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From Mapplethorpe to Oxenford
Update, 5/13/04: In response to complaints (at least one from a reader of Stromata), the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts has stated that the "Was Shakespeare Shakespeare?" page does not reflect NEA policy, definitely does not reflect its chairman's beliefs, and will be revised to reflect reality as soon as feasible.
Update, 7/9/04: But, almost two months later, nothing has changed. Based on my own experience as a bureaucrat, I'm not too surprised that the chairman of the NEA has very little control over what his agency does.
Update, 9/16/04: A letter of comment from an indignant Baconian appears on Stromata Blog.
The National Endowment for the Arts, which used to be a bugbear of the Right, has lately enjoyed a revival of esteem in conservative circles. When the Bush Administration boosted NEA funding, the estimable Roger Kimball defended the decision in an essay entitled “Farewell Mapplethorpe, Hello Shakespeare”.
 Pronounce the acronym "NEA," and most people think Robert Mapplethorpe, photographs of crucifixes floating in urine, and performance artists prancing about naked, smeared with chocolate, and skirling about the evils of patriarchy. . . .
Among the positive accomplishments credited to the Endowment’s new chairman, Dana Goia, was –
an important new program to bring Shakespeare to communities across America. And by Shakespeare I mean Shakespeare, not some PoMo rendition that portrays Hamlet in drag or sets A Midsummer Night's Dream in a concentration camp. (Check the website www.shakespeareinamericancommunities.org for more information.)
That sounds very encouraging, and I took Mr. Kimball’s word for it without checking the web site. Foolish me. There may be much that is worthwhile there, but also present is a discussion of Shakespearean authorship that has as little redeeming social value as “Piss Christ”.
“Was Shakespeare Shakespeare?” opens with a resounding falsehood:
The most heated topic in Shakespearean studies is the identity of the man who wrote the plays we attribute to a “William Shakespeare.”
Anybody who pays the slightest attention to the field knows that Shakespeare scholars debate many topics, ranging from feminist perspectives on the Bard to the structure of the Sonnets to possible new additions to the canon to the Shakespeare family’s alleged Roman Catholic connections, far more vigorously. The refutation of anti-Stratfordian speculations is mostly left to amateurs – wisely, because amateurs are sufficient defense against a not very formidable assault. The NEA’s anonymous writer – I shall call him “Neander” from now on, to have the convenience of a monicker – reverses the true picture, ignoring all of the real and abundant controversies and highlighting this phony one. The site’s bibliography reinforces its false perspective. Out of 44 entries under “Shakespeare Biographies and Studies”, about half are about the authorship question, with the numbers weighted heavily in favor of the anti-Stratfordian camp. The “Links” page does list David Kathman and Terry Ross’s Shakespeare Authorship site, which would provide some balance, except that the URL is wrong. (There is no similar problem with the link to the anti-Stratfordian Shakespeare Oxford Society, though I’m sure that the disparate treatment is nothing more sinister than negligence; clicking on the URL to check its validity was too much work for some government drone.)
Later in the same paragraph we are told that –
There are literally tens of thousands of books, articles, and journals devoted to the dispute – numbers that alone contradict the Stratfordian position that there is no real authorship problem.
I have no count of the number of Oxenfordian, Baconian, Marlovian and other screeds, but one wonders whether Neander seriously believes that mere quantity produces an intellectually viable position. More than tens of thousands of books, articles and journals devoted to astrology, witchcraft and the occult do not add up to “a real paranormal problem”. Nonsense multiplied by a large number remains nonsense, as I trust the NEA recognizes. (Or am I too optimistic? Is one of Neander’s colleagues even now casting horoscopes for posting on the Web?)
Concluding the paragraph – we’re still on paragraph one, mind you – is a simple lie:
In fact, even as early as Shakespeare’s own lifetime writers were contesting the legitimacy of the plays, most notably the novelist and critic Robert Greene and the playwright Ben Jonson.
Far from doing anything of the sort, both Greene and Jonson are part of the standard Stratfordian case. The former identifies the playwright as an actor, while the latter directly names Shakespeare as the author of the plays and recounts having discussed the dialogue of Julius Caesar with him. Neander’s misrepresentation is so gross that only an excess of charity could put it down to incompetence.
After such a start, the second paragraph, which is merely ill-written and incoherent, is almost a relief:
The principal problem in the authorship debate is that once we step outside the Stratfordian perspective, the theories do not work to disprove other theories; the field is one of negative scholarship. Through the 19th century, arguments for authorship were arranged around a desired candidate. Facts were manipulated and rumors were spread. We may have reached a dead end in terms of what we can positively prove.
That kind of babble is all too reminiscent of the old-time NEA. It is, however, the closest that Neander approaches to criticizing anti-Stratfordian methodology. His objections to the orthodox school are easier to comprehend:
Members of the Stratfordian camp perhaps feel more at ease, with tradition on their side and the burden of proof on the others’ They’ve been known to mock their detractors with the joke, “Shakespeare’s works were not written by him but by someone else with the same name.” But they too have frequently found themselves on shaky ground. Here are just a few questions the anti-Stratfordians ask:
The highly loaded questions that follow are left unanswered, though they are run-of-the-mill anti-Stratfordian wheezes that have been discredited many times (e. g., the echo of bardolatry in “Could a country boy have learned so much about the law, the classics, the military, seafaring, the royal court, and plant lore and mythology through a provincial education?”).  Two call for comment, because they show either remarkable ignorance or outright mendacity:
Why is so little known about the life of William Shakespeare, while many other contemporary writers have detailed biographies?
To which the straightforward reply is, which other contemporaries? Except for government officials (like Edmund Spenser) and members of the nobility (like Sir Philip Sidney), every Elizabethan writer save one – the zealously self-promoting Ben Jonson – is a biographical shadow. Compared to Christopher Marlowe or John Fletcher or Francis Beaumont or John Webster or any of dozens of others, the documentation for William Shakespeare of Stratford is substantial. Unfortunately, Elizabethans were not very interested in the lives of literary men. All that survives for anyone, with the exceptions already noted, are scattered references and sporadic legal or business documents. (Vide David Kathman, “Biographical Information: Shakespeare vs. His Contemporaries”.)
Why did Philip Henslowe neglect to record Shakespeare’s name? Henslowe was the owner and manger [sic] of the Rose and other London theaters. In his professional diary of 1592-1603, he makes no mention of the Bard, though this was the height of the playwright’s career. Henslowe does record productions of several plays, including The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet, but he does not record payments to an author.
This is the final question in the series, evidently intended as a clincher. The answer is obvious to anyone who knows anything about the “diary”: “a folio memorandum book, which Henslowe used principally during 1592-1603, and in which he entered in picturesque confusion particulars of accounts between himself and the companies occupying his theatres, together with jottings on many personal and business matters, and records of loans, which are often written, signed, or witnessed in the autographs of players and poets” [E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, I:360]. That Shakespeare’s name does not appear is no mystery. From 1594 onward, his plays were written exclusively for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company with which Henslowe had no dealings. Productions of a few earlier Shakespearean works are noted (Titus Andronicus, Henry VI and probably The Taming of the Shrew; Henslowe’s Hamlet and King Lear are different plays from Shakespeare’s), but they come from the early pages, before the book begins recording payments to any authors. (The payment records are in any case haphazard.)
This confused preface concludes,
The debate shifts back and forth in this manner, with no end in sight, and so below are brief summaries of the major arguments in the dispute.
That, too, is a misstatement. The “summaries of the major arguments” omit all evidence in favor of the orthodox theory. Neander does not inform his readers that numerous contemporaries identified the author of the works that we consider Shakespearean as “William Shakespeare” and identified Shakespeare the playwright as an actor or a native of Stratford-upon-Avon. Nor, though he refers cryptically to the First Folio, does he see fit to animadvert to the fact that it was edited by two principal members of the company that performed most of the Shakespearean plays, men to whom Shakespeare of Stratford had left bequests, and that it unequivocally links the Stratfordian actor with the immortal dramatist. (A useful outline of the evidence is Tom Reedy and Dave Kathman’s “How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts”.) Thus the “argument” proceeds one-sidedly; we hear from the Baconians, Oxenfordians, Derbyites, etc., but the case for “the Stratford man” is passed over in silence.
The arguments for various pretenders get fairly detailed attention but are so riddled with factual errors, statements without any basis in reality, logical fallacies and absurd interpretations that it is impossible to take them seriously. Going through them all is tedious, but I’ve tried to compile a comprehensive, if not complete, record of Neander’s misinformation in order to demonstrate just how preposterous this use of public funds is. All quotations are copied verbatim, stylistic infelicities, misspellings, grammatical mistakes, sloppy punctuation and all.
Sir Francis Bacon
Scholars have made much of the fact that Bacon and Shakespeare were both fond of Ovid, the classical Roman poet.
Ovid was the most popular Latin poet in the Elizabethan era, widely translated and read by the general public. A “scholar” who “makes much” of a shared liking for him is doubtless much impressed by the knowledge that Bacon and Shakespeare both breathed oxygen and spoke English.
They [these same scholars] have also linked the Sonnets, with their fondness for boys and “fair youth” to Bacon’s assumed homosexuality.
While it is possible that the author of the Sonnets was homosexual (though Sonnet 20 explicitly says otherwise) and possible that Bacon was, too, those possibilities hardly add up to a connection. The Sonnets’ “fondness for boys” is imaginary, and “fair youth” should be singular, not an implied plural. (In any case the poet urges the Fair Youth to marry and beget children, not the exhortation that one expects from a pederast to his beloved.)
Researchers worked tirelessly to find parallelisms between the authors’ bodies of work, locating phrases and paraphrases that occurred in both sets; the phrase, “Thought is free,” occurs both in The Tempest and in Bacon’s Promus. Of course, the argument for parallelisms is one employed by most anti-Stratfordian schools, but the Baconian theory includes the belief that the Promus was a sort of scratch-pad for plays Bacon would later write as “Shakespeare.”
The Promus is a commonplace book, in which Bacon wrote down proverbs and sayings collected from his reading and conversation. A handful turn up in Shakespeare, but that is no surprise; they were public property, in many cases clichés, not Bacon’s original creations.
One researcher who really did work tirelessly to compare Shakespeare’s work to Bacon’s was J. M. Robertson, whose massive (and, alas, tedious) The Baconian Heresy demonstrated that the two men differed widely in style and vocabulary. Strangely, one of Robertson’s less valuable works (he harbored extreme and eccentric ideas about the extent to which Shakespeare worked with collaborators) makes it into the NEA bibliography, but The Baconian Heresy does not.
Bacon served as a producer of masques and entertainments for Gray’s Inn in the 1590s, usually writing them or at least collaborating. The Comedy of Errors was first produced at this inn in 1594.
There is no evidence that Bacon ever was “a producer of masques and entertainments”; the statement is a Baconian invention. The Comedy of Errors was staged at Gray’s Inn in 1594, but there is no reason to think that it was performed there for the first time, and the Gesta Grayorum, which narrates these events, makes it clear that the play was put on by an outside troupe, not by the Inn’s own membership.
There are historical references that date from the end of the 16th century and refer to Bacon’s desire not to be identified as a poet. There are mentions of a lost sonnet that he wrote and recited for Queen Elizabeth (was it one of the 154 we now say are “by Shakespeare”?). There are indications that contemporary writers recognized Bacon as the author of the early poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. In fact, Joseph Hall and John Marston, writers of satirical verse, wrote that Bacon was the poet in question, and it is believed that the suppression of their works in the 1590s was due to this indiscretion.
Every word of this paragraph is fantasy. Satires by Hall and Marston were indeed burned by order of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1599 but as part of a general crackdown on “wanton” poetry, not on account of anything that they wrote about Francis Bacon or Venus and Adonis.
In 1985, a mural was discovered on the wall of an inn in St. Albans, Bacon’s hometown; it depicts the hunting scene from the Venus and Adonis legend, and a wild boar – Bacon’s crest – figures predominantly. In the 16th century, the inn was the closest to Bacon’s residence. . . .
Does Neander seriously believe that the author of Venus and Adonis took his idea from a mural in an inn? The story was well-known, often represented and unconnected with St. Albans.
. . . and it was not the only time St. Albans has been introduced to Shakespearean works. There are 15 references to the town in all of the plays, not to mention the three scenes in Henry IV, Part II that take place there. It has always been curious that none of Shakespeare’s works bear any regionalisms of Stratford-upon-Avon, nor even any reference to the place, its lore, or its history.
St. Albans, the site of a famous monastery and of two major battles during the Wars of the Roses, was an important place and naturally figures in Shakespeare’s historical plays. Stratford-upon-Avon was a backwater. Nonetheless, contrary to Neander’s assertion, part of one play (the Induction to The Taming of the Shrew) is set in its neighborhood.
In 1867, an exciting discovery was made in Northumberland: a manuscript dated 1596 and attributed to Bacon’s offices seemed to suggest that Richard II, Richard III, and an unknown work may have shared the same author. The manuscript also places Shakespeare’s name only two lines away from Bacon’s.
E. K. Chambers’ description gives a soberer view of this document, which is not, it should be noted, in Bacon’s handwriting:
The MS. . . is imperfect, but still contains some essays and speeches by Francis Bacon, a letter by Sidney, and a copy of Leicester’s Commonwealth. On f.1 is the beginning a list of contents, and the rest of the page has been covered by a second hand with scribbles, which include (a) the name of “Mr ffrauncis Bacon; (b) many repetitions of the whole or part of the name ‘William Shakespeare’; (c) the titles ‘Rychard the second’ and ‘Rychard the third’; (d) an inexact quotation of Lucrece, 1086-7; (e) the word ‘honorificabilitudine’ (in Love’s Lab. Lost, v.1.44, ‘honorificabilitudinitatibus’); (f) the title ‘Asmund and Cornelia’; (g) references to “Ile of Dogs frmnt’ and ‘Thomas Nashe & inferior plaiers’ [The Isle of Dogs, by Nashe and others, was a famous suppressed play, now lost]; (h) the names ‘Dyrmonth’ and ‘Adam’. [E. K. Chambers, Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, II:196]
Anyone may make what he will out of this farrago, but its bearing on who wrote Shakespeare is indecipherable.
The discussion next wanders into anagrams and ciphers, about which I was prepared to write a few sharp words, except that Neander pulls up short with –
Unfortunately, most evidence in the Baconian theories are [sic] in this same vein: fanciful and overwrought. Most of these scholars were working during the 19th-century American Spiritualist movement and were perhaps overly affected by its possibilities. Because of their imaginations, in the end, they did little to advance a rational case that Francis Bacon is truly William Shakespeare.
Likewise unfortunately, it is impossible to tell how much of Neander's discussion of Bacon is intended as sober argumentation and how much is intentionally “fanciful and overwrought”.
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxenford (or “Oxford”)
The cautionary note on which the Bacon section ends is not duplicated for the Earl of Oxenford (his own invariable spelling of his title). Neander credits the Oxenfordians with “compelling theories and solid explanations”, even if they do not amount to “irrefutable proof”. His statements about the earl are, however, comically inaccurate. Almost grotesque is this exegesis of Hamlet:
Freud was the first [actually it was J. Thomas Looney, whose Shakespeare Identified is the first Oxenfordian tract; Neander unaccountably erases him from history] to point out the parallels between de Vere’s life and the story of Hamlet. Edward’s father died [of natural causes, not foul play] when he was twelve [Hamlet is 30 when his father dies], and his mother remarried soon after [true], to Lord Burghley [!], the chief minister to the Queen charged with the kingdom’s security. [Margery Golding de Vere’s second marriage was to a gentleman named Charles Tyrrell.] His relationship to his stepson [sic] was reportedly tyrannical. [Burghley was Oxenford’s guardian, not his stepfather, and treated his ward well throughout his life, corrupting a jury on one occasion to save him from indictment for murder and eventually securing a royal pension to bail him out of his financial troubles.] De Vere’s marriage to Burghley’s daughter Anne Cecil echoes the troubled relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia [Oxenford accused his wife of adultery, deserted her and fathered a child by another woman, incidents that I don’t recall from Hamlet]; Anne’s brother was Edward’s rival [a purely made-up “fact”; Edward received steady support from both of Anne’s brothers], recalling the ambivalence between Hamlet and Laertes. Horace and Francisco de Vere, the Earl’s cousins, are the models for Horatio and Francisco [except for the names, the “fighting Veres” bear no resemblance to the characters – the play’s Horatio is not even a soldier]; Edward admired them for their military achievements. Rosencrantz the spy is Sir Walter Raleigh (who was accused of treason) [among many other differences, Raleigh had not been Oxenford’s boyhood chum; the treason charges against him were brought under James I, after Hamlet had already appeared], and Fortinbras is James I [a strange parallel but void of any connection with Oxenford’s life]. Hamlet is, after all, Shakespeare’s longest and deepest role. [I wonder what he means by that.]
Oxenfordians often equate their hero with Hamlet, but rarely so ineptly as this!
Neander also professes to see reflections of Oxenford’s biography in All’s Well That Ends Well, a notion that I have dealt with elsewhere.
Further bizarre statements follow, such as,
We know that most of his literary work . . . was done after he turned 40 (1590). Could that missing work be Shakespeare’s plays?
How do we know that Oxenford wrote “most of his literary work”, or anything literary at all, after 1590? None of his numerous surviving letters or papers says a word about literary endeavors. (The great preoccupation of his last years was a scheme to lease tin mines in Cornwall.) He wrote poems in his youth (about 20 are extant, described by C. S. Lewis as displaying “a faint talent, but . . . for the most part undistinguished and verbose”) and may have continued to write, but we have no certain knowledge that he did. (For a comprehensive discussion of what contemporaries thought of Oxenford as a writer, vide Terry Ross, "Oxford's Literary Reputation".)
He was one of the first Elizabethans to use the sonnet form. . . .
There is one extant de Vere sonnet, and the form had been introduced into England years before his birth. It was employed by almost every major or minor poet of the era. Hundreds of examples survive.
[H]e was known to other poets by the nickname “Willy”.
There is not a scintilla of evidence for this claim, which apparently derives from Neander’s misunderstanding of a different speculation: that a “sweet Willy” in Edmund Spenser’s “Tears of the Muses” is Shakespeare. (There are many reasons for rejecting this identification, and it tells us nothing about Oxenford.)
When the poems [the Sonnets] were first published in 1609, the enigmatic dedication is to an “ever-living poet,” a phrase understood to mean a dead author. Of the candidates for authorship, only de Vere was dead at the time.
The dedication is not to an “ever-living poet” but to a “Mr. W. H.”, for whom the publisher wishes “that eternity promised by our ever-living poet”. Don Foster’s famous article, “Mr. W. H., R.I.P.” demonstrated, by comparison with contemporary texts, that “ever-living” normally was applied to divine beings and that “our ever-living poet” is almost certainly God.
And was James I’s visible panic on the day Edward died over a will that has never been found?
This “panic” is unnoticed by sober history. I’m not sure what Neander means by “a will that has never been found” but fear that he is creeping toward the fever swamps of Oxenfordianism, where the earl is portrayed as Queen Elizabeth’s son and the rightful heir to the throne, snookered out of his kingdom by the wicked machinations of the Burghley clan, or as her lover, father of the lawful monarch, Henry Earl of Southampton (or, by the truly insane, as both).
[T]he Earl was paid an unexplained and massive sum of 1,000 pounds per year for many years until his death.
This pension is not “unexplained” at all. It was granted to keep Oxenford, son-in-law of the most powerful man in the kingdom, out of bankruptcy. “Massive” is likewise a misstatement. For a middle class Englishman, £1,000 a year would have represented unimaginable wealth, but it was unimpressive for a courtier, probably less than a third of the income that Oxenford had inherited from his father (and dissipated over the years) and three-quarters that of the relatively poor Earl of Southampton.
Neander is credulous too of a bit of Oxenfordian evidence to which I’ve devoted some attention in these pages:
Finally, we know that the Earl owned a Geneva translation of the Bible, the same version now recognized as the one used by Shakespeare for his references and allusions. In de Vere’s copy, he marked many passages, and they are the same passages that appear in Shakespeare’s works, including the obscure ones. Was de Vere simply studying the play’s references, or had he marked them for inclusion in plays he wrote?
I have elsewhere discussed the numerous fallacies in this theory. Most importantly, there is no reason to believe that the markings in Oxenford’s Bible were made by him, or indeed by any single individual. While he was the first owner, the book remained in private hands for over three centuries, and it is likely that dozens or hundreds of people had access to it. If one does take the blind leap of assigning all of the marks to Oxenford, the marked passages do not correlate with Biblical passages alluded to in Shakespeare’s works. I would not have expected Neander to have intensively studied Roger Stritmatter’s doctoral dissertation, in which these claims about the “providential” significance of the De Vere Bible are advanced, but the most casual reader should have observed that most of the “allusions” detected by Dr. Stritmatter, many extremely far-fetched, were invisible to earlier scholars. As confirmatory data, they are the product of transparent wishful thinking.
William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby
The claim for Derby, Neander informs us, is –
much more sober than others; it is rooted in historical references and in the works themselves, and the theory has no obvious drawbacks.
The “roots” prove pretty shallow and scanty. All that is cited is Derby’s youthful visit to Navarre, the nominal setting of Love’s Labour’s Lost (though it bears no resemblance to a real world kingdom; Neander’s “[t]he writer of this play must have had intimate knowledge of the Court of Navarre” is baseless) and the pseudo-fact that “most of the geographical mentions in Shakespeare’s works refer to areas in the north of England, the area where Stanley spent his childhood and later returned to govern”. Neander’s method of counting “geographical mentions” must be quite creative. Except for parts of the Histories, none of the plays is set in the north of England. Only four (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Macbeth, King Lear and Cymbeline) take place anywhere in the British Isles.
In his 1594 poem Colin Clouts come home againe [ll. 444-447], Edmund Spenser suggests that “Aetion,” the eagle figure whom scholars say describes Shakespeare, is indeed Stanley. Spenser could have drawn his reference from Derby’s crest, the only one known from the period to depict an eagle.
That “Aetion” is Shakespeare was the speculation of a small number of 19th Century scholars. The quatrain in which he appears could allude to almost any poet. To further suppose that the name “Aetion” (“eaglet” in Greek) derives from a feature of the coat-of-arms of the subject is to multiply unlikelihood by improbability.
There is a late 16th-century letter that stated Derby was preoccupied “penning commodyes for the commoun players.” Stratfordians dismiss this as code for other activities.
No, they don’t. While a single letter is thin evidence, the common opinion is that Derby did indeed write, or try to write, plays, presumably for the theatrical company that he patronized, though they, like nine-tenths of Elizabethan drama, have not survived to the present day. The significance of the letter for the authorship controversy is that the writer was not an insider in Derby’s household but a retailer of common gossip. The earl’s work for the stage must have been well-known, reducing the likelihood that he hid it under a pseudonym.
On this weak foundation, Neander pronounces that,
The case for William Stanley as Shakespeare is a solid one, and its field is still an active one, without the pomp of the Baconian movement and the conspiracy theories of the Oxfordians.
Have I mentioned that the NEA sponsors wretched prose, as well as faulty logic?
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
Quite unusually, Neander leads off by noting an objection to this candidate.
Born in 1576, Rutland would have had to be a child-genius: he would have written Venus and Adonis by the time he was 15.
Actually, he was 17 when that poem appeared, but the point is sound; the earliest Shakespearean plays probably were produced before 1590, so the “child-genius” objection has force. All that Nander infers, however, is
that true authorship may be more fractured than previously thought. Early works may have been written by one author, many major plays by Rutland, while lesser comedies were left to other ghostwriters.
Why should we associate any, much less “many”, of the major plays with this particular nobleman?
Rutland is known to have traveled to Denmark in 1603-04, when the first two editions of Hamlet were printed. The 1604 quarto includes revisions and details, including names,images, and local geography, that only a visitor to Elsinore could have known.
Commentators have never found any information in the text of Hamlet “that only a visitor to Elsinore could have known”, nor can one deduce anything from differences between the first and second quarto editions of the play. The first, published in 1603, was reconstructed by one of the actors from memory and sold to an unscrupulous printer. The second, published the following year, appears to be close to the author’s intended text. The discrepancies between the two are more likely due to faulty recollection by the First Quarto's source than to deliberate auctorial revision.
But there is more:
Rutland even studied at the University of Padua, where records indicate that two of his classmates were named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
I have never seen the evidence on which this frequent assertion rests but will assume that it is true. The coincidence is interesting, but it means something only if the names were unusual, which they weren't. Two large and prominent Danish noble families bore those names. Hence, they were not much more exotic than "Smith" and "Jones" would be today. [Vide the useful discussion on the Shaksper news group.]
Beyond that, we have only the fact that Rutland visited Italy (anti-Stratfordians commonly assert that only one who had set foot in a region could set a play there, which is self-evident nonsense) and this:
The Earl’s involvement in the 1601 Essex conspiracy and his escape from it lead Rutlanders to believe he is the author of Richard II, that play that depicts a queen’s deposition.
Well, it’s a king’s deposition, but, more importantly, the play was written years before the conspiracy. (A quarto edition was published in 1597.) The circumstances of its performance on the eve of Essex’s uprising were investigated thoroughly by the Queen’s agents, who found nothing to suggest that either the play, described as “old”, or the playwright had any seditious purpose. If the Earl of Rutland had written it as an incitement to rebellion, we may be sure that the fact would have come to light and that he would have fared worse than having to pay a fine.
Christopher Marlowe
A well-known playwright both in his day and today, Kit Marlowe has been widely credited since the 18th century with composing some or all of ‘Shakespeare’s’ plays, particularly Titus Andronicus, Richard II, Richard III, Henry VI, The Comedy of Errors, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and many passages throughout the rest of the canon. Even some Stratfordians are, in some, part, Marlovians.
Here is another example of Neander’s taste for sheer fantasy. I can’t say definitively that no one has ever proposed an extensive Shakespeare-Marlowe collaboration, but it is, at most, an exceedingly rare hypothesis.
The studies of Dr. Thomas Mendenhall in the early 20th century were the first to “prove scientifically” the Marlovian theory. Mendenhall was a physicist who studied the frequency of word-lengths in Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s works; he charted how many two-, three-, and four-letter words per 1,000 words appear. He found an exact match – both men consistently used the same kinds of words. It does not help his case that Mendenhall, as a physicist, was without a primary knowledge of Elizabethan culture and literature. He also did not double-check his work (later researchers found many errors), and his methods have never been widely accepted. But Mendenhall did give creed [sic] early to the Marlovian theory, which, until his work, had only been considered rumor.
In other words, Mendenhall’s “findings” were worthless. They could, in any case, prove no more than that two men writing the same kind of work in the same language at the same time may resemble one another in vocabulary, hardly a momentous revelation.
The author does notice one tiny problem with the Marlovian theory:
The most fascinating part of the Marlovian theory are the attempts to account for Marlowe’s authorship in conjunction with his alleged death in 1593. While still a student at Cambridge, Marlowe was enlisted by the Secret Service to infiltrate English Catholics in France. Among the intrigue and conspiracy that accompanied his position, he was indicted as an “atheist” (which then meant, in opposition to the Queen), lured to a meeting with three other spies, and murdered. The inquiry into the mob-style hit was brief and supposedly conclusive, though later evidence suggests it was shallow, at best. One theory goes that the murder was faked by the Secret Service, and Marlowe was smuggled to Italy; he returned several years later to compose the “Shakespeare” plays.
Marlowe was killed on May 30, 1593, but the other “facts” stated so confidently in the preceding paragraph are guesses. While a Privy Council letter written in 1587 affirms that Marlowe had during his college years performed unspecified services for the government “touching on the benefit of his country”, we don’t know what he actually did or whether he continued doing it after he left Cambridge for London. The accusation of “atheism” was not a euphemism for treason; it was based on papers found in Marlowe’s former lodgings (said by his ex-roommate to be his) expressing anti-Christian sentiments, with which he had also been charged by literary enemies like Gabriel Harvey and the author of Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit. The record of the coroner’s inquest into his murder does have a number of enigmas, for which the simplest explanation is that the witnesses, who ran the risk of being hanged for the deed, were desperate to cast as much blame as possible on the corpse and muddled their stories in the process. Charles Nicholls’ gripping but perhaps too imaginative The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe is an interesting introduction to these events. Nicholls, who is almost certain that Marlowe was killed as a consequence of court intrigues, doesn’t believe that the government played any role, and his careful account of the known facts shows how ridiculous it is to suppose that the killing could have been a hoax.
The Marlovian evidence includes a preface to The Jew of Malta that is thought to have been written much later than the play.
Who thinks this? The play’s “preface” (by which I presume Neander means the prologue) contains one datable allusion, to the murder of the Cardinal de Guise on December 24, 1588, well within Marlowe’s known lifetime.
Proponents believe there are references in As You Like It to the alleged murder scene, particularly the use of the word “reckoning” to describe Marlowe’s death. The word was used in the murder investigation, but this fact was not known publicly until 1925.
In As You Like It (III.3.11f.), Touchstone says, “When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child, Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room”, which is widely believed, not just by proponents of the Marlowe theory, to hint at the circumstances of Marlowe’s death. (The most convincing reason for thinking so is the evident variation on a phrase from The Jew of Malta, “infinite riches in a little room”. The “reckoning” is a bill for food and drink, not the death itself.) Elsewhere in the play, a line from Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is quoted and ascribed to a “dead shepherd”. The most that one can glean from these passages is that the author of As You Like It knew the coroner’s verdict on Marlowe’s death: that he had died in a quarrel over a tavern bill. More than one story was current about the incident, but the coroner’s inquest was a public inquiry, and the testimony that the deceased and his comrades had argued violently over “the reckoning” at Widow Bull’s inn was “known publicly” to contemporaries, even if modern researchers did not exhume it from the public records until 1925. It is no great leap to imagine that the story was common gossip in the small world of the London stage, where almost everyone knew Kit Marlowe personally and many, whether friend or foe, would have been curious about the manner of his untimely end.
“The First Literary Manager”
At the last we come to what seems to be Neander’s favorite hypothesis:
One final theory states that William Shakespeare, a small-time actor from the provinces, gave his name to a series of plays, the authors of which, for various reasons, wanted their identities hidden. The actor could have served merely as a conduit, even seeking out plays, assisting the writers – serving in effect as their dramaturg, brokering the finished plays, passing them to a producer. He may even have rewritten fragments he received, putting uncompleted scenes together into one cohesive story, even adding his own stylistic touches. If the name “Shakespeare” was used in this manner, it seems impossible that everyone in London could not have known the convention. In this manner, the author’s identity becomes less relevant than the work; Shakespeare did, after all, die without pomp or public mourning in 1616.
Leaving aside the implausibility of, and utter lack of evidence for, this baroque scheme, it is self-refuting. If “the convention” was almost certainly known to everyone in London (the apparent meaning of the awkwardly phrased, “it seems impossible, etc.”), it is incredible that this public fact should have been so swiftly transformed into a unanimous belief that the “literary manager” was the sole author. Equally fantastic is the notion that Elizabethan England possessed a whole crowd of Shakespeare-level playwrights, all of whom were too shy to put their true names on their masterpieces. Such commonsensical considerations do not , however, intrude on our Neander:
This theory is tempting: it is the only consistently positive authorship theory, partly because it doesn’t eliminate any other theories. On the contrary, it gives credence to them all. If the actor Will Shakspere came to serve as a kind of literary channel, Edward de Vere could have written his sonnets. Bacon could have written sonnets, too, and spoken discreetly of his affection for men. Rutland’s travels to Denmark could have served as dramatic research. Derby’s travels to Navarre could have served as dramatic research. Raleigh’s travels to the New World could have served as dramatic research. Marlowe could have faked his murder and written for another fifteen years under a different name. All this could explain the vastness of the knowledge in the plays, and the historical lack of education in the Stratford man. This could explain the divergent stylistic variations throughout the canon. Most compelling is the theory’s explanation of the gulf between the historic Shakespeare, the bit actor, and the mythic Shakespeare, the universal poet.
This is the climax of naVve bardolatry – Shakespeare the encyclopedic genius – mingled with naVveté of other sorts – the conviction that no man can write without personal, on-site research and that a variety of styles cannot come from a single pen. At least, Neander notices, though he seems oblivious to its full implications, that –
. . . this too lacks any solid proof whatsoever.
The last section of the piece, titled “Conclusions (or, and Lack Thereof)”, takes the fantasy a final few steps into incoherence:
The question of authorship serves primarily to explain mystery (that which is inexplicable) and to forgive shortcomings. If only de Vere knew of Northern England, then Rutland could have told him of Denmark, Derby could have told him of Navarre, and Raleigh could have told him of America. There are an infinite number of if-then sequences that can be proposed on behalf of any theory. In the end, there are at least 37 identifiable candidates, professionals and nobles. And because of the Elizabethan court’s culture, once we allow that one member of the royal family was involved, the field expands steadily out, in radiating circles, until everyone [!], including the Queen herself (and James, too) are [sic] implicated.
So the genesis of the English language’s most admired monuments winds up like the murder on the Orient Express, portioned out among all of the suspects.
Remember that your tax dollars paid for this travesty.
N. B.: I haven’t gone to the trouble of footnoting my factual assertions. None of them is recondite, and curious readers can find the bases for, e. g., what I say about the official investigation of Richard II or the differences between the First and Second Quartos of Hamlet in any standard Shakespearean reference. I personally find Shakespeare A to Z by Charles Boyce very useful.
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