Notes Towards an Elizabethan Twelfth Night


Allowed Fools: Notes Towards An Elizabethan Twelfth Night


©1996 by Charles Boyle

David Bevington has written that Elizabethan courtiers were trained to read plays allegorically. Their Age was epoch-making and Shakespeare had a great feel for people and politics. Of course all court entertainment had a political intent, even if only to impress the mind of the Prince, but along with flattery could come some highly pointed comment, what the Elizabethans called wit. In the introduction to Troilus and Cressida it is claimed Shakespeare’s was so sharp that he, like Falstaff, could provoke wit in others. He was so funny he made you smarter just to get him. But the courtier had to “get the metaphor” to get the hidden meaning and the humor which, judging by his popularity, Shakespeare provided in abundance. His contemporaries must have roared. But why should they have all the fun?

One wonders not so much how his theater looked as how it felt. Certainly there were real-life forces that deeply shaped what was written and how it was delivered on the stage. The author as he wrote heard the tone of a line, a word. In the beginning there was a reality. Any attempt to recapture that original humor, the insights that made his first audience laugh, can only be gained by learning to think not only like an Elizabethan, but indeed like that most original of Elizabethans, Shakespeare.

In this regard the new historicism continues to make discoveries that inspire further research. In her new book, Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England, Donna Hamilton, “rejects the notion that the official censorship of the day prevented the stage from representing contemporary debates.” She believes the author positioned his writing politically in ways that had much in common with the Essex-Southampton-Pembroke group, representing the interests of those aristocrats who were liberal but Catholic-leaning, still upholding the virtues of chivalry and feudalism. Hamilton’s analysis of Twelfth Night offers much that illuminates an Elizabethan reading of this almost perfect comedy of manners.

It was played for the first time we know of on February 2, 1602 at Middle Temple, an inn of court, and as such “a place away from (the Royal) court that had a well-established and thus protected tradition of giving plays…that mocked government practices.” A safe haven for allowed fools. The plot of the play is organized “around a woman and her household – a woman whose reclusivity and passivity are among her chief characteristics. Appearing near the end of the reign of Elizabeth, a reign that had grown increasingly repressive, and appearing as well within the month of the first anniversary of the execution of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, Twelfth Night encompasses the anxieties of this later time.”

It is sufficient to suppose the author had some as yet undetected but intimate connection with the Essex/Southampton circle, for clearly his subject and his inspiration is—as in Sidney, Spenser and Lyly—Queen Elizabeth and her Court.

This idea can be used as the concept for an Elizabethan production of the text, affecting not only period costumes, music and dance, but an Elizabethan sensibility as well.

For instance, having identified Olivia with the Queen, Hamilton further observes a “distinguishing feature of the play’s language of suing and love is the way in which love conventions are shaped to emphasize Olivia’s (and Elizabeth’s) reclusiveness.” She adds that the suing of Olivia and the scapegoating of the puritan Malvolio as plots “interrogate the `household’ as a model for the state.”

It must be remembered that in this state the government literally was a household. Most of the people around Elizabeth were related to her by blood. The secretaries to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, her most powerful minister, were private servants of his household, not public officials. What officials there were conceived themselves as servants to the Queen, the Royal House of Tudor.

Ever since Henry VIII’s break with Rome the Tudor Dynasty had grown increasingly adamant about forcing the Anglican brand of Catholicism on the population. The situation for anyone who did not pledge allegiance to the state Church of England was very dangerous. Heresy and treason had come to mean the same thing. Yet many yearned for the old, true Church, still others for a Puritanism that dispensed altogether with obedience to any hierarchy or class-system, save that of the prosperous and the saved. Members of these Puritan churches even proposed to elect their own leaders. The Queen and her government, her household, closely allied to the Cecils, felt threatened on one side by those who might bow first to Rome and on the other by English believers who questioned the value of any earthly crown.

New men like Cecil and Leicester had risen on the spoils of the Tudor destruction of the monasteries. Perhaps more Puritan than Anglican in their actions, they were discovering in a national church and monarchy a marvelous mechanism for economic and political control of the county. The old aristocracy, for whom Shakespeare so often speaks, were mainly Catholic at heart, the faith of their forefathers, and the more spiritual among them abhorred both the religious and political absolutism of the new Tudor order and the naked materialism of its upstart adherents. These class tensions are present in Twelfth Night, particularly in the household reaction to Malvolio’s wooing of Olivia. If she is the Queen, who might he be?

This pompous steward can be identified as a caricature of Sir Christopher Hatton, who was Elizabeth’s steward and did, indeed, woo her. His manner was so fawning and obsequious – the Queen called him her “Sheep” or “Mutton” – that some courtiers found him both hypocritical and ridiculous. Having caught her Majesty’s eye by displaying a well-turned calf in a galliard, he was known forever after as the “Dancing Chancellor”. A leg of mutton is referred to slyly by Toby as he encourages Aguecheek to dance his way into Olivia’s heart (I. iii). Hatton’s poesy was identified by Gabriel Harvey as “Fortunatus infoelix”, which in English is “The Fortunate Unhappy.” So does Maria sign a letter intended to project Malvolio’s vain hopes onto Olivia. Apparently Tobey and Maria (and Shakespeare) found such a commoner truly a fool to believe his Mistress would ever stoop to marry him.

How intensely personal this all is to Elizabeth can be discovered by unraveling the most famous business of the show, the abhorred yellow stockings Malvolio sports to woo his fair Olivia. To get the full import of this little jest one must know some history. Lacey Baldwin Smith reports in Henry VIII, The Mask of Royalty:

“Word of Catherine of Aragon’s death was celebrated with a masque, banquet and ball where Henry, cross-gartered in yellow hose, danced the night away with Anne Boleyn.”

Later Elizabeth’s father had her mother Anne beheaded for adultery. Such was the lot of a King’s wife. After the execution the Court was in turmoil. Should they mourn or rejoice? No one knew. As always, they would take their cue from the King. That night, his new paramour on his arm, he appeared before them, dressed head to toe in resplendent canary yellow. Now the modern reader may wish to dismiss this as so much coincidence, but it is difficult to imagine Queen Elizabeth doing so. Nor any of her Court. The mockery is blatant:

You want to win this Mistress? Wear yellow. She loves a suitor in yellow hose, and cross-gartered, too. Brings back old memories.

For the actor—or reader—the practical effect of understanding these jokes is that it gives the characters more subtext, more reality. These insights can make a player believe more deeply in the world of the play. So often in productions of Shakespeare, both professional and amateur, one gets the feeling that the actors don’t quite believe they are playing real people. These scripts are mere fictions, we are sometimes told, written for money, dreamed out of airy nothing or revived from history—but never taken from the life at hand.

This vacuum at the core can make an actors search for motive, for the author’s intended point, needlessly uncertain. In the case of Twelfth Night it can make the spine of the show harder to find.

If, for instance, Olivia is the Queen and Malvolio Hatton, who is the nervy fool, Feste? R. G. Gervinus once observed, “No other of Shakespeare’s fools is so conscious of his superiority as this one…”

Now the clowns in Shakespeare may be stupid or sly but the Fools are fools for telling the truth. Yet they are often played as silly, ingratiating sorts, spinning round in a world of their own, orbiting the main action, almost peripheral. But a Shakespearean Fool should avoid that kind of thinking and see himself instead as more akin to Mercutio or Hamlet – who plays his own Fool in lonely Elsinore. Like Touchstone in As You Like It, this Fool is clearly a courtier and bohemian aristocrat who plays the fool only when it suits him.

This view has the theatrical affect of making him a far more pointed and dangerous character and explains why everyone, even his Mistress and the Duke, tolerates his cutting sarcasm. When Olivia is understood as Elizabeth it further sharpens the edge of her “allowed fool”.

For instance, Sir Andrew remarks during some late night carousing (II. iii) that the Fool was “in very gracious fooling last night, when thou spok’st of Pigrogromitus, of the Vapians passing the equinoctial of Queubus, ’twas very good…”

No one purports to know what these lines mean but the capitalized words are described in the Arden notes as “extravagant invented names, recalling Rabelais but not found in his writing. Since `the equinotical’ means the celestial equator, Queubus may be an alphabetical sequel to Phoebus, the sun.” The Q, then, could signify Queen. Phoebus is the king, Queubus the Queen. There is a contemporary portrait of Elizabeth in which she wears a map of the world as her gown. Remember also the ribald likening of a woman’s body to the earth that is the subject of extended punning in A Comedy of Errors (where Hamilton locates Elizabeth in Adriana, the suspicious wife, the church, the queen):

“In what part of her body stands Ireland?” “Marry, sir, in her buttocks, I found it out by the bogs.”

If one has a Rabelaisian sense of humor the image of Phoebus’ rays shooting below the Queen’s equator begins to emerge. It’s a daring jest and certainly not one to be made lightly. But the insiders at this table laugh, though one now suspects Aguecheek wouldn’t get the metaphor here any better than he will Olivia’s C’s, U’s and T’s. (Did Elizabeth laugh so hard at this she made one of her great P’s?)

More pertaining to her Majesty follows.

After Malvolio discharges his sanctimonious tirade at the revelers, Sir Toby asks:

Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?

The Fool caps it with:

Yes, by Saint Anne, and ginger shall be hot i’ th’ mouth too!

Ginger, often used to spice ale, was then believed to be an aphrodisiac. “Hot in the mouth” has obvious connotations. But who is Saint Anne? She is invoked here and only once else in the canon, by lucky Christopher Sly.

Saint Anne was mother to the Madonna as Anne Boleyn was mother to the Virgin Queen. Anne’s cult, aimed at aiding maids find husbands, had been derided during the English Reformation. Anne Boleyn, who found herself Harry, was out of favor too.

Throughout the play the Fool seems to be having fun with the legend of her Majesty’s chastity, celebrated by all her court poets in the national myth of a Virgin Queen, the Anglican answer to Rome’s Mary. It is remarkable that in all of Shakespeare the word “madonna” is used only by this Fool and only when he is addressing Olivia. Such emphasis from such a character can only be intended as ironic.

So who is this Fool? Who would dare?

During the Howard-Arundel affair of 1581 Henry Howard, in a letter to the Queen, claimed Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford, had boasted that he had “abused and polluted almost all the noble women of account in England.” When the Queen commanded Howard provide her with a full explanation of this allegation, he wrote that Oxford’s “lavish and untamed tongue hath…vaunted of some favors from your Majesty which I dare take mine oath upon the sacred Testament were never yet imparted unto any man that lived on this earth…The particulars till this day never passed from my lips, nor never shall, I do protest, before I may deliver them unto that sacred ear…”

Howard would not commit to paper the “particulars” of his charge that Oxford had “vaunted” of sexual “favors” from the Queen. Had he done so it is unlikely the letter would have survived. Here he merely hints at what he would save for the singular hearing of the Queen’s sacred ear. For a “lavish and untamed tongue” is the tongue of a fool.

Oxford was known as a great wit, a poet and patron of players during the reign of Elizabeth. Shortly before these charges, according to one court observer, he had been “superlative in her favor”. Gabriel Harvey had once compared him to Phoebus in her presence, declaring the god had “cultivated thy mind in the arts.” Even the seemingly fantastic “Pigrogromitus” can be read as a pun on one of his nicknames around court, “the Boar”, or in this case, the great boar.

There is an amusing story in John Aubrey about Oxford which may be apocryphal but is still very telling. It seemed that one day, making his low obeisance before her Majesty, poor Oxford broke a blaring trumpet of wind. Mortified, he withdrew from Court and traveled on the Continent for seven years. Upon returning the Queen smiled in welcome and reassured him, “I have quite forgot the fart.”

Oxford did travel on the Continent, but not for seven years, and no doubt the Queen could never forget so memorable a breech in Court decorum. But knowing Oxford, one is tempted to read this passing of wind by the metaphor, as it were, for the wind of words, which can also cause a stink.

An allowed Fool must have his fun.

Yet through it all Oxford was always more or less protected by the Queen, barred from most responsibility but indulged with a grant of a thousand pounds a year and thrown in the Tower only briefly, and that for getting a child out of wedlock by one of her Maids of Honor. He got away with a lot. According to Elizabeth Jenkins in Elizabeth the Great he twice refused – without rebuke – a command from the Queen’s lips to dance for some French ambassadors. She compares his self-centeredness to Hamlet’s. Certainly the boast of having slept with her has been attributed to no other Elizabethan. And he was known to have had a rivalry with Hatton over the Queen’s favors.

So it would seem Oxford was, at least in part, Shakespeare’s model for the Fool.

This concept even answers technical questions as when the Fool exits in the carousing scene, which is not marked in the text. This Fool would not be one who hangs around to be included. He has other matters to attend to. With his innuendo on Saint Anne, thumbing his nose at Malvolio, he bids them all adieu.

And productions that conflate the characters of the Fool and Fabian only hurt the integrity of both. They are very different people. Fabian’s language has the habitual imagery of a sadistic bully, the perfect setup for his final nervous confession to his furious Mistress, where he starts out bravely and ends up fingering every one but himself. The Fool, on the other hand, is not intimidated by anyone, certainly not by his Mistress.

Pursuing the logic of these assumptions leads to the unspoken heart of Twelfth Night, the love, indeed the secret bond, existing between Olivia and her Fool. Once detected, this insight finds support throughout the play.

There is only one moment in Twelfth Night when Olivia and the Fool are alone on stage together. (I. v.) Malvolio has been sniping at the Fool in front of an amused and encouraging Olivia in what should now be a scene crackling with sexual energy. The Fool breezily gets the best of the suppressed, infuriated Puritan. But after Malvolio exits in a huff, Olivia turns on her Fool. “Now you see, sir, how your fooling grows old, and people dislike it!”

He snaps back:

Thou hast spoke for us, madonna, as if thy eldest son should be a fool: whose skull Jove cram with brain…

This moment, in which a family relationship is suddenly invoked, can be played with the abrupt, violent intensity of a domestic spat. There is no question of Olivia being coolly in charge here or the Fool smoothly agreeable. In an instant they are at each others throats…and on the entrance of a third party they are as instantly apart.

Though Olivia acts the ice princess in public, her veil is dropped in other private moments and we are allowed to see the lust-crazed being within. The mark of her majesty is how quickly she reverts to her regal role. “Will you be ruled by me?” she asks the bedazzled Sebastian, for these are her marriage terms.

This sort of analysis affects the tone of the play right down to individual line readings. When Viola, who is openly loved by Olivia, runs into the Fool (III, i) he delivers a series of sarcastic observations on the manners, morals and hypocrisies of their society.

“I warrant thou art a merry fellow, and car’st for nothing,” Viola remarks.

“Not so, sir,” he replies. “I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you: if that be to care for nothing, sir, I would it would make you invisible.”

Initially the actor playing the Fool might put the emphasis on “invisible”, which could work, making the meaning merely that he wished Viola would disappear, be gone. But that reading offers no explanation as to why the Fool, who can be very good-natured, is suddenly so insulting to Viola, one of the most sympathetic characters in the play. (Hamilton notes that “Viola and Sebastian can be read as types of the incarnate Christ…”) Is the Fool simply being a jerk? What’s his problem?

But put the emphasis on the “you” preceding “invisible” and there is a clear subtext, “I would that you were invisible, just as I am.” Now the actor has a motive for this Fool’s behavior that is consistent with an overall concept.

The problem of this impervious Virgin Queen and her enforcement of the Tudor state religion by the ruthless silencing of all discussion is present later in the play as well. In the Elizabethan Review Richard Desper has pointed out that the mock trial scene (IV, ii) works as a parody of the government persecution of Catholic martyrs.

“The playwright,” he writes, “demonstrates for us a world turned upside down, with clowns passing themselves off as men of learning, while men of learning such as Campion are pressed to deny what they believe to be true to serve political ends.”

Campion is the “old hermit of Prague” set before a “niece of King Gorboduc” i.e. a mythic king of England, as Elizabeth would have been to Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur, who died before becoming King Arthur. On trial for his life, without even pen and ink to defend himself, the hermit answers her demand for supremacy “very wittily” with the statement, “That that is is.”

This is connected to God’s declaration of his name to Moses, “I am that I am.” Shakespeare uses this exact phrase of himself in Sonnet 121, as does Oxford in a private letter declaring his independence from his prying father-in-law, Lord Burghley. These links between Oxford, Shakespeare and the Fool can also be made to Essex and Southampton and their struggle to win respect for individual conscience and the individual’s singular link with the one Creator.

The hermit, Desper continues, “is not the Creator, thus, he renders the phrase in the third person, declaring that God Is, because He Is; he owes his existence to no earthly agency, certainly to no King or Queen.”

Even Sir Walter Raleigh once protested a government bill that would exclude Brownists from orthodoxy. “What danger may grow to ourselves if this Law pass…” he asked, “For it is to be feared, that men not guilty, will be included in it.”

In his persecution of Malvolio the Fool is showing how these unfair legal tactics might be turned on anyone. In its biting satire it is really a plea for mercy and justice, as Hamilton argues:

“Shakespeare focuses not on Puritanism or on madness or on exorcism, but on the extent to which authority will fabricate in order to protect itself, thus laying bare the strategies of containment, suppression, demonizing, and scapegoating that the ecclesiastical officials had been using…by implication, against all nonconformists.”

Malvolio is a sort of Puritan as Shylock is a kind of Jew – and Shylock seems half Puritan really, reminiscent, like Hamlet’s Polonius, of Lord Burghley. These characters are fellows of the Cecil-Walsingham-Hatton faction, the new men who believed by their very faith in the principal of money making money.

The Fool, alive to some deep feudal sympathy, is ambivalent about schemes that so obviously work, yet by their very nature tend towards a materialism that would devour the core and soul of human relationships. Orlando, too, speaks to this fear with Adam in As You Like It. Another dispossessed outsider, he dreads some future age when society will be forced to worship the values of the marketplace above all else.

Yet in his generous heart Shakespeare knows Malvolio must be included, somehow, in the new order or civil war will tear the household apart.

But we never see that reconciliation. When the humiliated Puritan stalks off, vowing vengeance on the whole laughing pack of aristocrats, the author’s prophetic soul may well have been dreaming on the coming of Cromwell.

Many critics (and productions) have dismissed the song that closes Twelfth Night as practically irrelevant to the play. It is sung by the Fool alone on stage after all the happy couples have departed. The opening verse goes:

When that I was and a little tiny boy
With hey ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Leslie Hotson interpreted this as ribaldry directed to a moral end, noting that “thing” would have a phallic meaning in this context. For him the whole song served as a warning against loose living. The third verse is interesting:

But when I came, alas, to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Why should the Fool sing this song? A song the Fool in Lear will echo. What does it mean to him? Charles Knight called it “the most philosophical Clown’s song upon the record…and the conclusion is, that what is true of the individual is true of the species…”

The lyric describes a wife who broke her husband’s pride. In Lear the Fool asks why his King has bared his behind and handed the rod to his daughters. So often in Shakespeare a woman gains the upper hand. One can hear in the Fool’s incessant refrain a deliberate punning of “reign” on “rain”. Only a “reign” can “reign” every day. It is Elizabeth again. She who claimed the whole of England as her spouse.

But her last great favorite was Essex.

Essex, known to history as a great fool, also represented, according to Hamilton, an extreme of openness and tolerance that her authoritarian reign found intolerable. He and Southampton headed the last rebellion of the old aristocracy. They were abandoned and destroyed by the Queen. Both she and England would live to rue her victory.

As Patrick Collinson observed, “There can be little doubt that if Essex rather than Cecil had conducted the king into his English inheritance, the outlook for the puritan would have been somewhat brighter.”

Bright enough, perhaps, to avert a bloody civil war, among other miseries.

Shakespeare was with the young nobles in spirit and they were with him. A performance of Richard II (where even Elizabeth later declared, “Know ye not. I am Richard!”) was arranged by members of the Essex\Southampton faction on the eve of their ill- fated Rebellion.

In a world where every public act contained a political message it is significant to note that February second, the date of the Middle Temple performance of Twelfth Night, or What You Will, marked the first anniversary of the Queen’s beheading of Essex. February second is also Candlemas, the Feast Day of the Purification of Our Lady.

So the Fool that night might have the last word, but he would have it alone. In history fools count for nothing, might is all. Poets can be the invisible souls of their age, but those ages take their name from kings and queens.

This knowledge can open great depths of feeling in any actor who plays the Fool. The closing song, sung alone, can mean something individual and real to the abandoned singer, sharing his summing up with his eternal audience.

We listen, for the Fool knows why he sings.


David Bevington, Tudor Drama and Politics, Harvard University Press, 1968.
Patrick Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967,1992.
Richard Desper, The Elizabethan Review, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1995, p.37-47.
Donna Hamilton, Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England, University Press of Kentucky, 1992.
Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1958.
Lacey Baldwin Smith, Henry VIII, The Mask of Royalty, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1971

The Problem of The Funeral Elegy

©by Joseph Sobran

News item: With the aid of computers, scholars are attributing a poem titled “A Funeral Elegy,” published in 1612 and signed “W.S.,” to William Shakespeare.

“Well, Holmes,” I said, laying down the morning paper, “have you seen the report of the newly discovered ‘Funeral Elegy’ by Shakespeare?”

“I have heard something about it,” Sherlock Holmes replied. “But I confess I have not given it my full attention. Perhaps, my dear Watson, you will be so kind as to enlighten me.”

“An American scholar named Donald Foster, who found the poem, has determined, with the aid of modern computer methods, that it closely matches the style of Shakespeare.” Here I am afraid I yielded to the temptation to gloat at my old companion’s expense. “If he is right, Holmes, it certainly explodes your strange notion that the Earl of Oxford was the real author.”

“Indeed?” he said with mild surprise, but without removing the pipe from his mouth.

“Oh, most certainly. You see, the poem was written in 1612. Having been dead for eight years, my lord of Oxford could hardly have written it.”

“My understanding is that the Elegy was published in 1612. That is a different matter. It may actually have been written many years earlier.”

I shook my head. “Impossible, Holmes. The subject of the Elegy is a young man named William Peter, who was murdered near Exeter in January of 1612. The poem was registered for publication three weeks later by Thomas Thorpe, who was also the publisher of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.”

“There is no chance of a mistake?”

“I am afraid not. The title page makes it quite clear that Peter is the deceased man, and the poem indirectly confirms the fact.”


“It contains an oblique play on the name Peter, calling him ‘friendship’s rock.’ Peter, of course, is from the Greek word for ‘rock,’ petros.”

“Apart from the poem itself, what else has been learned of this Peter?”

“Professor Foster has ascertained that he was twenty-nine at the time of his murder, and had been married three years. He had been a student at Oxford, where he probably met Shakespeare. The professor points out that Shakespeare must have passed through Oxford frequently while travelling between London and Stratford.”

“Surely he does not suggest that Shakespeare matriculated at Oxford?”

“Certainly not. Even an American could hardly suppose such a thing.”

“I am relieved,” Holmes smiled, taking up his violin and sawing casually on it. He was silent for a few minutes. I resumed the attack.

“I must say, Holmes,” I gibed, “I have always wondered how you could adhere to the snobbish belief that the real author of Shakespeare’s works must have been an earl. The truth is common sense itself. There is no need to posit mystery or conspiracy. Shakespeare was neither an earl, nor Francis Bacon, nor Christopher Marlowe; Shakespeare was Shakespeare. We have the testimony of those who knew the man himself; the scholars are unanimous; and now modern science has confirmed what nobody should have questioned.”

“Quite so, Watson. No doubt you are perfectly right.”

He continued improvising melodies, allowing me to savor my victory. It was not every day that Sherlock Holmes admitted defeat. At length he laid the violin down and spoke again.

“You say that young Peter was murdered in January, 1612?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “On January 25.”

“He was married?”

“For three years.”

“Did he have children?”

“None are mentioned”

“And the Elegy was registered for publication shortly after his death?”

“Yes. Nineteen days afterward.”

“In Exeter?”

“In London, of course.”

“Oh dear,” said Holmes, with a faint hint of mock alarm.

“Why not? All Shakespeare’s works were published in London.”

“And to whom is the poem dedicated?”

“To Peter’s brother, John Peter.”

“So the poem was presented to him before it was published?”

“I don’t know. The newspapers say nothing about that.”

“But presumably an elegy about a friend would be presented to the family before it was sent to the publisher, especially if it was dedicated to a member of the family.”

“Perhaps. There seems to be no positive evidence on the point.”

“And where was Shakespeare in 1612? In London?”

“The scholars believe that he had retired to Stratford.”


I felt a twinge of uneasiness. “What are you driving at, Holmes? Do you find something amiss? The story seems quite straight forward to me.”

“Tell me, Watson, were the trains reliable in Shakespeare’s day?”

“There were no trains in Shakespeare’s day. Don’t be silly.”

“But there must have been trains in Shakespeare’s day.”

“Really, Holmes! What is the point of this absurdity?”

“Absurdity, Watson? I should call it iron logic. We have already established that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the Elegy. From this it follows, by the simplest deduction, that he must have availed himself of modern means of transportation. How many times must I remind you, Watson,” he sighed, “that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

I was speechless.

“Young Peter, a gentleman of no great rank or renown, was killed on the night of January 25 in an obscure village near Exeter, over a hundred and fifty miles from both Stratford and London. Yet within three weeks, several events had occurred. Let us take them in order. The news reached the remote town in Warwickshire where Shakespeare lived. Shakespeare, shocked and grieved, hastily wrote an elegy of some length, which he took or, let us concede, sent to Peter’s family. He then sent a second copy of the poem to a publisher in London, some ninety miles from Stratford, who decided to publish it immediately. In order for all this to be achieved, the actors in this little drama must have been moving at extraordinary velocities. It could not have happened without modern vehicles. The alternative is to suppose that Exeter and Stratford were nearer to London in those days.”

“The sequence you describe,” I said stubbornly, “however improbable, was not physically impossible.”

“Even assuming you are right, what would be the hurry?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why would a publisher want to rush to the presses with a poem about a man nobody in London had ever heard of? It was rare for the writers of elegies and the reading public to take an interest in anyone below the rank of knight, as Professor Foster himself admits.”

“But the poem was by Shakespeare! He was extremely popular!”

“Then it is all the more extraordinary that the publisher neglected to put his name on the title-page. He was identified only by his initials, ‘W.S.’ Surely it is remarkable that the title-page should tell us so much about the victim, who was unknown, and so little about the author, who it seems was already celebrated. Why withhold that name which alone could ensure sales?” As I tried to think of a reply, Holmes went on: “Moreover, this same publisher, Thomas Thorpe, had only recently published Shakespeare’s Sonnets, evidently without his permission, thereby exposing the most intimate details of his love life to public view. Such, at any rate, is the account of the scholars by whom you set such store. But I put it to you: Is this piratical scoundrel Thorpe the man Shakespeare would rush to favor with his next long poem?”

“So you have been following this story! Holmes, you are devious!”

“Forgive me, Watson,” he smiled. “I could not resist hearing what you would make of it. You know I value your counsel. And I did not deceive you. I know less about the case than I would wish to.”

“Well, what else have you learned?”

“Professor Foster himself acknowledges some of the difficulties in his position. But others have escaped his notice entirely. For example, he admits that there is no evidence that Shakespeare actually met Peter except for the poem itself, such as it is. Yet he fails to see that the author of the poem could have known little or nothing about William Peter.” “Why not?”

“Because poor William Peter was murdered after only three years of marriage, as Professor Foster has found, and apparently died without issue. Yet the poem itself tells us plainly that its subject had been married for nine years and was a devoted father!”

“What do you conclude from that?”

“That the Elegy cannot have been written about William Peter.”

“Good heavens!”

Holmes smiled complacently.

“Then Professor Foster has misled the public?”

“He was misled himself, Watson. The sleights of Thomas Thorpe operate across the centuries.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested desperately, “Shakespeare was merely mistaken on the point of Peter’s family life.”

“I fear that is impossible, Watson. The poet, it is clear, knew the murdered man very well. We have only Thorpe’s word that this man was William Peter of Exeter.

“But none of this disproves Shakespeare’s authorship.”

“The suspicious circumstances of the Elegy itself create grave doubt as to its authorship, Watson. Thorpe tried to make it appear to be Shakespeare’s work without using Shakespeare’s name. Why should he be so roundabout? There is our mystery. And there, I confess, I am at a loss for the moment.”

“Perhaps there is no solution,” I suggested. “As with so many other problems surrounding Shakespeare, we may be doomed to ignorance.”

“Perhaps,” Holmes agreed. “But it is still too early to despair. We have, as it happens, a few clues.”

“Such as?”

“The name of the murdered man who is the subject of the poem was indeed Peter, or something similar. Whether this was his Christian name or his surname is impossible to tell.”

“If he wasn’t William Peter, how do you know his name?”

“The poem, as you say, refers to it indirectly. It plays upon the verse in St. Matthew in which our Saviour tells St. Peter that he is the rock upon whom he will build his church. This may also be an indication that the murdered man was of the Church of Rome, since the claims of the papacy are traditionally referred to that verse.”

“But if his name was Peter, the fact argues for Professor Foster’s thesis.”

“Not necessarily, Watson. The evidence I have already cited rules out William Peter of Exeter. Consider the possibility that on the night when he was stabbed to death, the Elegy was already in Thorpe’s hands.”


“The Elegy was written before the Sonnets _ long before. In the Sonnets the poet consistently describes himself as old or aging, with death imminent. In the Elegy he twice speaks of himself as being still in his youth.”

“But may he not be speaking figuratively?”

“So Professor Foster contends. He is not convincing, any more than the scholars are convincing in asserting that the author of the Sonnets exaggerates his years. The poet makes it clear in the Elegy that he and his dead friend were contemporaries. He says that in honoring his friend’s memory he is only doing what the friend had also pledged to do for him, in the event that he died first. Such a bargain argues against any great disparity in their ages. Furthermore, the style of the Elegy, though very fine, shows that the poet had not yet reached the full mastery of rhyming verse he would achieve in the Sonnets. It is even further from the irregular meter of the late plays.”

“Then how do you account for it?”

“Mr. Shakespeare of Stratford is not the author, Watson. The poet refers to himself in the Elegy _ a presumptuous gesture in a poem of mourning, unless the author was himself a man of some importance. Moreover, the poet complains of his treatment by his country. He has been traduced and forced to live in some undeserved shame.”

“What does that prove?”

“It proves nothing. But it suggests a great deal. It suggests a man of a certain stature and renown with a public reputation to uphold. It suggests a great grievance, a conviction that his name has been abused.”

“The Earl of Oxford?”

“Precisely. Oxford was extremely sensitive about his reputation. An early surviving poem of his laments ‘the loss of his good name.’ His fortunes and respectability declined so sharply that a contemporary, far inferior to him in rank, could later taunt him about his ‘decayed reputation.’ Bear in mind that the author of the Sonnets frequently bemoans his ‘shame,’ his ‘disgrace in fortune and men’s eyes,’ and the ‘vulgar scandal stamped upon his brow.’ There was no known reason for Mr. Shakespeare to feel that his faults, whatever they were, were, so to speak, a matter of public record. But there was every reason for Oxford to feel that way. He had lived licentiously, wasted his immense family fortune, and made many enemies.”

“Go on.”

“Yet the author of the Elegy still hopes to clear his reputation. The author of the Sonnets has despaired of doing so. He feels he must carry his wounded name to his grave. Everything points to the authorship of one man, and to the priority of the Elegy.”

“It seems to make sense,” I admitted.

“It is noteworthy that the author of the Elegy feels free to allude to his own disgrace. I think we may reasonably take it that he was addressing trusted friends, and was not bent on immediate publication. On the contrary. The Elegy was meant for private reading only. It was never meant for the general public.”

“Then how did it fall into Thorpe’s hands?”

“We may never know. But we do know that the Sonnets and ‘A Lover’s Complaint’ had fallen into his hands, because he published them. I surmise that he acquired these poems and the Elegy at the same time, between Oxford’s death in 1604 and the appearance of the Sonnets and the Complaint in 1609.”

“But why would he not publish the Elegy with the other poems?”

“Because it would embarrass and outrage Oxford’s family. Consider again that though the poet speaks of himself as in his ‘youth’ in this poem which makes its public debut in 1612, he has spoken mournfully of himself as old and aging in the Sonnets, which can be traced with some confidence to the early 1590s. What does that tell us?”

“As you say, that the Elegy was written before the Sonnets.”

“Not only before the Sonnets, but many years before. Surely at least a decade must be allowed. A man does not go overnight from thinking of himself as a hale youth to complaining of age, decrepitude, and imminent death. So profound a change must be gradual.”

“I fail to see where you are leading.”

“If the Elegy precedes the Sonnets by more than a decade, it must have been written while Mr. Shakespeare was still living in his home town. The scholars have him arriving in London around 1590 or shortly before. They can only conjecture as to the date because of the absence of records, but his wife bore him twins in February 1585. Even if he departed for London immediately after begetting them, without even waiting for their birth, he would have arrived in London no earlier than May 1584. That still leaves less than a decade before the composition of the Sonnets.”

“He could have written the Elegy during his youth in Stratford.”

Holmes smiled. “I hardly think so. At that point, assuming he was already capable of so polished a poem, he was far too obscure to complain of his ruined reputation. It is also unlikely that while still in Stratford he should have formed a close friendship with a married gentleman some years his senior. Besides, the name of Shakespeare does not appear in print at all until 1593. No, Watson, it is far more reasonable to suppose that Oxford wrote the Elegy; that he wrote it when he was still young but somewhat notorious, probably before 1580, but perhaps shortly afterward. He commenced the Sonnets many years later, during the campaign to persuade the young Earl of Southampton to marry. You will recall that the great Lord Burghley exerted all his influence to persuade Southampton to marry his young granddaughter. Burghley was Oxford’s father-in-law; the young lady was Oxford’s daughter. By then Oxford himself was past forty and his health was beginning to fail. In his letters of the period he describes himself as ‘lame’ _ the very word the author of the Sonnets uses repeatedly of himself. All the pieces fall into place.”

“It seems plausible, as far as it goes. But I still don’t understand Thorpe’s role in the business.”

“He had the Elegy, but he could do nothing with it _ until he chanced to hear of the murder of another man named Peter in 1612. He then altered the title and dedication of the poem to match what he knew of the new victim, and quickly presented it for sale. This supposition requires us to believe only that he heard of this murder within three weeks of its occurrence, as in fact he did. He was unaware of the discrepancies between this William Peter and the subject of the Elegy; but for his purposes, they hardly mattered. Nobody else in London was likely to know of them either.”

“Brilliant, Holmes! Bravo!”

“I must caution you, Watson, that this is only a hypothesis. But it surmounts the difficulties and impossibilities of Professor Foster’s theory.”

“But what about Foster’s computer?”

“His computer is quite right. It pronounces no judgment as to the identity of the author. It merely indicates that whoever wrote the works we call Shakespeare’s probably also wrote the Elegy. Professor Foster assumes this author to be Shakespeare; I have long since concluded that he was the Earl of Oxford.”

“I must say, I don’t find the Elegy worthy of Shakespeare.”

“Worthy of Shakespeare, perhaps,” Holmes smiled. “But I agree that it is not Oxford’s finest work. Here again,” he added seriously, “Professor Foster has gone astray. He thinks the poem is a late work. His theory requires him to believe that Shakespeare wrote it at the end of his career. But it is all too plainly a youthful work. It bears unmistakable mannerisms of the great poet we have erroneously called Shakespeare; all that is missing is greatness itself.”

“Is that not an argument against its authenticity?”

“Not at all, Watson. Even genius must have its infancy. The man who wrote the Elegy was still learning to write verse, and learning very well. Had he stopped there, however, he would have been forgotten. There is hardly a memorable line in the poem; whereas in his maturity, he could hardly write a dull phrase. Technically, the Elegy is more than competent. But if we measure it against Macbeth, The Tempest or even Venus and Adonis, it seems insipid stuff.”

“Well, Holmes, there must be something in what you say about Oxford after all. I have misjudged you. In any case, Professor Foster’s theory is certainly untenable.”

“Let us not be too harsh with him, Watson. He has made, however inadvertently, a new addition to the Shakespeare canon. That is far more than most scholars achieve in a lifetime.”

I returned to my newspaper, and Holmes put his violin back into its case. Suddenly he turned to me, struck by a new thought. “Watson,” he said, “has it ever occurred to you that Homer must have been a woman?”

Invalid Logic and The Slippery Stratfordian


The Use of Fallacies in the Shakespeare Authorship Question

© by Leonard Deming, 1995

This paper was first presented at the 17th Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society in November 1993. Important information about the Footnotes.


A landmark of my education was the decision to fit a course in logic into my schedule at Michigan State University. A friend had advised me to do so no matter what. He assured me that I would never regret it and that it would help me in virtually everything I did, no matter what career path I might choose. He was right. It helped me no end in the rest of my schooling which included taking the LSAT, going to law school and learning the rules of evidence (sometimes based on logic, sometimes not) and in myriad other activities with which a human being finds himself or herself confronted from research to shopping. I take this opportunity to pass the same advice along to those who may read this.

It was with this background that I sat down one evening a few years ago to watch a public television presentation of the Frontline segment entitled The Shakespeare Mystery.

Now, I have always had an interest in literature and poetry and had heard, on one or two occasions, about the so-called “authorship issue.” I specifically recall an English teacher at Gabriel’s High School in Lansing, Michigan saying that there were those who thought that Francis Bacon might have written the Shakespeare works. But I had always assumed that the issue could not be too awesome since it did not receive much play in school. Still, I had always considered exploring why some people doubted the Stratford man’s authorship, if it ever became convenient to do so.

It became convenient that evening when the Frontline program aired. When it was over, I was dumbfounded. My reaction was not due to the credibly interesting case presented in favor of the Earl of Oxford as the author of the Shakespeare canon; rather, I was amazed at the lack of any meaningful case presented by those supporting the traditional Shakespeare and their resort, instead, to what, in logic, is referred to as the logical fallacy.

A “logical fallacy” may be defined as “an error of reasoning based on faulty use of evidence or incorrect inference.”

Such “errors of reasoning” riddle the arguments of those who argue the authorship question, particularly those who try to defend the “Shakespeare” of Stratford On Avon. Upon viewing the Frontline program again, I detected at least five fallacies which are typically calculated to avoid the issue being discussed. I discovered in subsequent research (I was sure the Stratfordians must have more ammunition than they discharged in the Frontline program and I had set out to find it) that those supporting the Stratford man commonly resort to numerous logical fallacies in order to avoid discussing the real issue of who wrote the works of Shakespeare.

Such fallacies are extremely effective. And if you, as listener, are unaware of how these work, then you are left with the uneasy sense that there is something wrong with the argument just made, but you are not quite sure what it is. Some of the most common fallacies are described here and I have provided examples of how they work, both generally, and specifically as they relate to the authorship issue. An understanding of logical fallacies, in my opinion, is essential to debunking the myth of the Stratford “genius” who, I am now convinced, did not write the works of Shakespeare.

Logical Reasoning – Inductive and Deductive Thinking

A logical argument is nothing more than a series of premises (assertions of purported fact) strung together to arrive at a conclusion, presumably correct since it is based on (presumably correct) fact. The two basic types of logic are classified as “inductive” and “deductive”.

“Inductive” arguments are essentially unordered assertions of fact which tend toward some conclusion as a probability. The greater the weight and/or number of assertions, the greater the probability that the conclusion is correct. For instance, if one observes that the robin, the oriole, the cardinal and the starling all have feathers, one may conclude that all birds have feathers.

“Deductive” arguments, on the other hand, involve ordered inter-related assertions of fact which lead inexorably to the conclusion. The simplest form of deductive argument is the syllogism, which has a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. Diagrammed, it looks like this:

Major premise
Minor premise

An example might be:

All birds have feathers
The robin is a bird
The robin has feathers

The difference between “inductive” and “deductive” arguments is that, with the former, correct premises do not necessarily lead to a correct conclusion while, with the latter, if the premises are true and proper logical structure has been observed, the conclusion must also be true.

Logical Reasoning – Validity and Soundness

Before launching into fallacies, it is important to understand the difference between the “valid” argument and the “sound” one. Simply put, a valid argument does not necessarily lead to a true conclusion while the sound argument, by definition, always does. A “sound” argument is always a valid one but a “valid” argument is not necessarily sound. An argument which is merely valid is one which, within its premises, works. But the premises may be false leading to a false conclusion. Hence:

All aardvarks have feathers
Peter is an aardvark
Peter has feathers

is a valid argument, but it is hardly sound. Assuming that Peter is a normal human being, the premises are false leading to a false conclusion. But be wary of the following:

All aardvarks study math
Peter is an aardvark
Peter studies math.

Peter may study math but this argument does not prove it since the premises are false. It is a valid but unsound argument. To make it sound, we might posit:

Mrs. Klein’s students study math
Peter is one of Mrs. Klein’s students
Peter studies math.

Within the orbit of the authorship question, numerous examples may be found in which those who have championed one candidate or another for Shakespearian authorship have literally put the ice cream on top of the cherry instead of the other way around. As one example, with others to follow:

The author of the Works of Shakespeare went to school
Shaksper wrote the Works of Shakespeare
Shaksper went to school

Logical Fallacies

We will now turn to the most common fallacies, or “errors of reasoning,” by which logical thinking may be sent astray and we will focus on those which most commonly arise in discussing the authorship question. They include:

Begging the Question
Ad Hominem Arguments
Straw Man Arguments(Arguing Beside the Point)
Appeals To Authority
Equivocation (Verbal Arguments)
Negative Fallacy
False Analogy
Non Sequitur
Fallacy of Division (Guilt by Association)
Fallacy of Neglected Aspect

Most of these are what are generally referred to as “informal fallacies.” While I will be identifying some formal fallacies in order to place them in a proper context, I will not be distinguishing “formal” and “informal” fallacies in this overview related to the authorship question. It is also important to realize that any classification of fallacies is subject to criticism for not being complete or for saying too much. This is because fallacies tend to overlap as the reader will see in this discussion. Each logician invariably creates his or her own classifications which rarely correspond exactly to another’s. As one writer has noted, when discussing fallacies with those unfamiliar with them, a tighter list is often required or at least desired:

Nor do the learned authorities always agree. For instance, some of them list a fallacy called non sequitur (it doesn’t follow) as part of the begging-the-question group, while others make it a kind of portmanteau, embracing all the fallacies.

With this caution, we will launch into a discussion of the use of logical fallacies by those championing the orthodox view of the authorship question.

Begging The Question

The fallacy of “begging the question” or “arguing in a circle” essentially occurs when a major premise is also the conclusion sought. A simple form might appear thus:

A. The Atlanta Braves are the best baseball team in the world.
B. Only the best baseball team in the world would have the best pitching and hitting.
C. The Atlanta Braves have the best hitting and pitching.
D. Since the Atlanta Braves have the best hitting and pitching, it stands to reason that they are the best baseball team in the world.

The first three or last three parts of the argument constitute a valid syllogism. But with the addition of the first or last premise above, the fallacy of circular argument or “begging the question” has occurred. It is not so simple to recognize question-begging in everyday life without some practice at looking out for it. The discussion may become so distended that the participant in the argument forgets the starting point. One logician, Robert Olson, offers a good example in trying to prove the existence of God:

Although most fallacies of begging the question are due to linguistic confusion, some, especially in extended discourse, must be attributed to faulty memory. By the time we get to the argument, for instance, the author may begin by assuming the existence of God, make a number of inferences for which the existence of God is a crucial premise, and then conclude by proving the existence of God on the basis of these inferences.

The comparison of this paradigm to the Stratfordian religion is almost perfect. It would be comforting to think that orthodox Shakespearians had simply forgotten their starting point in arriving at their conclusion which validates the Stratford man as the author and that, by backtracking, would realize that their seminal premise led them to all the other premises which resulted in a conclusion identical to their starting point. But those who have tried to get the cardinals of Shakespearean orthodoxy to look through the telescope of logic and common sense in order to discover the true center of our literary universe have instead found themselves banished and exiled (or ordered to recant if the heretic happened to be so bold as to seek a doctorate in letters).

In the Frontline segment, Rowse begs the question in asserting that the real point of the First Folio is that it “was a tremendous-big undertaking which shows you how much Heming and Condell valued their chief dramatist.” The real issue is identifying the chief dramatist, not changing the subject to how much he may have been valued. This approach can also be accused of creating a “straw man” of “the playwright’s value” (see below) but in the context of Austin’s inquiry, Rowse is begging the question.

When the great hunt for evidence of Shakespeare’s life began in earnest in the mid-eighteenth century, it focused on the Stratford man and his milieu. Except for a few faint protests, the literary world was sure that it had its man identified and the task at hand was to develop facts to construct his biography. He must have gone to school, must have associated with nobles and other playwrights, must have been a lawyer’s clerk or schoolteacher or some such other professional, must have written his plays and poems between such and such a date, and so on. Whatever uneasy feelings arose as it became clear that no facts supported what must have been were quickly stifled. “Scholars” still freely asserted supposition as fact since, logically, the writer of such works as those of Shakespeare must have such credentials. They felt free to assert that the Stratford man had done all of these things and more since they were already convinced that he had done the writing. Remember that initial premise? Anyone challenging the orthodox view was quickly met with “facts” of Shakespeare’s schooling, career and, most important of all, his genius (the single most important absolute “must” of all). These “facts” were detailed in the biographies of Shakespeare which poured forth what must be.

Probably the most insidious and complex of these “facts” is the dating of the works which constitutes a complicated rendering of when and how the poems and plays were written in order to fit them into the life of Shaksper. One of the best examples of how the dating is relied on to turn it into some sort of proof of Stratford’s authorship is one presented by Professor Thomas Pendleton of Iona College used to justify, as new editors of The Shakespeare Newsletter, the removal of the Oxford Page which had previously addressed the authorship question. He says:

He (Oxford) died in June of 1604, before about a dozen of the Shakespeare plays, by the generally accepted chronology, had been written. It is of course true that it is almost always impossible to document irrefutably when any of the plays was composed; but this is far from an authorization to ignore everything that has been presented as evidence for chronological placement by the study of sources, influences, contemporary allusion and relevance, and literary and theatrical history. (A brief look at the “Canon and Chronology” section of the Oxford Textual Companion will demonstrate how extensive these materials are.)
Even more important, simply relocating all the later plays back to about the time of Twelfth Night would in effect deny everything of coherent interrelation and artistic growth that generations of readers have discerned and appreciated in Shakespeare’s mastery of the tragedies from Othello on, and in his development of the new genre of tragicomic romance. (Emphasis added)

Note how neatly this is done to make the argument look credible. The “generally accepted chronology” to which Dr. Pendleton refers is that created by those who assumed that the Stratford man wrote the works. Knowing Shaxsper’s approximate birth date and, hence, the earliest date that he could have begun to write, Stratford’s chronology was created from that time forward. No other conclusive reasons exist for the chronology upon which Stratfordians rely. The topical allusions to which Dr. Pendleton and others of his ilk refer are pure assumption, eminently debatable, and Oxfordians can offer topical allusions which are far superior to virtually anything the Stratfordians can muster. And this overlooks the simple fact that topical allusions can be added later by others to make an older play more timely at the time it is presented. The further reference to “coherent interrelation and artistic growth that generations of readers (read “Stratfordian readers”) have discerned and appreciated” is more of the same. Any such discernment depends directly on the Stratford man having written the works. The real problem for the recalcitrant Stratfordians is that if Shaksper did not write the works, then all of their critical analysis, all of their “discernment”, is meaningless. They have much to lose if they find that they have been wrong all along. Hence, the entire Stratfordian canon is little more than an extended example of the fallacy of begging the question.

Additionally, the Stratfordian approach is riddled with more compact examples of this fallacy. A common one is the assertion that all references to “Shakespeare” are to Shaksper without any indication that the reference was to the Stratford man. Take, for instance, a comment made by Stratfordian Frank Ernest Hill when confronted by the numerous doubters of the orthodox Shakespeare. He says:

Together they (the anti-stratfordians) were convincing proof of a widespread and persistent doubt that William Shakespeare wrote the works standing under his name. (Emphasis added)

Actually, Mr. Hill presents one of the better attempts of orthodoxy to rebut anti-Stratford sentiment in general and the Oxford cause specifically but it is clear from the outset of his thesis that he refers to all contemporary mention of “Shakespeare” as meaning the Stratford man. He, like all the others, however, is unable to make any real connection and engages in question-begging tactics to assume that which is at issue. In an attempt to establish requirements which challengers to the orthodox Shakespeare must meet to be convincing, he includes the following:

The challengers must offer a theory of authorship which satisfactorily explains away the many appearances of plays and poems under Shakespeare’s name. ….We have work after work printed as Shakespeare’s. Unless there is proof that this credit was falsely given, it is strong evidence for the orthodox view of authorship.

Here, the very fact at issue regarding whether the Stratford man ever received any credit at all is settled by saying that the works appeared under his name and that he was given some direct credit. Unfortunately, Mr. Hill does not offer one piece of straw for the foundation. Similar to this is another criterion he imposes:

They must also explain away a long series of statements and acts which confirm Shakespeare’s authorship of his own works. We shall see later what these acts and statements are. (We never do.) They comprise even stronger proof of Shakespeare’s identity as a writer than the appearance of his name on a succession of title pages.

They had better since the appearance of the name on the title pages proves nothing. And the problem for Mr. Hill is that there are no such acts or statements proving the Stratford man was a writer either.

Another example of the use of this fallacy is to create a connection between some established fact of Shaksper’s life and his assumed career as a poet and dramatist. Witness the following statement by Stratfordian Maurice Charney:

Another material proof of Shakespeare’s attachment to his native town is the fact that he made investments in Stratford real estate during his lucrative theatrical career in London.

Note that Charney is here proving Shaksper’s attachment to Stratford and assuming the theatrical career. In law, this is known as “assuming a fact not in evidence.” Furthermore, to my knowledge, no one has ever seriously considered the issue of Shaksper’s attachment to his home town as being relevant at all and this approach, in addition to begging the question of whether he ever had a lucrative theatrical career as such, comes close to creating a “straw man” consisting of his attachment to his home town. (See below) Stratfordian writers love to throw around terms like “fact” and “proof” in order to persuade the unwary reader that everything about the Stratford man is settled and proved when the opposite is actually the case.

It is not necessary to look back twenty or thirty years or further to find continuing examples of this. When I first became involved with this question, I always approached newer biographies of Shakespeare with some sense of anxiousness and perhaps a secret hope that somehow my doubt of Shakespeare might be ill-founded and that the particular work I was newly considering would establish that. Peter Levi’s The Life and Times of William Shakespeare was such a book. On the cover of my copy was an acclamation by one Anthony Burgess stating, “If you want a life (of Shakespeare) (sic), Levi’s book is the one you must buy.” With this recommendation, I ventured forth to read early in Levi’s introduction,

It is an axiom of method that the facts of his life, including the dates of his plays and poems, must be established as firmly as possible and without wishful thinking, before those facts can be related to his writings.

All right, now. This is what I had been looking for. He continued:

One must not make up fantasies about the bank where the wild thyme grew.

Go, Peter, go!

Many inspiring and misleading writers about Shakespeare impart to his characters and passages of his plays an experience of life they merely imagine, building conjecture on conjecture and cobweb on cobweb. Between severe critics and enthusiastic and conjectural biographers there is now a great gulf fixed.

Right on! I felt as if I were on the edge of hearing an honest analysis by a Stratfordian writer of all that I had been exploring for the past several years. Then came the bottom line:

It is implicit in this book that Mr.(sic) William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote more or less the works normally attributed to him….His works were not written by Bacon or Lord Oxford or any other contender. His contemporaries knew him as poet and as dramatist; he was not an obscure rustic genius, though his sense of country realities is much sharper than that of any of his contemporaries. His circle of friends extended into the nobility and country gentry, and the more research that is done, the further that circle is discovered to extend. No doubt there is always something mysterious about a poet, particularly a great poet, of whose juvenilia we have almost nothing. If we had, it would probably not be recognizable as Shakespeare’s. There are special reasons for this which I shall discuss. But the argument for his genuine authorship of his own works is multiple and overwhelming, and every day’s work I have spent in preparing to write about him has confirmed it.

He should have added “Amen, Alleluia.” This witnessing of his faith in the Stratfordian religion served notice that his book would operate on the assumption that the Stratford man had performed the miracle and that the only difference in Levi’s approach would be to tell everyone what really must have happened. A sample of the commentary that follows in his book demonstrates the cobwebs Mr. Levi uses to support his thesis. For instance, in assuming Shaksper’s education at the Stratford grammar school, he states:

More is known about the Combes’ dates of death than of their dates of birth, but it is likely that Shakespeare encountered them as a schoolboy. The Elizabethan grammar school was an extremely important leveler and an easy instrument for those who were going to climb intellectually or socially in a society both intellectually and socially more mobile than ours. That was how Lord Burghley began to climb.

Let alone the fact that he cannot show that Shaksper went to school. Maybe he did; maybe he did not. Levi leaps the chasm of this issue, however, and begins to tell us what he did and those he “likely” met. Eventually, he gets to the point of saying that, “Young Shakespeare went to the free school at Stratford.” Why is this so? Levi tells us.

The new generation of English poets all went to grammar schools of this kind, though some of them went to universities as well from about the age of fifteen.

Since Shaksper was one of “the new generation of English poets,” he went to the “available grammar school of this kind.” A short time later, Levi explains Shaksper’s absence from university training as being due to lack of money and his father’s near disgrace. It is because of this situation that he makes the absolutely unsupported statement that, “We must thank God anyway that his hungry talents were not canalized by academic study at that level. He was admirably self-taught…” Unsupported assumption rules his book from this point on. Because Shaksper must have been Shakespeare, inference is unlimited. Take the following example:

I am sure, however, that Shakespeare knew Robert Dover…When Robert grew up he had many friends in common with Shakespeare including Drayton, Ben Jonson, Thomas Russell and Endymion Porter. Robert Dover must have known (country sports) in boyhood too, but we have no clinching proof that Shakespeare had met him before he was seventeen, by which time Shakespeare was in London….No one has ever understood what Falstaff was doing at Winchcombe, in Justice Shallow’s orchard; or, to transpose the question, what Shakespeare was doing there. The key that fits this closed door is Robert Dover. Shakespeare knew him as a boy from Barton on the Heath, and Dover…. What they had in common was the Cotswolds (games)….The local scale of the Cotswold Olympics is easy enough to imagine.

Why not? Everything else is. And Levi is but one example. All of the Stratfordian writers have much the same to offer when they are not engaging in outright prevarication. Consider the following from Ivor Brown:

If it be urged that things appear in his texts which are outside the experience and information of ‘a harlotry player,’ the answer is that the Shakespeare whom I have endeavored to picture, according to known facts and contemporary allusions, was certainly under patronage of the Earl of Southampton and seemingly a close friend of that nobleman too. In Southampton’s house and circle he would meet John Florio, translator of Mantaigne, and the wits who hovered round the brilliant Essex or the learned Bacon. With his quickness of ear and perception and strength of memory he would absorb and retain what was said without difficulty. The idea of the outcast and ignoramus actor can only be supported by ignoring the dedications to Southampton and by thinking of Tudor London as a huge modern capital among whose millions genius can easily wilt unrecognized. (Emphasis added.)

Here, Brown uses the very test of “experience” to prove the relationships which Shaksper must have experienced to be considered the author. He goes back to the text of the dedication in the poems to basically say, “How could he write this if he were not the writer?” Note also Brown’s use of the conditional. I agree with him. If Shaksper were in Southampton’s house, he probably would meet those people and if Shaxsper were a genius enough to write the works, he probably would have had the quickness of ear, etc. But that is the question at issue and his argument only begs it. Brown goes on with this approach:

The very reason why Southampton took him up must have been the uncanny promise and swift performance of this unique young man.

It certainly must have. How unfortunate for Brown and the Stratfordians that Southampton never, in any record extant, mentioned this brilliant young friend. Never. In his chapter entitled “The Hand of Glory,” Brown attempts to deal with the authorship question relying on the mysterious essence of genius, the most spurious of all Stratfordian defenses because it virtually requires no proof and ignores the true nature of genius. As Charlton Ogburn has said, they treat the fruits of genius as if they were the result of “spontaneous generation.”

Notice how the circle runs. He was the honest-to-God real Shakespeare of the sonnets and the plays. If this is the case, then he must have gone to school and the school he must have gone to was the Stratford school. And he met all of these people there who became his friends and they had all of these connections to other people and places referred to in the plays and sonnets. But he could not go on to the university (because even the Stratfordians cannot suppose him to have attended in the face of positive evidence to the contrary), so he taught himself the rest and probably better than the university could have because he was so intelligent and a genius to boot, and anyone so smart and self-taught like that is just the person you would expect to be, who else, Shakespeare!

Begging the question is one of the strongest weapons in the Stratfordian arsenal and there are many more examples. One need only read critically to find them.

Ad Hominem Arguments

There are at least two forms of arguments ad hominem, a Latin phrase which literally means “against the man.” This form of fallacy focuses on either the personal situation of the listener to elicit sympathy for the proponent’s position or attacks personal traits of the opponent in order to diminish the effect of the opposing argument, even though the personal trait has no relation to the argument.

For example, Rottenberg points out that if a person is a candidate for treasurer, it may be very relevant that the candidate is dishonest but accusing the same person of being a homosexual is completely irrelevant to his or her qualifications for treasurer. Yet, this perceived “defect” would readily be resorted to by some in order to “muddy the water” and deflect attention from the real issue. In this particular example, both forms of ad hominem argument can be seen. One is the attack on the candidate for an unrelated “shortcoming”; the other is the implied pitch to the voters that since most of them, presumably, are not homosexuals, and that they should think twice before making a homosexual their treasurer. This fallacy, in either form, can be found in abundance in the context of the authorship question.

Attacking the personal trait of the opponent is the most common. A.L. Rowse engages in an ad hominem argument against Enoch Powell when he attacks the man’s background but also when he snootily brings up the point that Powell “has lost his seat” in government. Apparently, Rowse desires to press upon the listener the idea that Powell’s argument should not be attended since he has lost his seat, but this obviously has nothing to do with whether Powell is correct in challenging Rowse’s hero.

Another instance occurs when John Savage in the 1992 Visnet broadcast on the authorship question attacks all those persons who have “a neurotic need to believe in conspiracy” as some sort of clear definition of the Oxfordian. The attack is against the “neurotic” Oxfordian, not the argument he or she makes. By way of hyperbolic example, Jack the Ripper could make a very good argument for keeping our cutting utensils sharp which has nothing to do with hacking up poor unfortunates, but the detractor would argue against sharp knives because Jack the Ripper favors them for his nefarious purpose.

A simple method of detecting such an “ad hominem” argument is to replace the proponent with another, and presumably unobjectionable, person. If the only difference is the person making the argument, the argument itself remaining intact, and the attack on the argument dissolves, then that attack was one which was only “ad hominem”, or, against the person. In the Jack the Ripper example, let us eliminate Jack as the proponent and substitute the Boy Scouts of America, who have long championed well-sharpened knives as being safer than dull ones because you might inadvertently lop off a digit with the latter sooner that you would the former. With this substitution, the first attack disintegrates as being ad hominem and, therefore, fallacious.

Consider Professor Samuel Schoenbaum’s authorship rebuttal found in Shakespeare’s Lives. With the exception of a few other fallacies thrown in and, at best, a couple of easily-demolished arguments, his effort largely consists of an attack on the anti-Stratfordians themselves. Consider the following:

(Looney) refused a nom de plume to forestall the hilarity of reviewers.

He tells how the Oxfordians “(gave) the Baconians a run for their madness.” He joins the clarion call of other orthodox respondents by noting,

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that snobbery led Looney, a gentle retiring soul, to seek a Shakespeare with blue blood in his veins.

Considering Looney’s work and its impact, he states that, “Despite its intellectual naivete, …(Looney) impressed the impressionable.” This is a unique double-slam against both the writer and his adherents.

In the space of relatively few pages, Schoenbaum describes Looney as a “pedagogue” twice and uses the word “heretic” or its root five times (twice on one page). He describes The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn “…as one of the seven wonders of anti-Stratfordianism, although I would be hard pressed to name the other six.” On the same page, he asserts that Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Name by Dorothy Ogburn and Charlton Ogburn, Jr. “…has at least the merit of comparative brevity.”

This is not argument or rebuttal; this is name-calling. And it has nothing to do with the validity of the arguments of those he labels. The “snobbery” argument is not unusual. It was employed by Rowse in the Frontline program and it pervades many Stratfordian responses to the issue when the Stratfordians respond at all. Consider the typical approach taken by Peter Levi:

Contrary theories (regarding the authorship) depend to various degrees on snobbery, perversity and the mania for decoding which is so often combined with touches of megalomaniac self-importance. Since I believe this to be the sober truth, I hope I may say it without offence.

A final example should suffice to complete the point and Professor Schoenbaum provides us with it. Note how this particular attack on Looney’s book and theory deals with the fool who would believe it, and not with whether the theory is foolish. He first notes that John Galsworthy called Looney’s book “the best detective story” he had ever read. Schoenbaum goes on:

Herein must lie much of the fundamental appeal of the work and of anti-Stratfordian demonstrations generally. Sober literary history is metamorphosed into a game of detection, in much the same manner as James Thurber’s American lady in the Lake Country transformed Macbeth into a Hercule Poirot thriller (‘”Oh Macduff did it all right,” said the murder specialist.’). To such a game the cultivated amateur can give his leisure hours in hopes of toppling the supreme literary idol and confounding the professionals.

The operative words are “sober” (Oxfordians must be drunk), “cultivated amateur”, “leisure” (as opposed to hard-working scholars), “hopes” (read “starry-eyed”), and “professionals” (Stratfordian scholars).Ad hominem attacks are effective and commonly resorted to by Stratfordians because they divert attention from the real issues and allow them to escape having to defend the indefensible.

The other form of this species of fallacy is the circumstantial ad hominem, which is an argument directing appeals to the interests of the listener rather than attacking the opponent. It is closely related to the fallacy of Wishful Thinking which “…occurs when we fail to give an argument due credit because we want its conclusion to be false or when we give an argument more credit than it deserves because we want its conclusion to be true.” It sometimes takes the form of an “appeal to pity” or some other emotion, or a “faulty emotional appeal.” For instance, a congregation of devout Catholics may approve very strongly of the arguments against abortion as being murder but may not be willing to hear with the same ears any issues about “choice”. The person who argues counting on and perhaps plumbing the listener’s predisposition utilizes the circumstantial ad hominem.

A type of this attack described by Albert Frye and Albert Levi is one which attempts to make the opponent look ridiculous in the eyes of the audience (“appeal to ridicule”), Professor Schoenbaum’s tactic when he focuses on Percy Allen’s seances instead of the credible work Percy Allen did to support his cause. In a similar way, he attacks those who “are drawn to conspiracy theories” in the Frontline program and sets himself apart by saying that he is not so inclined to subscribe to conspiracies. By doing so, he simply labels all anti-Stratfordians without ever considering the basis for their beliefs. Effective.

Probably the most telling use of the argument ad hominem is that which attacks anyone who, in the eyes of the attacker, is not sufficiently an expert or “authority” in the field to even express an opinion on the subject. As I have mentioned, fallacies mix and blend with each other so as to make it difficult at times to denote which fallacy is being utilized at any particular moment. I shall shortly discuss the heavily relied-upon “resort to authority”, but at this point I simply point out that clinging to the position that the speaker is not an appropriate “authority” is another example of the ad hominem argument which attacks the proponent and not the argument which is made.

Arguing Beside The Point (The Straw Man)

Arguing “beside the point” occurs, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, when two different issues become confused as being the same, and an argument in support of one issue is mistakenly assumed to be an argument in support of the other. This fallacy is an effective one which consists of attacking a view similar to, but not the same as, that held by your opponent.

A good example is one used by Richard Nixon in his famous “Checkers” Speech which is described by Rottenberg. Nixon, having been accused of having “appropriated $18,000 in campaign funds for his personal use”, responded as follows:

One other thing I probably should tell you, because if I don’t they will probably be saying this about me, too. We did get something, a gift, after the election.
A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?
It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl, Tricia, the six-year-old, named it Checkers.
And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.”

Of course, Nixon knew that the issue was the $18,000, not the dog. Still, he deflected attention from the real issue and everybody remembers the dog and not the money.

This particular fallacy was beautifully implemented by A.L Rowse in the Frontline program. At a point when he is asked whether he thought it impossible or unlikely that the Earl of Oxford could have written the Shakespeare works, he responded with an attack on all the “silly people” who thought Shakespeare must have been a woman or that Queen Elizabeth must have been a man. Of course, he had not been asked whether he thought Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare had their sexes confused. And while we may assume what his answer would have been to the actual question, he got away with avoiding having to tell us why. Instead, he probably succeeded in persuading some listeners that some Oxfordians might even believe that the Queen was male and the writer female. As one authority on logic, Michael Scriven, has put it, the “‘straw-man’ fallacy involves ascribing a claim to somebody who doesn’t in fact make that claim.” It consists of creating an issue similar to the one being discussed but which is, in fact, not the issue. It is an issue “beside” the real issue, or “beside the point.” The “straw man” issue is one that is easier to knock down than the real issue, like a straw man instead of a real one. And it makes it look as though you have won your argument.

Fallacy Of Illegitimate Appeal To Authority

One of the strongest hooks upon which the Stratfordians hang their arguments is their resort to their own position of authority, or the position of those who agree with them. It is the “because I say so” argument. A.L Rowse put it succinctly in the Frontline program when, referring to Enoch Powell’s anti-Stratfordian position, Rowse sniffs at Powell’s classical education and sums it up by concluding, “He doesn’t qualify to have an opinion. We needn’t worry about what he says at all.” Indeed, Rowse is convinced that no one who takes such a position is qualified, referring to “all the rot…by people who should shut up”. He goes on to tell the interviewer, Al Austin, that people should read the books that tell the real truth—his books.

Resort to this particular method is not always so obvious. Gary Taylor, in an excellent analysis of Shakespeare’s impact on society and society’s impact on Shakespeare, makes reference to Looney’s Oxfordian thesis and concludes that “scholars” were not convinced. Actually, many scholars were convinced but they did not fit into the Taylor mold which implicitly contains the word “Stratfordian” in the definition. However, since “scholars” were not convinced, neither should anyone else be.

Logicians disagree with regard to the extent that resort to authority should be questioned. Probably as a result of the “Vietnam era” and bumper stickers which challenge us to “Question Authority”, people have become properly cynical of those who rely on the letters they are entitled to write after their name to prove their point. A friend of mine neatly called just such a bluff once when an antagonist referred to his master’s degree in order to shore up his flagging argument and my friend responded by saying, “Yes, it’s a pity how they hand those things out.”

One logician’s approach is as follows:

Not all appeals to authority are illegitimate. If the subject matter falls within an area for which expert opinion is available and if the competence of the authority can be demonstrated, an arguer’s appeal to authority is not illegitimate.

However, the same writer points out that just because nearly everyone believes that something is true, such widely-held opinion is not conclusive.

History amply demonstrates that popular beliefs are as often wrong as right. In the words of Socrates, the seeker after truth will completely disregard “the opinion of the many.”

All logicians are not so willing to concede the exercise of one’s reason to claims of authority. The practice of “ad verecundiam” (appeal to revered authority) is a lazy person’s effort. Instead of talking about the real issues and facts, resort is made to a name or letters behind the name, wielding it like a club to glean acceptance of or submission to the conclusion proposed. But, as one logician, Stuart Chase, has stated:

Quoting authorities is of course entirely legitimate, and only when pushed too far, when the Big Name freezes mental activity, does it become a fallacy. It is not so much that one thinks wrongly, as that one ceases to think at all.

He goes on to point out:

Most American investors looked up to those bankers and financial wizards who convinced us, just before the crash of 1929, that the stock market had entered a new and permanent level of values. We trusted these wise men, and did not stop to analyze the ever more fantastic ratio of earnings to market prices.

Another good example is provided by geologists prior to the discoveries of the late 1960′s who laughed at and decried plate tectonic theory. I remember a geography teacher who noted the similar patterns of the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa and how some simpletons actually thought that they might have broken apart eons ago. Those geologists of the past are the extinct dinosaurs of today.

Gary Taylor resorts to authority again when he lumps himself together with those who have patiently tried to explain why anti- Stratfordians are wrong and then wearily have to withstand a whole new barrage of attacks. He points out how technical each of the arguments are, in this case specifically referring to the use of the hyphen in Shakespeare’s name on the Visnet debate, and how after proving one minor point such as the use of the hyphen (which he never actually does), anti-Stratfordians come up with some new argument. Such “technical” subjects should be left to the “scholars.” It was meant to sound convincing and, perhaps to some, it was. But he never demonstrated anything except his premise that this technical subject is best left to the “scholars” and not to the uninitiated like Charlton Ogburn. Jr., Warren Hope, Paul Nitze, Dr. Deborah Bacon, Tom Bethel, Felicia Londre, Charles Burford, et. al. who do not have a right to an opinion. Taylor’s approach calls to mind the remark of F.C.S. Schiller that “nothing has a greater hold on the human mind than nonsense fortified with technicalities.”

In the same broadcast, Rebecca Flynn uses this tactic arguing the lame and long-abused notion that The Tempest makes reference to a certain shipwreck (demonstrating the extent of research performed by Ms. Flynn on the subject) by saying that it is “…generally agreed by reputable scholars…” that the play was written after Oxford died. Of course, her definition of “reputable scholars” corresponds to that of Professor Taylor’s. She attempts to carry the day by citing irrefutable authority without resorting to the underlying facts and is blown out of the water by Tom Bethel who points out that other shipwrecks occurred much earlier which could have been used as a model, if a model were needed at all.

Samuel Schoenbaum, in his effort to discredit the “heretics”, adequately describes some of the basic positions which anti- Stratfordians have taken, but he never succeeds in refuting them. Instead, he resorts to several fallacies to try to belittle those who may have the temerity to challenge orthodoxy. Resort to authority is one. He says:

The heretic’s selection of de Vere, courtly amateur rather than professional man of letters, confirms his identification with his idealized choice, for the Oxfordians are, almost to a man, dilettante scholars.

This is a perfect example of how the resort to authority is nothing more than a form of ad hominem argument. Do not get put into the position of having to deal with the argument or issue; attack the opponent personally.Professor Schoenbaum provides some ironic humor when he discusses the one Oxfordian whom he is unable to attack as a “non-scholar” and tries to find another way to discredit him. About Sigmund Freud, who he acknowledges began to read the works of Shakespeare at the age of eight and could readily quote Shakespeare, he says:

That the authorship controversy stirred his analytical curiosity need not surprise us. It is, however, both surprising and sad that the schismatics were able to claim Freud as one of their own.

Freud is a problem for Stratfordians because the father of modern psychiatry was the quintessential problem-solver who took an open-minded approach to discovering facts. And Freud did not slavishly adhere to the “facts” insisted upon by Stratfordians.But what is really hilarious is that Schoenbaum assumes the mantle of psychiatrist to analyze Dr. Freud’s motivations! He engages in several pages of psychological rumination and concludes:

In the rescue fantasy one sees again the operation of the Family Romance, dually functioning ‘to mask the hostile impulses and preserve the lost omnipotent object’. In such a way does psychoanalytic theory explain the unconscious origins of anti-Stratfordian polemics.

Schoenbaum no sooner finishes decrying “dilettante scholars” for tampering with his domain than he becomes an accomplished psychoanalyst getting to the bottom of the real psychological motives of anti-Stratfordians including the great Dr. Freud himself. One wonders if Dr. Schoenbaum would object to Oxfordians (or anyone else) questioning his authority to do so.In the end, accusing someone of not having the necessary credentials to discuss the issue or have an opinion is just another form of ad hominem argument. Appealing to authority discards the truism that rival authorities disagree (the basic requirement for any true controversy), and demands that the opponent cease thinking, or speaking, altogether.

Fallacy Of Equivocation (Verbal Arguments)

Equivocal or “verbal” arguments are those wherein a crucial term (i.e. a term which is critical to the soundness of the argument) has not been clearly defined and the term is used with different meanings, expressed or implied, in the argument. This unobtrusively turns the term into two different terms where the argument still demands a single term. If clear agreement is reached on the denotation and connotation of the term as having two different meanings, the argument evaporates because the term cannot be used consistently as a single term within the argument. An example offered by Olson follows:

1. Death is the end of life.
2. The end of a thing is its perfection.
3. Death is the perfection of life.

The meaning of the term “end” in the two places it appears is obviously different and the conclusion is therefore unsound.

A common Stratfordian equivocation is the assertion that :

More facts are known about William Shakespeare than about any other playwright of the period except Ben Jonson.

Aside from the “question-begging” use of the term “playwright”, the equivocal term used here is “facts.” The argument that really is being pressed here is the following, with the major premise implied:

1. The more facts that are known about a playwright’s life, the more likely it is that he was a notable playwright.
2. More facts are known about William Shakespeare than about any other playwright of the period except Ben Jonson.
3. William Shakespeare was a more notable playwright of the era than anyone except perhaps Ben Jonson.

There is no doubt that there are plenty of facts about the Stratford man but not the kind you would associate with the greatest writer who ever lived. Indeed, there is not one fact indicative of a writer. The writer of the previous quotation does not emphasize this and leaves the reader to assume that the facts to which he refers have to do with being a playwright. “Facts” in the major premise purportedly means “facts having to do with being a playwright” while the same word in the second premise really means “general facts”, or any facts at all.

An even more blatantly deceptive use of similar language is the following employed by Charney:

The enthusiastic efforts of researchers have uncovered more than a hundred relevant documents, including deeds to property, entries in parish registers, depositions in law suits, and other legal records.

Look closely at the term “relevant” and ask the question “relevant to what?” If we conclude that the appropriate application is to say “relevant to the legal matters of a man from Stratford” then the statement is probably correct. However, the writer wants the reader to presume relevance to Shakespeare’s alleged writing career the same way “facts” in the previous example proffered by Charney was intended to allude to activities as a playwright. However, Stratfordians have never demonstrated how any document yet discovered is clearly relevant to any supposed career as a playwright.

Negative Fallacy

It is impossible to prove that something is not by virtue of a lack of any evidence. For instance, I cannot prove that there are no extra-terrestrials due to the fact that we do not have any clear evidence of their existence.

This fallacy is the one committed by Oxfordians when they point out that no record exists of Shaksper having attended the Stratford school while, in truth, for the period, there is no evidence of anyone attending the school. The records, whatever they may have been, have long since been lost or destroyed. If there were records, but Shaksper was not recorded in them, then there would be affirmative evidence that he did not go to school. Or if someone said in a letter that young Shaksper was unable to attend school because he had to help his father butcher cattle, then we would have something. Instead, all we have is a deafening silence, which proves nothing.

What is humorous is how the Stratfordians turn this lack of evidence into proof that Shaksper went to the Stratford school. For example, in the introduction to the Signet paperback edition of Hamlet, the writer admits that no records are available but states that it is reasonable to assume that he went to school and received substantial Latin! (The Earl of Burford, in his national tour, has, tongue in cheek, identified this as a “positive” fallacy.) The problem for the Signet proponent is that, from the standpoint of proving anything, he or she has given up the ghost as soon as the negative premise (i.e. no records are available) is introduced. This is because, in syllogistic logic, an affirmative and a negative premise can only result in a negative conclusion. It is certainly possible to prove a negative but you must have a valid negative premise accompanied with an affirmative one. Replace the affirmative premise with a negative one so that all you are left with is negative premises, and no conclusion may be drawn at all! For instance, if you state the following:

No Basenji dogs can bark.
The Clarks own only Basenji dogs.

the only reasonable conclusion is:

No dogs owned by the Clarks can bark.

which is a negative conclusion. Substitute the affirmative minor premise with a negative one, such as

The Clarks own no Basenji dogs.

and you can prove precisely nothing. You certainly cannot surmise:

No dogs owned by the Clarks can bark.

Maybe they can; maybe they cannot. Maybe the Clarks own no dogs at all. But the two negative premises avail no deduction whatsoever.Therefore, to show that Shaksper received an education, Stratfordians may not look to deductive thinking at all. They must rely on inductive logic and this wholly fails them as well since there is no evidence anywhere (letters, diaries, journals, etc.) that Shaksper ever saw the inside of a classroom, let alone spent any time in one.

It is for this reason that a person should always be wary of the proponent of any theory who constantly relies on negative premises to make a point. And it is exactly here that the Stratfordians may be called to task. You do not have to read very far in an orthodox defense of the Stratford man to find negatives galore. Consider the following examples which Peter Levi gives us, thus:

There was a rumor later of another boy who was Shakespeare’s friend and just as brilliant as he was, who died very young. There is no reason why it should not be true.

And this when referring to anonymous verse from the era of Shaksper’s youth


It may be considered in addition that we are utterly lacking in any apprentice verses of Shakespeare. He emerges at twenty-seven years old as a perfect poet. These verses are traditional in style, theme and feeling, almost anyone could have written them, and there is no reason why this ‘anyone’ should not have been the young Shakespeare. They are talented, elegant, and almost a parody. I think he wrote them at about the age of seventeen.

This business of grabbing a negative and forcing someone to disprove is completely invalid. It has much to do with the burden of proof and is referred to as an argument ad ignorantiam. It is the attempt to turn an argument around so that the other side must prove a negative. An example employed by Chase is:

“The State Department is full of Reds!”
“Prove it.”
“I don’t have to, let’s see you disprove it.”

Another might go like this:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty.”
“I don’t believe he exists.”
“You can’t prove He doesn’t.”

A conclusion offered by a Stratfordian after wrestling with the authorship and knowing that he cannot prove Shaksper’s claim is as follows:

The argument for Shakespeare may well rest on this single impressive consideration. As we have seen, all the evidence that has been put forward to show that he could not have been the author of his works fails to prove him incapable, while in opposition to the facts supporting his position we have little more than daring conjectures. (Emphasis added)

Chase points out the effect of this approach.

Instead of proving your argument, you challenge your opponent to disprove it. If he can’t, then you triumphantly assert that you have won. You do no demonstrating at all—which I suppose is where the “ignorance” comes in.

When Peter Levi says, “There is no reason why it should not be true” or why “it should not be Shakespeare”, he is employing this approach. “Prove that it is not true.” But negatives used in this way are invalid and prove nothing on their own. Negatives simply eliminate possibilities; they prove nothing.

False Analogy

The fallacy of False Analogy occurs when someone tries to draw a comparison between some aspect of the issue being discussed and some other completely unrelated example as if it will provide some deep truth about the subject. The problem is that analogies offer no proof of anything if only because the conditions of each are probably quite different.

In examining the difficulty of creating a decent biography of Shaksper, Taylor resorts to an analogy first proffered by T.S. Eliot:

For Eliot poetry occurs “when a bit of finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide”; with the platinum present, the two gases combine to form “sulphurous acid.”
This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, passive, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.
Shakespeare, the passive catalyst, compounds images. How can you write the biography of a shred of platinum?

This is almost more metaphor than analogy. Still, it is used as an analogy for his inability to discover something solid about his subject.

Platinum is a metal. Poets are human. You cannot write biographies of gold, iron, or other inert objects. A better analogy would be that you cannot write the biography of a prehistoric cave man of whom there is no record. But that would not have suited Dr. Taylor’s purpose since it is uncomfortable for Stratfordians to acknowledge the lack of a meaningful or relevant record about their star at a time when people did know how to record history. So, instead, Professor Taylor decided to wax poetic about platinum.

Non Sequitur

The “Non Sequitur” fallacy is one which is based on the Latin phrase after which it is named which means, literally, “it does not follow”. In other words, the beginning of the argument has nothing to do, necessarily, with the conclusion which follows. It is a fallacy of irrelevance meaning that whatever proposition has been asserted as justification for the conclusion really has nothing to do with the conclusion, although, at first blush, it may seem to.

As one logician has noted, the mere fact that a book is popular or enjoys good sales does not make it good literature or scientifically respectable.

In the context of the authorship issue, there are many instances of this fallacy of which I will note only a few.

For instance, Mr. Charney notes Shaksper’s acquisition of New Place and its surrounding gardens and tries to attach it to how he came by the money to make the purchase. He says:

Along with the grant of arms, this impressive house and gardens marks Shakespeare’s extraordinary success in the business-artistic world of the London theaters.

Mr. Charney has no more proof of how the Stratford man got the money to make the purchase than I do. And it took money to buy the property, not necessarily success in the business-artistic world of the London theaters.

Another example of a common use of this fallacy against Oxford is one used by John Savage in the Visnet Broadcast in 1992. Mr. Savage warns those foolish enough to consider Oxford as the author of all of the “bad things” about de Vere, describing him as a “nasty piece of work.” He goes on to describe the negative attributes which Oxford had as a person, saying that he disobeyed the Queen and married without her permission (technically wrong, but beyond my point here), and that he generally had a bad attitude. Actually, Savage did not know the half of it but he could accuse Oxford of being a four-headed Gila Monster or cavorting with wolves and baying at the moon on Halloween in some satanic rite, but neither of these has anything to do with whether he could have written the works of Shakespeare. If an accusation is going to prove anything, it must be related in some way to the issue at hand. The point is that all of the accusations in the world, whether true or not, do not disprove Oxford’s authorship of the Shakespeare canon unless they have something to do with the issue, i.e. writing. Accusing him of being emotional certainly does not do it. Actually, it makes sense that only a person with Oxford’s passion, if recognized in the proper light, could have written these masterpieces. “It does not follow” that a person who did the things that Mr. Savage accuses him of could not have written the works. This approach also resembles, and in some ways typifies, the circumstantial ad hominem argument known as the “faulty emotional appeal.” After all, do you want your greatest literary hero of all time to be less than perfect?

Peter Levi provides another example. Referring to the likelihood that Shakespeare (read here “the writer of Shakespeare’s works”) saw the Mystery Plays, he provides as evidence:

He (Shaksper/Shakespeare) may well have seen the Mystery Plays…Willis…describes a Morality Play he saw at Gloucester as a little boy on his father’s shoulder. He was exactly Shakespeare’s age.

Well, now, there’s some evidence. Someone the same age as Shaksper saw a Morality Play. That must mean Shaksper saw it. Of course, it is just as possible that he was cleaning out the stable at that time since others of his age were probably cleaning out stables— and probably a few more than were watching morality plays. Sarcasm aside, however, it does not take a rocket scientist (or a PhD in literature) to realize that one does not lead to the other.

Fallacy Of Division (Guilt By Association)

This particular fallacy occurs when properties assigned to a group are set forth as automatically belonging to each member of the group. An example offered by one logician is as follows:

All nations ought to disarm.
The United States is a nation.
The United States ought to disarm.

The initial premise suggests that all nations collectively ought to disarm, not each nation individually. However, the invalid conclusion results in the unilateral assertion that the United States ought to disarm by itself.

A similarly related fallacy is that of the fallacy of composition where the properties of an individual are assigned to a group.

A corollary found in the law would be one identified as that known as “guilt by association” and at least one logician lists it as a common fallacy and describes it by saying, “It equates unlike entities on the basis of a single common trait.” For instance, anyone seeing a group including well-known criminals hanging about assumes that all of those in the group are criminals. More effectively implemented in a court of law (assuming such “evidence” survives a timely objection), if it is established that Mr. Jones is constantly seen in the presence of criminals, an assumption arises that he must be a criminal himself (despite the lack of any evidence that he ever committed a crime). Simply by virtue of those he is seen with, it is assumed that he is the same. “Birds of a feather flock together” and so on.

The problem with this approach is that it is simply not true. But the Stratfordians regularly use this approach to make Oxford look untenable. They constantly lump him with others proposed as the author (who are obviously not the author) in order to make him look as unlikely as the others they have listed.

From David Bevington benignly noting the suspicious nature of the sheer number of suspects (i.e. candidates for the authorship) to Hill’s assertion that since only one candidate can possibly be the author and since the whole group of potential alternatives is full of persons who are not the one, then probably no one is acceptable, provide the best examples. This tactic is resorted to every time the Stratfordians run off a list of “pretenders” noting something like,

“Those who doubt the authorship look to someone like Bacon, Derby, Oxford, Marlow, Queen Elizabeth, etc., etc.” Inevitably, Oxford is mixed somewhere in the middle, hoping to bury him with names.

Fallacy of Neglected Aspect

This fallacy describes itself. It takes place, “When an argument is believed to carry more weight than it actually does because we have overlooked factors relevant to the conclusion….” It is probably the most difficult to avoid simply because it is easy to miss things and it is the easiest to abuse when the arguer is able to convince the listener that he has thought of everything. It is closely related to, or probably just another form of what is called, the Hasty Generalization which is defined as drawing conclusions on the basis of insufficient evidence. Examples of the classic “hasty generalization” may be found in prejudices against certain ethnic groups based upon the characteristics of a few; superstitions such as black cats or spilled salt; and any notions maintained despite evidence to the contrary.

Hill proposes “neglected aspects” when reviewing the payment of a thousand pounds annually made by Queen Elizabeth to Oxford. He notes that the payment may have been to allow a premier earl to maintain appearances or because of a special relationship with the Queen which had nothing to do with the authorship of plays. He notes that the reason is not apparent. He then argues that paying Oxford as a propagandist for the queen is not tenable either because the plays did not accomplish the presumed purpose. He states, “Invariably she demanded full value for her money.”

Mr. Hill is correct in searching for “neglected aspects” in this fashion as a process of attempting to glean the full truth. However, he slips up by failing to pursue the same rigorous course of study when considering the “overpainting” of another visage discovered within a supposed Shakespeare portrait. He asserts that the “overpainters”, whoever they might be, would have had to understand or predict the coming of x-ray and infra-red technology in order for them to believe the overpainting would ever be discovered. What Hill fails to take into account is the possibility that the persons responsible never intended the overpainting to be discovered at all.

Schoenbaum neglects important aspects in the Frontline program when he discusses the nature of “genius” including the need to attend to bodily functions and the desire to procreate. He proclaims the great mystery “how could anyone have written these plays” as the essential with which Oxfordians cannot come to grip. But the fact is that the plays were written and the terms “genius” and “miracle” are not what, in logic, is referred to as a “tautology” (i.e. exactly the same thing). The genius is not created “Presto! Alakazam!” But Schoenbaum wants the listener to believe he has given as complete a description of “genius” as is necessary. He tries to convince the gullible that it is possible to sing and dance brilliantly without ever being introduced to the concept of “music.” Or, more aptly, lest I be accused of a false analogy, he wants people to believe that it is possible to write brilliantly and accurately in depth about history and customs to which the author was never exposed.

Post Hoc or Doubtful Cause

The title of this fallacy derives from the Latin post hoc, ergo propter hoc meaning “after this, therefore because of this.” The substance of this fallacy is that some event is the result of some other event which occurred earlier. For instance, a rooster crowing decides that his crowing causes the sun to rise since it does so when he crows. Or a dog chasing cars figures it is a good thing he chases them or the street would be full of cars. Such a line of thinking ignores more reasonable alternatives. As Rottenberg says,

The two events may be coincidental, or the first event may be only one, and an insignificant one, of many causes that have produced the second event. The reader or writer of causal arguments must determine whether another more plausible explanation exists and whether several causes have combined to produce the effect.

This brings us to an example of this fallacy in the context of the Shakespearian authorship in the form of Hill’s inane comment regarding the death of Shaksper and the publication of the First Folio. He says:

The very date of the Folio confirms the orthodox position as to authorship. It was brought out just seven years after Shakespeare’s death, and must have been in preparation several years earlier.

Note that Hill does not say that the date “suggests” the authorship or that it “supports” the authorship. He says the date “confirms” the authorship without a single supporting reason other than his subjective instinct that the timing is about right. Seven years is perfect; no later; no earlier. And, of course, he does not take into account political, economic and social factors, all of which may have played a part given other circumstances (i.e. if someone else wrote the plays and for a different reason.) And so, Mr. Hill is neglecting critical elements of the case which is characteristic of those who fall into selling or buying logical fallacies. Shaksper died seven years before the First Folio was published; therefore, he wrote it.


My purpose has been to give the reader an introduction to the manner in which invalid logic and logical fallacies have been used within the context of the authorship question, especially by Stratfordians, to avoid a genuine discussion of the evidence available to show who may have written the works of William Shakespeare. Fallacies are used to avoid real discussion and to perpetuate the mirage that the matter has been resolved.

In general, I have avoided the issue of “truth”, which is technically outside the present discussion except as it relates to premises and conclusions and how argument forms work. It is not an issue to be avoided, certainly; it is simply not the main focus of understanding why Stratfordians generally argue as they do because when they get to actual facts and truth, they lose. Hence, they avoid doing so.

This does not make them avoid making categorical statements of fact. They just do not defend or provide support for them. Witness the following by Peter Levi:

He (Shaksper) learned no French at school, but he did learn it….The one certain thing we know about Shakespeare’s youthful occupations is that he read a great deal—he was an omnivorous reader.

and his reference to:

…the substantial fact that Shakespeare was drawn to London by the theatre.


I doubt whether he knew his most interesting friends as a schoolboy except for Thomas Combe.

There is no evidence for any of these or a thousand other such assertions made by Levi and other Stratfordians and they evolve from sheer speculation and inferences drawn from the works founded upon the primal assumption that the Stratford man wrote them. So much for Levi’s firm footing in fact which, on the contrary, embraces the flimsy cobwebs he promised to avoid until he builds them into firm cables of uncontroverted fact. After all, you cannot prove that he is wrong.Stratfordians criticize the means employed by anti-Stratfordians but rarely examine their own methods. Schoenbaum, in attacking Oxford’s character and Looney’s method, says:

In any event, Looney does not include flatulence as another of his hero’s special attributes. Nor does he list cruelty, perversity, and profligacy as features of the author evident from a perusal of his work.

Of course, in this effort to poke fun at Oxfordians, Schoenbaum never considers that Shakespeare may have experienced gastric difficulty or that the plays never demonstrate the features he sets forth. Titus Andronicus perhaps should be referred to by Professor Schoenbaum. But he and other Stratfordians do not refer to elements in the Shakespeare canon which support Oxford’s authorship because they are not engaged in a search for truth. Rather, it seems that they often seek to obfuscate it.

Stratfordians will repeatedly say that they have long since disproved anti-Stratfordianism in general and are so weary of having to go through all of it again. The reader may well challenge them to cite any example of their having done so successfully. Paraphrasing the words of Lord Burford, they do not prove Shaksper wrote the canon and that no one else did because they cannot. If they could, they would, and that would be the end of it.

Stratfordians consistently avoid being put in the position of having to prove Shaksper wrote the works because they are unable to do so. Instead, they challenge the anti-Stratfordians to prove that their particular candidate for the authorship actually did the writing and to prove that Shaksper did not. In attacking the various theories put forth by anti-Stratfordians, Hill expresses frustration with one person who failed to offer an alternative candidate to attack:

Perhaps the most baffling anti-Shakespearian campaign was waged by Sir George Greenwood, a British Member of Parliament, who refused to name any “real” author, but merely argued that Shakespeare himself was not satisfactory, and that the problem of authorship needed further study.

What was baffling for Mr. Hill was the existence of an anti-Stratfordian whom he could not label as having some agenda or ulterior motive. For him and other Stratfordians, an open mind is a terrible thing to face.Not so for others. Frye and Levi directly address the authorship question in their work on logic as an issue perfectly exemplifying the “hypothetical syllogism.” They conclude that Oxford wrote the works but, unlike Stratfordians, leave their minds open to the use of logical methods to change the result.

They do so because, while logic is not necessarily dependent upon the truth except to work its principles, it is a tool to search for the truth: a tool Stratfordians consistently ignore or abuse.

In the end, however, to resolve a controversial issue effectively, “you must pay attention to both truth and to logic.”


There were nearly 100 footnotes that accompanied this article, but they were unfortunately lost in converting it to HTML for publishing on the Web. We will reconstruct the footnotes and add them in the very near future. Our apologies for any inconvenience.

A Little More than Kuhn, and Less than Kind


Examining the headlines with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in mind


By Mark Anderson

Oxfordians may have been surprised at the latest Shakespearean stories coming from the national media. Or at least a little embarrassed for the ever-declining state of Stratfordian scholarship. The recently rediscovered 1612 W.S. Funeral Elegy, for instance, may read like Cardenio-brand imitation Shakespeare and appear a closer relative to W.S.’s other printed work (the apocryphal plays Locrine (1595), The True Chronicle Histories of Thomas Lord Cromwell (1602) and The Puritaine (1607) than to The Winter’s Tale or Henry VIII. But to denizens of Stratford, this is Page One news.

However one feels about the 578-line poem—and some Oxfordians have argued for its canonization, albeit with rather elaborate chronological arguments— investigating why the Elegy or last November’s New Yorker article on Hamlet and Martin Luther are considered news can prove just as revealing as analyzing the stories themselves.

Fortunately, a comprehensive study of Stratfordian dogma in the twilight years has already been written. Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) might as well be titled The Structure of Shakespearean Revolutions for the author’s sagacity in illuminating the history of the authorship controversy. Quite a remarkable feat considering Kuhn never once mentions Shakespeare.

Now 76 years since J. Thomas Looney’s Shakespeare Identified first came into print, the revolution it set in motion—and the entrenched orthodoxy’s reaction to it—share many identifying traits with other intellectual revolutions in history (or what Kuhn terms “paradigm shifts”). Kuhn’s consideration of orthodox reactions to John Dalton’s atomic theory of chemistry or Nicolaus Copernicus’ heliocentric cosmology shows haunting relevance to the authorship debate and its reverberations in Shakespearean research today. Consider the 1612 W.S. Elegy. Since the Complete Works of W.S. constitute at least four printed texts—three of which remain apocryphal even to the most avid proponents of the Elegy— the first question to be broached is an obvious one: Why canonize one and leave three waiting at the doorstep? (It is a question, curiously enough, I have yet to see any article on the Elegy ask.) It certainly is convenient that a canonized Elegy would appear prima face to exclude Edward de Vere as the author, since he died in 1604 and the poem pays tribute to an individual who was killed in 1612.

Perhaps part of the reason a seven year-old story (Donald Foster’s book Elegy by W.S.: A Study in Attribution came out in 1989) now shares front-page column inches in the New York Times with Bosnia and the 1996 Presidential Campaign is the Elegy‘s utility in silencing the increasing number of heretics at the gate.

And that should come as no surprise to Oxfordians. The chronology has been and probably will continue to be the most visible site where the authorship controversy is staged.

The chronology, in fact, is what Kuhn would categorize as a rule. In Kuhn’s framework, rules restrict the number of solutions to puzzles encountered in one’s day-to-day research. Devise a solution that defies the chronology (i.e. the author stopped writing in 1604) and face hostility, censure or excommunication from the Stratfordian priesthood. Follow the rules for your professional advancement; defy the rules at your professional peril.

However, as Kuhn points out, rules are not fundamental to the discipline itself. They are merely guidelines established for the practitioners to conduct the problem-solving (“mopping-up operations” as he at times more cynically terms it) that constitutes nearly all research in any field.

Rather, if rules are the essence of a field, the paradigm is its quintessence. In the Copernican debate, the paradigm at stake involved the Earth’s station in the universe. In the present debate, the center of the literary universe is the thing. And who it is means more than just a face to put with a name. More abstractly, a paradigm might be defined, as Kuhn phrased it, as the “constellation of shared commitments” held within a particular field. (p. 181)

Considering scientific history within the context of paradigm shifts, then, Kuhn found common threads throughout the Western tradition. And that’s where the W.S. Elegy and rules like the chronology come in.

The importance of rules and rule-making, as Kuhn establishes, closely traces a paradigm’s approach to a crisis state: “Though almost nonexistent during periods of normal science, (debates over rules) recur regularly just before and during scientific revolutions, the periods when paradigms are first under attack and then subject to change… When scientists disagree about whether the fundamental problems of their field have been solved, the search for rules gains a function that it does not ordinarily possess.” (p. 48)

In addition, the prominence of Kuhnian rules like chronology may prove a useful barometer for gauging uncertainty in the Stratfordian camp. As Kuhn concludes, “Rules should therefore become important and the characteristic unconcern about them should vanish whenever paradigms or models are felt to be insecure.” (p. 47) Roughly translated, the more caulk you use, the closer you are to needing a whole new tub—and the touchier you are about the whole thing.

Of course, in the final stages of any theory, the patchwork of stopgap fixes and newfound rules makes quite a grotesquerie for observers outside the dominant paradigm. The Divine William, we are now told, wrote the Divine Elegy after he had finished The Tempest, his farewell to the stage. Perhaps in the same way in which he wrote Venus and Adonis to win friends and influence people, he composed the Elegy to establish his credentials at cranking out stilted, lifeless panegyrics. Or maybe he was just warming up for “Good Friend for Iesus SAKE forbeare To digg the dust encloased HERe…”

Curiously, Copernicus’ observations about the mishmash of theories propagated to keep the lumbering Ptolemaic ship afloat ring frighteningly true in the present context:

“It is as though an artist were to gather the hands, feet, head and other members for his images from diverse models, each part excellently drawn, but not related to a single body, and since they in no way match each other, the result would be monster rather than man. [Is he describing the Droeshout engraving here?—Ed.] So in the course of their exposition… we find that they have either omitted some indispensable detail or introduced something foreign and wholly irrelevant. This would of a surety not have been so had they followed fixed principles; for if their hypotheses were not misleading, all inferences based thereon might be surely verified.” (Thomas S. Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution, Harvard University Press (1966) p. 138.)

Stratfordians, it seems, have been cribbing like mad from the Ptolemaic prompt book.

When The New Yorker published David Remnick’s “Hamlet in Hollywood” feature last November 20, the theory it advanced—that the play was an allegorical biography of Martin Luther (cf. SOS Newsletter, autumn 1995, p. 3)—certainly gives Copernicus’ words new life. In fact, like an increased dependence on rules and methodology, the preponderance of seemingly arbitrary hypotheses within a paradigm also tends to foreshadow a crisis wherein the entire paradigm comes into question.

And the practitioners within the paradigm are rarely the ones doing the questioning. As Kuhn establishes, “By themselves they cannot and will not falsify (their) theory, for its defenders will do what we have already seen scientists doing when confronted by anomaly. They will devise numerous articulations and ad hoc modifications of their theory in order to eliminate any apparent conflict. Many of the relevant modifications and qualifications are, in fact, already in the literature.” (p. 78)

As if reading from Kuhn themselves, several New Yorker readers wrote in a month later to point out that the “new” theories covered in Remnick’s article were also advanced in a 1990 English Language Notes article and a 1973 Ph.D. thesis. Perhaps the most important aspect of the ad hoc modifications to a paradigm are their fleeting nature. While they may be vehemently defended during their fifteen minutes of fame, they also tend to be quickly dropped when the next big thing comes along. Kuhn observes, “The scientist in crisis will constantly try to generate speculative theories that, if successful, may disclose the road to a new paradigm and, if unsuccessful, can be surrendered with relative ease.” (p. 87)

Unfortunately, the solution is never as simple as sitting the two sides down at a bargaining table and hashing their differences out. The polemical nature of a debate between competing paradigms is as natural as the dogmatic claims made on both sides. Since a paradigmatic dispute is often about the most fundamental issues in a field, rarely can two parties find much if any common ground. Citing an example from the debate over what became Dalton’s atomic theory of chemistry, Kuhn spells out the inevitable nature of conflict in the paradigm game. “Neither side will grant all the non-empirical assumptions that the other side needs in order to make its case. Like Proust and Berthollet arguing about the composition of chemical compounds, they are bound party to talk through each other. Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing his science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proofs.” (p. 148)

Attempting to solve the controversy with documentary evidence alone would appear to be folly too, for even in the most seemingly objective of pursuits, analytical “proofs” at times have to take a back seat to more aesthetic judgments. Before or in the early phase of an established paradigm’s crisis state, progress is made more through intuition than any pat process. That is, “Something must make at least a few scientists feel that the new proposal is on the right track, and sometimes it is only personal and inarticulate aesthetic considerations that can do that.” (p. 158)

Peering into the crystal ball, then, a revolutionary phase—as the authorship controversy appears to be entering—is typically resolved through patience and a lot of perseverance. As Kuhn concludes:

“…supporters’ motives may be suspect. Nevertheless, if they are competent, they will improve it, explore its possibilities, and show what it would be like to belong to the community guided by it. And as that goes on, if the paradigm is one destined to win its fight, the number and strength of the persuasive arguments in its favor will increase. More scientists will then be converted, and the exploration of the new paradigm will go on. Gradually the number of experiments, instruments, articles and books based on the paradigm will multiply. Still more men (this was written in 1962, after all), convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness, will adopt the new mode of practicing normal science, until at last only a few elderly holdouts remain. And even they, we cannot say, are wrong. Though the historian can always find men… who were unreasonable to resist for as long as they did, he will not find a point at which resistance becomes illogical or unscientific. At most he may wish to say that the man who continues to resist after his whole profession has been converted has ipso facto ceased to be a scientist.” (p. 159)

Meteors fighting the fixed stars of heaven may forerun the death or fall of kings. But a paradigm’s fall, fortunately, appears to be far more prosaic.

Shakespeare’s Use of Language

Of ‘Em’s ‘n Thems: Do these two words reveal an important clue in the Elegy debate?

©1996 by Stephanie Caruana

This article first appeared in the Summer 1996 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.

When I first became aware of the use of the word “‘em” (meaning “them”) in certain of the “Shakespeare” plays, I had a visceral reaction—as to the sound of a knife scraping across a plate. Had my literary hero, so precise in his poetry and prose structure, so abundant and flowing in his gorgeous vocabulary, really chosen to express himself in what seemed like gratuitous “up-to-the-minute” Jacobean slang? To me it felt like discovering “Hey, cool, man! Check it out! Bitchin’!” in the middle of a T.S. Eliot poem. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with these words and phrases. It’s just that they seem to belong to a different stratum of expression, even a different world view, or to reflect the language and usage of a different time—perhaps the world of TV sitcoms where writers often use words like “cool,” “smokin,” “bitchin’” or whatever to indicate that their characters are “with it.”

My first impression was that “‘em” was Jacobean slang which came into general or faddish use after 1604. However the OED states that “‘em” is an old form derived from the now obsolete pronoun “hem,” and more commonly used in north midland (i.e., S. Yorkshire) dialects. Could “‘em” and “them” have a “vector” quality? I explored the matter through the Harvard Shakespeare Concordance, and found a significant evolution in the usage of these two words in the Shakespeare plays and major poems.

In the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, Rape of Lucrece, and 15 of the 37 plays in the First Folio, the word “‘em” does not appear at all. The word “them” does—ranging in frequency from 17 to 70 occurrences. It seemed apparent that in his earlier works, “Shakespeare” was not in the habit of using the word “‘em” for “them” when writing poetry or dramatic dialogue. As the table shows, the incidence then slowly increases. As I looked at the plays with a small sprinkling of “‘em’s,” it seemed to me that the entity I like to think of as “Shakespeare” occasionally chose to use the contraction “‘em” rather than “them” when he was writing regional dialect or a song, the slang of a somewhat crude or common person, or for some other special use, being fully aware of the vastly different effect on the ear. But “‘em” is rarely or never used in the precisely written language which makes up most of the dialogue in most of the plays.

For this reason I therefore decided that up to 6 occurrences of “‘em” in a work was not especially significant. Using 6 occurrences as a cutoff point, there are then only 6 works that have a significant occurence of “‘em” in them. The following table, developed by counting the occurrence of the two words, gets interesting I believe at the bottom.

Play/Poem Them Em Ratio, them/em

Ratio of “Thems” to “Ems” in Shakespeare’s Works

Sonnets 17 0 -
Venus & Adonis 27 0 -
Rape of Lucrece 27 0 -
MND 27 0 -
R2 31 0 -
ERR 32 0 -
JN 37 0 -
LLL 39 0 -
MM 40 0 -
MV 42 0 -
TRO 43 0 -
OTH 45 0 -
2H4 50 0 -
ROM 52 0 -
ADO 53 0 -
3H6 60 0 -
R3 65 0 -
1H4 70 0 -
2H6 86 1 86:1
H5 81 1 81:1
HAM 71 1 71:1
PER 43 1 43:1
SHR 38 1 38:1
AYL 35 1 35:1
CYM 71 2 35:1
WIV 47 2 24:1
1H6 42 2 21:1
ANT 53 3 18:1
TGV 46 3 16:1
TN 25 4 6:1
MAC 50 5 10:1
AWW 50 5 10:1
WT 61 6 10:1
JC 58 6 10:1
LEAR 45 9 5:1
COR 217 15 14:1
TMP 43 17 2.5:1
TIM 66 21 3:1
TNK 31 55 1:1.6
H8 25 65 1:2.7

The most striking thing about this table is the clear increase in the incidence of “‘em’s” in the plays toward the bottom.

With regard to the last 6 plays, I think each should be looked at separately, because each may reflect a different history.

In Lear, for instance, we may be looking at an admixture of scenes, or rewrites, added at a later date by someone else to Oxford’s original play.

Coriolanus seems to stand out oddly because of its sheer number of “them’s”—2 1/2 times as many as the play with the second greatest number of “them’s”—together with its liberal sprinkling of “‘em’s.” This play is rarely performed, and rarely quoted. Nothing in its lines seems to have lodged as permanently in the minds of readers/hearers, as have quotes from R&J, Hamlet, Macbeth, etc. Perhaps this is another “ringer’—a non-Shakespearean play added to the Folio-written by ??? Timon‘s ratio of “them’s” to “‘em’s” (3:1) is distinctly different, and it could easily be a hybrid of some sort.

In Tempest, the them:’em ratio has shrunk to 2-1/2:1. I believe that the original version was written by Oxford (before 1604, and possibly as early as the 1580′s), and that the Folio version was substantially cut and rewritten by someone else in 1610–11, perhaps to make room for the Masque and add a few topical references to the 1609–10 Bermuda/Virginia shipwreck and colonial happenings. These updates would make the old play more interesting to King james and the rest of the audience when this version was presented in 1611. My tentative nominee for this rewrite job is Ben Jonson. Fortunately for us, whoever did the rewrite kept most of the original material. If it was Jonson, sheer pride may have caused him to place The Tempest in the #1 lead-off position in the Folio. Also I wonder whether Susan de Vere might not have been one of the Masquers in her father’s play.

With TNK, the “‘em’s” are more numerous than the “them’s” for the first time. The ratio is 1:1.6. Although this play is indexed in the Harvard Concordance as though it were established as a play by Shakespeare, I think it fails the”‘em-them” test because it was written by someone else altogether, Webster perhaps, who was a Shakespeare wannabee, but not a Shakespeare.

Speaking only for myself, I believe that most if not all of Henry VIII was not written by “Shakespeare.” There is a notable lack of “quotable” stuff in it.

“‘Em’s” now outnumber “them’s” by 2.7:1. It seems likely to me that this play was written by someone to whom “‘em” came more naturally to mind than “them” while writing basic dialogue, and that this someone was not “Shakespeare” (Oxford.) Why should it be Shakespeare? Old age has its problems, but I can’t think of any reason for a writer/poet to suddenly lose his gracefulness of expression and go from hummingbird to Goodyear blimp in this way. I have no idea who to nominate as author of this play.

To be more specific: I consulted the Concordance with regard to “‘em’s” vs. “them’s” in Henry VIII. In only 3 scenes, 1:01, 1:02 and 5:01, do the “them’s” have it. In 6 scenes (and the Epilogue), “‘em’s” prevail: 1:03, 1:04, 2:01, 3:01, 5:02, 5:13. The other scenes are either too close to call or do not have enough items to be meaningful.

I personally don’t care that much about Henry VIII, but it and TNK are routinely cited as representing “Shakespeare’s later style.” Right now they are providing Donald Foster and Richard Abrams with their primary ammunition in their determined efforts to have the dogsbody Funeral Elegy declared by professorial fiat to be “by Wm Shaksper.”

To quote Richard Abrams: “…W.S.’s rare-word vocabulary exactly matches what we should expect of a Shakespearian text written in 1611–12….of all Shakespearian dramatic texts, the Elegy (1612) finds its highest correlation with Shakespeare’s portion of Henry VIII (1612/13), followed by The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613). (TLS 2/9/96 p.26).

The editor who has declared himself willing to go out on this creaky limb is none other than Berkeley/Harvard’s Stephen Greenblatt! (The argument is currently raging-sedately enough-in the pages of the London TLS.) The presence of H8 and TNK in the Concordance certainly skews results of statistical analysis. Would they were gone!

An Update on the Controversy Surrounding A Funeral Elegy


The Funeral Elegy Poem: Is the emperor wearing any clothes?


By Stephanie Caruana


This article first appeared in the Spring 1996 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.

The battle over the A Funeral Elegy by W.S.(1613) rages on in the pages of the London Times Literary Supplement.

Professor Stanley Wells of the University of Birmingham began the round by rejecting the identification of W.S. as William Shakespeare (TLS 1/26/96,p.28). He pointed out that it would have been unlikely for Shakespeare to focus his attention on writing and publishing an elegy for William Peter since his own brother Gilbert died and was buried in Stratford only nine days after Peter’s death.

Wells’ other objections focus on the poor quality of the Elegy itself, which “seems not so much bad as tedious in a very un-Shakespearian way.” He noted the generalized, nonspecific praises heaped on the murdered man, and the mistakes W.S. made about details of Peter’s life. He questioned the value of Foster’s computerized measurements of word usage, and the way computer programs are currently touted as superior to human literary perception. He ended by saying he would “continue to harbor a suspicion that W.S. was…perhaps a curate with literary aspirations, who had little personal knowledge of William Peter but was commissioned by Peter’s family to memorialize him in an effort to minimize the unpleasant, if not disreputable circumstances of his death.”

Professor Richard Abrams of the University of Southern Maine, Donald Foster’s champion in the current drive to canonize the Elegy, sees the Elegy as a statistically unimpeachable example of “Shakespeare’s late style” (TLS,2/9/96,p.25–6). By this he means Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen—two plays which have traditionally been dogged with doubts and questions regarding their own authorship.

He responded to what many see as an inexplicable error with regard to the duration of William Peter’s marriage (three years in reality, as opposed to “nine of years…in his bed” (Elegy 511–2)) with an unsubstantiated tale of a nine-year affair with a mistress while Peter was a student at Oxford. He lauded W.S. for displaying “considerable daring in affording pride of place to the ‘other woman’ as the most deeply aggrieved of Peter’s mourners.” He concluded by attempting to connect Prospero’s abjuration of magic in The Tempest with W.S.’s “plain style.”

Brian Vickers, an editor of Shakespearean books, took up the cudgel (oops! baton) with “Whose Thumbprints?—A more plausible author for ‘A Funeral Elegy.’” (TLS,3/8/96,p.16–18). He argued against Foster’s “too great reliance on computerized stylometrics,” because “depending…on an atomistic notion of style,(use of computer programs) has produced bewilderingly conflicting results.”

Vickers delivered a crushing blow to the significance of Foster’s study of Jacobean poets whose initials were ‘W.S.’ He cited John Horden, to the effect that a pair of authorial initials may be false, or reversed, or may represent the last letters of a name, and supplied instances for each case. He brought up “the power of negative instances (it takes only one black swan to falsify the proposition that all swans are white.)”

He pointed out “the overt piety of several passages, quite unlike anything in Shakespeare.” Finally he proposed another candidate for author: Simon Wastell, who was headmaster of a school at Northampton. Foster had tentatively identified Wastell as the author of The Muses Thankfulness, A Funeral Elegy for Robert, Baron Spencer (1627), in which he “plagiarized a whole series of funeral elegies, including W.S.’s on William Peter, Samuel Daniel’s elegy for the Earl of Devonshire (1606), Tourneur’s for Lord Oxford (1609), and John Webster’s for Prince Henry (1613).”

The elegy to Spencer was 614 lines long, compared to Peter’s 578-line elegy. This similarity in length, combined with a curious sameness and flatness of content, and the speed with which the Peter elegy was ground out (nineteen days from Peter’s death to publisher’s registration) suggests to Vickers that both elegies “belong to the traditional genre of eulogistic or epidictic rhetoric…offered as…consolations for the surviving family and friends.”

After making a good case for Wastell, but perhaps inadvertently throwing the barn door wide open to rival claimants with any set of initials, Vickers concluded: “…no kudos attaches to identifying an obscure (headmaster) with the authorship of anything, while identifying Shakespeare’s hand would be the great prize. I regret that Foster’s well-considered avoidance of an absolute claim for Shakespeare’s authorship has been overwhelmed by Richard Abrams’s enthusiastic but indiscriminate advocacy.”

Richard Abrams’ response (3/22/96) seemed patterned after second-rate college debaters everywhere. He accused his opponent of “errors, misrepresentations and inconsistencies,” hurled a few insults, and claimed victory. He hinted darkly of new, still unrevealed, and “more compelling reasons to accept the Elegy as Shakespeare’s….Until the new evidence is before him, Vickers should probably try to keep his foot out of his mouth.”

Foster made his own short but vicious riposte (TLS,3/29/96, p.17). He accused Vickers of “advanc(ing) his case with an inattention to facts that would not be tolerated in an undergraduate student.” He then quoted lines from:

-an elegy by Michael Drayton
-a 1627 elegy by Wastell (?) stolen from Drayton’s elegy (and from all the other elegy writers on the block), and
-some lines from W.S’s elegy that are supposed to show W.S.’s vast superiority.

OK folks, here’s a snap quiz I have prepared (kind of like a Benezet test): I will quote lines from the three elegies Foster quotes above, but I won’t tell you which elegy they are from. You be the judge of their relative quality, and whether or not they come from the same collective elegy cookie-cutter:

Canst thou depart and be forgotten so,
As if thou hadst not been at all? O no,
But in despite of death the world shall see
That Muse which much graced was by thee.
Can black Oblivion utterly out-brave
And set thee up above thy silent grave?
When those weak houses of our brittle flesh
Shall ruin’d be by death, our grace and strength,
Youth, memory and shape that made us fresh
Cast down, and utterly decay’d at length;
When all shall turn to dust from whence we came
And we low-level’d in a narrow grave,
What can we leave behind us but a name?

Foster stated, “In its prosody, diction, syntax and thought, Wastell’s original work is as unlike A Funeral Elegy as can be.” Like Abrams, he referred to unrevealed “new evidence” which has shifted the balance of evidence decisively. He talked of “the recent groundswell of support for a Shakespearean attribution… (and) emerging consensus that Shakespeare wrote this strange and challenging poem.”

But like a harbinger of more grief to come, on the same page was a letter from Katherine Duncan-Jones, of Somerville College, Oxford, stating her belief that this “dreary poem” was probably written by some member of the Devonshire gentry. She proposed William Strode or one of Thomas Stukeley’s many brothers.

Brian Vickers returned for a final mop-up on 4/12/96. He commiserated with Foster and Abrams: “It is not surprising that they are upset, given that they have wagered their whole professional reputation on the claims for Shakespeare’s authorship, and stand to lose a lot once it is generally discredited.” But he added, “In fact they are guilty not only of arrogance but of pervasive dishonesty.” He detailed Foster’s methods of tiptoeing through the computer data, discarding any tests that disproved his thesis.

Then he addressed what is to me the crux of the problem: “Foster and Abrams…represent that recently emergent type of scholar who performs elaborate analyses of poetic language by using concordances and other electronic resources rather than by reading poems. But what do machines know about literary conventions, genre, rhetoric, or figurative language?….In all the thirteen years he has been working on this poem, Foster seems never to have noticed…that both the epistle, in which the author describes his inexperience in writing poetry, and the modesty topos, as used with such banality in the poem itself, would alone be enough to exclude Shakespeare from consideration, with a lifetime’s work of unequalled range and variety behind him….The parallels that I see between (the 1613 Peter Elegy and the 1627 Elegy for Baron Spencer), and the difference that many more people see between either of them and Shakespeare, are in fact so gross as to defeat computerized statistics; the scale is too large; it only needs a normal reader with some powers of judgment to tell the difference.”

He describes Foster’s odd dilemma: “Foster was doubtful about pressing the identification, since the poem’s language was not so figurative or filled with word-play as is characteristic of Shakespeare. Then emerged his Svengali, Richard Abrams, who said in an interview: ‘where I came in…was to notice that the poem avoids the language of the imagination because, in the poet’s mind, imagination is strangely implicated in the murder of his friend. Shakespeare was deliberately writing this way.’” In other words, Shakespeare arbitrarily decided to write a banal poem because he felt like it. That’s why it’s bad, folks; just take my word for it. How can anyone argue with such nonsense? Foster accepted Abrams’ rationale, and danced out on this treacherous limb. Stephen Greenblatt of the University of California plans to include the poem in his forthcoming edition of Shakespeare’s works.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to see how Foster and Abrams can summon up the chutzpah to return to the vaudeville stage of the TLS, where further literary brickbats and rotten tomatoes are sure to greet them.

Allusions to Edmund Campion in Twelfth Night

Allusions to Edmund Campion in Twelfth Night

Allusions to Edmund Campion in Twelfth Night

C. Richard Desper

This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 1995 Elizabethan Review

The Elizabethan Age underwent a continuing crisis of religion that was marked by a deepening polarization of thought between the supporters of the recently established Protestant Church and the larger number of adherents to the Roman Catholic faith. Of these latter, Edmund Campion may be taken as the archetype. Well known as an Englishman who fled to the Continent for conscience’s sake, he returned to England as a Jesuit priest, was executed by the English government in 1581 and was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1970.[1]

It has been observed that the author of the Shakespeare plays displays a considerable sympathy and familiarity with the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. The intent here is to show a link between this English Catholic leader and the writer of the drama, Twelfth Night , as revealed by allusions to Edmund Campion in Act IV, scene ii of that play.

A Brief Outline of Campion’s Life

Though Edmund Campion (1540–1581) was a scholar at Oxford University under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth I’s court favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Campion’s studies of theology, church history, and the church fathers led him away from the positions taken by the Church of England. From Campion’s point of view, to satisfy the new orthodoxy of the Church of England, a reconstructionist interpretation of church history was being set forth, one that he found difficult to reconcile with what he actually found in the writings of those fathers.[2] Had the veil been swept away? Were St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom really Anglicans rather than Roman Catholics? Or were the church authorities trimming their sails to the exigencies of temporal policy? Questions such as these dogged Campion, and eventually his position at Oxford became untenable since he could not make the appropriate gestures of adherence to the established church.[3] Instead, Campion retreated from Oxford to Dublin in 1569, where he drew less attention and enjoyed the protection of Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy for Ireland, and the patronage of Sir James Stanihurst, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, who planned to have Campion participate in the founding of what was to become Trinity College in Dublin.[4]

During this period a number of significant events took place. In 1568, the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, was driven from her realm into England, where she came under the protection and custody of the English Crown. Immediately after came the rebellion of the northern Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland in the winter of 1569, who sought to place Mary on the English throne. Then, in the spring of 1570, Pope Pius V issued a bull excommunicating Queen Elizabeth and releasing her subjects from their obligation of obedience to her. After the death of Pius V, an inquiry to Rome regarding this bull elicited the response that “as long as the Queen (Elizabeth) remained de facto ruler, it was lawful for Catholics to obey her in civil matters and cooperate in all just things… that it was unlawful for any private person, not wearing uniform and authorized to do so as an act of war, to slay any tyrant whatsoever, unless the tyrant, for example, had invaded his country in arms” (Waugh, p. 94–95)

In short, English Catholics were rejoined to follow the path of Sir Thomas More, being the Crown’s loyal servant in all matters save religion. However, as Waugh concedes, “It was possible to deduce from this decision that the (English) Catholics were a body of potential rebels,who only waited for foreign invasion to declare themselves. This was the sense in which (William) Cecil (Lord Treasurer and the Queen’s most trusted councilor) read it, for he was reluctant to admit the possibility of anyone being both a patriotic Englishman and an opponent of his regime (Waugh p. 95). The English government then enacted laws more restrictive to English Catholics. In 1570, the year of the Papal Bull, it was made an act of high treason, punishable by death, to bring into the country “any bull, writing, or instrument obtained from the Bishop of Rome” or “to absolve or reconcile” any of the Queen’s subjects to the Bishop of Rome (Waugh p. 117). In this atmosphere even Dublin became dangerous for Campion. He fled Ireland for Belgium in June of 1572, arriving at the English College founded by exiled English Catholics in Douai. The next year he went on to Rome to join the Society of Jesus. After training in Vienna, he became Professor of Rhetoric at the new Jesuit University in Prague, where he was ordained a priest in the Society of Jesus in 1578 (Waugh p. 81–84). It was in Prague in 1580 that he received the call to return to England to minister to English Catholics (More p.72–73). During his ministry, which lasted from the summer of 1580 to the summer of 1581, Campion traveled from town to town in disguise, passing via an underground network of English Catholics, offering the Mass and other Church sacraments to Catholics. He was arrested in the town of Lyford by English authorities, with the assistance of a paid informant, in July 1581, and conveyed to the Tower of London.[5]

Since his ministry had attracted a great deal of public attention, the government initially made an effort to persuade Campion to abandon his faith. Failing that, it made a second effort to discredit him. Four times in September, Campion was brought from his dungeon in the Tower for public “conferences,” at which scholars and clergymen representing the Crown and the Church of England disputed with him in an effort to best him intellectually. William Cecil (Lord Burghley) and First Secretary Sir Francis Walsingham, Burghley’s spymaster, also sought to taint Campion with the brush of treason by maintaining that the primary goal of his mission was to incite the English to rebel against Queen Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. While Campion’s ministry was in itself, by English law, sufficient for the death penalty (in that he offered Mass and heard confessions), the government preferred to show that his ministry also involved stirring English Catholics to rebellion. Finally, on November 20th, a trial was held in which Campion and seven other Catholics taken with him were charged with treason. Suitable witnesses endeavored to make the label of traitor stick; the trial ended in a guilty verdict, and Campion was executed by hanging at Tyburn on December 1, 1581.[6][7]

Twelfth Night and Edmund Campion

The allusions to Campion are found in a single scene—Act four, Scene two in which Feste the Clown disguises himself as “Sir Topas the Curate” to harangue the unfortunate Malvolio, who has been shut up in a cellar as a lunatic as the result of pranks engineered by Feste, Sir Toby Belch and Maria. In the following speech by Feste to Maria and Sir Toby, the Campion allusions are highlighted in boldface.[8]

Clown: Bonos dies, Sir Toby: for, as the old hermit of Prague, that never saw pen and ink, very wittily said to a niece of King Gorboduc, “That that is is” ; so I, being master Parson, am master Parson; for, what is “that” but “that”; and “is” but “is”? (IV.ii.15–19).

The old hermit of Prague: Prague was Campion’s last assignment before his mission to England; indeed, nearly six of his less than nine years on the Continent were spent in Prague. He may be thought of as a hermit in either of two ways in that hermits were holy men who sought solitude in their quest for holiness, or that Campion’s stay in Prague was considered to be an exile not only from England but from Englishmen. Waugh notes that, while at Prague, “the only Englishmen with whom he appears to have had any contact (besides Father Ware, who was at the college with him), is Philip Sidney (son of the former Lord Deputy for Ireland), who arrived in 1576 as English Ambassador to congratulate the Emperor Rudolph on his succession” (Waugh p. 81–82).

Never saw pen and ink: This refers to an episode which occurred in the “conference” of September 24, 1581, the third of four such conferences, in which Campion was opposed by one Master Fulke:

“If you dare, let me show you Augustine and Chrysostom,” he (Campion) cried at one moment, “if you dare.”
Fulke: “Whatever you can bring, I have answered already in writing against others of your side. And yet if you think you can add anything, put it in writing and I will answer it.”
Campion: “Provide me with ink and paper and I will write.”
Fulke: “I am not to provide you ink and paper.”
Campion: “I mean, procure me that I may have liberty to write.”
Fulke: “I know not for what cause you are restrained of that liberty, and therefore I will not take upon me to procure it.”
Campion: “Sue to the Queen that I may have liberty to oppose. I have been now thrice opposed. It is reason that I should oppose once.”
Fulke: “I will not become a suitor for you.” (Allen 15)

In this exchange, we see that Campion, having been deprived of the means of preparing a defense, such as access to books containing the teachings of St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, seizes upon Fulke’s apparent offer of writing materials. Fulke immediately realizes that the has made a tactical error, for the government’s plan in no way involves providing Campion with the means to write, since much of Campion’s success lay in his writings. First there had been an exposition and explanation of his mission, written by Campion in the summer of 1580 immediately after arriving in England, which circulated throughout the country in handwritten copies, yet comes down in history under the ironic title of Campion’s Brag. In it, Campion disavows any political aspect to his ministry. Then a book bearing the name Ten Reasons was published by an underground Catholic press (Edwards p. 19). It first appeared at the Oxford University Commencement of June 27, 1581, having been surreptitiously placed on the benches of the church at which the exercises took place.

In the exchange quoted above, Campion plainly had bested Fulke in their battle of wits, for Fulke denies Campion the wherewithal to write even though he himself had challenged Campion to do so. Nonetheless, it may be said of Campion with good reason that he “Never saw pen and ink.”

Niece of King Gorboduc: Gorboduc was a mythical King of England and the subject of an early Elizabethan play by Norton and Sackville.[9] Since the play contains no role for a “niece,” the allusion is not to be found in the text. Let us look at the issue from another point of view: did Queen Elizabeth I have an uncle who can be identified as a “mythical King of England?” Arthur, Prince of Wales, was the first son of King Henry VII and older brother to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII. This prince would have become “King Arthur” except that he died before his father, who was succeeded instead by the younger brother, Henry. If you are seeking the niece of a mythical King of England, the niece of a potential King Arthur might do.

A second possible link between Elizabeth and the “niece to King Gorboduc” may be found through one of the dramatists, Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and later 1st Earl of Dorset. The father of Lord Buckhurst, Sir Richard Sackville, had been a first cousin to Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth’s mother.[10] Given the predilection of people of the time for imprecision in designating family relationships (cousin, uncle or niece was taken to mean almost any blood relationship), it is not farfetched to consider Queen Elizabeth I to be a “niece” of one of the authors of King Gorboduc.

“That that is is”: Spoken by the Hermit of Prague, this is taken as a religious affirmation, just as Campion’s mission to England was a religious affirmation. The reconstructed church history that Campion was expected to embrace at Oxford was, from the Catholic viewpoint, a denial of reality, and his mission was to affirm the truth in the face of official displeasure. On a deeper level, this could be an allusion to one of the most profound passages in the Old Testament, in which the Lord, speaking to Moses (who had asked what name he should give for the Lord) declares, “I am that I am.”[11] This may be interpreted as, “Because I exist, I exist,” which very neatly identifies the subject “I” in scholastic logic. In other words, all that exists owes its existence to a separate Creator, save one, the Creator of all, who is the source of all existence, even his own. The Hermit of Prague is not the Creator; thus, he renders the phrase in the third person, declaring that God Is, because He Is; he owes his existence to no earthly agency, certainly to no King or Queen. To such a Person, Campion owes a higher allegiance than his allegiance to the Crown. Thus, “That that is is” is the essence of Campion’s position vis-a-vis his God and his Queen.

Master Parson: Robert Persons was a fellow Jesuit who traveled with Campion from Rome to France; the two separated to enter England and, for reasons of security, pursued their ministries in England individually, meeting each other occasionally. Persons, sometimes referred to as Parsons and a former Oxford classmate of Campion’s, was in charge of the Jesuit mission to England, including the clandestine press that was used to set forth the Catholic position until its capture.[12] Persons continued his ministry within and without England for several decades after Campion’s death.

The allusions referred to here should not be thought of as topical in being timely references from which the theatrical audience would be expected to recognize and draw delight. Certainly, events during 1580–1581 would no longer be timely in 1602, the first production of Twelfth Night , as noted in Manningham’s diary. Moreover, considering the official attitude toward Campion and his fellow Jesuits, inserting sympathetic allusions to Campion into a play would have been quite risky during the 1580s, and would remain so well into the next century. Nonetheless, one would have needed specific background knowledge about the Campion situation to recognize the allusions, and by 1602, most of the principals in the capture, interrogation and trial of Campion—including Lord Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Earl of Leceister—were deceased. Others, such as Anthony Munday, would not have been admitted to a private performance at the Middle Temple intended for members and their guests. Further, we should not expect that the Queen would be in attendance at an Inns of Court performance. (This is deduced from the historical record of the Gorboduc performances, in which the Inner Temple performance was followed by a second performance at court.) I think instead that the allusions were intended for posterity, and were written into the text in the hope that the play would some day appear in print.

It should also be recognized that the allusions to Edmund Campion have little bearing on characterizations and allusions outside their immediate context. Thus, Malvolio is identified as a Protestant, specifically as a Puritan, earlier in the play (II.iii.151–56), but in the Campion allusions, he figures as a Catholic priest. This is not a contradiction since the audience for the play was not expected to hear the Campion allusions. Indeed, it could have boded ill for the playwright had they done so. On one level, the dramatist may have been using the Malvolio character as a caricature of the courtier Christopher Hatton, as some have proposed. For one scene, however, the author has Malvolio imprisoned and sees the opportunity for inserting something he has been suppressing for decades: his bitterness over the trial and execution of one he saw as an innocent man. The average audience member was expected to take the allusions as theatrical nonsense and then to forget about them as the next speech was delivered.

Further Allusions to Campion in Act Four, Scene Two

Having established the allusions to St. Edmund Campion in the Clown’s opening speech (IV.ii.5–12), the tenor of the remainder of the scene, in the context of Campion’s imprisonment, becomes apparent. The Clown is seen assuming the role of the learned man to dispute with the prisoner, just as men of learning brought Campion to dispute at the aforementioned conferences. The dramatist’s attitude is revealed early on by Sir Toby, as the Clown, posing as Sir Topas the Curate, begins his encounter with the prisoner:

Sir Toby: The Knave counterfeits well, a good knave. (IV.ii.21–22)

Thus is established at the outset that the playwright regards the conference to be held, like the conferences Campion was brought to, as a sham, a counterfeit, with a knave posing as a learned man acting as the examiner. “Sir Topas” proceeds to deal with Malvolio as a man possessed and in need of exorcism, even though, as the Clown, he knows full well that Malvolio, whatever his faults might be, is neither insane nor possessed.

Clown: Out, hyperbolical fiend! How vesext thou this man! Talkest thou nothing but of ladies? (IV.ii.29–30)

The irony in the play now develops to match that of the Campion conferences, where Campion was called upon to assent to facts which, from his point of view as a scholar and a Catholic, were not facts at all.

Malvolio: Good Sir Topas, do not think I am mad. They have laid me here in hideous darkness.
Clown: Fie, thou dishonest Satan!… Say’st thou that house is dark?
Malvolio: As hell, Sir Topas.
Clown: Why, it hath bay windows transparent as barricadoes…
Malvolio: I am not mad, Sir Topas. I say to you, this house is dark.
Clown: Madman, thou errest. I say, there is no darkness but ignorance, in which thou art more puzzl’d than the Egyptians in their fog. (IV.ii.33–48)

Next the dramatist shows us the dishonesty of the situation from his own perspective. Malvolio asks for a test of his lucidity, and the Clown asks a question, to which Malvolio gives what would be, to any Christian scholar, the correct answer in terms of the teachings of their faith.

Malvolio: …Make the trial of it in any constant question.
Clown: What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?
Malvolio: That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.
Clown: What think’st thou of his opinion?
Malvolio: I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion.
Clown: Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness. Thou shalt hold th’ opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits… (IV.ii.52–63)

Thus, rather than maintaining the Christian teaching of the resurrection on the last day, the Clown chides Malvolio for not upholding the pagan teaching of Pythagoras concerning the transmigration of souls. Likewise, Campion, first during his days at Oxford and then at his conferences, was expected to provide answers which, by his view, were illogical and indefensible, but which accorded with the needs of the political powers of the day. The playwright thus demonstrates for us a world turned upside down, with clowns passing themselves off as men of learning, while men of learning such as Campion are pressed to deny what they believe to be true to serve political ends. I think the dramatist’s opinion about such proceedings is revealed early on in the scene, when the Clown dons an academic gown for his impersonation of Sir Topas:

Clown: Well, I’ll put it on, and I will dissemble my self in’t, and I would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown (IV.ii.5–7)

Campion’s Innocence or Guilt

As noted earlier, the English government wanted to convict Campion not for his religion but for treason against the Crown; specifically, for plotting the assassination or overthrow of Queen Elizabeth I. Despite questioning scores of witnesses under duress, they were unable to show any treasonable aspect in Campion’s speech, writing or activities during his English ministry. The first indictment drawn up against Campion stated that he “did traitorously pretend to have power to absolve the subjects of the said Queen from their natural obedience to her majesty,” with a blank space left farther down the indictment for the name of a prosecution witness who had been absolved as stated (Waugh p. 206–207).

No suitable witness could be found to testify against Campion to this effect, however, and so this count of the indictment was dropped. Eventually, witnesses were obtained, the chief being Anthony Munday, a journeyman writer and traveler who had presented himself to exiled English Catholics as a co-religionist. He accused Campion of having formed a conspiracy in Rome and Rheims in 1580 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, to encourage a foreign Catholic invasion and also foment a rebellion of English Catholics. The evidence brought forth to support these charges has been found wanting by the Dictionary of National Biography and The Encyclopedia Britannica .[13] Campion’s own writings deny such a charge. In the previously mentioned Campion’s Brag he is “strictly forbidden… to deal in any respect with matter of State or Policy” (Waugh p. 236). Simpson reports that Campion “determined, therefore, as far as he might, to confine himself to the merely religious aspects of the controversy… and to refuse to make himself an umpire between two high contending parties so far above him as Pope and Queen” (Simpson p. 274).

Religious Attitudes in Twelfth Night

If the passage cited alludes to Edmund Campion, one must also ask in what spirit is the allusion to be taken: as tribute or jeer. To properly answer the question, we should examine the religious leanings of the author indicated elsewhere in the play as well as in the other Shakespeare plays. Mutschmann and Wentersdorf see that “Sir Topas,” the pose of the clown Feste in the scene, “is of the same stamp as other Protestant ministers in Shakespeare’s plays and was conceived with the deliberate intention of creating an undignified and ludicrous impression” (329). The steward Malvolio, protagonist of the play, is portrayed as a Puritan with “overweening” pride, and given to vanity and foppery—all in the most unflattering spirit. In contrast, the priest who secretly marries Sebastian and Olivia, while appearing only in scenes IV.iii and V.i with a single speech, is depicted as someone we can confide in with complete trust. Indeed, the entire drama is steeped in sympathy toward the Catholic faith.

The comic knight Sir John Falstaff is also cited (Mutschmann and Wentersdorf p. 345–349) as being a caricature of the Puritan type, leading a licentious life but counting himself among the saved. Significantly, the original name given to the character was Sir John Oldcastle, a 15th century Lollard who was executed during the reign of Henry V. The author was evidently compelled by authority, in response to objections by Oldcastle’s descendants, to change the character’s name to that of Falstaff. Interestingly, a rival play, Sir John Oldcastle, written by the same Anthony Munday who testified against Campion, was staged in 1599 and portrayed the historical figure of Oldcastle in a much more favorable light. Yet this same Munday is regarded as the author of the play, Sir Thomas More, which offers a highly favorable portrait of this Catholic martyr.[14] (In the play, More is condemned for refusing to lend his signature to certain unspecified articles; historically, these constituted King Henry’s Act of Supremacy, allowing them to assume supreme power over the Church in England.) Whether Munday wrote the play as author or copyist has been the subject of much debate.[15] One must conclude that Munday’s contribution to Sir Thomas More as author or copyist was made when Munday was an apparent Catholic, before his testimony against Edmund Campion Indeed, Munday’s later publications, including a pamphlet which detailed the execution of Edmund Campion and his companions, were aggressively anti-Catholic.

Campion and Gorboduc

The historical record offers other links between Gorboduc and the Campion allusions in Twelfth Night . There is the coincidence with the title of the latter play, for Gorboduc originally was intended for a single performance on Twelfth Night; that is, January 6, 1562.[16] A second performance was given at Whitehall at the command of the Queen, on January 12, 1562. (The original performance of Gorboduc took place in the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in London) Remarkably, the only known performance of TN during its author’s lifetime was at another Inn, the Middle Temple, as reported by Manningham in his diary: “At our feast we had a play called Twelve Night, or What You Will ” (Neilson and Hill p. 279). Such a performance would have been a private one, limited to those connected with the Middle Temple or invited by its members.

Yet another coincidence relates to one of the dramatists of Gorboduc —Thomas Norton, listed in the original edition of 1565 as the author of Acts l–III (Cauthen p. xxix). Norton played a prominent role on the English government’s behalf in the suppression of Catholics, traveling in 1579 as far as Rome, where he sought out damaging information about English Catholics living in the city. In 1581, he was one of the commissioners at the trial of Edmund Campion. The following year he complained to Sir Francis Walsingham about the nickname, “Rackmaster General,” that was being applied to him for his part in torturing Catholics (Simpson p. 266; Cauthen p. 80).

Concluding Thoughts

During the Feast of the Epiphany in Elizabethan times, which took place on January 6 and was commonly known as Twelfth Day, gifts were exchanged in commemoration of the gifts of the Magi. It was a holiday of feasting, celebration and revelry. This is the tradition usually associated with the origin of the name of the play Twelfth Night . On the other hand, if the playwright had allusions to Edmund Campion in mind, then a covert meaning for the title could have been intended. In this regard, one should recall the spirit associated with these revelries: that nothing is what it seems; that meanings are turned inside out. To quote Feste: “Nothing that is so is so” (IV.ii.9). Perhaps this spirit explains the paradox of a play which, on the face of it, is a boisterous, rollicking comedy, yet also contains allusions to that fateful time of Campion’s mission, and so serving as the playwright’s Ave Atque Vale for this tragic figure of the period.


1. H. Mutschmann and K. Wentersdorf, Shakespeare and Catholicism . 1969. 16–21, 329–351. Roland M. Frye, Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine . 1963. Hugh R Williamson, The Day Shakespeare Died . London, 1962. 11–25.[back]

2. Henry More, The Elizabethan Jesuits: Historia Missionis Anglicanae Societatis Jesu (1660). Trans. Francis Edwards, SJ. London, 1981. 43.[back]

3. Evelyn Waugh,Edmund Campion . London, 1946.[back]

4. Dictionary of National Biography. Eds. Sir L. Stephen and Sir S. Lee. Oxford, 1921. III, 851.[back]

5. William Cardinal Allen, A Brief History of the Glorious Martyrdom of the 12 Reverend Priests: Fr. Edmund Campion and his Companions. 1584 . Ed. H. Pollen, SJ. London, 1908. 10.[back]

6. Francis Edwards, SJ, The Jesuits in England: from 1580 to the Present Day . Kent, 1985. 20.[back]

7. Richard Simpson, Edmund Campion . London, 1848. 279–313.[back]

8. All quotations of Shakespeare are taken from The Complete Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare . Eds. W A. Neilson and C.J. Hill. 1942. 279.[back]

9. Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton, Gorboduc, or Ferrex and Porrex. 1565 . Ed. Irby B. Cauthen Jr. Regents Renaissance Drama Series.1970. iii.[back]

10. DNB , XVII, 585–589.[back]

11. Exodus, III, 14 (King James). The phrase “I am that I am” also appears in Shakespeare’s sonnet 121, a particularly poignant verse about a good man unjustly perceived as an evil person. “Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed…”[back]

12. The name “Persons,” sometimes rendered as “Parsons” in writings of the day, was pronounced with something of an Irish lilt, the first syllable rhyming with “fair.” According to Simpson (387), “Pearsons” might well stand as a modern rendering of the name. Also see DNB, III, 851.[back]

13. DNB, III, 850–854; The Encyclopedia Britannica. 1973. 4, 721.[back]

14. The play Sir Thomas More survived as a manuscript written largely in a hand identifiable as that of Anthony Munday, surfacing in 1727 in the possession of one Alexander Murray and his patron, the 2nd Earl of Oxford (of the Harley creation).[back]

15. Sir Thomas More . Attributed to Anthony Munday. Eds. V. Gabrieli and G. Melchiori. 1990. 12–16.[back]

16. The Diary of Henry Machyn . 1565. Ed. J.G. Nichols. London, 1848.[back]

De Vere: Man of Independence

Before Looney, did anyone know Oxford was Shakespeare?
A Novel, a Song and a Portrait suggest so.

by Richard Whalen

This article was presented at the 19th Annual Conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society in 1995, and was published in the Autumn 1995 Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter.

Why has no mention of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, as the man behind the pseudonym Shakespeare been found in the centuries after his death and up to 1920, when J. Thomas Looney published Shakespeare Identified? Was Oxford completely forgotten? Or did knowledge of him as the true author go underground?

In the half-century after Oxford’s death in 1604, everybody who was anybody undoubtedly knew that Oxford was Shakespeare, but also knew that it was not to be broadcast, if anyone even cared. It was an open secret. By 1630 Oxford’s children were all dead, and his cousin Horatio de Vere died in 1635. So by the 1640s, memories of him were mostly second hand; and, of course, in 1641 the theaters were closed by the Puritans. Interest in dramatists went dormant. By 1660 when the theaters finally re-opened, it’s possible that memory of Oxford as Shakespeare had faded and disappeared. Or had it?

Perhaps some knowledge of Oxford’s authorship was passed on during the 250 years from the 1660s to 1920. Records and publications as yet unexamined may show that to be true. Also, it must be noted that the myth of the man from Stratford took hold in the early 1700s, and anti-Stratfordian heresy was not tolerated. The Rev. James Wilmot, who could find nothing supporting Will Shakspere as the author, had his papers burned for fear his Stratford neighbors would bitterly resent his doubts about their mythical hometown hero.

Three items have turned up recently that suggest-only suggest-that during those two and half centuries certain people may have connected Oxford to the author Shakespeare. Two are from the 18th century and one is from the 19th century. A fourth, wherein the Stratford monument and the Welbeck portrait of Oxford converge, may prove to fit the pattern.

A Novel Whose Hero is a De Vere

The 19th century item is a novel published in 1827 and having the title, De Vere, or the Man of Independence. [1] The novel was recently brought to light by Sam Cherubim of Northampton, Massachusetts, who came across it in a library, and passed the word to Roger Stritmatter (formerly) of UMass-Amherst. I am indebted to both of them for calling it to my attention.

De Vere, or the Man of Independence, appropriately enough was published anonymously. The author soon became known; he was Robert Plumer Ward (no known relation to the Oxfordian scholars William Plumer Fowler or Bernard M. Ward.)

Robert Plumer Ward was not your typical l9th century literary novelist. He was first of all a lawyer and successful career politician who held senior government positions. His novels were based on the contemporary political scene, which he knew well. They caused considerable sensation since his main characters were modeled on government leaders, including William Pitt, the prime minister. [2]

Robert Plumer Ward thus was a political insider writing anonymously about government affairs disguised as fiction—just as Oxford was writing pseudonymously about court affairs as Shakespeare. Moreover, a descendant of Oxford is the hero of Ward’s novel.

Nothing should be forced when looking for possible references to Oxford and Shakespeare in the works of other writers, but there are a number of striking correspondences in Ward’s novel. First of all, quotations from Shakespeare lead off the title page in 88 of the 93 chapters (5 are by Milton). And Shakespeare is quoted fairly often throughout the novel. Robert Plumer Ward knew his Shakespeare.

At the start of the novel, the author narrator, who is named Beauclerk, meets Mortimer de Vere, the novel’s hero, and discovers that they are related. Mortimer de Vere is a direct descendant of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and at his country house there is a column on a pedestal with an inscription:

Trust in thy own good sword,
Rather than Princes’ word.
Trust e’en in fortune sinister,
Rather than Princes’ minister.
Of either, trust the guile,
Rather than woman’s smile.
But most of all eschew,
To trust in Parvenu.

The only synonym for “parvenu” in Webster’s unabridged dictionary is “upstart”, as in “upstart crow”.

Mortimer de Vere, the hero of the novel, then explains that the verse was supposed to have been taken from Oxford’s study at Castle Hedingham. He’s not sure who the parvenu is. But here is a novelist in 1827 creating (?) a verse from Oxford’s study that seemingly warns the reader to shun an upstart like the “shake-scene” in Robert Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit (1592), who seems to stand for the man from Stratford. [3]
Mortimer mentions, too, Oxford’s quarrels with his father-in-law, Lord Burleigh, and other details of Oxford’s life. Writing in the early 19th century, Ward knows a lot about Oxford and Shakespeare.

The novel is a long tale of political intrigue and romance, ending with a dispute over a will. The hero, Mortimer de Vere, is brilliant, impetuous and uncommonly proud and upright, a man of so much integrity he has trouble succeeding in the world of politics. The book ends with a dramatic trial over an inheritance.

Several passages describing Mortimer de Vere sound like a description of Oxford:

His enthusiastic imagination, which often ran away with him, and falling upon a spirit hereditarily independent, influenced, as we shall see, the whole cast of his life. (p. 42)

Mortimer read deeply in law and history and he found that “Edward, earl of Oxford, in the days of Elizabeth, united in his single person, the character of her greatest noble, knight and poet.” (p. 61)

At one point Mortimer and the woman he eventually marries, known as the “queen” of her household and the “lady of the castle”, plan a theatrical performance, a masque. (p. 184) Mortimer de Vere says: “And what can I do for you my cousine?” She answers: “O! a great deal,—for while I am the manager of my theater, you must be the poet.” “I never wrote a verse in my life,” replies de Vere, despairingly, yet half laughing at the proposal.

The masque raises many questions among the audience: “What was the exact meaning of the masques? Who was the compiler?

Quickly, however, the word spreads that Mortimer de Vere wrote the masque and the allusions are to the “queen” of the household, the “lady of the castle”. Later, she says, “the bard wants to send me to London to reign over I know not what sort of people.”

In the audience is a parvenu, an upstart. He is the son of a manufacturer who converts his name from lower-class Bartholomew to upper-class Bertie and is notorious for insinuating himself into nobility. He buys himself a knighthood just as Will Shakspere, also a parvenu, bought himself a coat of arms.

These references and allusions linking Mortimer de Vere, a descendant of Oxford, to playwriting for the queen of the household, constitute a small part of a long novel. But they are striking, given the evidence that the author of the novel was well versed in his Shakespeare and well acquainted with the historical personage Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Did he know the truth? More research and analysis may turn up stronger connections and permit more telling interpretations.

Dibdin’s Song for the Shakespeare Jubilee

The second item of interest is a song by Charles Dibdin, a prolific composer and lyricist. He wrote the words and music for the Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford in 1769, produced and directed by its star, David Garrick. The songs were collected and published by Dibdin.

A page from one of Dibdin’s songbooks was on display at the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1994. On the page was a ballad called “Sweet Willy. O.” [4]
The name “Willy” recalls Edmund Spenser’s “our pleasant Willy” in “The Teares of the Muses”, wherein Spenser is thought by many to refer to Shakespeare. [5] Willy combined with O followed by a period (Oxford’s initial, so to speak) may be seen as suggesting Shakespeare Oxford. In addition, the multiple uses of “ever” and its variations in the verses echoes E. Vere. In the first verse “e_ver” is split as shown. (Emphasis added).

The pride of all nature was sweet Willy. O.
The first of all swains,
He gladdened the plains,
None e ver was like to the sweet Willy O.

He sung it so rarely did sweet Willy O;
He melted each Maid,
So skillfull he play’d,
No Shepherd eter pip’d like the sweet Willy O.

All Nature obey’d him, the sweet Willy O;
Wherever he came,
What e’er had a name,
Whenever he sung follow’d sweet Willy O.

He would be a Soldier the sweet Willy O;
When arm’d in the field,
With sword and with shield,
The Laurel was won by the sweet Willy O.

He charmed them when living the sweet Willy O;
And when Willy dy’d,
‘Twas Nature that sighed
To part with her All in her sweet Willy O.

In twenty short lines, “ever” appears five times, that is, in twenty-five percent of the lines.

Dibdin was immensely prolific and published a five-volume opus entitled, The Professional Life of Mr. Dibdin, Written by Himself (1803). A scan of five hundred lines of similar ballads produced only three “never”s and two “whenever”s—no “ever”s or other word forms with “ever”. That’s one percent of the lines.

So, in his first ballad for the Shakespeare Jubilee called “Sweet Willy. O.” Dibdin used “ever” in some form twenty-five times more often than he did in his other lyrics.

As it happens, the last words of the Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford, words written by David Garrick, were: “Bravo Jubilee! Shakespeare for Ever!” [6]

Did Charles Dibdin and David Garrick know the truth? Garrick did schedule a single play by Shakespeare to be performed at his Jubilee in poet, dramatist’s supposed hometown, Stratford-on-Avon. More research may reveal what they knew.

Was Oxford’s Portrait Shakespeare’s?

About a decade after the Shakespeare Jubilee occurred a third indication that someone may have believed that Oxford was Shakespeare. This clue was in a portrait inventory that seemed to imply that a portrait of Oxford was thought to be that of Shakespeare.

Derran Charlton, an archival researcher of South Yorkshire, England, made the discovery at Wentworth Woodhouse and published his finding in the De Vere Society Newsletter last May 1995.

The inventory of portraits, dated 1782, lists all the heirloom portraits mentioned in the 1696 will of William, Earl of Wentworth—except one. Missing from the inventory list is a portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. Where did that portrait go?

Scanning the inventory, Derran Charlton also noted that a portrait of the same dimensions was described simply as “Shakespeare”. No portrait of Shakespeare was mentioned in the will, nor has any been found, nor has the inventory reference been linked to any of the other purported portraits of Shakespeare the Stratford man.

Furthermore, the listing of the Shakespeare portrait was alongside listings of portraits of Oxford’s cousin, Lord Horace Vere, and his grandson, James Stanley. Since Oxford’s portrait is omitted from the list and one called “Shakespeare” turns up among Oxford’s relatives, it seems quite possible that whoever drew up the inventory called the Oxford portrait “Shakespeare”. Otherwise the disappearance of the one and emergence of the other, as described by Derran Charlton, is quite unaccountable.

Finally, a convergence of pictures of “Shakspeare” and of Oxford in the 18th century may someday fit the pattern. At the point of convergence is Edward Harley, whose library became the Harleian Collection. In 1737 Harley took the engraver George Vertue with him to see Stratford and the monument in Trinity Church. Vertue sketched the monument but declined to show the face of the monument’s “Shakspeare” in his sketch. Instead, he substituted a likeness based on the so-called Chandos portrait of Shakespeare. [7] He also put Harley into his sketch, as a lone spectator of this bust with a substitute face.

As it happens, Harley was the 2nd earl of Oxford (second creation), while his wife had connections to the 17th earl of Oxford (first creation).

She was the great-great-granddaughter of Oxford’s favorite cousin, the famous Horace de Vere. Also, she had inherited the so-called Welbeck portrait of the 17th Earl of Oxford, now at the National Portrait Gallery.

Harley and Vertue are the subject of a paper by Andrew Hannas of Purdue University that he presented at the Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable last June. In it he raises intriguing questions about what Harley knew about “Shakspeare’s” likeness and identity and why Vertue shows Harley gazing at the Chandos head stuck like a mask on the face of “Shakspeare” in the Stratford monument.

A song from the Shakespeare Jubilee, an obscure portrait inventory and a 19th century novel all seem to suggest that the true identity of Shakespeare was suspected or known in the centuries between the deaths of Oxford’s immediate descendants and the publication of Looney’s landmark book. Only in recent years did these three clues turn up. There may be more in 17th, 18th and l9th century literature and records that would indicate that people knew that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.


    1. De Vere; or the Man of Independence, by Robert Plumer Ward. Philadelphia: Carey, 1827. [back]


    1. The Dictionary of National Biography. See also Memoirs of the Political and Literary Life of Robert Plumer Ward, Esq., by Edmund Phipps. London: Murray, 1850. On page 106 Ward is called “a spectator of the game of politics.” On page 165 is a letter from Benjamin Disraeli to Ward praising his book. Ward himself energetically disclaims that real people are represented in the book. (xi) [back]


    1. Ward, p. 25. The hero, Mortimer, guesses that “parvenu” may refer to Burghley or an “insinuating, designing flatterer of a secretary”, but in the end cannot decide. [back]


    1. The Overture, Songs, Airs and Chorusses in the Jubilee of_Shakespeare’s Garland as Performed at Stratford upon Avon, and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to Which is Added a Cantata Called Queen Mab or Fairies Jubilee. Composed by Charles Dibdin. London: Johnston, ca. 1775. The Folger s copy is unbound. Earlier editions of Dibdin’s Jubilee works were published in 1769. [back]


    1. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality, by Charlton Ogburn, 719–720.[back]


    1. David Garrick: A Biography, by Alan Kendall. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985 (142). [back]


    1. The sketch is in William ShakesPeare: Records and Images, by S. Schoenbaum. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981 (163). See also his ShakesDeare’s Lives, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991 (124–5, 202–6), wherein Schoenbaum mentions Vertue’s sketch of Will Shakspere’s house from someone else’s memory, but not his eyewitness sketch of the Shakspeare monument with Harley in the foreground, which is the more historically significant of the two. Vertue’s sketch is also found in “New Place” by Frank Simpson in Shakespeare Survey No. 5 from Cambridge University Press in 1952. [back]