Where does the name “William Shakespeare” actually appear in the records?
Do you think that William’s name must be all over the place? Apart from title pages and a few legal documents related solely to property, all but one in Stratford, it appears only ten times in connection, sometimes at second or third hand, with the world of literature, and of those seven times, only three times is it connected in any close way with the world of the London theater.
1-1592: NOT the first use on a literary document: We’re told that the first appearance is in Robert Greene’s 1592 farewell pamphlet, Greene’s Groatsworth of Witte, where (so they claim) Shakespeare is referred to as “Shake-scene.” This is demonstrably not a reference to either William or the playwright, but to the popular actor and theater manager, Edward Alleyn.
2-1593: the first use on a literary document: his name first appears in what’s regarded as his first published work, Venus and Adonis, where, for some reason, it does not appear on the title page––which is where, by long tradition, the author’s name should appear––but on the following page under the dedication to the Earl of Southampton. Orthodoxy has no explanation for this anomaly, so the good professors simply ignore it.
3-1594: NOT the first use on a theatrical document: had William actually been a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s men at its formation in 1594 as is so often claimed, his name would be on some warrant listing the original members of the Company. A Crown company, they must have had a legal document drawn up that listed the names of all the sharers, but if such a document ever existed, it’s no longer extant, nor is there any reference to it in any other document. In fact we don’t know for certain who all the actors were who were actually members of the original LCMen because the first extant list is from 1598, and that wasn’t actually published until 1616 (Gurr Playing Companies, 280). In the weeks before the formation of the Company, early versions of several Shakespeare plays were registered, and published anonymously. The lack of a warrant plus the lack of a name on the published plays allows us to propose that the decision to use William’s name came some time after the company was formed.
4- 1595: first use in a theater-related document: in a Court record of March 1595 “Willm Shakespeare” is listed as one of three members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men as payees for a December performance at Court (Schoenbaum 136). The name, along with that of Richard Burbage, is in small letters while “Willm Kempe” is written large, Kempe being a well-known actor while Burbage was just starting his career. Although this is no guarantee that William was actually present, there is evidence that in 1595, rooms in the St. Helen’s theater district were rented in his name (see #6 below).
5-1598: second use on a theater-related document: in Frances Meres’s Wit’s Treasury, the name Shakespeare is set apart from the other writers mentioned by the length of his notice, and a list of 12 titles of his plays. This publication also works to distinguish him from the Earl of Oxford, who is tagged “best for comedy” in a list in which many of the writers are dead. 1598 is also when his plays begin to be published with versions of his name on the title pages, though variously spelled, but always with the e after Shak, thus requiring the London pronunciation: Shake––with a long a––spear.
6-1596-7: not directly related to the Theater: The name appears on tax rolls as having failed to pay tax on some property in the St. Helen’s parish in East London, where William must have been rooming. This is often amplified into him owning a house in London, but the small amount of the tax suggests that it was for some other kind of property, a room rental would make sense. His failure to pay such a small amount suggests that he did not spend much time in London. Having decamped without paying his share of the municipal taxes, it’s obvious he had no commitment to the community where he spent so little time. The only connection this has with the London Stage is that the St. Helen’s parish contains two of the city theater inns.
7-1603: third use on a Theater document: During King James’s progress through the nation he now ruled, he signed the warrant that made him the leading patron of the King’s Men, formerly the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Following the first name on the list, one Laurence Fletcher, a Scottish actor whose name never appears again, comes William Shakespeare, followed by the rest of the company. As a Company document, this warrant can easily be seen as necessary to maintain the legal fiction that William was an actor-sharer, similar to the listing of the never heard of again Laurence Fletcher.
8-1605: not directly related to the Theater: I include the possibility that William fathered the playwright William Davenant, born in late February, 1606, to the wife of the proprietor of the Crown Inn in Oxford, halfway point on the two-day journey from Stratford to London. It seems Davenant bragged that he was the illegitimate son of Shakespeare, which could well have been the stimulus for his theater career, which included among many other things, following Ben Jonson as Poet Laurette.
9-1612: not directly related to the Theater: The name plus one of the six signatures appears in a deposition filed with regard to a lawsuit known as the Mountjoy-Bellot suit. The Mountjoys were hairdressers and wig-makers with whom William roomed while in London at some point in 1604. Having been present during a particular family situation, he was later asked for a deposition to support one side of the argument, which he obviously avoided doing. When asked for a second depostion he failed to appear (Schoenbaum 210). I include this simply because it shows he had business in London, although there is no obvious connection to the theatrical or publishing communities, unless, possibly, that the Mountjoys supplied wigs to the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. But why would the playwright who was making the Company one of the most lucrative corporations in London be rooming with a wigmaker before returning to Stratford during the period of his plays greatest success, when other successful members of the acting community were investing in property and leaving their names in documents related to community activities in London?
10-1613: not directly related to the Theater: the name and another of the six signatures are on the Blackfriars’ Gatehouse deed. This is a very weak connection, since the only thing that connects this to the London Stage is the fact that one of the trustees (those who will continue to benefit after William is dead) is John Hemmings, business manager of the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s company. Otherwise neither the gatehouse nor either of the other investors have any known connection with the Stage. The Liberty of Blackfriars where the gatehouse was located contained dozens of residents and businesses unconnected with the theater. As the business manager of the LCMen, Hemmings would have been the person to deal with the real author’s proxy, arrange for places for him to stay when in London, arrange for payment of his stipend, etc.
After 400 plus years of digging through archives, these are the only records of William Shakspere of Stratford’s presence in London during the period that the plays with his name on them were making millions for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, other references being to the author of the plays. Considering the popularity of those plays, it’s simply not enough.
We know a great deal about Ben Jonson whose plays were much less popular, and at something about Christopher Marlowe, although his career was so short. Why do we know nothing about the man who supposedly wrote the most popular plays of all? Orthodoxy has no explanation for this.