the sonnets and the two narrative poems, although not written by the Author of the plays, was written by someone in the Sidney family, or closely associated with Mary Sidney. 
As discussed, I believe that Mary Sidney was the primary author of the plays, however, I do not believe that she was the primary author the sonnets nor the two narrative poems.  The working assumptions I have adopted are as follows:

1. Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594):  The authorship of these two poems is not central to our overall discussion since these poems were not included in the First Folio, and there is no appreciable link between the authorship of these poems and the plays (other than the fact that they were both published under the name of “Shakespeare.”   We cannot assume that the author of the poems was the same as the author of the plays by this tenuous link alone.   The only link Mary Sidney has to the poems (and Venus and Adonis in particular) is a vague reference made by Gabriel Harvey, in Pierce's Supererogation (which was published shortly before the first printing of Venus and Adonis) to Venus and Adonis which, by near proximity to extensive praise of Mary Sidney, may suggest that she was the author of the poem. 
    Some scholars (including Fred Faulkes) argue that Venus and Adonis was written by Mary Sidney as part of a verbal salvo against Thomas Nashe; the poem which is about a man who cannot perform when in the company of a beautiful, aroused woman, is supposed to be a metaphor for Thomas Nashe, who could not perform, nor rise to the occasion, when involved as a writer for Pembroke's Men—and that is why he left after one play.  The theory that the poem was written as a metaphoric attack against Nashe may be true—yet, if so, the attack is too vague to carry any punch (especially since the author of the poem was writing under a penname, and therefore his identity was unknown—and, therefore, there was no way to link the poem, and its metaphor, to Nashe).  In addition, if the poem was meant to be an attack against Nashe it seems more and more unlikely that Mary Sidney, a noble woman, would directly enter the fray in this way nor waste her precious words on such a lowly endeavor.  Being that Harvey was privy to the poem before its publication—and made a reference to the work shortly before it was published
—and mentioned his direct involvement with the publication (saying that the stay of the publication resteth only at my instance”) it is more likely that one of Mary Sidney’s ardent defenders, in league with Harvey (and uniformly against Nashe), may have written this poem as an attack on Nashe.  (Again, such a vague, metaphorical attack would hardly seem necessary, or effective, especially after the pages upon pages of direct attack had already been leveled against Nashe). 
    The use of the penname "Shake-speare" was used as a reference to the fiery Minerva/Pallas who was known for her "spear shaking" and who, according to Edmund Spenser's, Shepeardes Calendar (1579), was "a valiant damsel" who "leaped forth lustily, armed at all points, whom seeing Vulcan so faire & comely, lightly leaping to her, proffered her some courtesy, which the Lady disdeigning  [scornfully], shaked her speare at him, and threatened his sauciness [disrespect]."  In his book, Harvey often likened Mary Sidney, his “Gentlewoman” to Minerva. (“And her hottest fury may fitly be resembled to the passing of a brave career by a Pegasus, ruled with the reins of a Minerva's bridle. Her pen is the very Pegasus indeed, and runneth like a winged horse, governed with the hand of exquisite skill.”)  The use of the penname “Shakespeare”—representing Mary Sidney as Minerva/Pallas—sets up the exact metaphor of Mary Sidney “scornfully shaking her spear” at Thomas Nashe for being so disrespectful and proffering her some courtesy (as he did in his preface to Philip Sidney’s sonnet publication). 
    In sum, it appears most likely that the penname “Shakespeare,” invoking Minerva/Pallas, may have been erected by a defender of Mary Sidney as part of a long verbal volley between Thomas Nashe and loyal defenders of Mary Sidney.  However, there is no indication that Mary Sidney was the author of either narrative poem; contrariwise, the staid quality of the verse, the sexual content, and the loving dedication to the young Earl of Southampton, does not suggest or support Mary Sidney as the author.  The dedication to the Earl of Southampton may suggest that he was sympathetic to the side of Mary Sidney (in this ongoing clash with Nashe) and that he may have paid for the publication.  (For further passages from Harvey’s book see Pierce's Supererogation.  For a more complete discussion of the war-of-words between Mary Sidney supporters and Nashe, see Tiger’s Heart in Woman’s Hide, by Fred Faulkes).

    Ben Alexander put forth the theory that William Herbert
perhaps with significant help from one of the literary personages who frequented Wilton House, such as his tutor Samuel Daniel, or Sir Francis Bacon, or even his mother, Mary Sidneymay have written the poem. This, is possible, however the poem's overtly sexual content may not be consistent with the sentiments of a 13-year old.    The dedication of both narrative poems were to Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton. Who chose Wriothesley as the dedicatee, and why the dedications are written as such, remains a mystery.  Wriothesley and Herbert were part of the same social and literary spheres and so the first dedication by a young writer (13), to a soon-to-be Earl (20) of the same circle was a likely choice.  
    We find a distinct change in tone between the first dedication, in Venus & Adonis (1593), and the second in Lucrece (1594), with the first more formal and respectful, with the second more familiar and intimate (opening with the line, “The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end”).  It is possible that the dedication of the first poem, and its acceptance by Southampton, enhanced the positive relationship between the young writer and the Earl; and the young writer, so pleased by this, was more bold in his expression of love in the second dedication.  This, however, remains in the realm of pure speculation.

Further discussion on the authorship of the Narrative Poems

I do not hold that the Author of the plays, writing under the penname “Shakespeare,” was also the author of the Shake-speare’s Sonnets nor the two narrative poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece (though it seems that Mary Sidney may have written sonnets 1-16).  I hold the penname “Shakespeare” to designate several people.  This is supported by the fact that the poems and sonnets are very different in feel and style from the plays, and by their exclusion from the First FolioBefore the printing of the First Folio, in 1623—which effectively “reinvented” Shakespeare as a playwright—the name “Shakespeare” was most often, and most powerfully, associated with the two narrative poems; after the publication of the First Folio, the name "Shakespeare" was primarily associated with the plays.

    “Despite the extensive evidence cited above [whereby the name “Shakespeare” was associated with Venus and Adonis and Lucrece and not his plays], the Folio describes Shakespeare only as an actor and dramatist.  It does not include Venus and Adonis or Lucrece.  None of the six generous prefatory tributes, though full of classical names, even mentions or alludes to either of the poems on classical myths that had made his towering reputation, and for which he had been primarily renowned for thirty years.  Unlike all earlier eulogists, the Folio never so much as acknowledges that Shakespeare wrote any nondramatic verse at all.The Sonnets, which had appeared relatively recently in the 1609 quarto, are not remotely referred to.The Folio tributes use a dozen classical literary and mythological names, but Venus, Adonis, Lucrece, and Tarquin are not among them.
    If the purpose of the Folio was to obscure [all of Shakespeare's nondramatic works] it was a total success. Venus, Lucrece, and the Sonnets fell into total neglect until the late eighteenth century."

    (Sobran, Alias Shakespeare, p. 218)

Another point of distinction is that the two narrative poems clearly list “William Shakespeare” as the author (and are dedicated to a real person) whereas the first series of plays, coming out before 1598, were published anonymously, and none were dedicated to a person.  If the Author was already using the penname, “Shakespeare,” for his/her poems, why did he not use the same name for his early plays, including the masterpiece, Romeo and Juliet?  The Author of the plays, before 1598, had not adopted a penname and simply had the plays published anonymously.  Only in 1598, when a penname was needed—perhaps to bring together all the Author’s plays under a single name—did the Author adopt the penname “Shakespeare” (or “Shake-speare”) which was the same penname used by the author of the two narrative poems.

    Venus and Adonis
(1593) — dedicated [to Southampton] by “William Shakespeare”
    The Rape of Lucrece
(1594) — dedicated [to Southampton] by “William Shakespeare”

     Taming of a Shrew (1594)   — anonymous
    Titus Andronicus
(1594) — anonymous
    Henry VI, Part 2
(1594, 1600) — anonymous
    Henry VI, Part 3
(1595, 1600) — anonymous
    Romeo and Juliet
(1597) — anonymous      
    Richard II
(1597) — anonymous
    Richard III
(1597) — anonymous
    Henry IV, Part 1
(1598) — anonymous

    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]
     Meres Essay
(1598) — attributes 13 plays  to Shakespeare  

The Authorship of the Shake-speare’s Sonnets (1609)

    The sonnet collection published as Shake-speare’s Sonnets, in 1609, (and included the poem, A Lover’s Complaint) was written by several people.  All the sonnets, and the poem, (and those who wrote them) were associated with William Herbert or “Mr. W.H.”—the only begetter of the sonnets.  Many scholars believe that “Mr. W.H.” was William Herbert and then, based upon the assumption that Shakspere of Stratford wrote the sonnets, are forced to concoct some scenario whereby Shakespere, a middle-aged, commoner had a torrid homosexual love affair with the young aristocrat (and known womanizer) William Herbert.  It is interesting (and sad) to see how far scholars can corrupt the very heart of the sonnets so as to comply with their rigid assumption that they were written by Shakspere of Stratford (or any middle-aged man for that matter). Thus, the primary error perpetuated by Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians alike is to assume that the author of the plays was the same as the author of the sonnets.  (It is possible that the plays and sonnets were written by the same person, but there is no real basis for this assumption to serve as a working hypothesis). For instance, scholars who hold that Bacon was "Shakespeare" are always trying to prove that he was a homosexual. The same is true with de Vere or any male authorship candidate. Those arguing in favor of Mary Sidney (as the author of the sonnets) at least have the advantage of not having to overcome this homosexual hurdle, yet there is no solid evidence which suggests that Mary Sidney was the primary author of the sonnets. Anti-Stratfordians should come to the agreement that the “Shakespeare” who wrote the plays was not the same “Shakespeare” who wrote the sonnets.  It would help all their cases—and more than that, it would help the sonnets. 

    One clever way to try and get around the issue of homosexuality—and still hold the assumption that the author of the plays was the author of the sonnets—is to interpret the sonnets in purely transcendental terms and not written to an actual person, a man, but to some figure representing divine love.  (Clearly, the list of flaws which the sonneteer assigns to the beloved damages this theory).  We find such transcendental themes in Sufi poetry, where both worldly and transcendental aspects of the male beloved is praised, yet there is no indication of any physicality involved.  However, England did not have such a tradition, and every sonnet was written to, or about, a person, and personal love.  And this was certainly the case with “Shakespeare’s Sonnets.”

So, if the Author did not write the sonnets, then who did? 

    I believe that they were written by several people as there seems to be four distinct voices coming through.Shake-speare’s Sonnets, as published in 1609—without the consent of the primary author or "Mr. W.H."—was a collection of varied sonnets, and one poem, and not a singular sonnet sequence written by one author.  The general thesis I propose (based, in part, upon Ben Alexander's work) is as follows:

1) Sonnets  1-17 were written to William Herbert, urging him to marry and have children.  The first 16 sonnets are somewhat philosophical in nature, making an appeal to the young man's sense of reason, and putting forth a loving yet castigating and authoritative voice.  Such sonnets could only come from someone older than Herbert, and someone close enough to Herbert to use such words.  The most likely author of these sonnets is Herbert's mother, Mary Sidney Herbert, though is it possible that they were written by an older relative or teacher (at the request of Mary Sidney).  There is a shift in the sonneteer’s voice after sonnet 12; sonnets 1-12 use the terms “thou” and “thy” while 13-16 uses “you” (and also more intimate terms such as “my love.”).  It appears that this group of sonnets was written around the time of the Mary Fitton scandal, in 1601, where there was some urgency that William Herbert marry Mary Fitton.  (They could have been written earlier, urging Herbert to marry after he had rejected several marriage possibilities, the most notable of which was his marriage arrangement with Bridget de Vere, in 1597.  However, Herbert was only 17-19 at the time and his early age would not have prompted such “procreation sonnets” nor engendered them with the same the kind of urgency we find displayed).  The Fitton scandal, however, may have been met with some urgency;Fitton was carrying Herbert’s child, and these sonnets could have been written during the period when she was pregnant and desperately wanting Herbert to marry her. Mary Sidney Herbert supported the marriage, wanting her son to “do the right thing.”  Herbert, however refused to marry Fitton, even after the Queen commanded him to do so.

      Sonnet 17 is an “odd poem out.”  It relates to the previous 16 sonnets, in that it bids the young man to marry and have children, yet its overtly loving tone, and the sonneteer’s referring to herself as a poet, is more in line with the voice of the next sonnet sequence (18-126).  One possibility is that this sonnet was written by Mary Wroth to her dear cousin at the request of Mary Sidney.  What we have, then, is an odd bridging of these two sonnets sections, where Mary Wroth may have written sonnet 17 to her cousin, at the behest of her aunt, Mary Sidney and then, later, wrote her own sequence to William Herbert, at the behest of her own love.

2) Sonnets 18-126, which forms the main sonnet collection was written by Mary Wroth to her cousin William Herbert.  This sonnet sequence, of 108 sonnets, contains the same form and classic number of the sonnets as the sonnet sequence of Mary Wroth’s (and William Herbert’s) famous uncle, Philip Sidney, who’s Astrophil and Stella began the sonnet tradition in English.  Mary Wroth was Robert Sidney’s daughter; Robert Sidney, Philip Sidney, and Mary Sidney were siblings.  Thus, Mary Wroth was William Herbert’s cousin.  (The couple had a love which transcended time; a few years after the sonnets were written, Mary Worth and William Herbert lived together and had two illegitimate children).

3) Sonnets 127-154 were written by William Herbert, when he was a young man at court.

4) A Lover’s Complaint, which is totally at odds, in terms of style and tone, with the sonnet sequence, was written by Mary Fitton, about her betrayal by William Herbert.  It is possible that Fitton received help with this poem, perhaps even from John Davies of Hareford, since there is some affinity between the wording of this poem and his works.  As a secretary and a calligrapher for the Sidneys, Davies might have had access to some of the family's privately-circulated sonnets. (Recall that Davies wrote a cryptic epigram, to “Mr. Will,” in 1610, the year after the sonnets were published; he may have been trying to redeem himself for any part he played in Shake-speare's Sonnets).

Thus, rather than the sonnets and A Lover’s Complaint having been written by Shakespere of Stratford, or any single author, they were most likely written by four different people, all associated with William Herbert.  Their illicit publication was aimed to harm or “expose” “Mr. W.H.”  Publishing the sonnets under the Sidney family penname, “William Shakespeare,” made it very clear—to all those in the know—that “Mr. W.H.” was William Herbert.  In addition, Thomas Thorpe, the publisher, wrote the dedication to the volume (not the author) and his words were carefully choosen so as to "wish well" and not to further offend "Mr. W. H." 

For a further discussion see: Sonnets and the Authorship Quesion.

John Davies

Coming full circle, we find that John Davies was familiar with the sonnets, the authors of the sonnets—and acting as a calligrapher for the Sidneys, may have had direct access to Lady Wroth's sonnets.  It was in this context, that he wrote his cryptic and oft misinterpreted poem, to “Mr. Will.”  In all of this, there was not one thought about William Shakspere of Stratford and no one, in the know, who read Davies’s poem ever associated it with the man from Stratford.  Shakspere was, at that time, completely out of the loop.  The Davies poem should be interpreted in this context, as addressed to “Mr. Will” who is “Mr. W.H.,” William Herbert, the only begetter of “Shakespeare’s Sonnets.” 

Herbert was well aware that the epigram was about him, and Davies knew that Herbert knew it, and so Davies (who was friendly to the Sidney family and William Herbert) took pains not to offend Herbert, nor to reveal him as “Mr. Will.”  Why did Davies write the epigram at all?  Perhaps he felt that something needed to be written about the folly of the sonnet episode and its illicit publication. William Herbert wanted to distance himself from the sonnets as every section involved a very private matter and posed an embarrassment. (And Herbert as a powerful man, and later as Lord Chamberlain, was successful in a near hermetic repression of the sonnets).  The sonnets he wrote as a lustful youth, the sonnets urging him to marry Fitton, the sonnets from Mary Wroth (giving details of their stormy relationship), the railing poem which told of how he seduced and betrayed Mary Fitton, all contained material he did not want revealed.

Thus, from the content, publication date, and positive placement of the epigram (and its proximity to those favorably disposed to both Davies and Herbert) we can surmise that: a) the poem is addressed to William Herbert, or “Mr. Will”, b) Davies’s reference to Terence is something positive, c) As Herbert did not want to be associated with the sonnets, and wanted to “keep things under wraps,” Davies was keen not to mention his name, nor include anything in the epigram by which he could be positively identified—however, Davies mentioned enough so that those who were “in the loop” would understand that it was addressed to Herbert, d) Davies’s careful use of the spelling “Shake-speare,” as opposed to “Shakespeare,” clearly indicted that he was using it as a pen name, and not in reference to a real person, e) the epigram was a response to the illicit and damaging publication of “Shakespeare’s Sonnets,” in 1609, which implicated William Herbert,  “Mr. W. H.” as the “only begetter” of the sonnets.   

Can you give us a brief interpretation of Davies’s poem?

You must understand that William Herbert was a pretty powerful man.  He did not want the sonnets published—and when he discovered that they were published, he blocked them by putting pressure on the publishers and booksellers. Davies’s poem suggests that the publishers and booksellers were hit with some kind of sanctions which did not allow them to sell or distribute the book. Thus, the printers were stuck with a lot of books which they could not move.  The last two lines of the epigram are addressed to the opportunistic, yet unethical, publishers. 

And honesty thou sow’st, which they do reape;

So, to increase their Stocke which they do keepe.

Davies writes that the sonnets were an honest revealing of the heart (which would include Herbert’s poems to the “dark lady” and Wroth’s poems to Herbert) which the publishers tried to exploit for profit—to increase their stock, their profit, or their stock of books—which now they must keep (for they are not allowed to sell them).

Had’st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport:

This may refer to Herbert having acted out the parts of a king, on stage, or his playing the part of a king (or leader) in the various court factions.  The various rivalries between court factions could be seen as “sport.”   The
word “King” is not italicized which indicates that it is not meant to be a direct reference to James or a named King. However, if we do interpret this line literally, it could refer to Herbert playing with some of the parts of King James, in sport—which reminds us of the time when he famously kissed King James on the face (or lips) at the King’s coronation.

Thou hadst bin a companion for a King:

Herbert, of course, was one of the closest companions to King James.  He held the canopy at James’s coronation and the King died in his arms.The word King, in italics, suggests a proper name—King James—rather than a generic term (as is found in the previous and subsequent lines).

And, beene a King among the meaner sort.

Herbert himself was a “King among the meaner sort” which means that he was the head of a court faction, the “meaner sort” referring to the mean-spirited rivalry which took place amongst the various court factions.  A negative, and unlikely reading, of “a King among the meaner sort” could be a reference to Herbert’s reputation as a womanizer; he was a King among “the meaner sort”—those who mistreated woman.  This, however, is unlikely since Davies’s intent was to make this poem positive.)

Some others raile
refers to the railing against Herbert found in, A Lover’s Complaint.  Davies complements Herbert by saying that he did not rail in return, nor seek revenge, but attended to the matter with skill and wit.  What Herbert did was to completely repress the sonnets, such that “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” were all but dead for some 150 years thereafter.

As mentioned, my first interpretation of the epigram was made under the assumption that it was addressed to William Shakespeare of Stratford.  To give you some idea of how words can be “spun” in the direction you want—even if your fundamental assumption is totally wrong—I will provide a few lines of mistaken interpretation:

Had’st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport
:  Had you not played some kingly part in jest—such as the time when you claimed yourself to be playing the part of ‘William the Conqueror’ who came before Richard II, played by Burbage? [This refers to a famous incident related by Manningham, in 1602].

Thou hadst bin a companion for a King
:  You had been a companion for a King, such as King Henry, a ‘companion’ in the sense that a) you acted the part of a King, in a “Shakespeare” play, b) you, as a member of the King’s Men, acted in front of King James.

And, beene a King among the meaner sort
: You were the leader of a bunch of ruffians and loan sharks, which is the way you made all your money.  [In this regard, someone filed a petition with the courts (what might be interpreted as a restraining order) against Shakespeare (and some of his fellow extortionists), in fear of his own life.]

honesty thou sow’st which they do reape : And what you call “honesty”—which is really dishonesty—thou sowest (in the form of the plays you put on, at your theater, in your name—stolen from others) which they (yourself and your fellow shareholders) do reap (in profits).  [Honesty is set in italics, which implies that the word should be emphasized and carry the opposite meaning, i.e., dishonesty.]   

I think you get the idea.  With such cryptic verse, we can take the same words and have them apply to anyone.  I gave a small example of how this can be done with Davies’s epigram, but we find this same method used throughout the Authorship Debate, and especially with Jonson’s eulogy.  It seems that any line can be made to fit to virtually anyone.   


Thoughts and Theories on the Authorship Question

    “Conceiv’d out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism—personifying in unparallel’d ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering sprit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation)—only one of the “wolfish earls” so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born knower and descendent, would seem to be the true author of these amazing works.” … “I am firm against Shaksper—I mean the Avon man, the actor.” 

         (Walt Whitman, The Critic, 1884)

     On reason why I get discouraged when addressing the Authorship Question, is that no matter what interpretation you come up with, no matter how feasible, there will be at least ten people who will cite evidence refuting what you have said.  So, there is never any real conclusion, nor answer, just the formation of different camps which then argue against each other.  I have come to see this Question in terms of consciousness, and the level of consciousness on which a person is operating.  At this time, there will always be different camps, different interpretations of the same evidence, because people are operating at different levels of consciousness.  So, all we have, at this time, are theories—and here is yet another theory: when the consciousness of those looking into this question begins to operate on a higher level I believe that everyone will be more unified in their opinion.  Certainly, at this point, we can say that the Stratfordian level of consciousness—i.e., those who doggedly hold that William Shakspere of Stratford was the Author, despite all the evidence to the contrary—is pretty low. (I am not saying that their intellectual capacity is low only the level of consciousness in which that intelligence is applied).  The level of consciousness of the anti-Stratfordians—those who hold that Shakspere of Stratford was not, nor could not have been, the Author—may be somewhat higher but most camps are still hampered by tunnel vision and convenient distortions of the evidence. I find little or no solid evidence in support of Bacon, de Vere, or Neville, and I wonder about why their advocates are so adamant in their claims.  And, of course, they will look at me and wonder why I support Mary Sidney.  So, in the end, all we have are a bunch of opinions, with everyone arguing with each otherwhich is not very satisfying. (Some people have taken offense at my theory, stating that they were 'sorry' that they had not yet reached the level of my consciousness: such a response is, yet again, another indication of what I am talking about.)    

Why is there even an Authorship Question?  More specifically, given all the evidence against him—and the lack of any real evidence for him—why are so many scholars and educated people so adamant that this most unlikely man from Stratford was the Author of the Shakespeare plays?

I often wonder about that myself.  If a person reads all the material, and is able to enter the milieu of the time, and looks at all the different scenarios, it becomes very clear that Shakspere of Stratford was not the Author.  A careful look at Jonson’s eulogy, and what he wrote for Hemings and Condell (in the prefatory material of the First Folio) is a pretty clear indication that Shakspere of Stratford was not, nor could not have been, the Author.  That is my opinion, and my conclusion, anyway.  It seems that most people, even supposed scholars, do not take the time to read the material, or staunchly resist reading it with an open mind, and therefore they bar themselves from the truth assessment of the material. 

I think this thing comes down to a matter of consciousness and the general state of consciousness which still places too much importance on names.  I think it may take a few hundred years, when consciousness has expanded, before people come to generally accept that Shakspere was not the true Author.  (Fred Faulkes puts forth the notion that the Phoenix rises every 500 years; and so we have about a hundred years before the next resurrection).  However, to many people, right now, the truth seems pretty obvious.  For instance, when I look at the book by Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World, it reads to me as pure fiction, pure fabrication (but most people regard it as a true, scholarly account).  Most of the work by the anti-Stratfordians also falls into this category: the anti-Stratfordians have taken great pains to dismiss Shakspere of Stratford as the true Author, but it has created a void which they cannot seem to fill—and in their trying to fill it they engage in the same kind of  hopeful fabrication as the Stratfordians.  Again, there is universal agreement (among the anti-Strats) that Shakspere of Stratford did not write the plays but no agreement as to who did.  So, although I am in the anti-Stratfordian camp, I am at odds with everyone who defends, and does everything to convince themselves, that the Earl of Oxford, or Bacon, or Neville, was the Author.    

What about the position of neutrality that some anti-Stratfordian scholars take, not backing any particular candidate, but only promoting the position that Shakspere of
Stratford did not write the plays?

The position is somewhat unsatisfactory—it’s like knowing where a treasure is not but not knowing where it is.  However, without any clear or satisfactory indication as to the true Author—and nothing much can be found in the major camps of Oxford, Bacon, and Neville—an honest scholar would find him or herself in this position of unfulfilled neutrality.  Such an anti-Stratfordian scholar, holding that Shakspere of Stratford was not the true author, might also hold that Oxford was not the true Author, even though he might have had a few more qualifications.   I was in this uncomfortable position of neutrality, where the jury was not even assembled, until I came across the evidence in support of Mary Sidney.  Though nothing short of a manuscript written in the Author’s hand would be definitive, from all the given evidence, I can say with some certainty that Mary Sidney is the “most likely Author.”  Thus, as a working hypothesis, or as a default position for every undecided anti-Stratfordian, Mary Sidney should be on the top of the list of possible Authors. 

What evidence are you relying on, in support of Mary Sidney?

First, I rely upon the standard evidence which links Mary Sidney’s life experience, formal education, aristocratic upbringing, and her direct link to various characters in the plays.  This evidence, as suggested, is not convincing, since it can apply to virtually all aristocratic candidates, yet Mary Sidney seems a more perfect match to the plays than any other candidate.  Robin Williams makes an excellent case for this in her book, Sweet Swan of Avon.  Next I rely upon the evidence that links Mary Sidney to Jonson’s Eulogy.  Almost every line references her, either directly or indirectly.  When applying this same test to the other candidates (which includes Shakspere of Stratford) we find very few, if any of the lines of Jonson’s eulogy is relevant.  Third, I am using a brilliant system of cognitive typing, which indicates the cognitive type of the Author from an analysis of the main characters in the plays.  This system can only narrow down the field, indicating a certain type of cognitive pattern—which several of the candidates can share—however, among the major candidates, the cognitive pattern found in the Shakespeare plays is only held by Mary Sidney.  This evidence can only be appreciated by a handful of people and is not accessible to mainstream scholars.  However, anyone who endeavors to learn this system, and apply it to the plays of Shakespeare, might become more certain that Mary Sidney was the Author, and more doubtful about Shakspere, Oxford, or Neville.

If we look at Mary Sidney's earlier works, and the narrative poems penned under the name "Shakespeare," we see that she is a much better playwright than a poet.  Even the poems that are found in the plays are somewhat lacking when compared to the rest of the verse.  So, we have a disconnect here.  I am under the opine that Mary Sidney was a gifted writer, very exacting in her verse, but not a "Shakespeare."  Maybe she was a brilliant playwright and a not so brilliant a poet.  But more than likely
and this is what hopelessly confuses the issue---she did not write the plays alone.  In his eulogy, Jonson suggests that the Author received help.  The plays have a consistent feel and voice, and therefore we must conclude that there was one primary, or overseeing, or finalizing author.  However, there is nothing to suggest that Mary Sidney (nor any of the other major candidates, including Shaksper) had the talent or wherewithal to write the plays alone. (Certainly the image of a "quick-study" Shakespeare, alone in his room, quickly knocking out plays to met public demand, should be wholly dismissed).  But also, the image of Mary Sidney, alone in her study, writing the plays in secret, is not wholly believable.  However, Mary Sidney, being the Grande Dame of Wilton House, and being surrounded by the most gifted writers of the age, was in a perfect position to be at the helm of a playwriting endeavor.  This does not mean that the plays were written as part of a group effort, or by committee, only that Mary Sidney received significant help with the plays, especially in terms of story-line, ideas, research, and perhaps early construction.  (It is also likely that some of the plays in the collection may have been conceived and written by others, and later revised, and made into a "Shakespeare" play by Mary.)  She, above all, was a wordsmith; she liked putting together word combinations and creating new words.   She liked bringing things to perfection.  So, she would have spent more time in perfecting the plays, and the verse, and less time with the grunt work which was needed, especially in preparation of the historical plays.  Thus, in the end, we can say that Mary Sidney was "the primary" author of the "Shakespeare plays" but not their sole author.

Wilton House Statue / Stratford Bust

    One bit of vague evidence, in favor of Mary Sidney, which has not been explored, relates to the memorial statue of William Shakespeare, which sits in the main entrance of Wilton House.  It is a virtual replica of the memorial statue of Shakespeare which sits in Westminster Abbey.  Wilton House, of course, was the home of Mary Sidney and the epicenter of the literary revolution in England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. When I first heard about Shakespeare’s statue, sitting in the main entrance of Wilton House, I was taken aback; I did not understanding why the Pembrokes, who were heir to the true Author, would glorify the person of William Shakespeare.  This was an anomaly, and all anomalies need to be investigated—because they often point to a hidden truth.  In fact, this whole thing is filled with anomalies.  For instance, why did the Pembrokes pay the large sum needed to construct a memorial statue of Shakespeare?  And why, just two years later, make one which was virtually identical to the one found in Westminster Abbey?

Now, the statues are virtually identical—which, by clear intention, links them together—yet there are significant differences between the two.  Thus, by virtue of the intentional likeness of the statues, the intentional difference between the two becomes more apparent.  Now, there are two major differences: a) in the Abbey statue, the inscription on the scroll is from The Tempest, and the figure is pointing to the word, Temples,” whereas in Wilton House the inscription is from Macbeth, and the figure is pointing to the word “SHADOW”; and b) the plinth upon which the figure leans is square in the Abbey statue and round in the Wilton statue.

    Peter Dawkins writes: “A wonder that is not so widely known is that the Westminster Abbey Shakespeare Memorial has a twin.  Like human twins, this other memorial is similar but with important differences.  Whereas the Westminster Memorial was made for the nation, paid for by public subscription and placed in a public (but holy) place, its twin was crated for the Earls of Pembroke and still stands in Wilton House where it was originally placed.
     "Like the Westminster Memorial, the Wilton Memorial was designed by William Kent and sculpted by Peter Sheemakers.  It was completed in 1743 for Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, and architect and lover of the arts, who was a good friend of Lord Burlington and William Kent.  Henry’s ancestors were the two brothers, William the 3rd Earl of Pembroke and Philip the 4th Earl of Pembroke, to whom the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio had been dedicated, and their parents, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, and Henry Herbert, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. Both memorials depict Shakespeare standing with legs crossed, leaning with his right elbow supported on a pile of three books stacked on a plinth and his left arm reaching across this body, pointing with the forefinger on his left hand to a particular word on a scroll that hangs down the front of the plinth.  The striking difference between the two memorials are, first, that whereas the Westminster Memorial has a square plinth, the Wilton Memorial has a circular one; and second, that the quotations on the two scrolls are different.  Whereas the words on the Westminster Memorial are taken from The Tempest and the particular word pointed to is “Temples,” the quotation on the Wilton Memorial is from Macbeth and the word pointed to is “Shadow.”  Moreover, whereas the quotation used on the Westminster Memorial is garbled, the quotation on the Wilton Memorial is not.”
      (Dawkins, The Shakespeare Enigma, p. 411)

      In Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare is pointing to the word “Temples,” and the inscription on the scroll reads:

    The Cloud capt Tow’rs,

    The Gorgeous Palaces,
    The Solemn Temples,
    The Great Globe itself,
    Yea all which it Inherit,
Shall Dissolve;
    And like the baseless Fabrick of a Vision
    Leave not a wreck behind.

    This is a somewhat altered and distorted version of the original verse which is found in The Tempest (4.1.151-56), which reads:

    And like the baseless fabrick of this vision

    The Clowd-capt Towres, the gorgeous Pallaces,
    The solemne Temples, the great Globe it self,
    Yea, all which is inherit, shall dissolve,
    And like this insubstantiall Pageant faded
    Leave not a racke behinde.

    The reason why the verse was changed, and why the figure is pointing to the word, “Temples,” is unclear, though it might have something to do with Alexander Pope (who was one of the four men responsible for commissioning and erecting the Abbey statue) and his relationship to the Masonic Temple (and the Freemasons) and Francis Bacon, who was one of the earliest Grand Masters of the Freemasons. (William Herbert, by the way, was also an early Grand Master of the Freemasons.)  Our concern, however, is not with the Abbey statue, or its inscription, but with the statue in Wilton House, which was made in response to the Abbey statue, and which is different in several respects.

    The inscription on the Wilton House statue is from Macbeth (5.5.24-6), and the figure is pointing to the word “SHADOW.”  The inscription is identical to the verse found in Macbeth (except in its use of capitalization); it reads:

    LIFE’s but a walking SHADOW

        A poor PLAYER
    That struts and frets his hour

       Upon the STAGE
    And then is heard no more!

The original verse reads:

    Life’s but a walking Shadow, a poor Player,

    That struts and frets his houre upon the Stage,
    And then is heard no more.

      Now, let’s look at this whole situation and ask some questions:  Why did the 9th Earl of Pembroke pay a small fortune to make a statue of Shakespeare for Wilton house (which was noticeably similar to the one in Westminster Abbey)?  And why did he do this without delay, only two yeas after the Abbey statue was completed?   It seems he paid a hefty price, not to honor Shakespeare, but to make a statement about the Westminster Memorial which had just been erected.  (Had the Earl intended to honor Shakespeare, he would have erected a new and original statue).  So, why did the Earl pay a small fortune to make this statement?—and what statement was he making?  Clearly, the figure pointing to the word “Shadow” sends a message that Shakespeare (and the Westminster Memorial which had just been completed to honor him) was a “Shadow”—he was not the true “Shakespeare,” the true Author, but only her shadow.  The Earl had in mind that his own relative, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, whose home was Wilton House (and who formed the greatest literary circle of her age at Wilton House) was the true Author.  Thus, he had a statue constructed to honor the true “Shakespeare,” Mary Sidney, and he had it placed in the true home of “Shakespeare,” which was Wilton House.

     Now, my question is this:  Why would the Earl have spent a small fortune to make such a tenuous and uncertain statement?  If I had commissioned such a statue to make the statement that the Shakespeare honored at Westminster Abbey was only a shadow (and, by extension, that my great ancestor, Mary Sidney, was the true “Shakespeare”) I would have added something more definitive, something to make my intention more clear.  So, perhaps the Earl did add something more: possibly something hidden underneath the stature, or some inscription hidden within the folds of the statue (maybe on the inner side of the plinth, or elsewhere). 

Are there any other issues related to the Authorship Question, besides Jonson’s Eulogy, that you find especially telling?

  There are several, but since we are on the subject of statues, I think the circumstances surrounding the original Shakespeare memorial structure in Stratford might provide something useful.  The common opinion, diligently held by both Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians alike, is that all is as it seems—that the memorial was constructed for William Shakspere between 1616 and 1623, which is the date between his death and the publication of the First Folio.  (Dugdale wrote in his diary that the structure was made by “one Gerard Johnson,” who died in 1611—but this is quickly explained away by the assertion that Dugdale was referring to Johnson the Younger, not Johnson himself.) My original thought was that the structure was constructed after 1623, as a result of it being mentioned in the First Folio—and that it was constructed for the faithful from London, who were streaming into Stratford to see the ‘monument’ of their Poet and finding nothing.  Thus, there was no structure in Stratford in 1623; and Digge’s reference to “thy Stratford Moniment’ must have been to some other, then-existing monument in Stratford—and the most likely monument would have been the massive stone structure of Old Sarum, in Stratford-sub-Castle (bordering Mary Sidney’s Wilton Estate).  The problem with this idea is that the structure is amiss (both in its original form and as it rests today); had the memorial structure been constructed after 1623, commissioned by the faithful coming from London, in honor of their venerable poet, it would not have sported a man holding a sack. So, it appears that there was an existing structure in Stratford-on-Avon, in 1623, and that Digges’s line was meant to refer to that structure; his line, however, is sufficiently vague and imprecise: it could refer to both the 'monument' in Stratford-on-Avon (though the structure could not truly be called a ‘monument’) and to Old Sarum, near Stratford-sub-Castle.
      All said, it seems that the original memorial structure in Stratford was initially constructed for John Shakspere, by his son William Shakspere, sometime between 1602 and 1611.  I believe that the inscription found on the original structure (to John Shakspere), which was then modified to fit  William Shakspere, may have originally been the floor stone covering John Shakspere's grave and later used for the structure.  A comparison between the size of the inscription stone on the memorial and the typical size of a floor stone (if there is one) might prove useful.  (Where, might I ask, is John Shakspere's grave?)  This theory explains why the engraving on the front of the structure says that “Shakspeare” was “with in this monument” and that his name “doth deck this tomb”: when the slab was a stone on the floor of Trinity Church, in Stratford, the body of John Shakespere did lie within and it was a tomb.  That cannot be said about the original memorial structure which never contained a body and was never a tomb.  Continuing our story, some time around 1621, when there was a need for William Shakspere to have some kind of memorial, the “Shakspeare” memorial was "brought to life" and morphed from  John Shakspere to William Shakspere.  This was accomplished by a few strokes of the chisel, by the simple addition of two Latin lines, two English lines (to the already-existing four-line poem), and a death date of 1616.  This expanded inscription positively linked the structure to “Shakespeare the Author”—by the Latin verse—and William Shakspere of Stratford (and not his father), by the day and year of his death.  The bust of the “John Shakspere,” holding a sack of wool (or, as some surmise, a sack of grain) went unchanged. 
   One more thing to note is this regards: court records indicate that John Shakspere was a large-scale trader in wool (which was illegal); and he was also a usurer.  He seemed to have amassed a small fortune from these illicit business practices.  For instance, in 1576 his estimated net worth was
£400; on his coat of arms application, made in 1596, he listed his net worth as £500.  Many scholars claim that this was a false exaggeration (to give more weight to his application) but it now appears that the statement was accurate.  Thus, John Shakespeare was a wealthy "gentleman"---wealthy enough to pay for his own memorial (which proudly displayed his newly obtained family coat of arms).  The mystery of how William Shakspere came upon so much money in the early 1600s may not be such a mystery after all---he inherited it from his father.

    It is likely that William Herbert and Ben Jonson were behind this scheme to morph the memorial structure as part of an overall plan to help keep the true Author’s identity a secret.  Jonson probably wrote the Latin verse, praising the Author, and also the two additional English lines—which have the Jonsonian style of seeming to praise the Stratford man while, at the same time, suggesting that he was not the true Author.

     In sum, if the memorial was originally that of John Shakspere, it tells us that no memorial was constructed for William Shakspere after his death—which suggests a person of very little significance.  (He left no provision for such a structure in his will, so it remains unclear as to who would have paid for this honorarium.)  It also tells us that someone took the time to create this rouse, to put forth some kind of farce, where the greatest writer of the age is holding a sack of barley, and where the last two English lines seem to suggest that William Shakspere of Stratford had not written a single page of worthy verse (or if he did write anything, it was on the level of a ‘page’ and far short of work of the true "Shakespeare," who was a peerless master poet).  I don’t know if chisels leave a ‘signature’—which might be discovered through microscopic examination—but if they do, such an exam might reveal that the original four English lines (which are the first four lines) were made by a different chisel, and at a different time, than the two Latin lines, the last two English lines, and the death date lines. 

Does it not seem odd that one of the main pillars of the Stratfordian case is Digges's reference to 'thy Stratford Moniment"?especially when this structure in Stratford is not, by any account, a 'Moniment" (or "Monument"); when it does not contain a body "with in the monument" and is not a "tomb"; when the original bust was not even that of William Shakspere (but that of his father); and when the last lines of the engraving suggest that William Shakspere was not the true Author, and that "all he hath writ" falls far short of anything written by the true "Shakespeare"?
    [See the article at the end of this Section for more details]
The Stratfordians, all in support of a single candidate, are not weakened and dissipated like the anti-Stratfordians, who back different candidate and who are often a war with each other.  Certainly, if everyone were behind a single candidate, this would bolster their case. Do you feel that your work, along with that of Robin Williams, Fred Faulkes, and others, will eventually lead all the anti-Stratfordians to back a single candidate?

Probably not.  Not at this time.  People still enjoy arguing in favor of one candidate over the other.  As in any field, many people are fully invested in one candidate, they have based their lives upon the support of that candidate.  Their whole identity, and sense of self, is based upon their belief in that candidate.  So, they are not ready or able to make a change.  As is the case with any paradigm, the old guard will have to die out—which will allow a new generation can look afresh at all the evidence—before the paradigm can shift.  So, over time, a clear, anti-Stratfordians candidate may emerge.  I think it will be Mary Sidney, but only time will tell.  Nothing can really shift until the universities allow it, until they begin to teach it, until some English departments are bold enough (or allowed by the status quo of their university) to offer an alternative point of view.  This will take time.  The old guard will have to die out. 

I sometimes get discouraged by this whole thing, because there is not consensus. No matter how eloquently you argue in favor of one candidate, there will always be people who disagree with you and who will find an equally plausible (at least to themselves) counter-argument.  So, all you can do is articulate the truth, and present the evidence as you see it, and let the chips fall as they may.  I’m not invested in trying to change anyone’s mind; I am only presenting the truth as I have come to see it.  The truth that appears before me now, based on the available evidence, is that Mary Sidney was the Author of the Shakespeare plays.

Oftentimes, when bringing up the Authorship Question, a person will proudly (or cleverly) tell me that they don’t care who wrote the plays—they just enjoy them for what they are.  Well, why bother investigating anything?  My point, and the point upon which most anti-Stratfordians agree, is that if we know the true identity of the Author we may gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the plays and perhaps ourselves.

Looking back, how did you become involved with the Authorship Question?

You don’t have to look back very far.  My interest in Shakespeare began a few years ago (in 2004).  Prior to that time, I was completely ignorant of all things Shakespeare—my only knowledge came from having read one or two plays in high school, and having seen Zepherelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet shortly after it came out.  My background had been in the translation of spiritual texts, including the Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching, the Persian poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, and various Sanskrit texts.  It was during this time that I began ‘rendering’ the Greek play, “Prometheus Bound” into modern English—and by ‘rendering’ I mean extracting the meaning of the text from several existing translations and then coming up with my own version.  Finding this process rather painless—and with results that I was pleased with—I had the idea of applying the same method to Shakespeare and ‘rendering’ the Early English (used in the 1600s) into the Modern English of today.  So, having no knowledge of Shakespeare, I ordered some research material of plays that I had heard of—and my research material included texts from “Shakespeare Made Easy” and “No Fear Shakespeare” which offer a side-by-side text which explains—but makes no attempt to translate or render—the original text.  The first material that arrived was A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  Not knowing anything about the text, I began to render it into modern English—reading the plot as I went along.  Six days later I had a Modern English version that could be understood by any high school student.  It was during that time that a friend told me about The Merchant of Venice.   For reasons not entirely known to me I decided that this play needed my rectification and ‘rendering’ and so I ordered all the source material.  This play provided a greater challenge than A Midsummer’s Night Dream because not only did the actual words need to be ‘translated’ but the context of the play itself needed to be translated from a context that was understood by an Elizabethan audience to one which could be recognized by a modern audience. 
    The way I have come to ‘render’ ancient texts—whose meaning cannot be extracted by a mere translation of the words but through accessing the ‘spirit’ of its author—is to deeply meditate upon the words and try to arrive at the place—or state of consciousness—that gave rise to the words, the state the author must have been in to write such words.  The state was the cause and the written words could be seen as the effect.  I used this same method when rendering The Merchant of Venice, especially in places where the text was not clear. I would not term this as some kind of mystical state, but more a state of increased intuition—and, in this state, certain things began to emerge.
   As I began to delve into the text, and access ‘the spirit of the author,” a nagging feeling of disconnectedness began to arise.  I had been a student of various personality typing systems—including the brilliant system of Cognitive Type (or “Character Type”) devised by Alvaro Lopez-Watermann.  Using my own intuitive insight, combined with my rudimentary knowledge of Cognitive Types,  I could not understand how someone of Shakspere’s Type (according to Lopez-Watermann’s system) could have written the text.  None of the main characters seemed to display the same kind of Type (or cognitive pattern) as the known pattern of Shakspere of Stratford.  Specifically, Shakspere is Type 9, and all the main characters seemed to display Type 3.  (According to the theory of Cognitive Types, everything a person writes bears the imprint of his Type, or cognitive style; thus, accordingly, every main character of a play would display the same Cognitive Type as that of the play’s author).
    So, without knowing anything about there being an Authorship Question I came to the sense that Shakspere of Stratford did not, nor could not have written, the play.  Only sometime later did I discover the Authorship Debate, and the anti-Stratfordian positionand how little evidence there is in support of William Shakspere as the Authorwhich confirmed what I already felt to be the case.  I was convinced that Shakspere of Stratford did not write the plays but nothing I found with respect to any of the authorship candidates (such as Oxford or Bacon) convinced me of who did write the plays.  It was only when I came upon the theory about Mary Sidney was the Author (and then discovered that her Type was the only one, of all the major authorship candidates, which matched the Type displayed by the main characters of the plays) that I adopted the position that Mary Sidney was the Author, or "the most likely Author," (or the "primary Author") of the Shakespeare plays.

Some links between Mary Sidney and the source material


The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (specifically the second edition, 1587) by Ralph Holinshed was used in twelve plays.  [King John, Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, Henry V, Henry VI parts 1, 2, and 3, Henry VIII, Macbeth, and Cymbeline].

Arcadia was used as a source for five plays [King Lear, Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and Pericles] including the story of an “unkind king” and a father being blinded by his ungrateful son in the depths of a cold winter.  Bevington writes: “Albany’s speeches about anarchy . . . recall of [Philip] Sidney’s deepest concerns.”

♦The works of Samuel Daniel, including The First Four Books of the Civil Wars (1595) were used as sources for five plays [Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2].

♦Thomas Kyd’s Cornelia (translated from the French Senecan tragedy Cornélie, by Garnier) was used as a source for Julius Caesar.

Antony and Cleopatra:  “Most important for Shakespeare were The Tragedy of Antony, translated from Robert Garnier’s Marc Antoine by Mary [
Sidney’ Herbert, Countess of Pembroke . . . and The Tragedy of Cleopatra by Samual Daniel.”  [Bevington, Complete Works, A-51]

♦The original Latin version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the 1567 translation by Arthur Golding were used in four plays
[Titus Andronicus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merry Wives of Windsor, and The Tempest].

♦Edmund Spencer’s book The Faerie Queen was a source for three plays
[The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the Henry VI plays].

The 1587 edition included a memorial account of Mary’s brother, Philip, and well as an account of the “excellent” death of Mary’s mother, Mary Dudley Sidney.

Arcadia was written by Mary’s brother, Philip, at Mary’s request.  Most of it was written in Mary’s home (Wilton House) and Mary published it.

Samuel Daniel was Mary’s protégé.  Daniel credits Mary with having been his best writing teacher.  The particular works about the Civil Wars was begun while Daniel was living at Wilton House.  The expanded edition of 1609 was dedicated to Mary.

“She [Mary Sidney] diverted Thoma Kyd from his true vocation as a writer for the popular stage by persuading him, about 1594, to translate another play of Garnier’s, Cornélie.  [Buxton, Sir Philip Sidney, p, 200]

  Mary wrote The Tragedy of Antony, also called Antonius or Antonie.  “The influence of her translation may be seen in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, which echoes structural and thematic elements of Antonius as well as occasional phrasing. . . . Both [the Countess of] Pembroke and Shakespeare emphasize Antony’s cross-dressing, a detail absent in Garnier. . . . Verbal parallels establish that Shakespeare knew Garnier in [the Countess of] Pembroke’s translation. . . . the parallels are too numerous to be coincidental.[Hannay, Collected Works, Vol. I, p. 39-40]  Samuel Daniel’s book Cleopatra was written at Mary’s request and under her tutelage; it was “designed as a companion piece to
Antony and dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke.” [Wilders]  “Cleopatra had been a closet drama, designed only for reading to the highly cultured ears of the Wilton art circle.” [Kernan]

   Arthur Golding was personally known to Mary; he completed one of Philip’s unfinished translations after Philip died.  The 1567 translation was dedicated to Mary’s uncle, Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester.

    Spencer was a protégé of Philip Sidney and a member of Wilton Circle.  Spenser praised Mary in a dedicatory sonnet in The Faerie Queen.

Section 5:

The Stratford Memorial Structure

For a further discussion of the Shakespeare Memorial Structure in Stratford, see pdf file below:

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