Shakespeare’s epidemics

In this time of a worldwide threat to human health, we may wonder whether such threats may have occurred in Oxford’s time. The truth is, yes, they occurred all the time. In the ages before modern sanitation, the microscope and medical science, humans were beleaguered by any number of diseases: some that came in waves, striking with a vicious ferocity that left hundreds dead in their wake; some that sapped the strength for years before death came as a relief; one that, if it didn’t kill, left the beautiful and good permanently disfigured. Finally there was one so terrible that ever since a cure was finally found in the 20th century, humanity has done its best to forget it. As Lawrence Stone puts it in Chapter two of this essential background to the Elizabethan period: The Family Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800: 

The most striking feature which distinguished the Early Modern family from that of today does not concern either marriage or birth, it was the constant presence of death. Death was at the enter of life, as the cemetery was at the center of the village (66).

A sociologist, Stone provides stunning statistics. Long story short, Oxford was lucky that he survived so many of the “ills that flesh is heir to.” But he didn’t survive them all, and even those he managed to escape affected him and his audiences and supporters in ways that it behooves the historian to explore.

Oxford and the Black Death

The big threat, the one history will never forget, was the bubonic plague. Although some who contracted it managed to recover, whenever and wherever it struck it would claim hundreds of lives, sometimes thousands, mostly of “the lesser sort,” the poor who lived on or near the river where ships from overseas with their cargos of flea-carrying rats, touched land, killing the occupants of the bars and whorehouses that clustered around the docks in east London. The most devastating pandemic in history, it had peaked in Europe in the mid-14th century, killing between 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population. It first hit England in 1348, killing  half of London. 

By the time Oxford arrived in 1562, Londoners knew the drill. They knew that as summer began, if the daily death count rose above a certain level, the City would not be safe until the arrival of cold weather, until heat and the the following June, when the death toll would begin to increase again. Following a second death-dealing summer it would disappear for good with the advent of cold weather. That is, until, years later, it would strike again. Thus the English were accustomed to quarantines; in a plague year, those Londoners who had places to go in the country stayed away from the city until the body count returned to normal. Not that it ever went totally away. To keep it low it became someone’s job to kill all the stray dogs who were seen as carriers, and dump their carcasses in a wooded area near the river known as the Isle of Dogs.

Oxford experienced the plague most directly his second year in London. He and a handful of other boys and a tutor (probably Lawrence Nowell) spent the entire year across the river from Windsor Castle where the Court was locked in semi-permanent quarantine. (It was during the winter holidays at Windsor that year that he first met Richard Farrant, Master of the Chapel Choir at Windsor Castle, later Master of the Queen’s Chapel choirboys in the little school he created in the Liberty of Blackfriars shortly after he returned from Italy.)

During the 1570s and ’80s when he was supplying the London-based acting companies with comedies, there would be summers when the theaters were closed by the Privy Council due to the uptick in the death count. During his visit to Italy in 1575, it seems he avoided Milan where the plague was then raging out of control, as is referred to in Two Gents where the mention of “St. Gregory’s Well” puzzled scholars until Oxfordian Richard Roe identified it as the yawning pit wherein the Milanese were dumping the bodies of their plague victims, where the caddish Proteus attempts to send Thurio, his rival for Sylvia’s affections, in Act IV Scene 2.

History would have it that it was the plague that caused Oxford’s death on June 24, 1604, which even on the face of it seems most unlikely. It had struck again the summer of 1603 shortly after Queen Elizabeth’s death in March, forcing James VI of Scotland, on his way way south to take the English throne, to bypass London, and wait out the dangerous summer with his staff and members of the English Court at the country home of William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, in Wiltshire. There, or soon after, it seems the King agreed to give the by then 53-year-old Earl of Oxford the stewardship of the Forest of Waltham, an ancient family prerogative, the return of which he had been petitioning the Queen since the early ’90s. On the face of it it does seem odd that Oxford, who was apparently sufficiently healthy to be given this important perquisite, (doubtless at the urging of Pembroke––Shakespeare’s final and most dedicated patron) would suddenly expire the following June. According to an entry in the register of the church at Hackney, Oxford was buried there on July 6. While no other evidence of this burial exists, in 1619 his nephew, Percival Golding, claimed that he was buried in Westminster Abbey, right about the time that Poet’s Corner got its name. 

As I’ve argued elsewhere, that he was supposed to have died on the second-most important turning point of the year, the summer solstice, the feast day of both the Greek god Adonis and St. John the Baptist––patron saint of the Templars, Rosicrucians and Freemasons––suggests that, with the assistances of his many powerful supporters, Oxford, who had used every ploy he could come up with over his entire lifetime to get and do what he wanted, used this means to “die to the world,” giving himself the time, the primary need of all creative writers, and the freedom from creditors and Court functions that such a move would provide, to relax secure from his enemies.

As Shakespeare has Jaques request of Duke Senior in Act II Scene 7 of As You Like It, to “invest me in my motley; give me leave to speak my mind, and I will through and through cleanse the foul body of the infected world . . . ,” the conversation that follows between Jaques and Duke Senior is totally convincing that something like this had taken place at Wilton the summer of 1603. Just as convincing is the plot of Measure for Measure, which perfectly describes a similar scenario in which a powerful lord “dies to the world,” leaving it to his incompetent and venal inferior (Oxford’s cousin, Robert Cecil? then in the process of taking over the government under King James.) Come on folks! Let’s get on the same page with this! It’s so obvious!

The Ague

The Ague was the English term for malaria. While the plague has almost completely disappeared, malaria has been endemic from the beginning of time and promises to continue in those parts of the world where the weather and geography fosters it. During Oxford’s time malaria was rampant in the summer in England in areas of salt marsh where rivers emptied into the sea, but there were also areas of sweet or brackish wetland that grew fetid in such weather, rife with mosquitoes, and with the flocks of birds that fed on them. Ankerwycke, where Oxford lived as a child with Sir Thomas Smith, and which Smith later described as “low and waterish,” is located in just such an area, a bend in the Thames across from a huge marshland where every summer, Smith and members of his household were exposed to the anopheles mosquito.

One of Shakespeare’s favorite metaphors equates falling in love to an attack of malaria, causing its victims to “freeze” and then to “fry”; equating the alternating hopes and fears that accompany this emotional upheaval with the burning fevers and bone-shaking chills of malaria. It seems clear from this repeated metaphor that the playwright himself was a victim of a disease that, bad as it could be in England, was actually much worse in the warmer nations around the Mediterranean Sea. The four months in 1575 from the end of June through the end of September during which our playwright was cruising the waters of the Mediterranean, largely to see for himself the lands of the Greek myths and the Bible as described in the books in Smith’s library, but also to escape the disease that every summer would devastate southern Italy.

There were other diseases that during that time would strike the English suddenly and without warning and kill dozens before disappearing from the record. With names like “Stoop Knave and know thy master,” these, most likely varieties of influenza, could kill an entire village while leaving untouched another a few miles away. But none of these came close to leaving the trail of destruction, then and over the years to come, as the one they called the “Great Pox.”

The Elizabethans and syphilis

Apart from the occasional mention of it as “the Great Pox” (as opposed to the somewhat less terrible smallpox), the destruction caused by syphilis has almost entirely escaped the history of the Tudor period. First noted in the record as having appeared in Naples in 1495, it quickly reached pandemic proportions throughout Europe, and probably the world, it seemed to concentrate at the notoriously licentious Courts of southern Europe.  By the time Henry VIII began showing the effects of his unrestrained teenage libido, it was already devastating some of the great houses of Europe, notably the those ruled by the Borgias, as detailed by the novelist Sarah Dunant in an article in The Guardian (May 17, 2013), and, as she observes, many others as well. Unremarked by history, largely due to the victims’ desire for secrecy, the shame attached to its cause and the terrible effects that, by Elizabeth’s time, were familiar to all who had cause to fear it, for there was no cure known at the time, nor would there be until the twentieth century when the hunt for its cure finally led to the discovery of penicillin. If you have any curiosity about the effects of the Great Pox on the world that Oxford was born into, please read the article in The Guardian.

Those of us who have focused on locating the truth about Shakespeare by examining the history of the Elizabethan era might have continued in the dark about the Queen and her family as left us by the Tudor historians were it not for Prof. Stanislav Andreski’s Puritanism and Witch Hunts, published in 1989. Professor of Sociology at the the University of Reading (an extension of Oxford U), Andreski connects the arrival of syphilis in Italy in 1495 with a number of seemingly unrelated social phenomena, among them the sex-negative nature of the Protestant Reformation as it manifested in Geneva, Germany, and England, where sex was invariably described as filth and even those who did nothing more than allow themselves to feel sexual desire were warned that they were headed for an eternity of burning in Hell. 

The disease itself is insidious, with symptoms like those of other diseases, among them consumption (tuberculosis). Consisting of three (or four) distinct stages, it can first appear with what can seem to be an ordinary rash round the genitals and/or mouth, which may simply vanish after a few weeks. This is followed, sometimes by months, sometimes by years, by the increasingly painful second and dangerous third stages, and finally by the tertiary stage, the complete breakdown of the nervous system, physical decay and dementia. Those who have read any of the many biographies of Henry VIII can easily see these stages manifesting, first in his cruelty towards his Queen, Catherine of Aragon, whose series of miscarriages and stillbirths drove him to find another queen, which brought about the break with Rome, which laid the foundation for the creation of the Church of England, which opened the way for the reformers to institute the Protestant Reformation, with all the emotional and psychological ills that have accompanied that questionable revolution. 

Henry’s greed in appropriating the income and estates belonging to the Church for his own profit, his expensive and fruitless wars in France and Scotland, the paranoia that drove him to execute his most intelligent and loyal servants, men like Sir Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey, and Thomas Cromwell, have been blandly reported by his historians as simply the normal behaviors of a somewhat extraordinary king. Even the historian Geoffrey Elton, who in the 1940s was the first to reveal the kind of monster he truly was, never touched on the true cause of Henry’s terrible actions. Perhaps he simply didn’t know, so well kept had been the secret that only the King’s courtiers would have known, and who would also have known why they had to keep silent about it.

We can be certain, however, that Henry’s doctors knew, for by that time everyone in Europe, except possibly illiterate peasants who lived so far from civilization that such things never came their way, was aware of the disease and its deadly effects. One of the worst of these was (is) the fact that the victim can pass it along to his sex partners, including his wife, who can then pass it on to their children. These may die in utero, or shortly after birth, or be sickly and die in their teens, as we see was the case with all of Henry’s wives and mistresses, and many (though not all) of their children. His daughter Mary remained alive but in poor health, finding it impossible to conceive, while his younger daughter, Elizabeth, continued to manifest symptoms of what can only be explained as inherited syphilis, among them the fistula on her leg that editors allowed to remain in Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well, perhaps because it was simply too important to the plot.

Knowing the history of her mother’s efforts to conceive a living male child, there can be no doubt that the primary reason why Elizabeth never married was that marriage would necessarily have entailed sexual intercourse with what it might threaten to her life, her health, and the viability of the heir to the throne, should she be successful in conceiving him. This was not the only reason why she never married, but it was certainly the one that most determined her fate, for it would have meant sexual intercourse, which she would have realized, fairly young, and surely by the advice of her caregivers, would be dicing with death. For those with ears to hear, she reveals it in almost everything she’s reported to have said on the subject. Her healthy lifestyle, eating and drinking sparingly, vigorously walking and riding horses, is testimony to her determination to conquer this, the worst of all her enemies.

Elizabeth bore with fortitude her physical ills as she did all the other ills that beset her over her forty-year reign, for which she needed the laughter that no one could provide like her difficult and rebellious Minister of Pastime. Of course he loved her and pitied her, did his best to please her, and was furious with her when she used her power to hurt him, and of course she loved him, for his intelligence, his good looks, and his wonderful sense of humor. But this love, which under normal circumstances might have been consummated physically, was sublimated into the creation of several hundred works of great literary art and, not least, the creation of the London Stage, the first manifestation of what today we call the Media, the fourth estate of government.

Burghley too, despite his claims to her foreign suitors that the Queen was capable of producing an heir, must have been aware of the truth, for his father-in-law, Sir Anthony Cooke, had been a Groom of the Privy Chamber, one of the handful of servants whose job it had been to attend to the terminally ill Henry’s physical needs when at close to 400 pounds, violent and raving, he had to be carried from the bed to the privy and back. But Burghley and Elizabeth together made great use of her virginal status as an effective means of keeping the Catholic Courts of Europe, in particular the Spanish under Philip II and his Hapsburg father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, from attacking Protestant England so long as they believed that they might more easily have it by getting its Queen married to a Catholic prince, a ploy that gave the Elizabeth-Cecil combo a good quarter of a century with which to prepare for the attack which finally in 1588, as Elizabeth was obviously no longer capable of providing an heir, brought on the attack of the Spanish Armada. 

People had sex at Elizabeth’s Court, of course they did. But they did so very carefully, and nowhere near as often or as recklessly as did courtiers at other royal Courts at other times, and not only because that’s how they stayed in good with the Queen, but also because it’s how they stayed free from contracting syphilis. Her determination to avoid the situation that was destroying the Borgias was the major reason why she would go berserk when one of her “favorites” crossed the line, and impregnated one of the women of her Court. If she went along with the poets who portrayed her as a goddess come back to save the English, a Diana for whom her lovers would gladly give up their desires of the flesh, perhaps we can forgive her, for it’s obvious from the paintings from that time how greatly she enjoyed the company of tall handsome men with long beautiful legs. 

To put it bluntly, syphilis is the reason why the English Reformation adopted the grim strictures of Calvin, for whom sex was filth and desire the first step to an eternity of burning in hell. Syphilis is what turned the merry English into the reserved and undemonstrative British of today and English-speaking Protestants everywhere hesitant to hug each other, hold hands in public, even to nurture their own children, due to a habit formed out of their ancestors’ terror of this disease.

For Oxfordians it’s our best reason for rejecting the Howard-Arundel libels that form the entire basis of Alan Nelson’s biography. It explains why, for instance, he was so wrong about Oxford’s reason for bringing the teenaged Italian singer Orazio Cuoco back to England with him as a gift for the Queen. Oxford  knew that this would please her far more than another pair of perfumed gloves. It had nothing to do with sex, his, the boy’s, or the Queen’s. That’s Nelson’s problem, not ours.

The fact that it’s taken until how to understand this may show us just how far fear of infection can drive a people when faced with a pandemic of unknown etiology and terrifyingly threatening dimensions. Now that we have been advised not to hug each other, not to touch each other, not to get closer to each other than six feet, perhaps we can begin to understand why the Elizabethans of Oxford’s time turned to writing sonnets and reading stories derived from Greek romances where, through incident after incident, the lovers never manage to get together.


A new look at Olivier’s Hamlet

Day before yesterday, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) showed Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet from 1948. I still think it’s the best film version of it ever done, maybe the best film version of any Shakespeare play. It was the first Shakespeare I ever saw, in fact, it was my introduction (I was eleven years old), and I was gobsmacked! I’d already seen a lot of movies by then, parents tended to take their kids to the movies when I was a kid, so some of the movies from the early 40s were familiar to me, but with this one I realized what a movie could be, so far beyond anything I’d seen up to then.

I rushed home and read the play in the little collection of Shakespeare’s plays among my parents’ books, and was thrilled to see that there was a lot more to it than could be shown in the movie. Thus began the lifelong love of Shakespeare that would take me to to where I am now after thirty years of researching the history of the Tudor period, partly to convince myself that Ogburn and Looney were right about his identity, then to find out if I could why the Academy so adamantly continues to reject the truth. I realized that the answer is right there, in Hamlet. Not the specifics, but certainly the background.

If the villainy has been assigned to the wrong character, well, isn’t that what he does again and again? He gives the truth, but in a form that demands that we put it together for ourselves. Hamlet holds a dark, ugly truth, and he was not about to suffer for it any more than he had to. A restless spirit, Oxford was a great problem for his community (and himself) until he returned from Italy and put all his energies into creating the London Stage, which is, of course, when he disappears from the record, leaving only the youthful reputation for bad behavior that is all that history has allowed him ever since.

With any film that’s so good you never tire of seeing it again, each time reveals new things about it that you didn’t notice before. This time it was the amazing camerawork and the perfect soundtrack. The camera acts as a ghostly observer, Old Hamlet perhaps, invisible to the actors, but there, watching, glancing from face to face, taking in the reactions and expressions that say as much as the words they speak, while the soundtrack, compounded of music and effects, reflects this ghostly observer’s responses, the anxious heartbeat, the sense of impending doom.

Always impressed with the actress who plays Gertrude, as she goes from angry unwillingness to face the truth that her son has determined she will understand to a state of numb endurance as the inevitable tragedy continues to unfold. She begins by refusing to believe that her new husband was responsible for the death of her first husband, she is angry with her son for his obvious attitude towards the man who now calls him his son. Like the characters in the play within the play, Claudius had been her comforting supporter following the murder of his brother, and her gratitude for his support has overwhelmed her common sense. She is a marvelous depiction of the situation of a Queen in Shakespeare’s time. Once Hamlet has awakened her to the truth, she moves dully, like a sleepwalker, through scene after scene, until, suspecting that her husband is about to oversee her son’s murder, her eye lights on the poisoned cup, and she can think of nothing but that until the moment when she can demonstrate to her murderous mate that she knows what he has done. It’s masterful, her acting, the film’s direction, the sound, the camerawork.

The scenes between Hamlet and his mother are, to me, who loathes and detests what our sexually sick culture has done to our perceptions of love, ever seeking the sexual aspect to the sweetest and purest of all loves, here demonstrated as the bond between a mother and her child, as she holds and kisses her unhappy son in memory of the baby she once held to her breast, the little boy she once held on her lap. There is not the slightest hint of sexuality in their embrace! What courage it must have taken to film this in the face of the endemic British nervousness over any form of physical contact! Truly the spirit of the great soul that wrote this play has invested the actors with what John Vyvyan has rightly explained is Shakepeare’s central belief in what Socrates describes to Plato as his ruling belief in two of his greatest dialogues, The Phaedrus and The Symposium, the fact that it is the highest form of love that has created and maintains the universe, and that once a man is awakened to this reality he can no longer hurt or take advantage of others, but is forever wedded, even to his personal damage, to defending the common good.

Wisely Ophelia’s part was trimmed. As we have her mad scene in the play one must suspect that it had to be revised for publication. There was a theory then that madness or drunkeness allowed a character to speak an unpleasant truth––in vino veritas––so that originally Ophelia may have said things that could not be repeated in print. Certainly as it’s written it makes no sense at all. Oxfordians see in this situation Oxford’s relationship with Burghley’s daughter Anne, the wife that he, like Bertram in All’s Well, was forced to marry against his will.

It seems taken for granted that Oxford didn’t want to marry Anne because he didn’t love her. This is an absurdly naive view of the nature of the dynastic marriages that once (and not so long ago) haunted the aristocracy. The more likely truth is that Oxford loved Anne as the little sister she had been to him since, when as a lonely twelve-year-old, she was the only  genuinely loving and caring person in the community at Cecil House, and that having sex with his (beloved) little sister was utterly abhorrent to the noblest side of his nature. There seems to have been some contest between himself and Rutland for her hand. He would probably have greatly preferred that she marry his beloved friend. He only yielded to the sexual aspect of their enforced marriage when he was ordered to do so by the Queen during his banishment or continue to forfeit his place at Court.

Anne’s humiliation by the role she was forced to play in this war between her beloved husband and her cruel father (Egeus, Polonius, Leontes, Antiochus), may have been acknowledged by Oxford when he named her Hero in Much Ado. Cecil was cruel to his sons; that he should be any less cruel to his daughter is unlikely. She was the key to his family’s rising to the peerage. Ophelia’s madness and death may be a reflection of the truth about Anne Cecil, Ophelia’s mad scene similar to what happened to Oxford’s wife. If so, her madness was not brought about by the death of her father, as the play has it, it was about the death of her little son in 1581, shortly before the first version of the play.  That the only male born to her while having Oxford’s children, the all-important male heir that would raise her father and their family to the peerage died shortly after birth caused her to go  off the rails is shown by the wild nature of the poems she wrote about the baby’s death. That Oxford had them published is testimony to his anguish, less over the baby’s death perhaps (the Cecils were tormented by the scoliosis they inherited from the Cookes that caused the loss of so many of their unborn babies) than he was over Anne’s breakdown.

That the film is in black and white is fortunate, for it suits not only the tragic nature of the story, but the gray walls of the castle as we sweep up and up the never-ending stairs to the sky above and down into the cold rooms below, only slightly softened by the arras, the hangings behind which Polonius and the King spy on the poor lovers. The costumes are magnificent, designed so that the loss of color is more than made up for by the contrasts between areas of black, white and gray in their elaborate designs. The decision to give Hamlet the blonde hair that would suit a Danish prince not only makes literal sense but it gives him an air of separateness from the others, of spirituality, almost like a halo, that would not be nearly so powerful were the film in color.

When was it written?

In examining the history of the Elizabethan Court and Oxford’s life for the most likely moment when the first version was performed, my choice would be 1584, shortly after he returned to Court from his two years of banishment; the stage the little rehearsal room at the First Blackfriars Theater, the one close to Westminster that  he created for the Children of the Queen’s Chapel shortly after arriving back from Italy; the audience a few chosen members of Court  and Westminster society; the reason, his disgust at the Court for treating him so badly, the Queen for her politics, Burghley for using his daughter for political ends .

The original style would have been nothing like the play as we know it now, but more like The Spanish Tragedy (absurdly assigned by 20th century idiots to the scrivener Thomas Kyd) in many ways a forerunner of Hamlet in theme if not in plot. The actual writing would have taken place a few months earlier, following the death of Oxford’s first supporter at Elizabeth’s Court, the Queen’s Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Sussex, plus the return to power just then of Oxford’s arch-enemy, the Earl of Leicester, plus the death of Anne’s newborn son in May 1583. Threatened with the loss of all that had come his way with Sussex, furious with the Queen for her return to business as usual following Sussex’s death (who in fact she found it very difficult to replace as Lord Chamberlain), the play became a Court secret, in later years revised a number of times as events demanded until it reached its final form not long before Oxford’s own death.

Hamlet in any of its evolving forms was never shown to the public until both Anne and Burghley were dead. Still alive however by 1589, when Nashe mentions it in his prologue to Robert Greene’s Menaphon, were her brother, Robert Cecil, and her daughters. The youngest, Susan, only a baby when her mother died, would eventually, under King James, marry the Earl of Montgomery, who, together with his more powerful brother, the Earl of Pembroke, Oxford’s last and greatest patron, oversaw the publication of the First Folio and the saving of Oxford’s writing for posterity.

The publication of two of the various versions of Hamlet  in quarto in 1603 and 1604 added fuel to the fire of Robert Cecil’s hatred of his father’s most favored ward and his sister’s cruel husband.  As the primary agent in the elimination of all connection between Oxford and his creation of the London Stage during his fifteen years as James’s all-powerful Secretary of State, and as the underlying reason for Oxford’s loss of reputation ever since, Robert and his Salisbury successors have had certainly had their revenge. Hopefully the time has arrived for the truth to emerge, not only to save Oxford’s reputation, but to establish with his creation of the London Stage  the true origins of what today we call the Media.



Long story short

At the very peak of the Protestant Reformation campaign to trash the great classics of antiquity as works of heretical paganism deadly to the fragile Christian soul, comes this 12-year-old aristocrat, his mind stuffed by his tutor with the works of the ancient Greek and Roman poets and playwrights. Finding himself sidelined as a living relic of what had once been his nation’s ruling class, the human bearer of a priceless title with no more role to play than to behave himself; he sees how, in a sort of “may game,” the magic of Print could free a poet, “tongue-tied by authority,” to hide behind rows of unidentifiable little black marks on paper. Taking advantage of the money-lending opportunities available to one of his rank, opportunities denied to less privileged poets, sensing that the printing press may offer a different kind of power than the sort that was driving the nation’s monarch and her ministers, he ventures, under cover of the anonymity provided by Print, to try a handful of his own literary experiments in the public market.

By creating plays for the young choristers at Paul’s Cathedral––once central to the Catholic religion, now something of a local community center and employment bureau––he enjoys himself by helping the boys, most of them his own age or younger, to support themselves by providing them and their grateful Choir Master with revisions of old plays left over from the days when young King Henry VIII was in a playful mood. When these become popular with the Queen and her ladies, he moves on to entertaining her Court over the winter holidays with concerts and full length plays.

When what he writes for the Court escapes to a public starved for pleasure by the grim tenets of the sin-obsessed State religion, he experiences a thrill far greater than the cautious response he gets from his nervous Court audiences, the age-old “smell of the grease paint and roar of the crowd” that grips all theater folk. Irresistable to a lonely soul, denied from birth by his rank the give and take of ordinary folk, he finds community and fellowship with the actors and musicians to whom and for whom he will devote himself from then on.

In his thirties, with the rise of a military threat to his nation from its enemies on the Continent, he’s enrolled by the current Secretary of State to arouse the patriotism of the coastal populations that will be England’s first line of defense against the coming attack, by dramatizing how it dealt with such attacks in the past. For the new touring company created chiefly for that purpose he writes plays that dramatize the heroism of Henry the Fifth and the various valiant––and not so valiant––commoners that once followed the noble young king to France. This, plus other tales of defiant heroism, were enacted with humor and the kind of rabble-rousing speeches that he and the Secretary hoped would reach the hearts of the young men in these distant public audiences. Thus was launched what would eventually become the great series of lessons that dramatized for a still illiterate public the history of their nation.

Misunderstood and repressed by the power-hungry ruling family into which he had been rather forcibly married, he reacts by satirizing them onstage. Over time this leads to a showdown from which, protected by the laughter-loving Queen, he emerges relatively safe from further harassment, but condemned to remain forever lost to history as the creator of the London Stage. Thus was born in the silence created by these powerful enemies, maintained for centuries by their descendants, the Fourth Estate of government, the very instrument that  has become what today we call The Media, the unofficial but only truly effective control on the autocratic impulses of Authority and the right of a free people to assemble in public.

His story––still almost as unknown as it has been for the past three hundred years––when taken together with that of his younger cousin (by marriage), the second-greatest genius of their time, how they, with the help of three other brilliant writer-thinkers, created the words written and spoken by half the world today, either as their first or second language. Theirs is a story that lies at the heart of today’s worlds of politics and literature, and it’s a pip! Hopefully, God willing and the creek don’t rise (any further than it has already) we’ll have it for you, the first half anyway, by the end of this year.

Stay tuned.

PS: After posting the above it struck me that, had the enemies of the London Stage––having stopped Christopher Marlowe from producing more plays like Tamburlaine or Massacre at Paris––been successful in their long ongoing efforts to prevent the author of Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Richard III and Richard II from performing and publishing these plays, would the American filmmakers and producers of the 1970s been moved to give America movies like Viva Zapata, On the Waterfront, All the President’s Men, or Three Days of the Condor?  

Courage inspires courage. Fear inspires fear.

“Tragical trifles . . . darkly figured forth”

In the 15th and 16th centuries, modern imaginative literature (poetry, novels and plays) errupted out of feudal darkness at the courts of European kings and princes, for nowhere else was there the leisure to create it or the literacy to enjoy it.  This is not to say that the uneducated and illiterate did not have a rich heritage of spoken and sung story and verse, one shared by educated and uneducated alike, it’s that it was not until the Renaissance that it was combined with the literatures of ancient Greece, Rome and the Middle East into elegant national literatures.

In England, however, because the Renaissance had been preempted by the Reformation, unlike the other nations of Europe, the Renaissance urge to write got so thoroughly and completelyforced undergroundby Calvinistic fears of Hell and the Devil that it took on a most peculiar appearance. This didn’t mean that nothing got published (though necesarily much was surpressed, particularly the works of Catholic poets). What it meant was that the process of getting it published forced it to assume an obscure and defensive posture, pretending to be something it wasn’t, and seemingly written by persons who apparently had nothing to lose, or who were utterly unknown at Court or anywhere in London.

There was a lot more hiding going on in 16th-century English literature than just the hiding of Shakespeare’s identity. In fact, it might be stated without fear of exaggeration that the entire canon of early modern English literature was one long exercise in hiding––authors, central figures, publishers, patrons, some printers, dates of publication, and most of all, messages, for the Reformation didn’t like the kind of messages that were emerging from the push for intellectual freedom that was the English response to the Italian Renaissance. If the message was too obviously Catholic, too ornate, too passionate, too sexy, too ironic, too satirical, they wanted it toned down or better, squashed. As we puzzle out the truth about these early works, we need to keep this in mind.

For instance, take the tag “No less pleasant than profitable”found in one form or another on almost every work of imagination published between 1540 and 1640. What on earth does that mean? If it’s got you puzzled, you aren’t alone. What it seems to be saying is that what you are about to read is just as pleasant as it is profitable, so why not say that? Instead it says the opposite, as though the publisher is providing some tiresome instruction, promising to make it as enjoyable as possible: not exactly an enthusiastic message. In other words, it looks like a promotion, it sounds like a promotion, but it doesn’t really promote.

Titles can be just as confusing. According to one academic, “Whether the title had an immediate or remote reference to the subject-matter does not appear to have been considered material, or, in fact, whether it had reference to anything at all in particular.” He’s right about the title, but this isn’t true of this or similar tags, which did have a meaning, however obscure to present day literary historians. The message it conveyed to the silent seekers of a particular kind of writing was that this was a work of imaginative literature,a poem, story, or later, a play, as opposed to a scientific tract or religious sermon, works that apparently were safe from the Devil.

It’s said that during this time, the Jesuits were training their missionaries in a sort of double-speak known as equivocation, so that if grilled by the Protestants in northern Europe or the Inquisition in Italy and Spain, they could find ways of answering without either lying under oath or condemning themselves. Many in those days believed the fate of their souls was bound up with what answers they gave under oath: if they lied to the Inquisition they’d get burnt at the stake; if to God, they’d still get burnt, only later, perhaps for all eternity. Equivocation was simply a more serious form of the kind of wordsmithery that was the intellectual bread and wine for these early Reformation/Renaissance writers.

Where did it come from?

Usually it was not the author but the bookseller or publisher who composed a book’s title page and front matter. His primary objective, of course, was first to get it past the censor, and second to sell as many copies as possible as quickly as possible. Over time, much experimenting would lead to a formula that worked. A tag like “No less pleasant than profitable” met the Reformation requirement that everything, even joke books, had better advertise itself as having a serious purpose or it was in danger of getting a closer look and possibly rejected. So for the publishers of the 1590s, t’were best to take the easy way––give the work a confusing name, then use the front matter to distract the censor from taking too great an interest in the content.

While some could withstand such an examination, many, in particular those that “darkly figured forth” real persons and politics, could not. And that there was a growing audience that fed on such works is evident from the complaints by writers of attempts to read into their innocent tales personal and political comments that were simply not there. Among those who complained the loudest was Thomas Nashe, the worst offender of all, whose complaints have to be taken with the same grain of salt required for almost everything he wrote.

Human nature being much the same in every age, by the 1590s, when publishing had become a commercial industry generating a considerable volume of submitted manuscripts needing to be read by the censors, what could be more likely than when the stack got too high, the junior official in charge of weeding out problematic submissions was likely to give each a quick once-over, initial and return it to the publishers, only holding out for a closer look the one or two that were likely to cause real trouble. Thus by the 1590s, publishers would have been well aware that so long as the title page, introduction and first few pages looked kosher, a book had every chance of getting past the censor. Those who enjoyed these works were unlikely to blow any whistles, unless the material got so raw they they feared for their souls, or more likely were offended by satires about themselves or their friends. Some such scenario is undoubtedly behind Stephen Gosson’sattacks on the playwrights of Bishopsgate following the first rash of plays for the Children of the Chapell, the Queens Men, and Paul’s Boys in the early 1580s.

Profit or pleasure?

That nothing during this era was ever published purely for entertainment, but all must be utilitarian (even the most lascivious and violent, for these claimed to teach readers what to avoid) can be found in everything from the title page to the preface by the printer, to the introduction and poems by the author and his friends, to the dedication to some important figure and the various complimentary letters to the author, all meant to be taken as guarantees of the book’s legitimacy. Take it as a given, the more questionable the work, the more equivocal the introductory material, and more likely that the names and dates on the title page are less than 100 percent trustworthy. Efforts to obscure the real nature of a work are most elaborate in the early years, as we see in this excerpt from the “Letter to the Reader” that introduces Brooke’s Romeus and Juliet:

The glorious triumph of the continent man upon the lusts of wanton flesh, encourageth men to honest restraint of wild affections; the shameful and wretched ends of such as have yielded their liberty thrall to foul desires teach men to withhold themselves from the headlong fall of loose dishonesty.  So, to like effect, by sundry means the good man’s example biddeth men to be good, and the evil man’s mischief warneth men not to be evil. . . .  And to this end, good Reader, is this tragical matter written, to describe unto thee a couple of unfortunate lovers, thralling themselves to unhonest desire; neglecting the authority and advice of parents and friends; conferring their principal counsels with drunken gossips and superstitious friars (the naturally fit instruments of unchastity); attempting all adventures of peril for th’attaining of their wished lust; using auricular confession, the key of whoredom and treason, for furtherance of their purpose; abusing the honourable name of lawful marriage to cloak the shame of stolen contracts; finally by all means of unhonest life hasting to most unhappy death. This precedent, good Reader, shall be to thee, as the slaves of Lacedemon, oppressed with excess of drink, deformed and altered from likeness of men both in mind and use of body, were to the free-born children, so showed to them by their parents, to th’intent to raise in them in hateful loathing of so filthy beastliness. Hereunto, if you apply it, ye shall deliver my doing from offence and profit yourselves.

Whoever wrote this preface either had no idea what Brooke’s long narrative poem was really about, or was deliberately describing it in totally opposite terms. Rather than “thralling themselves to unhonest desire,” the love Romeus feels for Juliet is portrayed as a natural force over which neither the boy himself nor the Friar’s advice have any power. As for the Friar, not only is he not “superstitious” or a “naturally fit instrument of unchastity,” he is loving and wise, a genuine spiritual counselor, whom the poet describes as “beloved well, and honoured much of all.” Nor is there any “loathing of filthy beastliness” in his description of the young lovers’ wedding night, nor moral drawn against their desire for each other.  Instead the poet admits:

I grant that I envy the bliss they livéd in;
Oh that I might have found the like, I wish it for no sin,
But that I might as well with pen their joys depaint . . . . .

If Cupid, god of love, be god of pleasant sport,
I think, O Romeus, Mars himself envies thy happy sort.
Ne Venus justly might, as I suppose, repent,
If in thy stead, O Juliet, this pleasant time she spent.

The only possible reason for such a dishonest preface is that the publisher wrote it, or had it written, to distract the censor. Published in the early 1560s, when such works were still only a trickle, the same scenario continues to play out on title pages and in introductory material in almost every work of the imagination published throughout the Elizabethan and Jacobean era. As the trickle becomes a flood, these red herrings get briefer and more mechanical, but at the same time more cleverly worded.

Finally the constant reference to poetry or any sort of fiction as a frivolity appropriate only for young men before the serious matters of adult life banished such timewasters from their minds, was a judgement heard not only from conservative Reformers and older members of society but also from the poets and storytellers themselves, who were ever wont to apologize for what they invariably describe as “childish toys” written merely to pass the time, things not to be taken seriously by readers or authorities.

The Big Five

That the dominant force driving this revolution was led by five of the nation’s premiere aristocrats should not surprise us since lesser beings would not have had the protection of their status to keep them from being silenced at the outset, or murdered like the commoner Christopher Marlowe. That, in addition, Fate had arranged it so that the leader of this group was the ward of the Court official who was the primary enforcer of the English Reformation, or that his son was the man who later led the movement to destroy this leader’s fledgling literary establishment was said leader’s own brother-in-law, is one of those things that turns history into drama, or will once the story reaches readers who genuinely care about both History and Literature.

As peers these authors could not be punished without damage to the nation’s internal harmony, already strained to the breaking point over the changes in religion. That some of them needed, or at least badly wanted, posts at Court that not only gave them prestige abroad, but a voice in their government at home, made their preoccupation with literature a genuine sacrifice. Some, like Francis Bacon and Philip Sidney, badly needed the income. All this was denied them. In her standoff with her Protestant bishops, knights and rooks, the Queen, it seems, was powerless to defend or promote the pawns, the playwrights and composers who created her much needed “solace.” At least she always did what she could to see to it that they didn’t starve.

The weakness of their position may be one of the reasons Raleigh did not take literature as seriously as did Oxford, Sidney or Bacon, at least not until he ended up in the Tower and had nothing else to do. Bacon, raised in luxury at York House, only feltpoor, but like anyone who had ever served in the military, Raleigh had known real poverty. During the mid-80s while he was still revelling in the Queen’s favor, Sir Walter must have been aghast to see what Marlowe was doing to himself. (I can’t help but love Raleigh, perhaps because the historians hate him almost as much as they hate Oxford.)

By revealing the real Shakespeare, who he was, how he got his name, why his identity was hidden, we are revealing, not just the gifted, flawed, real human being who put pen to paper, but the nature of an entire era, and in many ways, the exciting truth about its history. To get a bit mystical for a moment: Hamlet is Shakespeare the Poet (his poem to Ophelia), the Court’s artistic director (his speech to the players), whose place in Celtic times had been that of Bard, poet priest and shaman King. His forbears murdered, he himself must turn to drama––“the play’s the thing”; equivocation: “now Hamlet, where’s Polonius?” “Not where he eats, but where he is eaten”; and underhanded tactics: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “hoist by their own petard”––merely to survive. After 400 years of burnt toast, where’s the harm in taking this operatic scenario for the banquet it provides?

The schools have done us no favors by separating the English Department from the History Department. A nation’s literature is the soul of its history, its heart. With its literature cut off and separated from its history, that history withers into a lifeless list of names and dates. In Moliere’s Tartuffeis told the real story of the 16th- to 18th-century French bourgeois merchant class bamboozled by sanctimonious Jansenist (Puritan) posturing. In Cervantes’s Don Quixoteis the excruciatingly tragic and funny story of 16th-century Spain’s self-defeating romance with feudal chivalry.

Works like these need to be taught along with the history of their times, for separated, both lose nine-tenths of their life and their meaning.



Source of the name Shakespeare

Here’s a chapter from the forthcoming first part of Shakespeare and the London Stage:

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Among the many facts that the Academy fails to note about Shakespeare are two that should be perfectly obvious: first, that the name Shakespeare is not now and never was a typical English name, and second, that the man Shakespeare was, first and foremost, a poet, so that if spear can be seen as a poetic meme for pen, it describes his role as a playwright, that is, by shaking his pen he fills the stage with spears, i.e., actors in costume. If this seems far-fetched, it would not have seemed so to the rhymers for whom the Bard provided the wordplay that Dr. Johnson referred to as quibbles, for the love of which, as he churlishly argued, the Bard was willing to sell his soul. That the name Shakespeareis just such a “quibble” is a fact of considerable importance, if seen through the perspective of the double lens of English History and English Literature.

The multitude of spellings

Perhaps the most obvious issue for anyone researhing the name Shakespeare is the trouble the scriveners of the sixteenth century had with spelling it. Admittedly, spellings were all over the place then, but with a name like Brown, where an might be added at the end, or Smith, where the i might be replaced with a y, nothing comes close to the 83 different versions of the name as it was spelled by English clerks from 1562 through 1635, as detailed by E.K. Chambers in Volume II of his William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (1929).

Beginning in 1248 with a William Sakspere, hanged in Gloucestershire for robbery, the name, though never numerous, pops up here and there all over England, but predominantly in Warwickshire, where Stratford is located. Among these, the version of the name the Lord Chamberlain’s Men put on his published plays appears  along with the more common Shaksperes or Shackspeers, and other variations such as Schakespere, Schackspere, Schackespeire, Shaxespere, Shakyspear, Shakysspere, Saxper, Chacsper, Shakisspere, etcetera. Long story short, the version used by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men was not unique, but it did not predominate until they popularized it by putting it on a handful of his plays, beginning in 1598 with Richard III and Richard II. Yet even as late as 1605, a scribe reporting on plays performed for King James over that year’s winter holidays spelled it Shaxberd.

Totally focussed on how many times it had occured and how many different ways it had been spelled, Chambers never thinks to ask why this variety? Common sense would suggest that the name was not easy to pronounce, that such wildly divergent spellings reflect problems with pronunciation, which suggests that it began as something  unfamiliar to the English ear.

1066 and all that

English names from the Elizabethan period were primarily derived from one of two languages brought to England over the centuries by continental invaders. The original British Celts having been driven by various invaders to Devon, Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland, by the sixteenth century the language spoken by the rest of England was predominately Anglo-Saxon, the most determined of the early invader-settlers. Also known as Old English, it gave the language the germanic root words it bears to this day. The other source was Norman French, imposed on the Saxon population by the invasion of William the Bastard, an aristocratic knight from Normandy, out to carve a domain for himself and his followers on the other side of the English Channel.

Saxon names often refer to a geographic feature, a hill, field, lake or wooded area; to a trade like Smith, Miller, or Carter; or to a father, like Thomson, Johnson, or Wilson. Since Shakespeare is certainly not a place, a trade, or a patronym, Norman French is the most likely source. The name of Shakespeare’s great literary predecessor, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, is the English version of the French word for shoemaker, chausseur.

By the sixteenth century, many of the original French names had been “Englished” to a point where their origin can’t be deciphered, but Shakespeare is easy. Since Sh in English sounds almost exactly like how the French pronounce as in “je suis jolie” (I am pretty) or Jean (John), if pronounced Shackspeare, the name sounds like the way the French pronounce Jacques-Pierre, the kind of double name that French Catholics still give their offspring, two saints’s names linked by a hyphen, as with the actor Jean-Pierre Aumont or the filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard.Thus it would seem that Shakespeare began, not as a surname, but as a first, or given, name, only becoming a surname later as with names like William Peters or Peter Williams.

By the Tudor era, most members of the upper levels of the English aristocracy were descended from French nobles who had come over with the Conqueror, a fact reflected in anglicized names like Seymour, the family name of the Duke of Somerset, originally St. Maur, or Devereux, the family name of the Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, from the Conqueror’s friend “Robair” d’Evreux. That Shakespeare derived from a first or given name suggests someone of a less elevated status, a serf or bond slave, a member of the “Jacquerie” that did without surnames.

Shack vs. Shake

By the 1590s the name Jacques-Pierre had long since  been anglicized into something easier to say in English––exactly what we can’t know for certain, but the spellings left us by the clerks and scribes of Stratford offer some suggestions . And as Dr. Ewan Johnson, research associate at Lancaster University in Lancashire, whose area of study includes the “Norman diaspora,” has affirmed (via email), Stratford was located well within the area settled by the Norman French in and after 1066. He also affirms that: “large numbers of servants and tradespeople accompanied the Normans,” and that, not surprisingly, their “assimilation is a matter of yet unresolved debate.” Thus William’s ancestor would have been one of the 8000 French immigrants that, according to Wikipedia, accompanied the conquering Norman nobility during and after 1066.

Chambers notes that of the 83 different spellings of Shakespeare, those that begin with “Shack, Schak, Shax, are nearly as common as those [that begin with] Shake . . .” (372). Although the pronunciation of vowels has changed considerably since the sixteenth century, as the OED shows clearly in its treatment of two simpler words, back and bake, both derived from Old English, that their pronunciation is indicated by the fact that they were always spelled then, as today, with ack for back and ake for bake. So if, as we surmise, the name Shakespeare originated with the French Jacques-Pierre, it would make sense that in Stratford, and the rest of England, for those who knew the name from hearing it spoken (not from reading it), the first syllable would have been universally pronounced Shack. What then of the spellings that appear to begin with Shake?

As usual, the Devil is in the details, in this case, the number of syllables. If we consider the possibility that spellings like Shakespeare may reflect its pronunciation, not as the two-syllable Shake-speer of today, but as a three-syllable word, Sha-kes-peer, suggested by spellings like Shakespeyr, Schakespeire, Shakesspere, Shakisspere and others listed by Chambers on page 371. Were there only one or two of these they could be considered anomalies; numerous as they are they must be taken as genuine efforts to capture how the name was pronounced.

Some spellings may suggest where a scribe copied the French name from an earlier document. Unaccustomed to the French habit of glossing or ignoring final consonants (unless followed by a word beginning with a vowel), he could well have attempted to transcribe what appeared to be the final syllable of Jac-ques, into kes or kiss. As for the final syllable, the fact that several of the variations reported by Chambers end, not with pear, peer, or pier, but pyeer or pyere, suggests Pierre.

Shake-speare the pun

But here’s where the issue of Shake vs. Shack gets hot. If William’s name was chosen by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men as a much needed cover for the real author because it could be understood (and accepted) by the literati as a conundrum––in modern terms, a pun that equates a shaking spear to a pen––then the name would have to be pronounced Shake-spearenot Shack-speare. But if, as we’ve argued, the name was an anglicization of Jacques-Pierrethen wherever it had taken hold around the nation, it would often, perhaps always, be heard as Shacks-pair, Shacks-pyair, or even Shack-ess-pyair.

To ensure that the all-important name begin with Shake, someone clever, if not the Poet himself then another wordsmith––someone with experience publishing cheap paper pamphlets (which is how the plays first emerged into print) who saw that by placing a hyphen between the and the and thus turning what may have been a three-syllable word into the two-syllable Shake-speare, the actors and their patrons could be fairly certain that the public would come to pronounce the playwright’s name with the pun Shake-spear.

That the first two plays to display the name used hyphenation in this way ensured that it would be Shake-speare that would be spread to the unlettered public audience. Thus the image of a shaking spear would be immediately grasped by the groundlings who themselves were clever at confusing outsiders and authorities with hiding the subject of their conversation by rhyming it with the last word in a short phrase, what today we term “Cockney rhyming slang”––as in “trouble and strife,” or just trouble, for wife––as in “bread and honey,” or just bread for money. Wordplay of this sort was endemic to the English, who spread it abroad along with the language itself.

Here’s where the hyphen comes in. When the name William Shake-speare first appeared in print on the title pages of Richard III and Richard II in 1598, the insertion of a hyphen divided it into two syllables, the first spelled with the ake as in bake (not ack as in back) as the verb, and the final syllable as the object of the verb. As such, the name becomes a sentence with a verb and an object, and as such it conjures up the image of someone shaking a spear. When the name William is added it identifies the man shaking the spear as someone named Will (Will I am). Will is not only a man’s nickname, it’s a powerful term for the determination to act: as in “will vs. won’t”; as in “will I nill I,” (willy-nilly); as in a man’s  “last will and testament.” As Willy it’s also a slang term for the vital male organ that at times can seem to have a will of its own.

Such a word would have held tremendous value for the poet/playwright and the actors who depended on him for their livelihoods, which depended on communicating to that portion of their audience who lived by such undefined rules, the need to leave well enough alone in a political climate that clamored for the destruction of what by then had become so precious to them, their public theaters. That the ploy worked is evident from the fact that the London Stage continued to survive through the reigns of both Elizabeth and James, despite the best efforts of its political enemies and the Protestant evangelicals to “pluck it down.”

“Let the cobbler stick to his last.”

Efforts by orthodox theorist David Kathman to prove William’s authorship by referencing Chambers, is yet another example of the kind of circular reasoning to which we’ve becomed accustomed. One can only wonder how Kathman dares to claim that “Shakespeare was by far the most common spelling of the name in both literary and non-literary contexts” in the face of Chambers’s evidence for the of wild variety of nonliterary spellings. When he states that “there is no evidence that the variant spellings reflected a consistent pronunciation difference, but there is considerable evidence that they were seen as more or less interchangeable,” which pronunciation does he mean, Shake or Shack? When he states that “there is no evidence whatsoever that hyphenation in Elizabethan times was ever thought to indicate a pseudonym,” what about Martin Mar-prelate (as found in the tract from 1589, “The Just Censure and Reproof of Martin Junior” (online at or Cuthbert Curry-knave, “author” of the anti-Martin pamphlet “An Almond for a Parrat” (1590). As for the fact that “proper names of real people were also sometimes hyphenated,” how does that eliminate other possible uses?

Kathman’s a financial systems analyst; he’s not a poet. While the two are not totally incompatible, Kathman is no T.S. Eliot (who made his living by working in a bank). How helpful it would be if someone with his talents would tackle questions like whether it was Lord Treasurer Burghley who first turned England’s green and pleasant land into an early bastion of capitalism––or not.

NB: Sigmund Freud, creator of the science of Psychology, who loved Shakespeare above all other writers and based some of his theories on the behavior of Hamlet, came to the same conclusion about the source of the name as an anglicization of the French Jacques-Pierre, an opinion he shared with several of his correspondents (Norman Holland “Freud on Shakespeare” (1960), p 164; who quotes Ernest Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud.

Is Mark Twain Dead?

Recently the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship held their annual conference at the Mark Twain Center in Hartford Connecticut, a modern adjunct to what had been the great humorist’s home for many years. Mark Twain is revered among Authorship Questioners for two things, first, the fact that he published under a pen name, if not a pun like ShakeSpear, then the next thing to it, since “Mark Twain” was the call he would make during his early years as a cub-pilot on a steamboat on the Mississippi River, to let the captain know that the water they were heading into was deep enough to proceed. The second thing for which Oxfordians must revere him is his essay on the Authorship Question, “Is Shakespeare Dead?”

Having just survived the days-long agony of watching our national government in crisis, something that might be titled “Is Democracy Dead?”––it seems fitting to share some high points from Twain’s long essay, both as a reference to the centuries it’s taking to get the truth out about who actually wrote the Shakespeare canon, and the even longer time that its taken humanity in its often backsliding efforts to rise from the purely animal level to something a little less brutal.

When we find ourselves at a painful juncture of some sort, it can help to consider how far we’ve actually come. Here’s some of what Twain had to say about the infamous Bust on the wall of the church in Stratford:

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“Am I trying to convince anybody that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare’s Works? Ah, now, what do you take me for? Would I be so soft as that, after having known the human race familiarly for nearly seventy-four years? It would grieve me to know that any one could think so injuriously of me, so uncomplimentarily, so unadmiringly of me. No, no, I am aware that when even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. . . . whenever we have been furnished a fetish, and have been taught to believe in it, and love it and worship it, and refrain from examining it, there is no evidence, howsoever clear and strong, that can persuade us to withdraw from it our loyalty and our devotion. . . .

“I haven’t any idea that Shakespeare will have to vacate his pedestal this side of the year 2209. . . ; it is a very slow process. It took several thousand years to convince our fine race––including every splendid intellect in it––that there is no such thing as a witch; it has taken several thousand years to convince the same fine race––including every splendid intellect in it––that there is no such person as Satan; it has taken several centuries to remove perdition from the Protestant Church’s program of post-mortem entertainments; it has taken a weary long time to persuade American Presbyterians to give up infant damnation and try to bear it the best they can; and it looks as if their Scotch brethren will still be burning babies in the everlasting fires when Shakespeare comes down from his perch.

“We are The Reasoning Race. . . . when we find a vague file of chipmunk-tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know by our reasoning powers that Hercules has been along there. I feel that our fetish is safe for three centuries yet. The bust, too––there in the Stratford Church. The precious bust, the priceless bust, the calm bust, the serene bust, the emotionless bust, with the dandy mustache, and the putty face, unseamed of care––that face which has looked passionlessly down upon the awed pilgrim for a hundred and fifty years and will still look down upon the awed pilgrim three hundred more, with the deep, deep, deep, subtle, subtle, subtle expression of a bladder.”

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Said the great ShakeSpear, “I will find where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed within the center,” a bit of wisdom which, in the great one’s ironic way he gave the very character who most personifies the enemies that, as he was painfully aware, would continue to hide his own truth until some Horatio “things standing thus unknown” would “draw his breath in pain” to clear his “wounded name.”

These things take time. It may be that the length of time they take is a rather accurate measure of how important they are.

The deadly little comma

The story of Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms is one of those things that demonstrates the power of small things, easily overlooked, that can trigger long lasting effects. As the old verse has it, “For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of the shoe the horse was lost, for want of the horse the rider was lost, for want of the rider the battle was lost, for want of the battle the kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

The “horseshoe nail” in this case is a comma, small but deadly, that lies at the heart of one of the few incidents history allows us to see into the life of William of Stratford, and equally important, into the nature of the times he lived in. Misinterpreted on purpose by the mythmakers bent on selling him as the magical playwright who conjured  up the language we speak out of nothing, that comma is a valuable little key to the truth.

In late October of 1596, just months after the Shakespeare name first appeared in a record touching the London Stage (March 15, 1595), William, it seems, took the arduous three-day journey by horseback from Stratford to London to see about getting the Coat of Arms that his father had applied for twenty years earlier, but never got.

The Coat of Arms

At stake was an image that provided visual evidence of the socio-political status of its bearer. Through a language of patterns and images that had developed over the centuries since the Crusades, it was a much coveted proof of virtue. As the shields once held by knights in armor gave way to modern battlefield tactics, their designs remained. In Queen Elizabeth’s time the physical shield continued as an element in the dangerous sport known as the tilts, or the tourney, where jousters needed it to protect themselves from the impact of their opponent’s lance. But while the shield itself diminished in importance, their designs migrated to doors, flags, entrances to courtyards, stationery, etc..

The images displayed on a genuine Coat of Arms were generally divided into sections known as “quarterings.” These consisted of recognizable elements from the badges of the great families whose symbols the bearer had the right to show because he was related to them either by direct descent or marriage. The Coat of Arms of a prince consisted of many such quarterings, as was true of that created for Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. A poet, Howard was the author of sonnets in a style later adopted by his younger cousin, the 17th Earl of Oxford.  Shortly before King Henry’s death, Surrey was accused of treason by the crazy old king and executed for having “quartered” on his badge an image that his enemies had convinced the paranoid old autocrat that Surrey was intending to make himself King once Henry was gone. While history blames the King for overreaching, Surrey may well have been guilty of doing just that. After four decades of Henry’s reckless cruelty, the nation was weary of the greedy, sick old king and his sycophants, and so may well have been hoping for just such a leader.

Non, sanz Droict

With the King’s death, power shifted to the men Henry deemed worthy of running the nation for the nine years that his little son would be too young to rule, an exceedingly corrupt crew that had hung on during Henry’s last years in hopes of reaping a bounty of offices, lands and titles. The corruption that saw them creating dukedoms and earldoms for themselves as soon as the King was dead spread to the College of Arms, where the chief Herald, an intemperate Henry appointee named Gilbert Dethick, offered no resistence to their claims. Followed in 1586 by his rascally son William Dethick, it seems clear from the record that by 1596, when William of Stratford was seeking the Coat of Arms that his father had been denied by the older Dethick, Dethick Jr. was selling Coats of Arms at exorbitant rates to a whole slew of  ambitious commoners.

Dethick was supposed to share his authority with heralds from other areas of England. In 1602, the York Herald, outraged by Dethick’s malfeasance, demanded that a number of the designs he’d passed be thrown out as “without right,” among them the one William had obtained for his father. While William’s biographers acknowledge this, they fail to account for the obvious fact that no authority at the time put any stock in his father’s Coat of Arms. It’s far too important for the Stratford defenders as the sole piece of evidence for the genteel middle class hero of biographical fantasies like Greenblat’s Will in the World (2004) or Shapiro’s A Year in the Life (2005).

The two ink sketches on paper that remain in the possession of the College of Arms as evidence of the Shakespeare transactions both contain, in the upper left corner, the words “Non sanz Droict,” Law French for “Not without right,” or so we’re told. On the earlier sketch, the phrase appears three times, first as “Non, sanz Droict,” then, just under it, without the comma,“Non sanz Droict.” This line was erased either soon after or later, by having a single line marked through it. Finally, written at some distance from these in big capital letters, is written “NON SANZ DROICT.” On the later of the two draft papers, the only phrase in the upper left corner is simply “Non sanz Droict.” Someone, it could only be Dethick, had reversed the earlier decision, which, WITH the comma, quite obviously meant “No,” the Shakespeare application was “without right.”

What should we make of this?

If nothing else we should take seriously the only thing that changed from one version of what’s been taken as a title to another, the presence then disappearance of the comma. Why? Because its disappearance changes the meaning of the phrase! As an application for legal acceptance by the Herald, the upper left corner of the draft, just above the sketch of the proposed shield, was clearly meant for the Herald’s decision as to whether or not the credentials as described in the rest of the draft gave the applicant the right to a Coat of Arms.

The original sketch, as drawn on both the surviving drafts, is not inspiring of confidence, consisting as it does of a single element, the spear, clearly a pun on the applicant’s name. The spear appears twice, once on the shield and once grasped by a “falcon” who stands on one leg on the shield. No other elements are present on the original sketch, although over time the advocates of William as a literary genius would add, first a helmet, a favorite item, originally referring to military service by an ancestor but by then simply a flourish, then a variety of other flourishes, increasinover time, but only seen on the monument. As William’s biographers are forced to admit, the Shakspere family seems to have had little use for it. The barren design, plus John’s weak credentials, a distant connection to the Arden family through his marriage and an ancestor’s brief military service under Henry VII, are strong evidence for what to an unprejudiced observer were clearly grounds for the earlier rejection.

Turning the sow’s ear into a silk purse

William’s biographers explain the fact that John Shakspere did not get the Coat of Arms twenty years earlier because it cost too much. While it’s certain that John’s request must have been made before whatever caused him to begin selling off the land he had acquired up to then, there’s no evidence for exactly when it was made; all the paper from 1596 says is “xx years earlier,” roughly twenty years, and since the fact that as the paper asserts, twenty years earlier he had been the leading official in Stratford, its Bailiff, a sort of super Mayor, by 1596, when his son felt the urge to reapply, John Shakspere had been out of office for many years.  Perhaps there was some pressure from on high, patrons of the royal company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who needed William’s name to protect the true author and his friends at Court.

The truth lies in that deadly little comma, the one that separates the “Non” from the “sanz Droict” on the earlier paper. To anyone but a dedicated Stratford defender, the phrase, written twenty years or so earlier was the determination of the current Rouge Croix Pursuivant as to whether or not the humble application should be accepted. By “Non, sanz Droict,” obviously he meant “No,” the applicant did not have the necessary credentials for a Coat of Arms, and thus he was “sanz Droict,” i.e., “without Right.” This, of course, was the reason why John came away from the College of Arms empty handed, not because, as the academics would have it,  he couldn’t afford the fee.  (The word sans, French for without, had long been adopted by the English as we see in Jacques’s  “Seven Ages of Man” speech in As You Like It, the description of a man in the final stage of life as a dotard “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”)

The line written right after “Non, sanz Droict,” apparently in the same hand, the one that he or another clerk erased with a strikethrough, must have something to do with the need to change the meaning of the comment by eliminating the comma, for that is the only difference between the two lines. The fact that it was then written large in capitals in the center of the page suggests that whoever had decided that John Shakspere was no longer “without right” wanted to make it very clear to anyone who saw it that the final verdict was acceptance.

The unbelievably ridiculous and totally idiotic motto

Exactly how the world was meant to take the strange phrase thus created is not clear.  Pitched a curve ball, William’s early biographers came up with was the notion that “Not without right” was “a family motto.” The absurdity of this ranks high amongst the many absurdities a complacent world has been asked to swallow with regard to the authorship question. No one, however ignorant or muddle-headed, would ever adopt as a motto a meaningless double negative like “Not without Right.” No academic has ever attempted to deconstruct it, doubtless because it is so meaningless that no deconstruction is possible.  Both modern literary historians, E.K. Chambers and Sam Schoenbaum, have been compelled to admit that the family appears never to have used it either then or later. Academics cling to it as a motto since they can think of nothing else to do with it.

Conjured up during a period when there were no newspapers and few people could read, who but antiquarians, courtiers, and later historians would have been aware of  this kafuffle within the College of Arms, and even had they known, who would have cared? Shakespeare’s connection to the ten or twelve anonymous plays that had turned London into the entertainment capital of the nation would not be made public for another two years, when his name suddenly appeared for the first time on two of London’s currently popular plays, Richard III and Richard II.

There’s more to be learned about this deadly little comma and its place in our story. Hopefully at some point someone who lives in or near London, maybe one of you, my dear readers, will be inspired to dig deeper than Malone, Halliwell-Phillipps, Chambers or Schoenbaum into the history of the College of Arms. What documents remain if any, how Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms compares with others from his and earlier times. The Authorship Question is compounded of dozens of such questions, many yet to be thoroughly explored in the English archives with a fair amount of ordinary common sense.

Here I am . . .

Oh, the wonders of modern technology! My lecture at the SOF Conference in October was one of those filmed by the conference team and put online on youtube.  If you’re interested in hearing me speak what I posted in text a few days ago, check it out when you get a free half hour. Those given by other authorship scholars are also available. Maybe this is how we’ll find our way past the barriers created by the Academy to reach an open-minded community of Shakespeare lovers.

Why is it taking so long for the Academy to deal with the Authorship Question?

The following is the substance of the lecture I gave recently at the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Conference in Hartford CT.

It’s so obvious that a man from William of Stratford’s background, that of an uneducated 16th-century wool dealer’s son from a town three days ride by horseback from England’s only theatrical city, simply COULD NOT have written the works of Shakespeare.  So why does the Academy lie about that?  Why have they continued to lie for centuries?

One thing is certain, to attack the English Department for its stupidity has been a waste of time.  It arrived too late in the Shakespeare game to do anything but keep on turning in tight little circles around the kind of issues that are all their peculiar brand of philology will allow. No, our problem is with the History Department. Until we understand that, and the unseen immensity of the question of his identity, we will never get anywhere.

Because while the English Departments care nothing about Oxford, or William, or any possible author, the History Department does care about him, because it hates him. It has hated the Earl of Oxford for centuries.  It sees him as a pampered brat who did nothing but waste his family inheritance and insult that kindly old gentleman, Lord Burghley. Alan Nelson is only the most recent in a long stream of historians who’ve been egregiously slamming Oxford for centuries.  Forty years before Nelson, sociologist Laurence Stone labelled Burghley’s wards “an antipathetic group of superfluous parasites” with Oxford “the greatest wastrel of them all.”

Part of this is the Earl’s own fault.  Following his return from Italy in 1576, he effectively disappears from history.  Focussed on building theaters and giving actors work, he did what he could to stay out of sight of the Reformation puritans and evangelicals whose passionate belief that making and watching plays was a slippery slope leading to eternal damnation.  Though his name pops up now and then in the Revels records and Court Calendar, these seem almost accidental, as if by a new clerk who didn’t yet know that the actors preferred to keep his involvement a secret.

None of this, however, goes anywhere near explaining why every biographer, journalist or novelist who has ever had cause to mention Oxford’s name in passing has paired it with some nasty pejorative, such as: “the obnoxious Earl of Oxford”; the “violent” Earl of Oxford; the “dissolute,” “feckless,” “atheistic,” “profligate,” “arrogant,” “supercilious,” “spoiled,” “pathologically selfish,” “ill-tempered,” “disagreeable” Earl of Oxford. To the early Stage historian C.W. Wallace he was a “swaggerer, roisterer, brawler.”  To Burghley’s biographer Conyers Read, he was “a cad,” “a renegade,” “an unwhipped cub.” To literary historian A.L. Rowse he was “the insufferable, light-headed Earl of Oxford.”  To Alan Nelson he was, and doubtless still is: “notorious . . . insolent . . . sinister . . . a mongrel,”––this last because his mother wasn’t a thoroughbred aristocrat! And they call us snobs!

Some of this mistreatment began in his own lifetime. We know this from the Sonnets,where he speaks of himself as ‘ïn disgrace with ‘fortune and men’s eyes,” and because in the version of Hamletpublished while he was still alive, the dying protagonist begs his friend, “O good Horatio, what a wounded name, things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me . . . .”  What things unknown?

As all are aware who have delved into what E.K. Chambers calls “the Shakespeare Problem,”  there are entire periods, whole sequences of events, that are missing from history.  One of these is the truth about Shakespeare’s identity.  Another is a satisfying account of the creation of the London Stage. With both of these it’s is as if a film about the moon landing were to go from the planning stage to the return from space with nothing to show what took place in between.  In the great 4-volume compendium E.K. Chambers published in 1923, The Elizabethan Stage, his only acknowledgement of these chunks of missing data is the arcane Latin term, lacunae.

On a subject that calls for a book length treatment, all we have time for today is a close look at one important moment, and even for that, just the briefest of outlines.

We’ll begin in the spring of 1590 with the death of the then Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. History’s claim––that Walsingham had no interest in the Stage––is another flat out lie, one of the many that we encounter when seeking the truth about the creation of the London Stage. As you find when you look further than statements in things like the DNB, Walsingham had actively fostered the Stage throughout the 1580s. Why then, as soon as he was gone, did it begin to suffer the setbacks that came close to destroying it?  The only possible answer is the return by Lord Burghley to running Walsingham’s office, the office that Burghley himself had created during the Queen’s first decade, and that he brought in with him his son Robert to help with those aspects of the job that his increasing age made difficult.  Among these it seems was Robert’s all-out attempt to control, even to destroy, the London Stage, Oxford’s great accomplishment.

According to the Revels Account for the winters of 1590 through 1593, the three companies that had entertained the Court every winter for the decade that Walsingham was in charge, Paul’s Boys, the Lord Admiral’s Men, and the Queen’s Men, were dropped, one by one, from the roster. With their loss of the government’s support, some of  these companies were forced to break, and their actors to take off to the Continent in hopes of finding work there.

When Burghley’s attempt to get the popular playwright Christopher Marlowe incarcerated on a trumped up charge of counterfeiting failed in 1592, his brutal murder by government agents the following year was blamed on Marlowe himself. To make certain that no one would bother to investigate his murder, a team of disinformation operatives were put to work creating documents that defamed his character, a defamation that has lasted to this day.

The following year came the murder of Marlowe’s patron, Ferdinando Lord Strange, recently raised to 5th Earl of Derby. In 1595 came the marriage of Ferdinando’s younger brother William, now the 6th Earl of Derby, to, of all women, Oxford’s daughter. With Ferdinando out of the way, the marriage, arrranged by Burghley, gave the Cecils the entry into the upper peerage that was denied them when Oxford failed to provide them with an heir.

This brings us to 1596, the year the Queen finally gave in and appointed Robert Secretary of State. Two weeks after Cecil’s appointment, Lord Chamberlain Hunsdon, creator of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the company that was meant to replace the companies disbanded by the Cecils, died unexpectedly following a healthy dinner.

Two weeks after Hunsdon’ death, his office as Lord Chamberlain was given to Cecil’s father-in-law, Burghley’s main supporter William Brooke Lord Cobham, which put Brooke on the Privy Council, thus giving control of the Council to the Cecils. By October, the Council had been persuaded by Elizabeth Russell––Robert’s Aunt, Burghley’s sister-in-law––to prevent the Burbages from opening their elegant new theater in what she regarded as her personal bailiwick, the Liberty of Blackfriars. The following February, James Burbage, builder of the first public stage in London and father of the team that led the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was also dead.

When Cecil , now the most powerful man in England, was informed the following May that he was the butt of a play being performed at a new theater by a company made up of actors from those he had forced to disband, he ordered all the theaters in London closed for the rest of the summer.  He would have to allow them to reopen in October because that’s when upwards of 500 parliamentarians from all over England would pour into Westminster for the Queen’s Ninth Parliament, hungry for the kind of entertainment that they could find only in the nation’s capitol.  Cecil could not afford to displease these important constituents by keeping the theaters shuttered, so they reopened in October.  That is, all but two, one of them the Burbages 20-year-old public stage.  It remained closed––permanently.

With no theater in which to perform, no Court patron to protect them, their manager dead, their livelihoods at stake, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men turned to the one thing they had left, their playwright. Faced with the destruction of the industry he had created and with the loss of contact with what by then must have become an immense public audience, Oxford called once more on his “Muse of  Fire.” Revising his old True Tragedy of  Richard the Third into the brutal and humorless play we know today as Richard the Third,  the Company, with the help of someone close to the press community, launched their attackWith no theater available, they must have arranged to perform it nearby in the hall of  one of London’s great manors.

The Court was used to Robert Cecil’s tiny body and his deformity, his spindly little legs, hunched back and crooked neck. Born with a serious form of the scoliosis that touched so many members of his mother’s family, Robert had borne the slings and arrows of his cruel misfortune, the dismissive attitude of the tall men and beautiful women who winked at each other over his head in a Court ruled by a Queen who surrounded herself with tall, handsome, long-legged men. But the parliamentarians from the north and west of England may never have seen him in person until he stood before them in Parliament as the Queen’s new representative.

And so, as the footlights were lit, and the young Richard Burbage, hunched over and garbed all in black, entered the darkened room, the audience of  MPs and Court regulars gasped to see the image of  their new Secretary of State. With Burbage mimicking Cecil’s lurching gait, speaking in accents modelled on the voice they had been hearing every day in Parliament, they listened with astonished horror as he mouthed the opening lines:

“I that am rudely stamp’d, . . . Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time into this breathing world, scarce half made up,”––a description written by one who had been present during his mother’s pregnancy,  who had seen the anxiety with which his family anticipated his birth (his mother had a history of miscarriages), who had seen his struggles to breathe and walk. Thus did Oxford lash out at his adversary and Richard Burbage launch his career as one of the most famous actors of his time, in the role for which he would forever be best known.

As the parliamentarians watched in stunned silence while the evil king proceded to destroy one after another of his rivals, the question must have struck many: Who could have written this devastating slander?  Who was daring enough to risk Cecil’s wrath?  Later, as Parliament finished its business and the MPs returned to their home territories, the scandal would have spread like wildfire throughout the nation––but only whispered, behind closed doors, for no one who had seen the play would have dared to speak openly.  No one would have dared to put anything on paper. Despite the lack of incontrovertible evidence, that this is what happened is the only possible explanation for what followed.

Before the arrival of the MPs in October, someone had seen to it that this revision of The True Tragedy was made available to them in inexpensive quarto.  However prepared by this, what the audience would not have been prepared for was the comparison of their new Secretary of State with the evil King. There is nothing in the published version to suggest it. Only those who had seen the play would make the connection.  And with no record of the performance but hearsay, how could anyone prove that the comparison with Cecil was intentional, or anything but the viewer’s naughty imagination? Best to keep silent, at least until they got home.

That the play created a firestorm of scandalized commentary at Court and in London may never have reached the record, but it is suggested by the fact that a second edition of the play was published at some point not long after the Christmas break, one with exactly the same text as the first except that the phrase “by William Shake-speare” had been added to the title page. Thus was the name Shakespeare launched to an eternity of fame and misidentification.

That life at Court appears to have continued as though undisturbed, suggests that Elizabeth got involved. Normally she left all matters relating to her Court entertainment to her Lord Chamberlain, doubtless so that her reputation not be tarnished with the evangelicals, but the subsequent smoothing over of what must have been a great if  whispered scandal could only have been done by the Queen herself.  In any case, as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and Lord Admiral’s Men continued to entertain over the winter holidays, and as Robert Cecil continued beside her as her main advisor, it must have seemed to most that he had survived the blow aimed at him by his brother-in-law.

There was, however, one who would continue to feel it and that most painfully, namely Cecil himself. Having proven himself a Master of the Dark Arts by the success of the sting with which he destroyed Marlowe and his reputation, Cecil’s campaign to destroy the London Stage and its creator was to have been the ultimate demonstration to his enemies that he was proof against all efforts to damage him. That in the final showdown over the Stage Oxford had beaten him, and that the world, or that part of it that mattered, knew it, left Master Secretary Cecil with a great thirst for revenge.

Having learned from his father how He who owns the Record owns History, once Cecil reached the level of power under James that gave him access to every record in the nation, can we doubt that he took advantage of it?  Can we imagine that having the power to eliminate everything about the London Stage, along with everything that connected it to his hated brother-in-law,  can we think for one minute that he failed to use it?  Having no other weapon with which to wound him, with his subsequent history of dirty tricks and political conniving under King James, can we doubt that he did so?

What other explanation can there be for E.K. Chambers’s lacunae, the great gaps that appear in the record where there ought to be something about the Stage? The only persons in a position to do that were the Cecils, who, except for the decade and a half that Walsingham held the office of Secretary, had control of it for half a century. What other explanation can there be for the barrage of pejoratives that has attended any mention of the Earl of Oxford from that day to this? Who else could have seen to it that nothing good about him remained in the record, while things like the Howard-Arundel libels remained?

Hatfield House, home to the Cecils and their descendants ever since Robert acquired the property from King James, has also been the permanent home of the archives from the Tudor period as collected by the Cecils over the half century that they controlled the record. For 400 years, scholars requiring access to original documents from the Tudor and Jacobean period have had to apply for permission to study these in the library at Hatfield House, under the watchful eyes of their librarians.

As other household archives ended up in the British Museum or the Public Record Office, those gathered by Burghley and his son remained under their family’s control at Hatfield House.  Only since 2003 has the creation of the National Archives and the growth of the Internet has made it possible for those of us without the support of a university to research these records without the authorization of the Cecil family.

Long after the original Cecils were gone, generations of Robert’s descendants have served on boards and committees whose goal has been to oversee the creation of a morally acceptible English History. Can we doubt that these have been partly driven as a means of protecting the good name of Salisbury, correcting anything that might threaten to damage it with an ugly truth?

In his 1973 memoire about his family, Lord David Cecil repeats the version of Oxford that the Cecils have been telling each other and the nation ever since.  It’s all there, including the accusations of pedophilia, which means that generations of Cecils, and those following the paper trails they left to History have all had access to the Howard-Arundel libels long before Alan Nelson published them in 2000.  There is a nasty quality to these off-hand slurs that reflects the tone of the terms used to defame gay men by inference during the 19th-century when England writhed in the grip of its epidemic of homophobia, a story that has barely reached beyond what it did to Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde. How it contributed to the damage done Oxford’s reputation is a chapter that needs to be told.

It was also during the 19th century that William Cecil’s lifetime goal, the raising of a humble family to the peak of power, was finally and gloriously achieved when the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, another Robert Cecil, rose to become Queen Victoria’s longest ruling Prime Minister and the major power behind the phenomenon known as the British Empire. The grand irony here is that while this Cecil’s economic and political might spread the English language and its literature around the world, it took with it the works of Shakespeare, including of course, his Richard the Third, an irony that Oxford would surely have appreciated, had he been around to see it.




Hartford Conference

Those of you who live close enough to Hartford Connecticut may be interested in the fact that the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship will hold their annual conference there the weekend of October 17-20, where a number of prominent Oxfordians will speak on a variety of subjects related to the subject of our interest. I’ll be speaking Friday the 18th at 11:15 am. If any of you can come, I’d love it if you’d say hello.

2019 SOF Conference

Still working to get the BOOK/S published. Once that’s done I’ll get back to blogging.

Many thanks for your continuing interest.