Authorship timeline

There are only 21 mentions of the name Shakespeare between its first appearance on the dedication page of Venus and Adonis in 1593 and the publication of the First Folio 30 years later.  Some of these are more significant than others, but until the First Folio, not one points towards Stratford.

1592-93: Supposed first appearances of the name

1592: Robert Greene’s reference to “Shake-scene”: This supposed first reference to Shakespeare as a writer in Robert Greene’s Groatsworth of Witte points to neither William nor Oxford, but to the actor-manager of the Rose theater, Edward Alleyn. (See Oxford and Alleyn.) If Oxford was Robert Greene for a decade before becoming Shakespeare, he would hardly, as his introduction to English letters, write such a furious diatribe against himself. (As a joke? I don’t think so. No joke was ever so genuinely angry. And what would be the point?)

1593: The first use of the name in any published work: “William Shakespeare” appears following the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton on the title page overleaf. Most unusually it does not appear where author’s names were always located, directly under the title on the title page. However, this can’t be seen as a connection to the London Stage, since in 1593 the name Shakespeare had no known connection with the theater world, while the fact that the young Earl of Southampton was a theater enthusiast was not known beyond his own circles. 400 years of research has turned up no evidence of any connection (other than this dedication and the one to Lucrece the following year) between the third Earl of Southampton and William of Stratford.

1594: Formation of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men

1594: Following the chaos of 1589-93, the theater closures of 1592-93 due to the plague, and the death of Marlowe in 1593, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men forms in the spring in time to produce plays at Court for the following winter holiday season. (If there was ever any sort of official warrant it seems to have vanished. Not until 1603 will there be a documented list of the LCMen’s sharers. )

*1594: Also in the spring of ’94, several plays later identified as Shakespeare’s (or his “sources”) are registered with the Stationers, three of them are then published anonymously. [Note: only in hindsight is this a connection, since evidence that Shakespeare has been taken on by the actors does not appear until the following year. Also, none of these plays would be identified as Shakespeare’s for at least another 4 years.]

*1595: March 15: Between the (largely written) name of William Kempe, leading actor of the newly formed LCMen, and the (smaller written) Richard Burbage, not yet the star he would become, the name “Willm Shakespeare,” appears in a Court document as payee for a Court performance on December 26. This is the first time that the name will appear on any document that connects William of Stratford to an acting company and the only time it will ever appear as any company’s “payee.” (It may have been William himself, since there is evidence he was in London off and on in 1595-97.)

1596: 8-20: William obtains the coat-of-arms that had been denied to his father in 1576. The sketch, and others that follow, show that the design is of a bird holding a spear above a shield with a spear on it. The spear, of course, is a pun on his name. It has nothing to do with writing since the kind of dip pen that it might seem to portray did not come into use for writing until the late 18th century. What has been taken as his (extremely peculiar) motto: “Not without right” is in fact not a motto, that is, it wasn’t at first, since “Non. Sanz droicht” is a term in Law French meaning “No. Without Right.” It should be obvious that this was copied from the original as had been written above the sketch of the crest by the clerk who had denied William’s father his request for a coat-of-arms twenty years earlier.  Later a controversy at the College of Arms would arise over improper sales of coats-of-arms, with his father, “John Shakspere,” listed as one of those who didn’t deserve a crest.

*1596: September or October: One William Wayte takes out a petition for a surety of the peace against “William Shakspere, Francis Langley, Dorothy Soer (Shore), and Anne Lee.” Anne Lee, otherwise unidentified, is intriguing, as that is how Oxford’s inamorata of 1579, Ann Vavasor, could have been known following her alliance with Sir Henry Lee c.1590. The connection to the London Stage is the fact that Langley was the owner-manager of the recently built Swan Theater. Wayte was a henchman of a local Southwark JP and money-lender whose finger may have been too deep in the theater pie (Schoenbaum 146-7).

1597: July 28: all plays are inhibited by order of the Privy Council, due to the performing by Pembroke’s Men at the Swan of The Isle of Dogs by Jonson and Nashe. Playhouses are ordered to be pulled down (but are not). The LCMen are forced to travel. On November 14, “William Shackspere” is listed as a tax defaulter (5 shillings on goods worth £5), as assessed in February 1596 as a resident of St. Helen’s parish (Schoenbaum 162). Schoenbaum calls him a “householder,” which seems unlikely. What London house would be worth only £5?

*1597: Three Shakespeare plays are published anonymously as performed by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men: the “bad quarto” of R&J (as played by “Hunsdon’s Men), and “good quartos” of RII and RIII. Again, due to the author’s anonymity, this connection is apparent only in hindsight.

1598: First public recognition of Shakespeare as a theater figure

*1598: Seven Shakespeare plays get published. For the first time, three bear the name on their title pages, the other four are anonymous.

*1598: October 6: “William Shakespeare” is again listed as a defaulter on £5 worth of goods in St. Helen’s parish, whether by a new assessment or simply a repeat of the previous year’s still unpaid bill isn’t clear. Since the charge has almost tripled, it may include a penalty for nonpayment the year before. Later that year he’s listed with those who no longer reside in the district; a marginal note suggests that he moved to Bankside. This is a more obvious connection with the Stage, since Bankside is where the Rose is located. However it’s unclear why William would precede the LCMen to Bankside. In 1598 they were still playing in Shoreditch. The new Globe would not be built until early 1600.

*1598: Wits Treasury is published. In this overview of the important authors of the day, one Francis Meres, theologian, a graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge, comments at some length on “Shakespeare” (no first name) as author of several poems and plays by titles we know today. In another section Meres also mentions “Edward, earle of Oxford,” as “best for comedy,” giving us the one and only published mention of Oxford as a playwright. Thus in one fell swoop, whether innocently, on purpose, or through the instigation of some authority, the literary nonentity Francis Meres establishes, for the first time, Shakespeare as a leading playwright, and the Earl of Oxford as a separate entity.

*1599: Feb 1: A syndicate is formed by those involved in the building of the new Globe theater on Bankside, one part each going to the landowner, the Burbages, and five of the actor-sharers one of whom is William Shakespeare. (We know this only from mentions made much later in court depositions by the actors.) This relationship continues through the establishment of the Blackfriars theater consortium.  However, the fact that, unlike the shares of the others, there are no records of any sales of Shakespeare’s shares, nor are they mentioned in his will, lends force to the argument that whatever he may have received from the LC-KMen for his services, and however it was made to look in the records, it was not in the form of shares. My guess is these shares actually went to Hemmings as a sort of slush fund, who used some of the money to keep William satisfied, and the rest to maintain the theater (and himself).

*1599: Henry IV Part One published as by William Shakespeare.

1603: Death of Queen Elizabeth, advent of James

*1603: May 17-19: King James elevates the Lord Chamberlain’s Men to the status of a Crown company known thenceforth as the King’s Men. In the patent establishing the company as a Royal syndicate, first place is given to an Scottish actor, Lawrence Fletcher, no doubt a favorite of the King’s from his years in Scotland. “William Shakespeare” is the second name, followed by Burbage, Phillips, Hemmings, Condell, etc.

*1603: Hamlet is published as by William Shakespeare, “As it hath been diverse times acted by his Highness servants,” i.e., the King’s Men. From now on plays bearing the name Shakespeare outnumber the canon plays published anonymously.

*1604: March 16: For King James’s coronation, all the men listed in the patent for the King’s Men are given lengths of red cloth to make outfits to wear at the ceremonies. The order for the cloth shows Shakespeare’s name heading the list, the Scottish actor having disappeared (for good.)

*1604: May: Augustine Phillips, one of the original sharers, dies, leaving 30 shillings in gold each to his “fellows” William Shakespeare and Henry Condell, Hemmings’s partner in the management of the Company.

1604: According to a deposition he signed in 1612, “Willm Shakespeare” spent time this year rooming with the Mountjoy family in Silver Street (located in the northwest corner inside the City Wall). The only connection to the Stage is the fact that the Mountjoys were artisans who made headgear for the ladies of the Court, and so, presumably, also for costumes for plays. This date is the only one mentioned in the suit, so it’s not known how often or for what lengths of time he roomed with the Mountjoys.

*1604-05: October-February: 7 of the 12 plays performed for the King’s first winter Revels at Court are by “Shaxberd.” The odd spelling suggests that that the clerk was interpreting an unfamiliar sounding name. Nor did he know enough about Ben Jonson even to give his name, though it’s clear he was familiar with “Heywood” and “George Chapman.”

*1608: A syndicate of members of the King’s Men leases the Blackfriars theater. Shakespeare’s name is included among the other six. His share in this enterprise is even more profitable than the Globe, but again, there is no indication that he ever sold or willed his shares to anyone, so again the question arises as to whether or not he actually received these shares.

1609: Publication of SHAKE-SPEARE’S SONNETS, with no first name on the title page and, as with V&A, nothing in the space where the author’s name should be. It seems clear that by this time, William is living full time in Stratford, which of course he may have been all along, any evidence of a life in London proof only of occasional forays. Nothing other than the title connects these poems with William, with his life, or with any known relationships he may have had, most particularly with whomever it was for whom the sonnets were so obviously written.

*1613: March 10: “Wm. Shakspere” signs an indenture conveying to him and two others an old building known as the Blackfriars Gatehouse, formerly the entrance to the old Blackfriars monastery, located on the opposite side of the Liberty from the theater building. The only connection with the King’s Men is the fact that John Hemmings is one of three who act as trustees for the deal, an elaborate arrangement that guaranteed that whatever benefits Shakespeare got while alive would shift to the trustees at his death and not be passed on to his family (Schoenbaum 223).

*1616: In his collected works, Jonson puts “William Shakespeare” first in a list of the “principal comedians,” all members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, who performed in his 1598 production of Every Man in His Humour, and along with mostly the same crew, in a list of “principal Tragedians” who performed in his 1603 Sejanus; no indication of which roles they played.

*1616: March 25: William “Shackspeare” signs his will with the 6th of the shaky signatures that remain the only evidence to date of his ability to wield a pen. In an interlineation are bequeathed to the three leading members of the King’s Men, John Hemmings, Richard Burbage, and Henry Condell, 28 shillings and 8 pence each “to buy them rings.” On April 25 he’s buried under a stone slab on the floor of the church.

1623: August: Anne Hathaway Shakspere dies and is buried near her husband in Trinity Church.

*1623: November 8. Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies is entered with the Stationers, and published shortly before or after. The engraved frontispiece by Martin Droeshout is presented as a portrait of the author. King’s Men actors and sharers Hemmings and Condell are presented as the publishers, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery as the dedicatees.

*1607: August 12. “Edward son of Edward Shackspeere Player base born” is buried in the cemetery of St. Giles without Cripplegate. Schoenbaum takes this to be the illegitimate son of William’s youngest brother Edmund (26). Schoenbaum claims an acting career for Edmund, for which this notice by the parish clerk appears to be the sole bit of evidence. Edmund himself died four months later, aged 28.

That’s it! Apart from his name on the title pages of published plays, there are only 21 documented uses of the name William Shakespeare that connect William of Stratford in any way (some extremely minor) with the world of the London theater, and, apart from the Meres book, every single one of these stems from a connection to the Lord Chamberlain’s/King’s Men. Ergo, the coverup was created by the Company at some point shortly after its formation. It was maintained by them over time by inserting mentions of him in their wills and themselves into his will. And it was finalized by them in 1623 with their publication of the First Folio.


2 thoughts on “Authorship timeline

    1. I have no explanation for this. Perhaps someday when the academics do the kind of archival research that we need, we’ll have the answer. Meanwhile, we’ll have to put it aside along with “our Roscius” on the book turned up by Paul Altrocchi, the Northumberland mss, and a dozen other minor mysteries. What we can do is continue to work with what we can be sure of. Sooner or later we’ll find a place for it, and if not, well, so be it. What we can’t do is to base some theory on it.

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