William and the Company

The so-called coverup, that is, the hiding of the identity of the true author behind the name of a small town entrepreneur, was, from first to last, a business maneuver by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men), the acting company that from 1594 on was the only one to perform and publish Oxford’s plays. True, they couldn’t have done it had not he paved the way by remaining as anonymous as he could since childhood, while his use of William’s name on Venus and Adonis in 1593 opened the door to the eventual solution, but from 1597 on it was entirely a matter of business strategy by the Crown Company and their patrons on the Privy Council.

More specifically, Oxford’s cover was the work of the core group within the LCMen known as the sharers.  Others close to the operation may have been aware of the truth, or figured it out as time went by, but as with any business enterprise (then and now), as a company secret, it was not to be divulged on any account.  As a business secret of the Crown Company, no one who was not authorized to know it would have revealed the fact that they knew it even to others who knew.

Perhaps what has made this issue so complicated is that no one, not even the author himself, had any idea, back when the cover-up began, that his writing, both what they published as Shakespeare and what he’d published earlier under the names of Robert Greene, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Watson, Thomas Lodge, and John Lyly, would become so popular, or that their popularity would drive the  creation of both the London Stage and the periodical press.  Did Bill Gates or Steve Jobs have any idea that what they were tinkering with in their garages would change the culture of the entire world?  It was the popularity of Oxford’s (and Marlowe’s) plays that turned what began as a quick fix into one of the great literary mysteries of all time.

Following the death of Sir Francis Walsingham in 1590, when Baron Hunsdon, Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, took over as manager of the Court Stage, he did what Walsingham had done a decade  earlier, he brought together (in June 1594) the best actors from the three top companies to create a new Crown company known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  More specifically he took Richard Burbage, son of James, plus several from Lord Strange’s Men: Hemmings, Kempe, Phillips, and Pope.   These formed the core of the company that from then on was known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  The Burbages, Hemmings, Pope and Kempe were the original sharers.

Although the commercial stage was still only ten years old, by 1594 it had had enough time to reveal the kind of problems that Hunsdon, Burbage and the actors were determined to prevent.  In particular they wanted to avoid losing their playwright, as Henslowe had with the death of Christopher Marlowe.  Oxford had lost his status as a patron by this time, having cashed in his inherited capital to keep his theaters afloat, so by 1594 his value to the company was chiefly his pen.  In fact, in some ways his social status may have become more of a handicap to them than a help.

As for Oxford himself, however much he may have enjoyed the company of actors and musicians, with whom, as a writer and musician he had a lot more in common than he did with most of his social equals, we know that at times he felt keenly how he’d come down in the world, that he was now nothing but a writer at the beck of “base fellows” like Burbage and Hemmings.  He shows this in Sonnets 71, and 72, and in As You Like It where Touchstone compares the public audience (audire) to the provincial slut (Audrey) that he’s  being forced to marry (entertain).

A successful repertory company must have four things:  1) a set of actors: dramatic leads, ingenue and juvenile leads, plus, back then, a pair of comedians; enough anyway that they can gather at least six onstage at one time.  2) they need a stage, including a place to rehearse; 3) they need an audience, so the playhouse has to be located near a busy thoroughfare where people can reach it easily by foot; and 4) last but certainly not least, they need a popular playbook that they can count on to bring in the money.  Minus any one of these four things, and it’s not going to succeed.

Oxford wasn’t easy.  He had a lot of baggage.  He needed protection from a variety of enemies, on many of whom he’d revenged himself by satirizing them more or less obviously onstage.  He was also involved in a torrid affair with Hunsdon’s mistress, the black-eyed temptress Emilia Bassano.  Hunsdon, rumored to be a byblow of Henry VIII and thus himself a product of royal hanky panky, was going on 70 by then and so may have been philosophical about the sex lives of a man the age of his sons and a woman the age of his granddaughters.  (Who knows, Emilia may even have been part of the deal.)  In any case, since Oxford had the golden playbook, the one that made the money, they had to have him, warts and all, and so they had to find a way to protect him.

But it seems that Oxford, Timon-like, was already plotting his escape to the Forest.  By 1593 he had returned to petitioning the Queen for the stewardship of the Forest of Waltham, while clues to this can be seen in the plays from that period, rewrites of Timon, Measure for Measure, and most signficantly, The Tempest, all featuring escapes or exiles to the woods.  But Elizabeth knew her Court jester too well to let him get away with another disappearing act, and so continued to stall him with one ploy after another, perhaps using her continually unfulfilled promises to give him the Forest as a carrot to tempt him back into writing comedies for the children, her preferred entertainment.

With the booming poularity of the public stage in a world as small as the literary community of 16th-century London, keeping Oxford’s involvement with the LCMen a secret was more easily said than done.  The London Stage was breaking new ground in every aspect of English life, so companies like theirs had problems to consider that the amateur actors of earlier times had never had to deal with.  In a small community, where everyone who could read knew everyone who could write, a pen name would only stimulate curiosity. Dates suggest that it actually took awhile for the Company to come up with a solution.

Their first move was to gain control of Oxford’s playbook.  Until the assassination of Lord Strange, of the various companies in operation at that time, the four top adult companies, those in competition for Court performance: the Queen’s Men, the Lord Strange’s Men, the Lord Admiral’s Men, and Pembroke’s Men, all had versions of his plays.

Following the sting that rid the Crown of Marlowe in June 1593, the scenario that makes the most sense is that the patrons of the two top companies,  Hunsdon and his son-in-law Charles Howard (the Lord Admiral), both members of the Queen’s Privy Council, got together with the owners of the two major London theaters, Philip Henslowe and James Burbage, and worked out a compromise as to how the London Stage would be divided from then on: who would get which actors and who got which of Oxford’s plays.  Theirs would be the only two official companies, the rest having to make do with theater inns or the road.

The new Crown company would have the cream of the acting crop, all that is, but the superstar Edward Alleyn; they got the plays Oxford was still interested in revising, and Burbage’s Theatre in Shoreditch.  The Lord Admiral’s Men got Alleyn, several of the most popular plays (those that no longer interested Oxford), and Henslowe’s theater on Bankside.  To make up for the lack of a playwright of Oxford or Marlowe’s calibre, Henslowe began the practise of hiring stringers, sometimes as many as five to a play, who turned out plays to order on topics suggested by himself or Alleyn.  Both companies moved immediately to license their plays with the Stationers, which gave them the right to prevent them from being performed or published by anyone else.  Those they had no interest in producing they published, possibly to prevent other companies from performing them.

Enter William of Stratford

By June of 1594, these companies were under pressure to get plays ready for the summer season.  Both Burbage’s Theatre and Henslowe’s Rose were outdoor arenas limited to the warmer weather.  With the final loss of the Blackfriars theater school in 1590, the history of what theaters they used in the winter is complicated.  Burbage would soon be making a bid for the old Parliament chamber at Blackfriars, where he ran into considerable trouble.  It seems Henslowe and Alleyn kept the Rose going through the winter.  The Elizabethans were a hardy lot.

Dates suggest that the LCMen moved ahead without having decided just how to deal with the matter of protecting their playwright, something that the murder of his longtime rival for the Court Stage, Lord Strange, in June of ’94 must have made a matter of some importance.  Oxford having just used the name of Richard Field’s neighbor from the distant town of Stratford-on-Avon to get his Venus and Adonis published, someone suggested hiring him as a standin, perhaps as a temporary measure until a better solution could be found.  In the event, nothing better ever turned up.  Since there is no existing warrrant establishing the personnel of the original company, that William was officially considered a member of the company comes from later documents, the first being his name as one of three payees for a December Court performance of the company, March 15, 1595 (Schoenbaum 136).

Sixteenth-century businessmen were experts at legal fictions. Defined by Wikipedia as “an ad hoc remedy forged to meet a harsh or an unforeseen situation,” these were semi-legal dodges that enabled them to work around the archaic limitations of common law.  Technically what the LCMen created was less a legal fiction than a proxy, an ancient means by which a man or woman could be in two places at the same time, or what Irwin Smith called “a cardboard man,” as created by Sir William More when, in his effort to rid Blackfriars of Oxford’s private theater, he conjured up a fictional party to act as his disputant, one “Thomas Smallpiece” (151).

Actors like Robert Wilson and Richard Tarleton who were known to write plays provided the model for William’s role with the company, that of an actor-sharer.  Decades later, when the company had become one of the most lucrative in London, nonactors might inherit their shares or investors buy them, but in the beginning only the principal actors were shareholders, meaning they got a share of the take, and later, when the new Globe was built, a share of the house (Gurr Shakespearean 295).

It’s most unlikely that William was ever an actor in anything but name.  His inclusion on Jonson’s play lists is easily seen as a ruse by the Company to maintain the cover story, while his identification as an actor or player on legal documents came from William himself.  The word actor as a performer was a rather recent addition to the language (OED gives first use to Philip Sidney: 1580: Apologie for Poetry); earlier it meant several other things, including “a doer . . . one who takes part in any affair.”  By the same token, a “player” could mean anyone involved in any way in the production of plays, not necessarily onstage.

It’s equally unlikely that William was a sharer in anything but name.  More likely he was recompensed with a stipend delivered once or twice a year, probably by the company manager John Hemmings who had to pass through William’s home town on his way to visit his family in Droitwich, 25 miles northeast of Stratford. The nature of Hemmings’s association with William is revealed by his later use of him as a player in the Blackfriars Gatehouse deal, a business transaction that had nothing to do with the theater.

In addition to the stipend there were other benefits, perhaps provided at William’s request: first the family crest that had been denied his father many years earlier, then the big Stratford house known as New Place, then, following his father’s death in 1601, the monument in Trinity Church that contained a bust of his father holding a woolsack, the symbol of his trade.  But along with these there also had to be a stipend, for there had to be something to maintain his and his wife’s cooperative silence.

Luckily for the Company, William, like Oxford, had a genius for hiding.  Having suffered since his teens the scorn and pity that small town folk tend to bestow on their less fortunate neighbors, he would have been most careful to keep secret the source of his properity or that it was totally based on what must have seemed to him the mysterious value of his surname.  If the townsfolk of Stratford heard about some playwright in London who happened to have the same name as their close-mouthed neighbor, they’d think nothing of it, a situation that William, and probably his wife as well, would be dedicated to maintaining.  It was understood that his trips to London were about whatever business it was that was bringing him his income.  By keeping their mouths shut and investing their stipend in land and commodities, the Shaksperes managed to build up a tidy little estate in their home community.  This was their only interest in the works of Shakespeare.

We know that William spent time in London from sometime in 1595 through the first decade of the 17th century.  We know this partly through tax rolls that list him as a defaulter in 1595, ’96, and ’97 in the parish of St. Helens, Bishopsgate, years when the Company was located nearby in Shoreditch, then from 1602 to at least 1605, after the actors  had moved to Southwark.  This comes through evidence that he roomed on occasion with the Mountjoy family, makers of wigs and headgear,  on Silver Street, just around the corner from where John Hemmings lived at that time (ODNB).  A 1609 court case in Stratford in which he was suing a neighbor for £6 describes him as “recently” of London.

When every bit of actual evidence of William’s presence in London is gathered it indicates the rental of rooms occupied only briefly and intermittently by a man whose base remained in his hometown, two days from London by horseback.   Stratfordians invariably expand upon it, assuming a life spent in London, but that’s not what the record by itself would indicate.  What William actually did in London is anyone’s guess.  Perhaps the actors did put him to work holding horses, as one anecdote has it.  Ben Jonson has left us what certainly seems to be a satirical portrait in the character of Sogliardo in his 1599 play, Every Man Out of his Humor.

1598 was a turning point for the Company. With Burbage’s Theatre in trouble with his landlord, the year ended with their midnight move across the river.  It seems another kind of move was also made the year before, to define Shakespeare as someone separate from Oxford.  A showdown in 1597 between the actors and Robert Cecil, whose vendetta had led to the loss of both their theaters, forced the Company to put William’s name on the title page of Richard III the following year, while at the same time, a commentary titled Wit’s Treasury made the distinction between Oxford as famed for comedies (none listed), and Shakespeare as author of eight recent and popular plays, their titles listed.  Thus was the cover-up launched in 1598, more out of necessity than any coherent strategy.

With the advent of King James in 1603, the LCMen, now the King’s Men, entered into their most lucrative period.  Protected by the King and the Earl of Pembroke, they and the London Stage they created, became a powerful political force, the foundation of what today we call the Fourth Estate of government, aka the Media.

In this way was the identity of the playwright Shakespeare created and maintained by the company that grew rich and successful on his plays.

17 responses to “William and the Company

  1. Can you explain away Drummond of Hawthornden? Richard Field? BTW one of those plays listed in the 8 is Love’s Labours Won, which no one has correctly identified and therefore couldn’t be popular. Oxford’s comedies weren’t named presumably because they weren’t popular enough to recognise. Besides that was Francis Meres in on the conspiracy too?

  2. “How do you explain away Drummond of Hawthornden?” –– I’m guessing you mean Jonson’s comments on Shakespeare. Jonson was in an awkward situation, sort of between the Devil and the deep. Once he began working for Pembroke and the King’s Men he was bound to continue the cover-up, yet he had strong feelings about Oxford, both admiring and angry (I believe Caliban was a nasty portrait of Jonson at a period when Jonson was writing for Oxford’s rivals). Sometimes one attitude shows, sometimes the other.

    “Richard Field?”––It was through Field that first Oxford, then the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, found William. Field’s print shop published a number of the books that Oxford used as sources for some of his plays. It was located a few yards from the Blackfriars Theater that Oxford “saved” in 1583. See How did Oxford connect with William and Enter Richard Field.

    “BTW one of those plays listed in the 8 is Love’s Labours Won, which no one has correctly identified and therefore couldn’t be popular.”––These plays were known by different names at different times. Whichever play was known then as Love’s Labour’s Won was popular, of course, otherwise Meres would not have listed it.

    “Oxford’s comedies weren’t named presumably because they weren’t popular enough to recognize.”––Oxford’s comedies weren’t named because they were the same ones listed as by Shakespeare. The whole purpose of this addition to Meres’s book was to separate Oxford from the name Shakespeare, to show them as two separate entities, another indication that the authorship question was already becoming a problem for the LCMen.

    “Besides that, was Francis Meres in on the conspiracy too?”––Someone who was “in on it” knew of Meres’s book and promised him a job after graduation if he’d add a few words about Shakespeare, which of course he was happy to do. We must keep in mind that the Lord Chamberlain’s Men was the Crown company, patronized and protected by Privy Councillor and Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, Lord Henry Hunsdon, whose had immense power over the media meant he was in a position to see that almost anything did or did not get published.

  3. Where is there evidence that Jonson was working for and against Oxford? Btw why don’t biographers of Jonson mention this evidence?

    And if he was against or ambivalent to Oxford what was to stop him telling the ‘fact’ that Oxford was Sahkespeare?

    Where is a evidence the LCMen was using their stated friend and fellow Sh as a shill?

    Where is the evidence that there was an authorship question for them?

    Where is the evidence Meres was promised a job after graduation?

    You make it sound as though Palladis Tamia was written only to include Oxford and highlight or intimate at a conspiracy, which is patent nonsense when you read it. It remains evidence for Shakespeare and all his dramatic and poetic contemporaries (noble or not) it was not written just for Shakespeare alone.

    PT is what i call evidence. also it wasn’t found until 1766. Oxford certainly hedged his bets covering all the angles of poetentially being revealed as the author. What was the contemporary readership of PT?

    By Drummond i don’t mean Jonson’s attitude towards Oxford. I mean the Scottish poet and collector of books. BTW his library contained a cross-section of what interested readers of the time were reading. Just as comprehensive a list as you claim for Oxford. Many poeple had such libraires, meaning the knowledge was current and presumably shared.

    Drummond was the one who wrote down what Jonson said about Bohemia etc. Drummond was not ignorant of Court life or London. He had several quartos of plays which he added the name Will. Schaks. and Will Sha. to those which didn’t have the author’s name.

    I am looking at this subject without blinders on as you suggest. I simply have trouble accepting evidence bolstered by outrageous speculation.

    The heming and hawing of the Sh industry could never have been foreseen by William or Oxford and therefore is irrelevant except for your sense of persecution that it is deliberately obstructing your pov.

    I repeat if you please, bring on direct experiential evidence that Oxford had anything to do with writing Sh’s plays. All your arguments derive from the fact that you have accepted him as the author and find the evidence to fit no matter how contradictory.

    Any contemporary who states that there was indeed a conspiracy. Any contemporary who states that Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays and poems.

    The de vere code is book proving Oxford wrote the sonnets by actor of the globe, jonathan bond. The proof of course is cryptographic.

    I repeat too, Shakespeare of Stratford has the crown of authorship. It is up to you to usurp him; as you must to distinguish him from the candidates suggested by all the other doubters.

    And that again requires absolute proof and not this suggestive re-writing of history which you claim as proof. Evidence that could be accepted by any historian of any culture. How many historians, playwrights or poets are on that list of doubters btw?

  4. Where is there evidence that Jonson was working for and against Oxford? Btw why don’t biographers of Jonson mention this evidence?

    I didn’t say he was working for and against Oxford, I said his attitude towards Shakespeare was ambivalent, something that many commentators have noted, most of them orthodox Shakespeareans. David Riggs for one makes this point early (page 28) in his biography, Ben Jonson: A Life (1989).

    And if he was against or ambivalent to Oxford what was to stop him telling the ‘fact’ that Oxford was Sahkespeare?

    He would have been in deep trouble with his patrons, that’s why.

    Where is a evidence the LCMen was using their stated friend and fellow Sh as a shill?

    So far the only evidence that William had anything to do with the London Stage stems from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, whose purpose was to protect their playwright’s privacy. Show me a single bit of evidence that he was ever anything to them but a name. Believe me, there isn’t any. If he really was the author, there would be the kind of evidence that we have for Jonson and Marlowe.

    Where is the evidence that there was an authorship question for them?

    Why didn’t Jonson identify William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon in his dedicatory remarks? Why was he so oblique?

    Where is the evidence Meres was promised a job after graduation?

    Why did Meres give the full name of everyone he wrote about except for Shakespeare, who he identifies only by his surname?

    You make it sound as though Palladis Tamia was written only to include Oxford and highlight or intimate at a conspiracy, which is patent nonsense when you read it. It remains evidence for Shakespeare and all his dramatic and poetic contemporaries (noble or not) it was not written just for Shakespeare alone.

    I never said that it was written purely to resolve current questions about the authorship, although the money to publish it may have been provided for that purpose. Nothing written by men of small means got published in those days without the backing of well-heeled patrons. My guess is that someone who knew about the book asked the author to insert the comment. That Meres got some reward for complying is simply common sense. The publishing business was very small then, and those involved, including the censors who had to pass on everything that was published, would have known about everything that was in the works. The London Stage was of huge importance to the Crown and the patrons who helped create it and protect it. Protecting the privacy of the playwright who brought in the crowds day after day was a matter of the utmost importance to a fairly large community.

    PT is what i call evidence. also it wasn’t found until 1766. Oxford certainly hedged his bets covering all the angles of poetentially being revealed as the author. What was the contemporary readership of PT?

    What do you mean by PT? Prince Tudor? Evidence of what? Never mind. I see we’re heading down Fantasy Lane.

    By Drummond i don’t mean Jonson’s attitude towards Oxford. I mean the Scottish poet and collector of books. BTW his library contained a cross-section of what interested readers of the time were reading. Just as comprehensive a list as you claim for Oxford. Many poeple had such libraires, meaning the knowledge was current and presumably shared.

    We know of only two books that belonged to Oxford. We do know what books he lived with for 8 years of his childhood, books that belonged to his tutor, Sir Thomas Smith, one of the great libraries of the period, and those he had access to for the four or more years he lived with Sir William Cecil, whose library was even greater than Smith’s. You might do some actual research on what libraries were in existence at that time before making blanket statements. The only libraries that were equal to or greater than these were those of Lord Lumley, Oxford’s cousin, and John Dee, with whom he also had a recorded connection. No doubt there were other lesser libraries, but you could hardly call them “many.”

    Drummond was the one who wrote down what Jonson said about Bohemia etc. Drummond was not ignorant of Court life or London. He had several quartos of plays which he added the name Will. Schaks. and Will Sha. to those which didn’t have the author’s name.

    Okay, so Drummond had a good library. What if anything does this prove about Jonson, Oxford or Shakespeare?

    am looking at this subject without blinders on as you suggest. I simply have trouble accepting evidence bolstered by outrageous speculation.

    You may not have blinders on, but you certainly need to do more reading about the history of the period.

    The heming and hawing of the Sh industry could never have been foreseen by William or Oxford and therefore is irrelevant except for your sense of persecution that it is deliberately obstructing your pov.

    It’s always interesting to be given an insight into the thinking of the ordinary Stratfordian. The problem here is the usual one, no background in history. I’ll be happy to continue the conversation once you’ve done some real research, or at least read some of the other pages here that go into the religious and political tensions of the period, the lack of certainty about who wrote most of the works of fiction, and what happened to Christopher Marlowe, a playwright who did let his authorial identity be known.

    And if anyone here is showing a “sense of persecution” it isn’t me, pal. I’m perfectly content to take advantage of this brave new world of blogging to fill in some of the peculiar blanks in the Shakespeare story since I HAVE done some real research into the historical background. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

  5. PT = Palladis Tamia: the excerpt: “so the best for Comedy amongst us bee, Edward Earle of Oxforde,
    Doctor Gager of Oxforde, Maister Rowley, once a rare Scholler of learned Pembroke Hall in Cambridge, Maister Edwardes one of her Maiesties Chappell, eloquent and wittie, John Lilly, Lodge, Gascoyne, Greene, Shakespeare, Thomas Nash, Thomas Heywood, Anthony Mundye our best plotter, Chapman, Porter, Wilson, Hathway, and Henry Chettle.”

    I count 11 surnames and 6 with first and last names.

    Or how about? “As Pindarus, Anacreon and Callimachus among the Greekes; and Horace and Catullus_ among the Latines are the best Lyrick Poets: so in this faculty the best among our Poets are Spencer (who excelleth in all kinds) Daniel, Drayton, Shakespeare, Bretton.

    No first names there.

    Your common sense conclusion that he would have received a reward of some kind is based on the acceptance that he did put in that one name. You still have to ‘prove’ that was the case. Seeing as Oxford lived in penury for the last 10-15 years of his life how could he afford it? That stipend he received from Elizabeth would hardly cover his lavish lifestyle. You obviously know his letters begging the Queen for the tin mining monopolies, which Sir Walter Raleigh held until the year before Oxford’s death.
    Concerning libraries, you make it appear as if the only ones that existed were the one’s Oxford had access to. Indeed the publishing industry was quite young in England and Scotland. But people collected books avidly to eventually create personal libraries. Fulke Greville had a library as did George Buc as did hundreds of others, otherwise who were the book sellers selling to? I suggest you do a little more reading on the early modern period concerning book collecting and readership.

    The point about Drummond directly relates to the character of Ben Jonson by virtue of what he remembered of his talks with Jonson.

    Shakespeare is relevant by the fact (which you ignored, as does Mark Anderson in Sh by another name) of him adding the author’s name to his play quartos. You are right about about Oxford, who had nothing to do with the writing of Shakespeare as far as Drummond was concerned.

    I attended the Shakespeare Institute and their library is full of books on the period, several of which I did read. Are there any particular aspects of the religious and political scene that i am missing? Please enlighten me so I can add them to the sidebar of my blog, where you will find a number of links already in place about the early modern period.

    Plus I had the accumulated knowledge of the tenured professors at my disposal. None of whom agree with your standpoint of course. Though I love the way Oxfordians selectively use their scholarship as if they are in agreement.

    Sir George Buc according to Prof Nelson’s scholarship named Sh as the one who told him George a Greene was written by a minister who acted the pinner’s part. Teste W. Shakespea Is this also part of Oxford’s devilishly fiendish plan? And to what end this plan?

    On another page of yours, Lynda Taylor suggests that Robert Greene was another pen-name for Oxford. Do you seriously believe that Oxford wrote the Conny catching pamphlets?

    Btw her syllogisms would be laughed out of any philosophy or mathematics class. The problem here is of course the same with all the ordinary conspiracists. They try to dazzle people who have little knowledge of the early modern period with their extreme, intimate, and very narrow reading of the history of the period.

  6. Oops, caught with my quotes down. You’ve shown that Meres referred to a number of writers by their surnames (ignoring the list of Greek and Roman authors who were never referred to any other way). Anyway, thanks––I won’t use that argument again.

    You can pick nits and parade credentials till the cows come home, you still haven’t shown any understanding of the period. Which is no surprise, for over the past hundred years or so, it’s become less and less necessary for Literature majors (who then turn into professors) to know more than a smattering of history. I don’t mean just dates and subheads, I mean reading original texts, reading between the lines, getting a feel for what was really happening, like Shakespeare did with Halle and Plutarch. The Brits like to smooth over the harsh realities of the Elizabethan Reformation, but it’s there for anyone who really wants to know. The thing is, your professors don’t want to know. All they care about is the text. They don’t give a damn who wrote the stuff.

    Of course we use orthodox scholarship where it’s relevant. Scholars like Baldwin, Chambers, Gurr, Schoenbaum, provide most of what we have to work with. The only time they go off course is when they try to integrate what they’ve discovered with the anomalies of the Stratford biography. An anomaly is where there’s something where there shouldn’t be something, or where there isn’t something where there should be something––a perfect description for the situation with William as author. He’s where he shouldn’t be (way too late), and isn’t where he should be (in London, and in any mention of important people in Stratford).

    George Buc was probably telling the truth about George a Greene. Given his position as Master of the Revels and his relationship to Sussex, Buc certainly knew Oxford and what part he played in creating the London Stage, so he may very well have asked him at one point who wrote The Pinner of Wakefield–and why would Oxford not tell him the truth? The naive and earnest tone of the play certainly sounds like it was written by a provincial minister. What’s “devilishly fiendish” about that?

    And what do academic philosophy or mathematics classes have to do with the obvious fact that there is nothing beyond a few documents that emanate from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to show that William of Stratford was either an actor or a playwright?

    I’m tired of this. If you want to harangue me, do it by email. I have no idea what you think you’re proving with the points you make. And since your only interest in the points I find compelling is to poke holes, I’m hanging up. You can diss me on your blog where I can cheerfully ignore you as I do all the left-brainers out there who wouldn’t know a genuine anomaly if it bit them where it hurts most.

  7. I just realised what you said about Jonson on Shakespeare quoting David Riggs who meant William (Shakespeare) not Oxford, whom you regard, but have not yet proven, as Shakespeare. I agree Jonson was ambivalent towards Shakespeare. His remarks to Drummond prove that.

    Also there is a contemproary who cites Shakespeare as an actor and playwright. The problem is Oxfordians don’t accept evidence post mortem. Though we Stratfordians have to accept evidence for Oxford post-mortem. Here’s the quote by Charles Prouty:

    In his Chronicle of the Kings of England, Baker treats in turn the reign of successive sovereigns and at the end he discusses the famous men of the time. For Elizabeth’s reign he notes statesmen such as Burleigh and Walsingham, famous seamen and soldiers -Raleigh, Drake, and the Earl of Essex- and the literary figures who are mostly theologians with the exception of Sir Phillip Sidney. In conclusion Baker observes:

    Quote from Sir Richard Baker 1568-1645:

    After such men, it might be thought ridiculous to speak of Stage-players; but seeing excellency in the meanest things deserve remembring, and Roscius the Comedian is recorded in History with such commendation, it may be allowed us to do the like with some of our Nation. Richard Bourbidge [Burbage] and Edward Allen, two such actors as no age must ever look to see the like: and, to make their Comedies compleat, Richard Tarleton, who for the part called the Clowns Part, never had his match, never will have. For Writers of Playes, and such as had been Players themselves, William Shakespeare and Benjamin Johnson, have specially left their Names recommended to posterity.

    (Source: First Folio Facsimile edition prepared by Helge Kokeritz. with an introduction by Charles Tyler Prouty. Yale University Press).

  8. Howard Schumann

    One thing bothers me. If as you say Oxford was compelled to pretend that the actual playwright was a small town merchant with a punnable name because of political reasons as suggested by the silencing of Marlowe, why did the authorities never try to intimidate or silence William of Stratford? Surely, his satires were as pointed as Marlowe. Maybe there is a simple explanation that I’m overlooking.

  9. Marlowe didn’t write satires––he wrote rabble rousers. Unlike Oxford/Shakespeare’s heroic noblemen, Tamburlaine was a working class hero, a lowly shepherd who through sheer will and force of character, overthrew the government, chaining the king he conquered to his chariot, forcing him to pull it across the stage on his hands and knees while a theater full of working class apprentices gaped and cheered. He was also portrayed as ordering the burning of a holy book. Of course the Elizabethan government would have seen him as a serious threat to the status quo, guilty of atheism and sedition. All of Marlowe’s plays were antiestablishment in one way or another. (Oxford as Robert Greene tried to warn him in Groatsworth, but he went on writing anyway.) This fairly obvious scenario has escaped the literary historians, however, who continue to follow the government line that Marlowe was killed by some lowlife confederates in a drunken dispute in a tavern over who would pay the bill.

    Oxford never wrote this kind of play, partly because he knew darn well what the result would be, but mostly because he had no desire whatsoever to see the government overthrown or changed. According to the belief system instilled in him by his tutor, Sir Thomas Smith, the only way to improve men’s lives was by improving the men who governed them. Shakespeare’s purpose was to show the way by dramatizing examples of both good and evil from history and fable, less for the public than for the Court figures who actually did the governing. Oxford’s plays were written originally for the Court. Marlowe’s were written for the public, chiefly for restless young working class men like himself, the kind that caused the sort of riots that both the City and the Crown were most eager to prevent.

    Oxford’s method took advantage of the ancient practice of shaming misbehaving authorities by ridiculing them during the “merrymaking” of the winter holidays, as we see him doing by (probably) portraying Christopher Hatton as Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Ld Cobham as Falstaff. (We see the vestigial remains of this tradition in the parades in European and eastern European cities in which giant puppets, ugly caricatures of government leaders, are mocked and sometimes burned or otherwise destroyed.) But this kind of heavy-handed and obvious acting out was not his way.

    As a peer himself, Oxford was sufficiently subtle in his satires that only by knowing that the author was a man of the Court would the ordinary play-goer have had any idea that particular Court figures were being caricatured. So long as a man with no connections at all to the Court was believed to be the writer, no one would put 2 and 2 together that, for instance, Richard III was a caricature of Robert Cecil, Claudius of Leicester, Gertrude of Elizabeth, or Polonius of Ld Burghley. Inner Court circles might whisper it among themselves, but no one outside these circles would make the connection so long as the author remained either unknown, or was seen as having no affiliation with the Court.

  10. Howard Schumann

    Thanks very much. What about Richard II, however, performed on the eve of the Essex Rebellion. Wasn’t that provocative?

  11. There’s nothing provocative about the play itself, which was first written many years earlier. And in its Henry IV and V sequels Shakespeare goes out of his way to show how Bolingbroke suffered from his act of treason. What’s provocative was Essex using it as a means of rousing his crew to rebellion.

    This incident is very important as one of the few things that show what was really going on both at Court and with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. This is the period when, with Hunsdon dead, the LCMen were struggling under the supposed patronage of George Carey, Hunsdon’s son. Carey either would not or could not help them in their fight to begin using the Blackfriars theater that Burbage had spent £600 buying and renovating. That Essex was able to order the LCMen to do something they didn’t want to do suggests that it was he, not Carey, who had the real power to tell them what to do, a product of the power struggle then going on between Essex and the Cecils. It also reveals the fact that, despite their later protests of innocence and the interpretations of Victorian historians, Essex and his backers were in fact totally serious about overthrowing the Elizabethan government. There’s simply no other way to interpret this incident.

    But there’s no way that Oxford was involved in this, and probably no way he was involved in getting the various editions of RII published during this period. He would not regain any control over his works until 1603 when King James took him under his wing.

  12. One thing that puzzles me, Stephanie is the reason why 18 plays of Shakespeare’s plays remained unpublished until the First Folio and of course, the follow-up question is why didn’t William, if he was the true author, edit them for publication. It has been argued by some that the only reason the plays were not edited and published was becaue the LC Men would prevent other theater companies from competing with them. Do you think there is merit to that argument?

  13. I’m reading a terrific book right now that speaks to this issue, Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist by Lukas Erne (2003). (I may have to buy my own copy!) He looks closely at the publishing record of Shakespeare’s plays to promote his theory that the plays were published as works of literature. Of course he attributes most of this to the publishers, another example of robbing Shakespeare of his own work, but his detailed analysis of the timing of publication is extremely useful, relieving us of having to puzzle it out from Chambers and the original documents.

    Erne says no to the standard notion that the actors kept from publishing some of the plays so other companies wouldn’t compete with them, which I certainly agree with. In fact, it seems likely that as the reading public increased in numbers, they might publish as soon as they decided to produce a play, to stimulate interest in seeing it. Which of course leaves the question, why did they not publish some of them until the First Folio?

    The answer will have to wait for someone to look carefully at the reasons why Oxford wrote each play, for which audience each was written, and who had the rights to publish. So far I see no standard pattern for any of the plays. Each had a purpose and a fate all its own.

  14. Thanks. I can see that, but when there are as many as 18, it suggests a more comprehensive reason, but I will keep open to all possibilities on that question as you suggest.

    • Howard, this is one more instance where the theory that sees Shakespeare as a working class bloke who wrote just to make money falls flat. If that were the case, there could be no reason why some plays were published and others were not. With Oxford, who wrote the plays for at least three different audiences and any number of different reasons, there could also be any number of reasons why particular plays were published and other were not. Surely Pericles was left out of the First Folio because it was known to the Court community as a suggestion that Burghley sired his own granddaughter. Not that the public would have grasped the inference, but to publish it would have been too much of an insult to the Cecils, one of whom was the wife of one of the Pembrokes. This is what I mean by each play having a history of its own. Which audience was it written for originally, and why? Once I’ve gotten all the RIII and Blackfriars material up I’ll address this in more detail.

  15. Thanks again, Stephanie. I continue to follow your brilliant essays.

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