Taylor: How did Oxford connect with William of Stratford?
Hughes: Behind the concept of “Ockham’s razor,” which refers to the cutting away of all that isn’t central to the core of circumstance in hopes that’s what’s left will be the truth, there is the idea of simplification. This corresponds to the belief that the more elegant a theory, the more likely it is to be true, elegance being closely allied with simplicity. I believe that the following scenario is both elegant (it uses style as a major clue) and simple (timing of events fits perfectly).
First set of fact clusters:
Cluster 1.1: Fact: The dedication page of Venus and Adonis, published May 1593, is the first time the name William Shakespeare appears in connection with a work of literature based in London. Fact: the subject and style are similar to that of the pamphleteer Robert Greene, who, nine months earlier, claimed to be dying as he penned his final pamphlet, Greene’s Groatsworth of Witte. Conclusion: due to the similaties in style, there might be a connection between the two events, Greene’s departure and the advent of William Shakespeare, via a poem that shared much of style and content with the pamphlets Greene had been publishing for ten years, stopping abruptly 9 months earlier?
Cluster 1.2: Fact: the death of Greene was reportedly due to “a surfeit of pickle herring.” Fact: Pickle-herring is a traditional name for a German clown, similar to Petrushka in Russia, Harlequin in France, and Punch in England. If this has any meaning at all it must be that Robert Greene (the name, not the man) died of an overdose of foolery. Conclusion: Robert Greene was a pen-name or a stand-in for a hidden author, one who engaged in foolery.
Cluster 1.3: Fact: In 1593, 29-year-old William of Stratford, a man with no evidence of education or any previous experience with writing, publishing, or the Stage, or with a life lived anywhere but the market town of Stratford (2 days from London by horse, 4 by foot). Fact: there is no evidence either then or later than anyone in Stratford or London ever connected William, during his own lifetime, with publishing or the Stage. Fact: The style of Venus and Adonis is that of an accomplished writer, one of the most accomplished that ever lived.
Conclusion: William of Stratford could not have written Venus and Adonis.
Conclusion of set: William of Stratford did not write Venus and Adonis. It might have been written by the writer, who, due to a surfeit of foolery, had ceased writing as Robert Greene 9 months earlier, and was now using William’s name.
Second set of clusters
Cluster 2.1: Fact: Venus and Adonis was printed in May 1593 by Richard Field. Fact: Richard Field’s hometown was Stratford-on-Avon.
Fact: his father’s tannery was 2 blocks from the Shakspere family woolshop.
Fact: his father and William’s father were business colleagues (Schoenbaum 27).
Fact: In 1579 Richard was apprenticed to Thomas Vautrollier, London printer.
Fact: Vautrollier’s printshop was located in the Liberty of Blackfriars.
Fact: by 1588 Field had married Vautrollier’s widow and taken over the printshop.
Conclusion: The printer Richard Field was in a position to suggest his neighbor’s name to the author of the book he was printing, Venus and Adonis, if that author was the same one who had been using the now defunct name Robert Greene.
Cluster 2.2: Fact: Oxford was one of the primary producers of Court entertainment in the 1570s. Fact: Until April 1584, Oxford or one of his colleagues held the lease on the apartment in the western range of the old priory in the Liberty of Blackfriars where the leading Children’s company of actors was based. Fact: The size and shape of the Liberty of Blackfriars puts the printshop and the theater within a short walk of each other during the period that Oxford was involved with the Children’s companies and that Robert Greene was writing for the Queen’s Men. Conclusion: Due to the proximity of their workshops (and let us not forget, the small size of their community) Oxford and Field could easily have been closely involved in matters of translating and publishing important books.
Third set of fact clusters
Cluster 3.1: Fact: first Vautrollier then Field produced a number of texts known now as sources for Shakespeare, among them Ovid’s version of the V&A story in the original Latin (1582) as well as Ovid’s Fasti (1574), source of Lucrece, the second published appearance (in 1594) of the name Shakespeare (1594).
Fact: Based on a number of factors, Oxford is now seen as the leading candidate for authorship of the Shakespeare canon.
Fact: The English version of Ovid’s V&A story was translated by Oxford’s uncle during the period before 1565-’67 when they were living together at Cecil House.
Fact: in 1566, Oxford’s tutor listed Ovid’s Fasti in the original Latin in his library. Conclusion: Oxford’s candidacy for authorship of V&A is strong.
Final assembly of fact clusters:
Conclusions from the first cluster: First: due to the similaties in style, there may be a connection between the two events, Robert Greene’s supposed death and the publication of Venus and Adonis 9 months later. Second: Robert Greene was a pen-name or a stand-in for a hidden author, one who engaged in foolery. Third: William of Stratford could not have written V&A. It may have been written by the writer who had been using Robert Greene as a pen-name.
Conclusions from the second cluster: First: The printer Richard Field was in a position to suggest his neighbor’s name to the author of the book he was printing, Venus and Adonis, if that author was the same one who had been using the name Robert Greene. Second: Due to the proximity of their workshops, Oxford and Field could easily have been in communication.
Conclusions from the third cluster: Based on his connections with the original Latin of Ovid’s versions of the V&A and Lucrece stories, Oxford’s authorship of Venus and Adonis (and the rest of Shakespeare) is strengthened.
Scenario based on the above fact structure: With the “death” of Robert Greene, Oxford was in need of another cover, which was provided him by the man who printed Venus and Adonis for him, nine months after Greene’s demise. The printer, Richard Field, who knew Oxford from some years of doing business with him within the Blackfriars community (selling him books, possibly even turning to him for difficult translations, bits of editing, etc.), set it up so that, for a donation to the Shakspere family coffers Oxford could use the name of Field’s hometown contemporary. (The donation was made the Lord Chamberlain’s Men since by then, Oxford was no longer in a position to make donations.)
A year later, William having proven capable of keeping his mouth shut, another deal was made, this time with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a deal that provided the newly-created Crown company with a cover for their company playwright, while the Shakspere family was set on the path to solvency. There’s more to the story than this, of course (there always is), but this is the core of it.
I regret the rather tedious format, but although these are facts, this is history we’re doing here, not math, so watertight equations are not an option.
For a narrative view, see Enter Richard Field.