Any way you come at the question, William is not the answer.
Why no writer’s profile?
What great writer, once having hit their stride, gives it all up to return to a hometown far from the mainstream of their success to busy themselves with land deals and penny ante lawsuits? How many great writers from any time period leave no evidence of their writing in holographs of their works or letters to friends and colleagues? What great writer’s signatures look like the scribbles of a five-year-old just learning how to sign his own name?
In the profile of the literary genius as detailed by Psychologist Prof. Ellen Winner in her book Gifted Children, Myths and Realities, based on years of clinical studies and the biographies of many of the world’s great artists and writers, there is no sign of anything remotely resembling the real (as opposed to imagined) biography of William of Stratford?
Why no presence as a writer in either Stratford or London?
When William’s biography is reduced to the bare facts, all that’s left is what one would find in the biography of any of his Stratford neighbors, except perhaps the mysterious source of his family’s sudden affluence in the early ’90s. His presence in Stratford is far from exceptional in any way, and in London, the site of his supposed great success, it barely registers at all. As Ramon Jiménez shows, no Stratford neighbor, no fellow poet, playwright or London playgoer, ever mentioned William as a successful playwright and popular poet. What traces he left are of the most mundane and emphemeral sort, records of short stays at rented rooms, an anecdote of a fling at an inn en route to and from Stratford, taxes unpaid, a deposition fudged, worse, a reputation in his hometown as a hoarder in time of famine (Schoenbaum 179) and, most anomalous of all, an encloser of ancient common lands––all very strange when compared with the profile of the author that emerges from the plays and poems published under his name. It is astonishing how his biographers wink at this reality, or tart it up with adjectives like “prudent” and “businesslike,” or with caveats like Schoenbaum’s “we need not wonder . . . .” Why not? He doesn’t say.
In Volume II of his extremely useful book, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems (1930), E.K. Chambers details in chronological order what he terms “contemporary allusions” (186 et seq). Those who study Shakespeare are familiar with most of them because they are so few. That they are so scarce should seem odd, considering how popular he was––that is, how popular his plays were––and how important to the actors who made fortunes from them. In his own way, Chambers has added an important testimony to the accumulating evidence that no one in London but the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, or anyone at all in Stratford, saw William as having any connection with the plays of Shakespeare.
Why no image?
Leaving out the portraits of writers like Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, Francis Bacon, Michael Harrington, and Walter Raleigh––as courtiers, they would have had their portraits painted for that reason alone––we have good images of most of the other writers of his time. We have high quality oil portraits of Ben Jonson and John Fletcher, good quality portraits of John Donne and Michael Drayton, and even one of that elusive genius, Christopher Marlowe, most miraculously salvaged. There are even decent portraits of most of the leading actors of the day. Why then no good image of the greatest of them all?
Neither the cartoonish engraving that fronts the First Folio nor the bust that Mark Twain once compared to a bladder, comes anywhere close, either in substantive provenance or in sheer believability, to these genuine images. If we add to these Jonson’s character in Every man Out, the buffoon Sogliardo that is so easily identified with William in his interactions with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, we have a pretty sorry figure for the man the orthodox would like us to regard as the creator of the world’s leading language. Too sorry.
Why such a mystery?
These and dozens of other facts show that the truth about Shakespeare is cloaked in mystery. Why has he been so hard to pin down? The only possible answer is that for some reason, he was hidden on purpose, either by himself or by others.
There is no reason in the world why William of Stratford should have been so shy about revealing himself. In fact, even if he was, he could not have escaped notoriety, for although there were no yellow rags in those days, no tabloids or papparazzi, were he the real author of the most popular plays of his time he could not have escaped the scandalmongers, balladeers, and tavern wits whose anecdotes inevitably found their way into letters and journals. (Actually, if, as seems likely, we see his satirical portrait in Jonson’s Sogliardo, he didn’t escape altogether, and there still may be unidentified squibs in some of the satires and epigrams by other 17th-century satirists like Marston and Hall.)
That there is nothing, or rather nothing that makes sense, tells us that this mystery goes a great deal deeper than the orthodox have wished to dig. Whoever the true author was, he was, unlike the lowly Stratford entrepreneur, someone with the power to hide himself. And where did he hide? Behind William’s remarkably punnable name. And how did he hide? Through the chicanery of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. And how did they find him? Most likely through the publisher of the ground-breaking narrative poem Venus and Adonis, William’s Stratford neighbor, Richard Field.