Deconstructing the Stratford Man
Diana Price, Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000)
Despite the subtitle, “new evidence” is in scant supply in Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography. The reader will find no new facts or documents; none, at least, with any material bearing on the “debate” over the authorship of the works of Shakespeare. What Miss Price does offer is a few novel arguments, almost all of them based on a hypercritical method of reading texts that cannot help but call to mind the excesses of certain contemporary approaches to literature. The author may not be a deconstructionist (she is more interested in literary feuds than in revealing subconscious structures of patriarchy, racism and imperialism), but her techniques are nearly identical.
The thesis of this “unorthodox biography” is that William Shakespeare of Stratford was a prominent figure in the London theatrical world, but as an actor, moneylender, investor, haberdasher, play broker, impresario - everything except a dramatist. The works attributed to him were written by an anonymous nobleman (or maybe by several), precluded from open publication because to allow one’s name to be connected with the stage was impermissibly vulgar for an Elizabethan aristocrat. Miss Price does not venture to identify the noble author. This agnostic stance may impress some readers as judicious; it also has the merit of making it unnecessary for her to face the difficulties that arise from positing a Shakespearean author other than Shakespeare.
To establish her version of the truth, Miss Price looks at the life of Will “Shakspere” (as she calls him) with two jaundiced eyes. One eye sees all of his actions in the worst possible light, often drawing hostile inferences that approach the emanations of a fever swamp. The other examines and rejects the surface meaning of Elizabethan and Jacobean texts that appear to identify the playwright with an actor/impresario from Stratford-upon-Avon. Miss Price trolls for ambiguities and encrypted meanings, predictably finds them, and thus feels justified in substituting her own “conjectural narrative”, supported by no positive evidence at all, for Shakespeare’s orthodox biography.
Will the Wicked
Miss Price’s opinion of “Shakspere” is summarized by her index entries referring to his “Personal traits and characteristics”: “belligerent”, “bombastic”, “braggart and know-it-all”, “dishonest”, “garbles foreign phrases”, “intellectually deficient”, “a laughingstock”, “an opportunist”, “shrewd” (not employed here as a compliment), “socially pretentious”, “tight-fisted”, “uncultured”, “ungentle”, “would-be gentleman”. Against these are posed the ambiguously positive “natural wit”, “well-dressed” and “wealthy”. We are informed, in the course of the narrative, that “Shakspere” lent money at usurious rates, hoarded grain in times of famine, stole plays from his own company, kept his wife in poverty, neglected his children, put peaceable citizens in dread of assault, evaded his tax obligations, used bribery to obtain the grant of a coat-of-arms, wrote his own self-glorifying epitaph for his monument and was responsible for the death of fellow playwright Robert Greene. Child molestation and vote fraud appear to be the only crimes of which this cad was not provably guilty.
Miss Price would no doubt declare that she is driven to these negative conclusions by “the evidence”. Let us look at some of that evidence and how she uses it.
In February 1598, during a period of poor harvests, local authorities took an inventory of wheat and malt stocks held by residents of Stratford-upon-Avon. William Shakespeare appears in this record as possessing 10 quarters (80 bushels) of malt, out of a total tally of 739 quarters. (Only 44 quarters of wheat were reported, none owned by Shakespeare.) A dozen other households, including the local schoolmaster’s, held more.1
On this basis, Miss Price states that Shakespeare was “cited for hoarding grain during a famine” [16; bracketed page references are to Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography
], a charge that she repeats, with pejorative variations, half a dozen times [33, 52, 76, 100, 291, 296]. At no point does she present the facts behind this overheated accusation. There is, in fact, no sign that Shakespeare was ever “cited” for anything, acted at all differently from his neighbors or extracted monopoly profits from his control of 1.35 percent of Stratford’s malt supply. Perhaps he was able to drink beer while less provident folk got by on water, but that is the maximum extent of his villainy.
Even rather ordinary transactions draw barbs from Miss Price. That “Shakspere” had the deed to his home certified “smacks of social climbing” , as does signing every page of his will . Three actions to collect debts, in one of which he proceeded against a surety after the borrower decamped, are signs that he was “a tightfisted businessman with a selfish streak” . Obtaining guarantees that a prospective enclosure would not devastate his income from the enclosed lands amounted to “scheming to safeguard his own interests” [id.]. That his wife owed money to a former employee of her father “suggests that Shakspere did not provide sufficient funds to support his family” . That Miss Price regards such innocent deeds so darkly tells more about her animus than Shakespeare’s character.
In addition to placing a hostile gloss on familiar facts, Miss Price hunts for new ones, confidently identifying “Shakspere” as the target of any lampoon that anyone has ever thought might be linked to him and adding a few extras to the mix. Three texts are especially important to her case and are cited over and over again as if they were factual records.
Her favorite example of a caricature of “Shakspere” is the laughingstock Sogliardo in Ben Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour [68-77]. This figure she takes to be virtually a portrait from life, freely imputing his traits to the Stratford man. Sogliardo is ill-educated, ignorant, pretentious, conceited and gullible. So “Shakspere” must be all of those, to which Miss Price gratuitously adds the faults of Sogliardo’s grain speculator brother and fashion-obsessed son.
Her chief justification for equating Sogliardo and “Shakspere” is one to which she recurs frequently: “Orthodox” Shakespeareans have made the same connection; hence, the “orthodox” cannot reasonably reject it. By “orthodox”, however, Miss Price means no more than someone who has not questioned the Stratfordian position. By that criterion, 99-plus percent of all writers about Shakespeare are “orthodox”. Necessarily, then, about 99 percent of all of the nonsense ever written about the Bard must emanate from “orthodox” sources. To find an “orthodox” quotation to support any opinion is no great feat. What Miss Price never does is evaluate the credibility of her “orthodox” authorities or weigh them against those (usually much larger in number) who hold contrary views.
In the case of Sogliardo, Miss Price cites one “orthodox” source, the anti-anti-Stratfordian writer H. N. Gibson (who was an able polemicist but an amateur scholar2
) and unnamed biographers. The only specific reason that these sources present for linking Sogliardo to Shakespeare is that the former is portrayed as the grantee of a coat-of-arms with the motto “Not Without Mustard”, while Shakespeare had, a year before the play was produced, received his own arms, supposedly graced with the motto “Non Sanz Droict”
(“Not Without Right”).
This reasoning convinces Miss Price. She does not observe, though the fact is stated a work that she cites frequently,3
that Every Man Out of His Humour
was written for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and staged at the Globe Theatre. William Shakespeare was a major shareholder in the company and part-owner of the theater. If he was the object of Jonson’s satire, and was the kind of man that Miss Price believes him to have been, how peculiar that he would have allowed an attack on his own character to go forward at his own expense.
Moreover, Miss Price herself has, just a few pages earlier, shown why Sogliardo’s motto would not
have called “Shakspere” to the audience’s mind. “Non Sanz Droict”
was never in fact used as a motto by Shakespeare or his family . “Not Without Mustard”, an old joke that Jonson had cribbed from Thomas Nashe [70-71], could not have been directed at a phrase whose association with “Shakspere”, if any, was buried in the archives of the College of Heralds.4
Ranking with Sogliardo in Miss Price’s “hits” at “Shakspere” is Jonson’s sonnet, “On Poet-Ape”, a mock-regretful accusation of plagiarism leveled against an unnamed author. Since Jonson had many literary enemies and the poem provides no circumstantial details, it might seem impossible to identify the “Ape”. That he was the Stratford man is an anti-Stratfordian commonplace. To support it, Miss Price musters two arguments, one doubtful and the other absurd, but places the greatest weight on “orthodox” commentators who supposedly concur with the identification.
Her first and foremost authority is George Chalmers, whom she describes simply as “an early critic” . She does not add (perhaps she does not know; nothing by him shows up in her bibliography) that Chalmers was an eccentric antiquarian whose two fat books on Shakespeare concentrated on upholding the credibility of William Henry Ireland’s forgeries. He is best known for his theory that the “Fair Youth” of the Sonnets was Queen Elizabeth5
- not, frankly, a man whose literary judgement inspires confidence.
Reinforcing Chalmers are (i) Jonsonian scholar A. C. Partridge, who merely says that “it has been suggested that Shakespeare may be the victim”, (ii) H. N. Gibson, “who tentatively conceded that Jonson ‘may have had Shakspere in mind when he wrote’” and (iii) Richmond Crinkley, a theater manager who, in the course of book review, regurgitated without reflection the opinion of the arch-Oxfordian Charlton Ogburn, Jr.
The arguments that Miss Price makes on her own are no more impressive. In his play Poetaster
, Jonson calls actors “poet-apes”.
Therefore, although “poet-ape” elsewhere is an inept imitator of a poet,6
a meaning that neatly fits “On Poet-Ape”, Miss Price takes it for granted that the target is an actor. If an actor, why not “Shakspere”? She takes no notice of the many other actor-playwrights of the time: Thomas Heywood, Anthony Munday, William Rowley, Samuel Rowley and lesser lights,7
any of whom could have drawn Jonson’s easily provoked wrath. Later she adds a clincher: “But he [Jonson] left one other clue with which to identify the ‘Poet-Ape’. Jonson wrote only three poems in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. ‘On Poet-Ape’ is one of them.” [94-95] Need anyone be reminded that Shakespeare did not invent the “Shakespearean sonnet” and that, when “On Poet-Ape” was published in 1612, the form was not specially associated with his name?
Completing the trio of alleged assaults on “Shakspere” is Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit. Here Miss Price is less unorthodox than usual. Mainstream scholarship generally, though not quite unanimously, agrees that the “Upstart Crow” denounced in the book’s best known passage was Shakespeare. Most anti-Stratfordians disagree vehemently. The Crow, portrayed unambiguously as an actor and pretty clearly as a playwright, is said to be “in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country” and is denounced as having “a tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide”, a line parodied from Henry VI, Part 3. All of that comes uncomfortably close to a flat identification of the player Shakespeare with the author of a Shakespearean work. Happily for the anti-Stratfordian cause, the passage is sufficiently obscure and confused that one can, without being ridiculous, deny that Shake-scene and the Upstart Crow have anything to do with Shakespeare.
Miss Price does not take this easy way out. She accepts the Upstart Crow as “Shakspere”, which turns out to be the first step toward reading Groatsworth as primarily an uncomplimentary allegory of the Stratford man’s life and character. The section in which the Upstart Crow appears is only part of the book’s disjointed contents. It is preceded by the ostensible author’s highly fictionalized autobiography and followed by a version of the parable of the Grasshopper and the Ant. Miss Price thinks that both the “Gentleman Player” who recruits “Roberto” into the playwright’s trade and the Ant who declines to rescue the thriftless Grasshopper are based on the same obnoxious personage as the Upstart Crow and that the three characters, taken together, tell us much about “Shakspere”.
These identifications have patent weaknesses. The facts related about the Gentleman Player fit Shakespeare of Stratford poorly.8
As for the Ant, its character is dictated by the parable’s moral, which would collapse if the exemplar of thrift were a bleeding heart liberal.
But let us pass over those points and suppose that the author of Groatsworth actually did intend to equate the Upstart Crow, the Gentleman Player, the Ant and the Stratford man. How much credible information does that equation convey about “Shakspere”? Robert Greene’s testimony, however biased, would not be without value. If he said that Shakespeare was, by 1592, in a position to commission playwrights, lend them money and make their lives miserable, that first-hand evidence would have to be taken into account, even though it portrayed the Stratford lad as an incredibly youthful impresario.
Miss Price does not, however, believe that this testimony comes from Robert Greene. She fully accepts the theory, supported by computerized stylistic analysis and other considerations,9
that Henry Chettle, who posed as the deceased Greene’s literary executor, wrote Groatsworth
himself [28-30] and that (as one of her authorities puts it) Chettle’s “ubiquitous” hand in the pamphlet “leaves little scope for Greene’s”. If that is so (and many, perhaps most, mainstream scholars would agree with it), the value of Groatsworth
as evidence about the Elizabethan theatrical world diminishes greatly. There is no firm evidence that Chettle had more than a tenuous connection to the stage when he wrote or edited Groatsworth.
He first appears as a dramatist in 1598.10
Any information that he passed on in 1592 thus was second hand or more remote. Furthermore, his only likely motive for forgery was to make money by cashing in on Greene’s notoriety, so he had ample reason to invent or exaggerate scandal. The probable relationship of what he wrote to the truth is about the same as for the average supermarket tabloid. Miss Price nonetheless treats her inferences from it as strictly honest, factual and reliable.
The three passages just discussed represent only a portion of the attacks on “Shakspere” that Miss Price detects. A process of extrapolation leads from them to others. The character Gullio in The Return to Parnassus resembles Sogliardo and the Gentleman Player, so he too must be “Shakspere” in disguise . And a speech in John Marston’s The Scourge of Villainy satirizes a figure who reminds Miss Price of Gullio, so that is another hit on the Stratford man [88-89]. Moreover, she says, “‘On Poet-Ape’ is one of several uncomplimentary epigrams in a cluster, and some of Jonson’s other epithetic characters read like clones of Shake-scene, Sogliardo, Gullio, and others.” Thus “Groom Idiot”, “Person Guilty”, “Play-wright” and “Don Surly” join the long parade of “Shakspere” caricatures .
“Shakspere” As a Literary Figure
Miss Price, unlike almost all other anti-Stratfordians, credits “Shakspere” not only with dubious business dealings but also with forays into literature. On the strength of Groatsworth’s Gentleman Player, who describes himself as having been “a countrey Author, passing at a Morrall, for twas I that pende the Morrall of mans witte [and] the Dialogue of Dives,” she conjectures that “Shakspere” “improvis[ed] or patch[ed] together old morality plays” before coming to London . That same character’s arrangements with hard-up playwrights show that the Stratford man “commission[ed] plays and broker[ed] them to performing companies or publishers. . . . He [had] no scruples about hiring needy scholars and paying them a mere pittance.” [id.]
Because Jonson’s Poet-Ape “would pick and glean,/ Buy the reversion of old plays”, we are informed that “Shakspere” engaged in “underhanded play-brokering” . Because the same Poet-Ape “From brokage is become so bold a thief,/ As we, the robbed, leave rage, and pity it”, “Shakspere” must have “occasionally filch[ed] a play and [sold] it to a publisher or a rival acting company” [id.]. (Miss Price posits physical rather than literary theft as the Poet-Ape’s offense. Of which of his manuscripts, one wonders, does she suspect that Jonson was “robbed” by “Shakspere”?)
This reasoning leads to the hypothesis that Shakespeare’s “disputed plays” (those that appeared during his lifetime under his name or the initials “W. S.” but were omitted from the First Folio) are pirated (literally) texts that the bold thief marketed as his own [98-99]. The only support offered is a handwritten gloss in a copy of one of those plays, Locrine
(“newly set forth, overseen and corrected by W. S.”, according to the title page), that attributes the work to Charles Tilney.11
But that is sufficient proof to convict a reprobate like the Stratford Man.
Battillus and Terence
The modest literary career that Miss Price attributes to the Stratford man is loosely related to her explanation (or one of her explanations) of how his name came to be attached so firmly to another man’s writings. Her treatment of this topic, which one might think vital to the plausibility of her case, is oddly perfunctory. To quote from her Web site:
I outline several scenarios and conditions, among which I propose is to be found the point of intersection between the name “William Shakespeare” as representing an unnamed aristocratic author in print, and the name of “William Shakespeare,” the man from Stratford. In particular, the allusions to “Battillus” and the precedent in the case of Terence, bear on the “coincidence” of the pseudonym and the name of the man from Stratford.
In her book itself, Miss Price’s discussion of the “several scenarios and conditions” is scattered and underdeveloped. Three theories are discernible:
Theory One is the true author happened to choose “William Shakespeare” as his pen name . “It is even possible,” Miss Price avers, “that the pen name derived from the name of the broker [‘Shakspere’]” , though such a formulation suggests no very lively belief that anything more than chance was at work. Her speculations as to the motives that prompted the choice of pseudonym have nothing to do with any role that Shakespeare of Stratford might have played in the production of the works [61-62].
Theory Two is that one or more aristocratic authors used “Shakspere” as a front man (a “Battillus” in Miss Price’s terminology) for plays that he/they had written but could not (because writing for the stage was infra dig.) present to the world under his/their true name(s) .
Theory Three is that “Shakspere” pirated scripts from the Lord Chamberlain’s (later King’s) Men, of which he was a shareholder, and palmed them off on printers as his own [101, 299].
Where “the point of intersection” lies among these divergent ideas is not easy to see. Miss Price tosses each off casually, without exploring its implications.
The “nom de plume
” theory, which happens to be the traditional Oxfordian view, stretches coincidence to the breaking point. A noble playwright picks as his pen name that of a real man who, at precisely the same time, is rising to prominence in the London theatrical world. Why the noble P. would want or need a pseudonym at all is left unexplained. Anonymity was easy to maintain, as demonstrated by the numerous surviving plays whose authors are unknown.12
The disguise is all the more puzzling if the fleshly Shakespeare was as dubious a character as Miss Price postulates. Would an aristocratic author want the Court to think that he was an associate of a low-life usurer and grain hoarder?
Despite its flaws, this hypothesis is less incredible than any other as an explanation of how the name “Shakespeare” came to be affixed to Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. A paid front man is unnecessary for these respectable narrative poems, and “Shakspere” was in no position to misappropriate them from a theatrical company.
The “Battillus” theory takes its name from Bathyllus, a pantomime artist who flourished in the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus. According to antique literary gossip,13
the Emperor on one occasion expressed admiration for an anonymous epigram, which Bathyllus, who was a second rate poet as well as a first rate mime, then claimed as his own. Vergil, the real author, exposed this imposture and commemorated it with a further epigram that is, interestingly but insignificantly, echoed in the 17th
Earl of Oxford’s first published poem.
Miss Price, saying nothing about this background, declares that “Battillus” means “an agent for writers who did not wish to see their own names in print” . Her proof that Shakespeare filled this role comes from a passage in Vertues Common-wealth, an anti-theatrical tract published in 1603 by one Henry Crosse. The author borrows a few phrases from Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, including “bombast out a blank verse”, an activity to which, according to Groatsworth, the Upstart Crow was inclined. Crosse proceeds to declare of such bombasters “how weak and shallow much of their poetry is”, so that they “over a verse or two run upon rocks and shelves, carrying their readers into a maze, now up, then down, one verse shorter than another by a foot, like an unskillful Pilot”. In order to “get out”, they must “either like Chirrillus [sc. Choerilus of Iasos, a famously incompetent poet of antiquity] writ[e] verse not worth the reading, or [like] Battillus, arrogat[e] to themselves, the well deserving labors of other ingenious spirits”.
Miss Price supposes that this polemic is aimed not at bad poets in general but specifically at the Upstart Crow, i. e., at “Shakspere”. Therefore, “Shakspere” was “an agent for writers who did not wish to see their names in print”, notwithstanding that the relationship between Crosse’s Battillus and the “ingenious spirits” whose labors he arrogates to himself is very different from that of agent and principal.
Such are “the allusions [sic] to ‘Battillus’”. The “precedent in the case of Terence” will appear below in connection with John Davies’ epigram, “To Our English Terence”. These two tenuous references are one hundred percent of the basis for “In particular, the allusions to ‘Battillus’ and the precedent in the case of Terence, bear on the ‘coincidence’ of the pseudonym and the name of the man from Stratford.” We shall have to wait for Miss Price to let us know what that bearing is.
The objections to “Shakspere” as a “paid front man" (aside from the mere absence of any scintilla of evidence) parallel those to “Shakespeare” as nom de plume. What was the point of the deception? Didn't the true author(s) have any other way to get the King’s Men to perform their very bankable plays? To deepen the mystery, Miss Price asks us to believe that most or all of the troupe were unaware of the supposedly public fact that “Shakspere” was not the author [199, 207]. He must have done an amazing job of faking it during rehearsals!
The virtue of the “Battillus” theory, from an anti-Stratfordian point of view, is that it accounts better than a nom de plume for the use of Shakespeare’s name on plays. If one accepts Miss Price’s picture of “Shakspere” as a prominent impresario by 1592, one can suppose that the shy courtier playwright(s) went to him with his/their scripts and did not venture to object when he passed them off under his own name.
An implication of this scenario is that the Shakespearean plays must post-date “Shakspere’s” presumed rise to a leading position as a theatrical entrepreneur. Since that rise lacks any documentation, precise dating is impossible, but it is hard to imagine that a lad who was still in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1586 became a rival to Henslowe much before 1592, the terminal date set by Miss Price's interpretation of the Groatsworth reference. Hence, if she is correct, the earliest Shakespeare should have been produced around that year, and her chronology should be similar to the “high” dating proposed by E. K. Chambers. Quite inconsistently, however, she advocates pre-1592 dates for twelve of the plays, including c. 1581 for Romeo and Juliet and 1589 for Hamlet , and is quite dismissive of the dates advocated by Chambers.
The “play pirate” theory explains the least of all, though it is the one for which Miss Price offers the greatest quantity of “evidence”, viz., the Poet-Ape’s “robberies”, the parallel “theft” of Locrine, and a hidden narrative in John Davies (discussed below). This hypothesis can account, however, only for those plays that were published surreptitiously during Shakespeare’s lifetime. Nearly half of his oeuvre first reached print in the 1623 Folio. By what process did the editors, themselves shareholders in the King’s Men (and thus among the alleged victims of “Shakspere’s” chicanery), decide to include in the Folio works that either were not printed during the Stratford man’s lifetime or had appeared only anonymously?
A possible explanation is that Hemings and Condell knew what plays had been penned by the anonymous courtier, selected those and, for some unfathomable reason, retained the false attribution to Shakespeare. That cannot, however, be Miss Price’s explanation. She believes that the Hemings and Condell did not know that “Shakspere” was an imposter . That premise is, in fact, integral to her deconstruction of the Shakespearean reminiscence in Timber, where Ben Jonson recalls talking about Julius Caesar with the author, referred to as “Shakespeare”, in persona propria .
Miss Price will doubtless respond that it is no business of hers to reconstruct the details of the process by which “Shakspere” successfully took credit for the writings of Shakespeare. She is free, of course, to delimit her topic as she will. But she cannot expect readers to overlook the gaps and inconsistencies that bedevil any attempt to imagine how manuscripts got from the pen of Lord X into the accepted canon of Shakespeare. A small mystery, that literary genius should flower in Stratford-upon-Avon, is not to be unraveled by an ignotum per ignotius of pen names, paid impersonators and play piracy.
The “Unorthodox” Shakespeare Summarized
Let us now step back and look upon that picture - the conventional “gentle Shakespeare” - and on this, Miss Price’s “unorthodox” presentment. If the latter is cleansed of unsubstantiated editorial abuse (e. g., the charges of heisting manuscripts and passing off others’ works as his own), it shows a figure in whom mainstream scholars could easily believe, if only there were any plausible reason for thinking the picture true to life. The “Shakspere” of Miss Price is a man of tremendous presence, determination and ability. Starting as the poorly educated son of a financially distressed tradesman, he has raised himself, by his early 20’s, to a commanding position among London theatrical entrepreneurs. Authors of the caliber of Marlowe, Nashe and Peele depend on him for work. He keeps impecunious playwrights like Robert Greene afloat through commissions and loans. Like most great men, he attracts enemies. A scribbler using Greene’s name slanders him, and, when he himself takes up the pen, jealous rivals sneer at him as a mere “play broker” and charge him with plagiarism. Unlike so many Elizabethan men of letters, he shuns extravagance, invests successfully and is prudent in affairs of business. His life is not, however, one of unbroken, bourgeois contentment. His marriage is an emotional failure, and he and his wife quarrel about money. He feels insecure about his social standing, finding comfort in associating with other successful men of business, rather than with literary drudges. His neighbors in Stratford-upon-Avon try to involve him in their parochial squabbles, pestering him for loans and support against enclosures.
This Shakespeare is snobbish (like T. S. Eliot) and penny-pinching (like Robert Frost) and neglectful of his family (like Robert Lowell) and prone to rudeness (like Evelyn Waugh) and unpopular with his literary peers (like Tom Wolfe), but I can see no reason why he should not have been capable of writing immortal dramas. Nor would he be repugnant to literary scholars, who are very used to seeing and portraying warty faces (not infrequently, these days, adding the warts). Miss Price’s continual insinuations that traditional biographers have deliberately ignored the raw truth about Shakespeare reflect her immersion in the anti-Stratfordian mind set. The reason why the Bard looks so bland, boring and bourgeois (like P. G. Wodehouse) in most accounts is because that is the way that the credible evidence points.
The anti-Stratfordian task is to demonstrate that “Shakspere” and “Shakespeare” were not one and the same. Miss Price’s biographical fantasies fail to accomplish that. What about her more direct confrontation with the authorship question?
Much of Miss Price’s case against the Stratford man as an author will be drearily familiar to anyone who follows anti-Stratfordianism. Rehashed are the stale chestnuts: the author of Shakespeare’s works must have been exceptionally well-educated, have moved in aristocratic circles, have visited Italy, have alluded incessantly to his own life in his works, have written a scintillating last will and testament, have been mourned by all London at the moment of his death, etc., etc. Rather than do my own rehashing of the refutations of these fallacies, I will note only a few points that offer insight into Miss Price’s methodology and handling of evidence, before moving on to what is moderately original in her presentation.
1. While Miss Price, unlike many of her school, does not deny that “Shakspere” attended grammar school in Stratford and was literate [234-235], she refuses to credit him with any learning that he could not have acquired during his few years of formal education. She compiles a roster of 142 authors whom “various scholars have . . . proposed that Shakespeare read, . . . none of whom was included in a provincial high school curriculum” [243-247]. She does not add that very few of them were taught in “non-provincial” schools or at the universities. The only way that the dramatist Shakespeare, whoever he was, could have become acquainted with these forebears was to read them on his own (the same way, I imagine, that Miss Price and virtually all readers of these pages acquired the bulk of their own learning). Underlying the anti-Stratfordian claim that “Shakspere” knew too little to be Shakespeare is the premise that wide reading was an impossibility for a middle class Elizabethan.
One needs look no further than Ben Jonson to see the premise’s absurdity. Jonson was vastly more erudite than Shakespeare, yet, like the Stratford man, he was a grammar school dropout. He gained his learning through a program of self-education, carried out in the face of desperate poverty. The details of his progress are lost to history - just like those of Shakespeare’s intellectual development.14
The opportunities available to “Shakspere” were, it is important to note, superior to Jonson’s. Not only was he more affluent (especially if Miss Price’s version of his life is even a bit true), but a leading London bookseller, Richard Field, was a family friend.15
2. As in other anti-Stratfordian works, the “stigma of print” looms large in Miss Price’s picture of Elizabethan society. It is vital to her position, because it furnishes her sole explanation of why the real Shakespeare hid his authorship.
Elizabethan gentlemen wrote for others in their social circle with no thought of seeing their compositions in print. Custom prohibited the upper class gentleman from having any profession at all, writing included. To publish for public consumption was the business of the paid professional, not the gentleman. 
The “stigma” theory, devised in the 19th
Century to explain why so few Tudor aristocrats published their works, has fallen out of favor for the simple reason that the phenomenon that it sought to explain did not really exist. As Steven May, the leading authority on Elizabethan courtier poets, has demonstrated, those Elizabethan gentlemen who wrote at all (a small minority) published quite a bit and were not disgraced thereby.16
Miss Price ignores Professor May’s article in her book, though she claims on her Web site to have read it (one of many instances in which she deals with uncongenial analysis by averting her eyes). More importantly, she makes no effort to examine the directly pertinent question: Would an Elizabethan or Jacobean courtier who wrote plays have had any strong motive to hide his authorship?
The case for a “stigma” is much weakened by the fact that persons of high station did in fact write, or attempt to write, for the theater. Sir Thomas Sackville, a cousin of the Queen and later a baron and earl, co-authored Gorboduc, the first noteworthy Elizabethan tragedy. It was printed under his name in about 1570, evidently from a manuscript that he supplied.17
Two plays by William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle, were presented at Blackfriars, London’s most popular theater, in the early 1640’s.18
Manuscripts, dated about 1600, survive of several dramas written by Lord William Percy, a younger son of the Earl of Northumberland, for production by the Children of Paul’s.19
Noble authors whose works never, so far as we know, reached the stage include Fulk Greville, Lord Brooke,20
Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (translator of a blood-and-thunder French tragedy)21
and William Alexander, Prince Henry's tutor and later Earl of Stirling.22
Many of these pieces are conventionally labeled “closet dramas”, but, unlike Goethe’s Faust
or Hardy’s The Dynasts
, they are not unactable epics or novels in dialogue. Their form and structure differ not at all from popular drama.
Of crucial importance too was the attitude of the monarch. Although plays were considered scarcely better than pornography in Puritan circles, those were not the sentiments that prevailed at the fons honoris
. Elizabeth and James were theatrical enthusiasts. The Queen saw six to ten plays in an average season, the King twice as many.23
Virtually all of those works were drawn from the repertories that the leading professional companies presented in London.24
Contrary to what Miss Price imagines , there was, during the period of Shakespeare’s activity, no special category of “court plays” distinct from the commercial theater. There is, in short, no credible reason to think that a late Tudor aristocrat would have suffered at all from being known as the mind behind some of the most popular dramas of the day.
3. At times Miss Price forgets the traits that she has imputed to “Shakspere”. He was rich and socially pretentious, remember? Yet we are told that he could not have written Shakespeare’s plays, because those are imbued with “snob prejudice” [252ff.] and employ terms from pastimes, such as falconry and tennis, in which only the well-to-do engaged [258ff.].
4. One anti-Stratfordian sect, the devotees of the Earl of Oxford, attempts to prove that Shakespeare the poet died before the Sonnets were published in 1609. Miss Price takes up this argument. Like many an Oxfordian before her, she plucks the phrase “our ever-living poet” from the printer’s dedication and says,
An “ever-living” poet is a dead poet. The adjective is synonymous with the term “immortal” and is used to describe deities, nonhuman entities, or dead persons. Donald W. Foster researched the term extensively but failed to find “any instance of ever-living used in a Renaissance text to describe a living mortal, . . . although it does appear in some elegies for the dead. . . .”
* * * *
There are two possibilities. Either Thorpe used the term “ever-living” incorrectly, or the poet Shakespeare was dead by 1609. William Shakspere of Stratford died in 1616. [145-146]
This synopsis of Professor Foster’s article “Master W.H., R.I.P.” [PMLA (1987)] is, to put it charitably, misleading. Foster’s finding was that “ever-living” rarely referred to human beings living or dead; the normal referent was God or another supernatural being. On that basis, he offered a third possibility, which Miss Price neglects to mention: that “our ever-living poet” is the Deity, who is called on to bless the (living) begetter of the Sonnets.
Regardless of what inferences one wishes to draw from the dedication to the Sonnets, there is no rational doubt that the poet Shakespeare was alive in and after 1609. Miss Price even quotes the proof, though she fails to note its bearing on the question . In 1612, the printer William Jaggard issued a second edition of The Passionate Pilgrim
, into which he inserted two poems by Thomas Heywood as if they were Shakespeare’s. Heywood wrote a letter of protest, which includes the statement, “. . . as I must acknowledge my lines not worthy of his patronage, under whom he [Jaggard] hath published them, so the Author [Shakespeare] I know much offended with Mr. Jaggard (that altogether unknown to him) presumed to make so bold with his name.”25
Miss Price calls this wording “dense, filled with troublesome pronouns”, but it is not too dense to be comprehensible and makes no sense unless “the Author” is a living man. In “altogether unknown to him”, the pronoun can refer only to “the Author”. (Jaggard’s presumption could not have been unknown to Jaggard.) If “the Author” were dead, the printer’s actions would, ‘tis true, be “altogether unknown to him”, but I somehow doubt that such is Heywood’s meaning. Miss Price does not suggest a reason for thinking that Heywood was putting words into the mouth of corpse. Just 14 pages later, when she reaches the dedication to the Sonnets, she seems to have forgotten this passage completely.
Much more can be said about, and against, the run-of-the-mill anti-Stratfordian arguments. There is, I know, a danger in leaving any of them unanswered, for someone is sure to declare that they are thus shown to be unanswerable. Still, vita brevis. Others have dealt with Italy and the autobiographical secrets of the Sonnets and Will’s famous will and the rest. I should like to turn to the less unoriginal parts of Miss Price’s work, where she displays what I have called her “deconstructionist” talents.
Miss Price’s Deconstructions
More than a few statements by contemporaries explicitly identify Shakespeare the playwright with Shakespeare the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon.26
Miss Price’s approach to this contrary evidence is uniform: She finds some aspect of the text that is cryptic, ambiguous or otherwise hard to comprehend at first glance, from which she concludes that the surface meaning is untrustworthy, so that the document should be ignored completely or “paraphrased” in such a way as to yield an anti-Stratfordian meaning. Along with these invariably strained interpretations, she tosses about what one might call “atmospheric arguments”, chains of facts that sound portentous but lead nowhere.
For want of space, I shall limit my discussion to one text, John Davies’ “To Our English Terence”. Miss Price’s reading is a good sample of her work and, mirabile dictu, far from the wildest of her interpretations. She heads her discussion [62-67] “A Cryptic Allusion”. The poem reads:
To our English Terence, Mr. Will: Shake-Speare
Some say good Will (which I, in sport, do sing)
Hadst thou not played some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou hadst been a companion for a King;
And, been a King among the meaner sort.
Some others rail; but rail as they think fit,
Thou hast no railing, but, a reigning wit:
And honesty thou sow’st, which they do reap;
So, to increase their Stock which they do keep.
Davies’ lines are about as enigmatic as much other Elizabethan verse (and prose, for that matter), but no more so. Terence was a playwright of low social standing (a slave, in fact). Davies elsewhere expresses his regret that acting was regarded as a degrading profession.27
His first quatrain quotes those who hold the opinion that, despite his low calling, “good Will” is fit for high rank. The fifth line turns to “others”, who think badly of (“rail” at) this English Terence. Let them, says Davies, “rail as they think fit”; Will does not stoop to railing back but instead displays “a reigning wit” (kingly and also, perhaps, ruling over the stage). The final couplet praises its subject for writing (“sowing”) worthy, honorable works (“honesty”), which profit those who read or hear (“reap”) them (“increase their stock” of “honesty”).
Miss Price offers a wildly divergent interpretation. Her justification is three-fold:
First, she claims, “biographers find Davies’s poem almost incomprehensible”. The one puzzled biographer whom she actually quotes is perplexed, however, only by a finespun conflict between “Terence” in the title, implying that Davies views Shakespeare “primarily as a comic playwright”, and the opening quatrain’s description of him as an actor - a far cry from incomprehensibility.
Second, the poem’s title is said to allude to the ancient slander that Terence put his name to plays actually penned by Roman aristocrats. While that legend was known to Elizabethans, it was far from the dominant image of Terence, who was renowned as the best of the Latin dramatists.28
Neither the conventional reading of Davies nor, indeed, Miss Price’s paraphrase says anything, open or veiled, about misrepresentations of authorship.
Third, and most important, Miss Price finds deep significance in the pronoun “our”. The epigrams preceding this one in Davies’ sequence are addressed to “my” so-and-so, e. g.
, “To my worthy kind friend Mr. Isacke Simonds”. Then, just after “To Our English Terence” come, “To his most constant, though most unknown friend: No-body” and “To my near-dear well-known friend: Some-body”. “Why,” Miss Price asks, “did Davies suddenly switch gears and shift to the editorial ‘our’, dropping any personal salutation to introduce an epigram that is supposed to be complimentary?”29
Or is the epigram uncomplimentary? If Davies intended his verse to be complimentary, why did he write cryptic copy? Was Davies keeping his distance because he was writing topical satire? What are we to make of the fact that Davies placed the Shake-speare epigram next to enigmatic verses to “No-body” and “Some-body”? In contrast to his straightforward and personal poems, Davies’s epigram to “our” Shake-speare comes across as deliberately cryptic and impersonal. [65; emphasis in original]
Let us not speculate on what Davies’ readers would have thought of “My English Terence”. Here is one of those many occasions when Miss Price feels that the discovery of an oddity, ambiguity or contradiction in a text is warrant to substitute any flight of fancy that suits her argument. Her “unorthodox paraphrase” uncovers an otherwise unknown breach between “Shakspere” and his fellow players:
To our own Battillus, Master Will: Shake-speare
Scuttlebutt has it, my good man Will (which I, just for fun, put in verse), that had you not behaved arrogantly, as though you were the king of the troupe, you would still be a member of the King’s Men, and a king among those lowly actors and shareholders.
Some of the King’s Men criticize you, as they believe you crossed them. But you don’t get abusive. You keep your condescending sense of humor. And you have inspired the King’s Men to value honesty, because now they take more care to hold onto their “Stock” of playbooks (“which they do keep”). They do not want them sold out from under them by someone dishonest like you. So now they will guard their assets (“increase their stock”), and it will be more difficult for you to get your hands on them, since you are no longer a partner in the operation. 
This expulsion from the company must not have upset “Shakspere” too seriously, as he remembered three of its shareholders in his will. Needless to say, there is not a shred of corroboration for the tale that Miss Price winkles out of Davies’ words.
Miss Price’s deconstructions of other Shakespearean references follow the same pattern. To believe that none of the passages means what it says entails believing that the Elizabethans habitually wrote in Aesopian language, in the manner of dissidents in Nazi Germany or Bolshevik Russia. Indeed, one must believe that such linguistic subtlety extended even to private journals like Jonson’s posthumously published Timber. Although the author could never have anticipated an audience for these jottings, they nonetheless served, in Miss Price’s view, as an element in a “misinformation campaign” .
Covering Up the “Literary Paper Trails”
The climax of Miss Price’s analysis is a pedantic discourse on “personal literary paper trails”. Essentially, she argues that “Shakspere” could not have been a writer, because the surviving evidence about him supposedly differs from that for other Elizabethan and Jacobean writers. An annotated table [301-313] displays 25 authors and ten categories of evidence. Only one figure, “Shakspere”, shows blanks in all ten.
Miss Price’s Web site calls this discussion her “strongest argument”, and readers’ reviews on booksellers’ sites indicate that it impresses the naive. On closer inspection, though, one sees that the table has been constructed arbitrarily. Four devices have been employed to obscure the tracks of the Stratford man.
First, since authorship of the Shakespearean canon is the matter in dispute, none of the writings ascribed to Shakespeare can be taken into account. Thus the dedications to Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece fail as evidence of a “personal relationship with a patron”. A corollary is that statements by others about Shakespeare must be disregarded unless they specifically link him to acting or Stratford-upon-Avon or some other identifier. Since few allusions add biographical detail, that leaves out most contemporary mentions of the Bard. If the other authors in the table were subjected to the same conditions, many “Yes” entries would turn into blanks.
Second, several of the blanks under “Shakspere” will be filled in if the reader rejects the deconstructive readings that were discussed in the previous section of this review.
Third, Miss Price creates blanks by ignoring uncontested evidence or rejecting it on non-cogent grounds. Particularly noteworthy is her disregard of anything written about Shakespeare more than a year after 1616, as if the death of “Shakspere” made it impossible for men to recall either the actor or the playwright accurately.
Fourth, some of the chosen categories are unlikely to be filled with evidence about Shakespeare due to the nature of his literary work and the surviving records. For example, with the possible exception of a short passage in the play Sir Thomas More (discussed below), no manuscript survives of any Shakespearean work. It is inevitable that none of the nonexistent manuscripts is in the hand of Shakespeare of Stratford, just as none is a holograph of the Earl of Oxford or Sir Edward Dyer. The complete absence of manuscripts could serve as the basis of an argument, I suppose, that all of Shakespeare was imported from the future by a time traveler, but it cannot show whether one individual or another created them.
Moreover, as will be noted below, there are three categories (education, payment for writing, reference to as a writer) where Miss Price herself admits that there is a “trail” for Shakespeare. She just doesn’t bother to include the evidence in her table.
A survey of that table exposes the flimsiness of the structure. Here is a rundown by category:
1. Evidence of education. The evidence for Shakespeare’s education is circumstantial, but circumstantial evidence has hanged many a felon. Stratford-upon-Avon had a grammar school, John Shakespeare had the privilege of sending his sons there free of charge, and those sons followed a vocation (acting) that demanded literacy. Not only are these circumstances compelling, but Miss Price agrees that “Shakspere” did attend the school or in some other manner receive the fundamentals of an education . For his reading beyond the school curriculum, there naturally can be evidence only of his opportunities, not of what he did with them. What is certain is that other men worse circumstanced acquired, through private study, learning more than equal to that displayed in the Shakespearean corpus.
2. Record of correspondence, especially concerning literary matters. The loss of a man’s letters does not prove that he was or was not an author. All that Miss Price demonstrates is that some Elizabethan writers other than Shakespeare wrote to, or received letters from, correspondents, mostly upper class, whose papers have not perished. If one eliminates from Miss Price’s chart “Yes” entries for which she cites letters written to or by aristocrats or government officials, only four authors qualify for this “paper trail”. The fact that Shakespeare did not demonstrably correspond with his social betters may reveal a little about his circle of acquaintances. It does not cast doubt on his authorship of his plays and poems.
3. Evidence of having been paid to write.
Save for occasional scraps, the sole extant records of payments to Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights are Philip Henslowe’s account books, whose surviving portion starts in 1597.30
Shakespeare became a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1594, and all of his plays thereafter were written for that troupe, with which Henslowe had no association. Hence, the probability is low that any documentation would exist of Shakespeare’s having received payment for his writing.
By happenstance, one minor and tangential record has survived, that of the receipt by Richard Burbage and “Mr. Shakespeare” of a fee for the preparation of an impresa for the Earl of Rutland (not the Shakespeare claimant but his successor). Miss Price does not disagree with the common view that “Mr. Shakespeare” is the famous William, though she does point out that the identification is not quite certain; conceivably Burbage could have associated, on this occasion, with a different “Shakespeare” from his long-time colleague .
4. Evidence of a direct relationship with a patron. Since the dedications to the Shakespearean poems are out of bounds (though dedications are called on to fill this category for other authors), the lack of evidence concerning Shakespeare shows, at most, that he was never an intimate of an aristocratic household who might be noticed in surviving letters or financial records (themselves very scrappy for this period). Few writers were. Moreover, dramatists who were taken up by patrons tended to shift their endeavors to mask-writing (e. g., Ben Jonson) or nondramatic poetry (e. g., George Chapman). The Earl of Newcastle, a generation later, was the first nobleman to patronize playwrights as playwrights. Had Shakespeare obtained a patron as indulgent as Chapman’s Prince Henry, we might now revere Shakespeare’s Homer rather than his Hamlet.
5. Extant original manuscript. The absence of Shakespearean manuscripts is a point (albeit a minor one) against, rather than for, authorship by an aristocrat. Few dramatic manuscripts from this era survive. Most of those that do have an aristocratic provenance, even though aristocrats wrote only a tiny minority of plays. Consider that the originals of Lord William Percy’s insignificant tragedies have been preserved, while the holographs of Hamlet and Macbeth and Doctor Faustus have not.
Nevertheless, a portion of an extant play, the collaborative effort Sir Thomas More, may be in Shakespeare’s own hand. The manuscript survives in the records of the Revels Office, which had the right of prior censorship over dramatic works and refused to license More, despite the efforts of a corps of “play doctors”. Not having received a license, the manuscript was never returned to its troupe and luckily escaped the destruction that has overtaken many other records of the Revels.
Most of the play is in the handwriting of Anthony Munday, with additions in several other hands. One three-page scene is assigned to a “Hand D”, which does not resemble the known handwriting of any Elizabethan dramatist. Modern scholars have assembled impressive, though not conclusive, arguments for the position that the unknown hand is Shakespeare’s.31
The merits of the question are not important here; “Hand D” is not a crucial, or even secondarily important, underpinning to the belief that the Stratford man wrote Shakespeare. What is interesting to a reviewer of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography
is how Miss Price explores this “literary paper trail”. Here is her discussion in full:
The poor quality of Shakspere’s penmanship is as suspicious as is the paucity of extant handwriting for a man who supposedly lived by the pen, and scholars continue to search for more specimens. Some have pored over manuscript pages of the play Sir Thomas More, hoping to find Shakspere’s handwriting in it. Yet there remain only six inconsistent, blotchy signatures against which to make any comparisons. At best, the six signatures support the conclusion that Shakspere could sign or at least scrawl his name, but they do not support the conclusion that he was a professional writer. 
The impression conveyed to the ordinary reader is that the hopes of those who “have pored over manuscript pages of the play Sir Thomas More” have been so clearly disappointed that there is no need to discuss the possibility further. That is a rather cavalier dismissal of material that potentially could upset the author’s conclusion that Shakespeare left no “literary paper trails”. It is, however, not untypical of Miss Price’s approach to unwelcome data, which greatly undermines the value of her book to neutral inquirers.
As belated rectification of this omission, Miss Price has posted additional material about Sir Thomas More
on her Web site. What she says there may reassure acolytes but is only minimally informative. She begins by misstating what she wrote before: “In my book, I make reference only to the deficiency in the paleographical case for ‘Hand D’ as Shakspere’s, i.e., the absence of a reliable control sample of Shakspere’s handwriting with which to make an identification.” Compare that to her actual words, quoted above, which are silent about paleographic (and all other) arguments. She then proceeds to cite four articles that criticize the Shakespeare/“Hand D” equation from one point of view or another. As usual, she makes no attempt to evaluate the relative merits of the opposing sides. She just takes it for granted that the authorities with whom she agrees are right. In at least one instance, she is, intentionally or not, misinformative: She cites an article that argues that More
was written in 1601, implying that so late a dating is fatal to a connection between Hand D and Shakespeare. Yet that is the very date proposed by Sam Schoenbaum, who argues in favor of the connection. Other supporters have suggested dates as late as 1603.32
Thus, Miss Price’s Web site says more than her book, but it is equally cavalier and unscholarly.
6. Handwritten inscriptions, receipts, letters, etc. touching on literary matters. This category is not much more than an amalgam of numbers 2 and 5. Again, the chances of preservation are weighted heavily in favor of writers who happened to have dealings with the upper strata of Elizabethan society.
7. Commendatory verses, epistles or epigrams contributed or received. That no commendatory verses by others were prefixed to Shakespeare’s two narrative poems, the only likely candidates for such puffs, tells us something, perhaps, about the psychology of the author but furnishes no clue to his identity. If he was a noble lord writing under a pen name, he was hardly disqualified from soliciting the praise of friends; indeed, he was in a better position to do so than a glover’s son from the provinces.
Likewise, the fact that Shakespeare wrote no commendations for others proves only that, for whatever reason, he was disinclined to undertake such exercises, just as he appears to have had no taste for penning occasional verse of any variety. (If “The Funeral Elegy” is really his, such reluctance to write to order is understandable.) There is nothing about that preference especially indicative of courtier status. Contrary to Miss Price’s inference from the single instance of Sir Philip Sidney , “author[s] of high birth” did not refrain from furnishing puff pieces. Lord Oxford’s first published poem was a commendation for Thomas Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte, and a bevy of gentlemen of rank wrote prefatory verses to Spenser’s Faerie Queene.
Shakespeare was frequently commended in epigrams, probably more often than any other writer of his era. Miss Price ignores most of these on the ground that they praise Shakespeare the poet without adding “from Stratford-upon-Avon, worked as an actor”. Those that mention the poet in tandem with the actor, such as “To Our English Terence”, are rejected for other, quite inadequate, reasons, as previously discussed.
8. Miscellaneous records (e. g., referred to personally as a writer).
Pertinent references are listed in endnote 26
: to Shakespeare as a writer and actor (Groatsworth
, Henry Chettle, The Return to Parnassus
, John Davies); to Shakespeare as a writer who died in April 1616 (William Basse); to Shakespeare as the writer commemorated by the Stratford monument (introductory poems to the First Folio by Ben Jonson and Leonard Digges); to Shakespeare’s writing habits (Jonson). The blank that Miss Price places in this category is only as convincing as her denials of the data.
An oddity is that, if Miss Price took her own reconstruction of “Shakspere”’s life seriously, she would have to grant that the odious Stratfordian was indeed “referred to personally as a writer”. The Gentleman Player of Groatsworth
is a “country author”. The Poet-Ape, as well as his Jonsonian companions “Play-wright” and “Person Guilty”, write, albeit they are accused of stealing material from others. “W. S.” is credited with revising Locrine
, and Miss Price thinks it likely that he had a hand in other plays. Even Battillus was a versifier. None of that evidence would be accepted as reliable by mainstream critics, but Miss Price believes in it, even as she overlooks its implications for her appraisal of the Stratford man’s “literary paper trail”.33
9. Evidence of books owned, written in, borrowed or given. This category is a blank for Shakespeare, as for 15 of the other 24 authors in Miss Price’s table. The positive entries include two inventories of personal libraries, two bequests of books in wills, one description of an inter vivos gift to a learned society, two inscriptions on flyleafs and two chance references in letters.
As a thought experiment, suppose that William Shakespeare of Stratford had owned a sizable book collection in 1616. What spoor would it have left behind? Books would not be mentioned in his will unless he bequeathed them to persons other than his residuary legatees, which he didn’t. No inventory of the estate survives, so that source of information is missing. He did not give his books away to some institution that would record the donation. His correspondence is not extant. The only hope, then, is that he would have signed his name to the volumes and that they would then have lasted until discovery centuries later by Malone or Chalmers or (alas) Collier. In light of the small number of books that have survived from the 17th century, that chance is very small.
10. Notice at death as a writer. Miss Price sets a cutoff date for post mortem tributes: Those that were not provably written within 12 months after the author’s death don’t count [306-307]. The first datable reference to Shakespeare as deceased comes from 1620 and the earliest substantial eulogies were published in 1623, resulting in no “paper trail” in this category. That Miss Price’s criterion is arbitrary is demonstrated by her own table. The deaths of 15 of the other listed writers were not noticed within the time limit, among them such celebrities as Gabriel Harvey, Samuel Daniel, John Lyly, John Fletcher and John Webster.
In summary, then, “Shakspere” is, on a fair evaluation, entitled to a “Yes” in categories 1, 7, 8 and 10, a probable “Yes” in 3 and a somewhat less probable “Yes” in 5 (which entails a “Yes” in 6 also). A “Yes” in 4 is ruled out only by the fact that the evidence is contained in the works of Shakespeare themselves, an inadmissible source for this inquiry. The lack of a “paper trail” in the two remaining categories is unsurprising; they are not ones where the survival of documentation was at all likely.
In her introduction, Miss Price expresses the hope that “This review of Shakespeare’s life story may convince you that not all anti-Stratfordians are lunatics or victims of misinformation” [xv]. I don’t think that she has succeeded.
Lest my critique run as long as Miss Price’s book, I have passed over much that is feeble (e. g., her efforts to find pre-1616 “doubts” about Stratfordian authorship of Shakespeare), immaterial (e. g., the occasional failure of contemporaries to include Shakespeare in lists of noteworthy poets), irrelevant (e. g., the precise degree of personal friendship between Shakespeare and the writers who mentioned him; what is important is their reliability), bizarre (e. g., the supposed significance of the spelling of Shakespeare’s name with a hyphen and of Ben Jonson’s writing “moniment” for “monument” in his elegy), atmospheric (e. g., Collier’s forgeries) or inconsistent with the main body of her thesis (e. g., her revision of the chronology of the plays). All in all, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography is a remarkable mine of junk scholarship and illogical argumentation, almost worthy to be placed beside the historico-scientific balderdash of Immanuel Velikovsky in the annals of perverse ingenuity.
I would not go so far as to proclaim that books like this one shake the foundations of Western civilization, but, in these days when barbarism prowls at and within the gates, they are no help at all. Miss Price has obviously read a great deal, but she has understood almost nothing. Rage against the Stratford man has clouded her vision to the point where her work is like the efforts of a fevered magpie that snatches tiles from broken mosaics and piles them into its nest. The bits and pieces are bright and shiny, but, jumbled together, they are no more than a meaningless heap - as is Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography.
1. E. K. Chambers, William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, II:99-101; S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, 236-237.
2. S. Schoenbaum, Shakespeare’s Lives, 386n.
3. David Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life, 55, 60.
4. Miss Price does seem to think that the papers relating to Shakespeare’s application for arms would have been public knowledge , though such an Elizabethan version of FOIA is unknown to historians. On the non-use of the Non Sanz Droict motto, see also Schoenbaum, Compact Documentary Life, 229.
5. For a brief account of Chalmers, see Schoenbaum, Lives, 167-168; for more on his scholarly standards, P. N. Furbank & W. R. Owens, “The Defoe That Never Was: A Tale of De-Attribution”, 66 The American Scholar 276-84 (Spring 1997).
6. Sir Philip Sidney, Defense of Poesie: “[T]he cause why it [Poesie] is not esteemed in England is the fault of poet-apes, not poets.” [in Allan H. Gilbert, ed., Literary Criticism: Plato to Dryden, 457].
7. G. E. Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare’s Time, 1590-1642, 66-67, 211-218.
8. The Player is said to have recruited Greene into the playwriting trade. Robert Greene was writing plays by 1586 [E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, III:324], when Shakespeare was in his twenty-second year. Moreover, the Player says that, before reaching his present affluence, he wandered for seven years, eking out a living by putting on puppet plays in the countryside. After that he came to London and prospered. All of that occurred before he met Greene. If the life of Shakespeare of Stratford matched the Player’s, he must have begun puppeteering at about age 10 and embarked on his London career while still in his teens.
9. For a discussion of the arguments for and against Chettle’s authorship, see D. Allen Carroll, ed., Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, 1-31.
10. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, III:263. Chettle’s debut as a dramatist may have been a few years earlier if Sir Thomas More, in which he had a small hand, was written in 1592 or thereabouts. See Carroll, op. cit., 11-12. On her Web site, Miss Price insists that such a date for More is much too early.
11. Tilney died in 1586 [Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, III:497]. The printer of Locrine, published nine years later, rarely put authors’ names on his title pages, so the absence of Tilney’s is not out of the ordinary [William Kozlenko, ed., Disputed Plays of Shakespeare, 132].
12. Bentley, op. cit., 14. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, IV:1-55 lists over 90 printed anonymous plays.
13. Aelius Donatus, Vita Virgiliae
. A translation of this obscure work is available on-line at virgil.org/vitae
14. Riggs, op. cit., 17, 58.
15. Schoenbaum, Compact Documentary Life, 175.
17. Steven May, The Elizabethan Courtier Poets, 365-66; J. Q. Adams, Chief Pre-Shakespearean Dramas, 503n.
18. Bentley, op. cit., 19-20, 226-27.
19. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, II:20-21, III:464-465.
20. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, III:331; cf. May, op. cit., 170; Irving Matus, Shakespeare, In Fact, 20.
21. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, III:337; May, op. cit., 344.
22. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, III:208-209.
23. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, I:214-15.
24. Id., I:216, 223.
25. Quoted in Chambers, Facts and Problems, II:218.
26. Instances known to me, in chronological order: Robert Greene(?), Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit; Henry Chettle, Preface to Kind-Hart’s Dream (1592); Anonymous, The Return to Parnassus, Part 2 (c. 1601); John Davies, “To Our English Terence, Mr. Will. Shake-speare” (1611); William Basse, “On Mr. Wm. Shakespeare, he dyed in Aprill 1616” (before 1623); the inscription on the Shakespeare monument in Stratford (before 1623); John Hemings and Henry Condell, Preface to the First Folio (perhaps ghostwritten by Ben Jonson); Jonson’s and Leonard Digges’ elegies in the same volume (1623); Ben Jonson, “De Shakespeare nostrati”, in Timber (before 1637). All are reprinted in the second volume of Chambers, Facts and Problems.
27. Chambers, Facts and Problems, II:213.
28. Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, I:139.
29. Here and elsewhere, Miss Price asserts that “our” is a notably impersonal pronoun. I should be interested to hear her interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer.
30. Bentley, op. cit., 97.
31. The evidence is summarized in Schoenbaum, Compact Documentary Life, 214-218.
32. Charles Boyce, Shakespeare A to Z, 600.
33. If one takes seriously Miss Price’s analysis of “On Poet-Ape”, “Shakspere” was so prominent as a writer of one particular form of sonnet that the use of that form was a “clue” that he was the target of Jonson’s lampoon.