Not long after getting involved in the Authorship Question (1986) I realized that questions of authorship went beyond just “who wrote Shakespeare?” There were too many authors who, like William of Stratford, had biographies that were too full of holes to hold water. There were also Court writers other than Oxford who had reputations in their own time unbacked by any solid evidence. This was simply too tempting a mystery to resist, so in I plunged. Now, over two decades later, I have a scenario that works for me. Whether or not it works for others remains to be seen.
Not everything in this scenario is new with me, of course, and I do my best to acknowledge what is not, but there is much that is new and much that will raise the hackles of other authorship scholars. Please keep in mind that I don’t by any means make the claim that I am offering the ultimate truth. What I offer here is a plan, a construct, that does hold water psychologically, that can be used as a chart for future scholarship, as a way out of the scholarly doldrums that has beset this issue for over 400 years. Considering that what facts we have to work with are simply too few to create a coherent story, my goal from the start has been to create a story that sees those facts that we do have, all of them, as functioning parts of a believable whole. Yes, where the record is completely missing I’ve had to create bridgework out of probabilities taken from history, psychology, and the biographies of other great artists, but where I’m forced into conjecture I make it as clear as I can that that’s what I’m doing.
Does the story live? Does it make psychological sense? To find such a story has been my goal from the beginning and that’s what I’m offering here, using the facts at hand as basic structure. This after all is what Shakespeare did with English history, and his own biography. When Fate denied him what he believed to be his inherited office, he turned to Story as a means of achieving the same thing. For Story, while not always “true” in an historical sense, offers another kind of truth one just as necessary, one that transcends all parties and ideologies, that communicates through, not just the mind, but the heart. “The heart has reasons that Reason knows not of.” That’s what I seek to provide, the story behind the authorship, and not only his but all the works of the imagination published during his time.
What you’ll read here that’s not new with me:
- William of Stratford sold his name to the true author so that he could hide his identity. Many agree with this.
- The Robert Greene canon was written by Shakespeare (the playwright). Several Baconians came up with this long long ago.
- Individual works published as by George Gascoigne, Arthur Brooke, Richard Edwards, Arthur Golding, George Pettie, John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Watson, Thomas Kyd, are Shakespeare’s juvenilia. A number of Oxfordians and Baconians agree with all or some part of this.
- Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the Shakespeare canon. Many agree with this.
- The Robert Greene canon was written by Oxford. At least one other leading authorship scholar agrees with this.
- Francis Bacon, Mary Sidney Pembroke, and Sir Walter Raleigh wrote considerably more than was ever published under their names. Most orthodox scholars who study one or another of these three agree.
- Francis Bacon wrote a number of important policy papers during his early years that are either anonymous or provisionally attributed to others. All orthodox Bacon scholars agree with this.
- Francis Bacon was the true author of most of the Spenser canon, the John Lyly plays, and all of the Thomas Nashe canon. Several Baconians agree with this.
- Not all 16th and early 17th century title pages are 100% factual, particularly those for imaginative or original works. Although most orthodox scholars are aware of this, unfortunately they continue to base their conclusions on them anyway.
- It was not William of Stratford but the actor and theater manager Edward Alleyn who was portrayed as Shake-scene in Greene’s Groatsworth of Witte. Two other scholars that I know of agree with this, one a Stratfordian, the other a Marlovian.
- The Dark Lady of the Sonnets was Emilia Bassano Lanier, famous today as the first published English feminist and first woman to publish a book of her own writing under her own name. Several respected orthodox scholars agree with this.
- The Rival Poet of the Sonnets was the Earl of Essex. One other leading Oxfordian scholar agrees with this.
- The Cecils controlled the history of their era. Orthodox historians provide the facts for this, though they never actually state it as a conclusion.
What I propose that (I believe) is new:
Not just William of Stratford, Robert Greene, John Lyly and Thomas Watson (who have been suggested) but also Edmund Spenser, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Kyd, John Fletcher, and John Webster (among others) allowed important Court writers to use their names to get published. This is not “snobbery” but common sense based on history.
Not just Oxford, but at least two others, Francis Bacon, and Mary Sidney Pembroke, used stand-ins to publish their most important imaginative works.
Mary Sidney Pembroke was the true author of the John Webster canon and at least one play attributed to John Fletcher.
Christopher Marlowe was not a spy. None of the so-called evidence for this holds water. So far no one else, not even his biographers, have dared or cared to state what should be an obvious fact.
The so-called late “romance” plays of Shakespeare are actually the earliest of his plays to make it into the canon, though altered later in varying degrees by Jacobean “co-authors.” The only reason for placing these obviously early works so late is to preserve the time frame of the Stratford biography.
There was no early comedy period followed by a later tragedy period. Right from the beginning (comedy: The Supposes; tragedy: Jocaste), Shakespeare (Oxford) alternated between comedies and tragedies, often approaching the same topic from opposing points of view.
Although there was a shift into and then away from things like pastorals, euphuism, and sonnet cycles, there was no great stylistic shift on Shakespeare’s part from masculine to feminine endings. Writers had been using feminine endings since Chaucer and beyond. A master of the arts of poetry, from the start Shakespeare used feminine endings just as a composer will shift into different keys for different moods.
Organizing the Queen’s Men was not the anomaly in Francis Walsingham’s career as a statesman that it’s portrayed by his biographers, but a clue to the fact that it was he who was the primary patron of the Court Stage during the period when he dominated the Privy Council (1583-’89). That this is not obvious is not because it didn’t happen, but because he was as secretive about this as he was about everything else, and also because his papers “disappeared” shortly after his death.
It was Walsingham who brought both Thomas Watson and Christopher Marlowe into the writing group known as the University Wits, the group of writers and musicians based at Fishers Folly during Walsingham’s years as Secretary of State, 1583-’89.
It was Oxford who, in the early 1580s, discovered the teenaged Edward Alleyn at Alleyn’s family inn two doors down from Fisher’s Folly, and it was Oxford who began his training as an actor at Burbage’s Theater a short walk up the road at Norton Folgate. After breaking with Oxford and Burbage in 1587, Alleyn and Marlowe crossed the river to produce Tamburlaine with Henslowe at the Rose. It was chiefly this act of betrayal that drove Oxford and Bacon to snipe at Marlowe and Alleyn in Greene’s Perimedes and Menaphon, culminating in Oxford’s denunciation of Alleyn as “Shake-scene” in Groatsworth for having the gall to revise his wording.
Following Walsingham’s death in 1590, his duties as spy-master were taken over by Robert Cecil, whose first act as Principal Secretary pro tem was the complex sting operation that rid the government of Christopher Marlowe, and a year later, of Marlowe’s patron Lord Strange. In The Reckoning, Charles Nicholl provides substantial evidence for this, though declining to draw the obvious conclusion.
Without patrons like the Earl of Sussex, Lord Hunsdon, the Lord Admiral, the Earl of Pembroke, and probably at a crucial point in the late 1590s, the Earl of Essex, Oxford and Bacon could never have mounted the English Literary Renaissance. Because these high level supporters were constrained to keep as low a profile as they could, historians give all the credit to the entrepreneurs who were utterly dependent on them for support and protection.
And, more generally, that:
The London commercial theater, England’s greatest contribution to the European Renaissance, was a rebirth of the ancient “pagan” merry-making that the Reformation had driven underground, or rather, into the halls, priories, and chantries thatemptied by Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries that in the late 1570s, with Oxford’s help and that of his powerful patrons, metamorphosed into the theaters of the English Renaissance.
By creating the first successful year-round commercial stages in London, Oxford, his friends, his actors, his patrons and his audiences, were responsible for the first major step towards a modern functional democracy in the West.
Oxford’s tutor and surrogate father, Sir Thomas Smith, was responsible for the wording of that most august and respected cornerstone of the Anglican Religion, the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.
Providing justification and evidence for these claims is what this blog is all about.