Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shakespeare at 450: the Pen Tells the Tale

Last month I put up a post summarizing the orthodox evidence in favor of William Shakespeare of Stratford (1564-1616) as having been the author of William Shakespeare's plays and poetry, based largely on the testimony of the First Folio, published in 1623, and the Stratford monument erected over his gravestone a few years before that. Based on the reactions in the comments left by the Oxfordians (those who urge that the real author of the plays and poems was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford [1550-1604]), one would think I had gone beyond the pale (to use one of the countless expressions coined by Shakespeare) of civility by suggesting that there was any evidence for authorship by the man of Stratford.

The current state of Shakespeare scholarship on the authorship controversy is singularly desultory, given that we are now 450 years past the man's birthdate. Each new candidate put forward as the likely "true" author of Shakespeare's corpus undermines the evidence for the ones before. Where there used to be a simple divide between the Stratfordians and the anti-Stratfordians, the latter group has splintered into countless smaller factions (the largest of which, by far, constitutes the Oxfordians -- who themselves are now divided into two camps: those who support the "Prince Tudor" theory, and those who do not).

In addition, a third main category has sprung forth: the "doubters". These people are content simply to express their disbelief that Shakespeare of Stratford could have written anything worthwhile at all, but are agnostic when it comes to deciding just who was the author of the canon.

In the face of all this opposition to the Stratford Shakespeare, orthodox scholars tend to circle the wagons, and more and more refuse to engage with their opponents. Certainly they have tradition and common sense on their side. (Anyone who proposes someone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford as the author has to invent a fantastic series of reasons, often amounting to a Great Conspiracy that went on for thirty-odd years and involved hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people, to explain away the dedication of the First Folio, Shakespeare's burial monument in the church at Stratford-on-Avon, and the numerous other pieces of contemporary testimony which I touched upon in my earlier post.)

Furthermore, the sheer volume of fantastic authorship theories now being advanced from all fronts has made orthodox scholars extremely reluctant to admit any new discoveries or evidence that could tend to shed some light on the matter. It is becoming increasingly accepted, for example, that Shakespeare the playwright collaborated with other playwrights throughout his career on a variety of plays, many of whose scripts have now unfortunately been lost to us. Yet the scholars have been very conservative in admitting new works (or fragments) to the canon.

One of the chief such works is represented by a manuscript in the British Library containing fragments of a lost play called Sir Thomas More.  Since the 1870's, the handwriting on several folios of the manuscript, called "Hand D" to distinguish it from five others also evident, has been identified by paleographic scholars as the hand of Shakespeare -- matching the style of the six known and accepted signatures of the Stratford man. (Three are on his infamous will; two others are on a deed and mortgage relating to a gatehouse at Blackfriars; and the sixth is on a deposition he signed in a minor civil case.)

It is very difficult to establish the authenticity of handwriting with just six known exemplars, each containing no more than seventeen characters. But if the authenticity of Hand D is admitted, then the database expands considerably, and it becomes easier to look for further exemplars -- the first of which turns out to be Shakespeare's (holographic!) will.

Now, I realize that last claim will set off more firestorms, so let me provide visual proof of what I am talking about. One of the more distinguished experts of the 20th century in authenticating questioned documents was the American autograph dealer and paleographer Charles Hamilton (1914-1996). A subspecialty of his was the Elizabethan secretarial hand, in which Shakespeare's known signatures are written.

In the course of establishing thousands of both forgeries and authentic documents, Hamilton developed a useful technique for demonstrating how he could ascertain that handwriting on one document was the same as that on another (or on another part of the same document). He would capture individual letters from the questioned sample, and line them up character-by-character with the letters of the authentic original. When they matched, he had very strong forensic proof -- sufficient for a court of law -- that both hands had to have been the product of the same individual.

The unique shapes of the secretarial hand lend themselves especially well to this type of analysis, because Elizabethans had so many variants for writing each individual letter of the alphabet that writers can be identified by just the variants which they preferred to use, and which differed according to the informality or formality of the particular item they were writing.

Thus, one of Hamilton's first conclusions (in a book he published in 1985), after a painstaking examination of the writing, was that the writing of most of the body of Shakespeare's three-page will (and its numerous interlineations) was the same as that of the six known signatures. Here is a picture of his assemblage of individual characters taken from the body of the will, matched up against each of the six signatures (click to enlarge):

Many have claimed (without any evidence) that Shakespeare's will was drafted by his solicitor (who signs as a witness on the third page), Francis Collins. But Hamilton collected samples of Collins' handwriting, as well as that of his scribe used in his other clients' wills, and demonstrated conclusively that neither Collins nor his scribe could have penned Shakespeare's will (see pages 133-137 at this link for the comparisons of the writing).  The writing instead, as shown above, is exactly duplicated by Shakespeare's own, in his known signatures.

But we are not done with the available evidence yet -- there is still Hand D, remember? And here, Hamilton's achievement is both stunning, and convincing. Consider the following example of writing in the secretarial hand (again, click to enlarge):

Are you able to say whether there is anything different about the lines?  Is there just one hand, two, or multiple hands at work?

The evidence is pretty apparent that the slopes of the writing, the shapes of the characters, the spacing of the words, and numerous other idiosyncrasies allow but one conclusion: that all of these lines were written by the same hand. As a clincher, take a look at the same page of writing, but now reproduced upside down:

With the individual words now unreadable, all that one distinguishes are the uniform similarities in slope, spacing and style. These lines were truly penned by one and the same person.

Well, and just what are the lines in question? Go back to the right-side-up illustration:

This is a composite which Hamilton fashioned by alternating lines from Hand D with lines from Shakespeare's will. Lines 1-4 are from the holographic will; lines 5-8 from the Sir Thomas More fragment; lines 9-12 are from the will; lines 13-15 are from the Sir Thomas More fragment; lines 16-21 are from the will; and lines 22-26 from Sir Thomas More. It is difficult to imagine a more convincing proof that the two documents were written by the same hand.

The foregoing is the principal, but not by any means the only, evidence from which Hamilton concluded that the hand that wrote as Hand D of Sir Thomas More is the same hand that wrote the three pages of Shakespeare's will. And since other paleographers and Shakespeare scholars had previously tied Hand D to Shakespeare's six known signatures, Hamilton's evidence that ties the body of the will with those same six signatures completes the circle: Shakespeare wrote out his will in his own hand, just as he wrote the fragments preserved in the collaborative play known as Sir Thomas More.

One is now in a position, I hope, to perceive the enormity of this evidence -- I use the word "enormity" advisedly, because of the conclusion which it proves beyond any reasonable doubt:

William Shakespeare of Stratford was not only the author of his own will, but also drafted portions of a play which the anti-Stratfordians and doubters maintain he could not have written.

If Shakespeare of Stratford drafted his own will, then he had to have worked as a scrivener or legal clerk in a law office, because its form matches exactly that of the traditional wills of the time prepared by solicitors, such as Francis Collins. It has long been remarked that the author of Shakespeare's plays showed an uncanny knowledge of Elizabethan law and court procedures.

By comparing his now greatly expanded database of Shakespeare's handwriting to other documents connected with the author, Charles Hamilton was able to show that Shakespeare also drafted conveyances, mortgages, and even his father's successive applications for a coat-of-arms.  All of these technical and legal documents are in the same flowing secretarial hand used for both the will and the fragments from Sir Thomas More.

Shakespeare of Stratford's intimate knowledge of law and civil procedure, therefore, came from firsthand experience in a solicitor's office, and provides again very convincing evidence for his authorship of his plays. Hamilton's 1985 book goes even farther, and shows graphological evidence that Shakespeare served in 1593-94 (when the plague had shut down London's playhouses) as a scribe for that eminent lawyer and jurist, Sir Francis Bacon.

The conspiracy theories of the anti-Stratfordians need thus to become even more elaborate to explain how and why nobles such as Oxford would have collaborated with a genuine and skilled playwright who wrote under his own name. What is more, they would now need to develop some reliable means of separating out how much of the total corpus their candidate may have written from that which the Stratford man unquestionably wrote, when the far simpler conclusion is that Stratford wrote it all -- just as the First Folio testifies.

The puzzling thing to this writer is the general reluctance of Shakespeare scholars to accept at face value the striking visual evidence which Charles Hamilton so painstakingly assembled. It is true that Hamilton (perhaps due to his career in proving many forgeries) tended to see cloak-and-dagger stories at the least suggestion (he once theorized, for example, that Shakespeare's death was due to arsenic poisoning, and not natural causes). But those wild speculations are easily separated from the solid body of his paleographic analyses.

The best proof of Shakespeare's authorship of his own works, therefore, lies (so to speak) readily at hand, in the manuscripts we have extant with his name upon them. It is a shame that none of the orthodox scholars has picked up the research that Hamilton began, or followed up on it. If the subject were developed properly, with a full paleographic analysis of the extant writings, the entire authorship controversy could  easily be settled by the stroke of a pen.  


  1. That is the funniest thing. I just posted one of my famous rants including a really good video of the 5th Scene of Lady Macbeth attempting to remove her ''damned spots''. Then, lo and behold, I come over to my chapel on the InterNet Highway, and there's Willie, ink-stains and all.

    Home is always a good place to be.
    El Gringo Viejo

  2. Thank you for an excellent demonstration of circular reasoning. The writer of the will, the play Sir Thomas More, and the Shakespeare canon had to be the same person and that person was William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon. Jane Cox, curator of the will, stated it could not be established even that the six signatures came from the same hand. Contrary to Mr. Hamilton's assertion, no single letter is duplicated in the same way among the six signatures, which are incidentally the entire extant literary record of the Stratford gentleman, known in London as a knave, thief, hit-man, and conniver. Consult Ben Jonson's On Poet-Ape, written soon after Shakspere died.

    Hamilton is rarely quoted because of the weakness of the support or his claims. Hand D was mostly written by Anthony Munday, Oxford's secretary when he was in the Tower, angry and with nothing to do but immortalize the previous scapegoat of English monarchal power, Sir Thomas More. The Hand D differs slightly from Munday's script, differing in its hurried and scattered form. It is an unprovable argument on the basis of not enough proof of the source. Secretary hand did conform to the same script system, so one can be claimed as another in a pinch. But what cannot be claimed is the lack of proud individual flourishing signatures of every literate actor, writer, cleric, administrator, and noble of the time. Shakspere's shows neither knowledge nor skill of writing. But then he didn't have to, if he wasn't Shakespeare. The joke is that we glorify the very counterfeit Jonson and many others detested for his crimes against the true "Shakespeare". But truth will out.

    Setting aside the "scientific" argument, and handwriting is far from a science with so slight a sample and such momentous conclusions derived from virtually nothing, let us go on and for the sake of discussion ask ancillary questions. If Shakspere wrote at all, let alone the greatest collection of literary writings since the ancient Greeks and Romans, why are there no remains. There are remains from each and every author of his time, from Shakspere the putative Shakespeare none. Why, further, were his daughters illiterate for all intents and purposes (-his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall could read and write, since her father was educated and a doctor). Where were the books, manuscripts, drafts, letters or copies of them to or from him, tables, desks, book cases, musical instruments in so musical a writer, direct memory of him and how he became the phenom of English literature with no fanfare, no sponsor, no tutor, no college record or notice from the educated elite.

    I am afraid you went out on a limb and called it a mansion.

  3. William Ray, though I thank you for engaging the post, you do not write upon a blank slate. Jane Cox's is a distinct minority view among those experts in Elizabethan handwriting who all authenticate the six agreed signatures as being from Shakespeare's hand. Moreover, she above all persons should lament the poor state in which Shakespeare's will has come down to us today, with the first page signature virtually obliterated after centuries of unfettered access by persons who made all sorts of unsupervised attempts to copy it, and who have rendered expert analysis of it extremely difficult. (Hamilton preferred to use a 19th-century reproduction of it at a much more legible stage, rather than try to work with the near-eradicated exemplar left to us today by those same "curators" who now question its authenticity.)

    I note that, as is usual with people who criticize Hamilton, you argue that his evidence is "weak", without actually meeting him upon his own ground, or citing a paleographer who makes a convincing visual case to the contrary. Had you taken the time to look at all of Hamilton's painstakingly assembled evidence -- from the conveyances, the coat-of-arms applications, the Northumberland Manuscript and other matches with Hand D (which is identified as such because it differs -- and not just "slightly", as you assert -- from the hand of Anthony Munday, which is given its own separate identification as Hand S by the expert paleographers in the 1923 book about the manuscript linked in the post), you could not assert with a straight face that the identification of Hand D with the handwriting of the will is somehow "circular." To the contrary -- it is attested by a minimum of six other exemplars in the same hand.

    I urge you to check out the many other examples of "signatures of every literate actor, writer, cleric, administrator, and noble of the time" which Hamilton displays in his 1985 book -- and see for yourself how they all differ distinctively from one another, as well as bear no relation whatsoever to the secretarial hand of the will, the conveyances, the Thomas More fragment, and all the other examples he reproduces as part of his analysis.

    You betray your bias in asserting that "Shakspere's [signatures on his will] show[] neither knowledge nor skill of writing." How can you say that? What shows the signature of an illiterate country "knave, thief, hit-man and conniver", as opposed to a man who was on his deathbed? You cannot specify any particulars; you simply make the unsupported,and wholly ad hominem, assertion to that effect.

    I will respond to your concluding remarks in a separate comment.

  4. William Ray, you ask: "Why are there no remains"?

    The answer is very straightforward. First, the will itself (as accepted in the Principal Probate Registry) references a separate "inventory" of his estate, which unfortunately did not survive along with the will. The "remains' which you claim were absent would have all been set out in the inventory, and not in the will, which listed only the testator's specific bequests.

    Moreover, please note that Shakespeare, as the author of the plays performed by the Kings' Men until his death, had no literary or legal claim to either their published or unpublished form. The ownership of the original unpublished play books was in the King's Men themselves, as represented by their head (Richard Burbage, later succeeded by Henry Condell), who edited the First Folio with fellow member John Heminge. Because of the many uncertainties about authoritative versions published during Shakespeare's lifetime, it took Burbage, Heminge and Condell seven years to collect authentic scripts for the 37 plays included in the 1623 First Folio (although there was rushed into print an earlier edition of ten of the plays, now referred to as the "False Folio" -- which many of your cohort ignore in claiming that there was "no contemporary effort" to commemorate Shakespeare's death).

    As far as making a fair assessment of Shakespeare's literary abilities, I prefer the contemporary assessment of Ben Jonson, printed in the First Folio, to your centuries-after-the-fact derogation of him. Indeed, talk about a circular argument: yours proceeds from your contemporary assumptions about what kind of educated person the author of the canon must be, which you then presume to find supported by your idiosyncratic views of the six signatures, and your ignorance of the missing inventory of his estate. Try backing up your assertions by reputable sources, and then we might have a more meaningful discussion.

  5. I appreciate your prompt and thoughtful response. To answer the last question first, the six signatures that comprise the complete record of Shakspere's attempt at literacy include three signatures on three pages of the will. They were written not on his death bed but in January 1616 when as he stated he was of good health and mind. Thus, we have cleared the way to the question of whether he normally wrote that way, i.e., with no style, familiarity, or clarity as was the proud custom of every literate Elizabethan and Jacobean person, certainly every writer of that time. The answer is these marks are not literate. The previous Shakspere signature was in 1612 when he attempted to sign his name at a legal hearing regarding a marriage dowry of friends in London (who were connected with running a house of prostitution). At that hearing he was unable to state his age. The record said he was about forty eight after the official questioned him. Does the literary exemplar of Western civilization not know his birth year?

    I do not call Shakspere a knave, thief, hit-man and conniver as an ad hominem attack in lieu of reasoning and fact. These were opinions held by John Weever, Ben Jonson, Joseph Hall, et al, and the local London magistrate who demanded surety Shakspere would cease and desist from threatening the life of debtors who were in arrears to Langley a fellow money-lender. I believe a reading of "On Poet-Ape", Jonson's acid eulogy for Shakspere, would be an enlightening text in this regard. We are not speaking of the cultivated and somewhat profligate author who in Lucrece decried "the aged man who coffers up his gold". Shakspere was known as a miser, a hoarder, a litigant for small sums, even as a thug, which is preserved in the historical record.

    Working backward to the issue of whether actors, writers, literate folk of all stripes, would have a personalized signature. We are quite familiar with the John Hancock flourish on the Declaration of Independence. The tradition began with last names and written records at the end of the medieval era. Education was an achievement. If we looked at a number of these signatures we would find them, if not utterly clear, done with an artistic style to reflect the person of the writer. Dr. Frank Davis's "Shakspere's Six Accepted Signatures: A comparison to signatures of other actors and writers of the period" is an excellent text on the topic. It is in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? a rebuttal to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Shakespeare Beyond Doubt. John Fletcher, Anthony Mundy, Michael Drayton,Thomas Dekker, George Chapman, John Daye, Ben Jonson, Anthony Wadeson, Thomas Middleton, George Tubervyle, Thomas Heywood, Robert Wilson, George Peele, Henry Porter, Thomas Kyd, John Marston, Henry Cheek, Edward Allyn, Gabriel Spenser and more all met a standard of clarity and style utterly lacking in the scratch and puddle formations of the Shakspere signatures. I do not condemn poor handwriting. This is beyond penmanship. The individual was completely unable to write with a quill or pen. Which would explain why he left no remains of the literary sort.

    I am warned to cease and desist writing, so will continue at another point if possible.

    1. William Jay, thank you for engaging in the question so thoroughly. I have to correct some underlying errors that are leading you to what I believe are false conclusions:

      1) The will bears two dates: January 25, 1616 and March 25, 1616. The writing of January consists of the original draft of the will, without corrections and interlineation; it was not executed or signed at that time, but left as a draft. In March, after his daughter had wed a man for whom Shakespeare had little respect, Shakespeare made by interlineations significant changes in favor of his niece, and strictly tying up his daughter's legacy. He also scratched out the word "January" and replaced it with "March."

      2) As Hamilton shows by visible comparisons of the writing, the March changes and additions to the will are in a much deteriorated hand. It is apparent that Shakespeare has suffered some sort of stroke that has affected his penmanship. Compare the writing of the interlineations with the writing of the original will and with Hand D as I have reproduced it in the illustrations in my post: you could never argue that such writing was not the hand of a literate and educated man, who suffered no disabilities to his penmanship (in comparison to the signatures and interlineations of the will). Yet Hamilton's recreation of each of Shakespeare's six signatures from both kinds of writing in the will remains an irrefutable demonstration that both styles of writing -- the healthy, and the deteriorated -- came from the same hand. No one has yet (to my knowledge) shown where Hamilton goes astray in that analysis. (For example, why hasn't someone tried to reproduce the six signatures from someone else's Elizabethan writing? Answer: you can't, because Shakespeare's hand was distinctively his own, as befit someone who had spent his life penning plays and poetry, and bore no resemblance to that of any of his contemporaries [again, see the Hamilton chapter linked in the article and again here].)

      3) The will was signed "By me, William Shakespeare" in March when it became the final version and Shakespeare could not rewrite the whole thing as a fair copy, but had to make do with crossings-out and interlineations. He would not have signed the draft in January, because then his changes and interlineations in March would have to have been attested by witnesses separately all over again. There are just three signatures on the will, one for each page, and there is one attestation by witnesses at the end. He says in the last line: "... I have hereunto put my [seale] hand, the daie and yeare first abovewritten" -- i.e., the corrected date of March 25, 1616.

      Hamilton's chapter on the will (ch. 6) is a far more thorough graphological and stylistic analysis of it than is Cutting's essay; and I linked in the article to the chapter of Hamilton's later book, where you can see the systematic comparison's of Shakespeare's hand with those of over forty of his contemporaries. No one, I repeat, has done a more thorough paleographic analysis of the extant handwriting than Hamilton.

    2. Quite right the will was altered to ensure that Judith's paramour Quiney would not receive land from it. The original will had been written in 1612, hence the many alterations. The pages are of different sizes and materials. Right there should be an alarm for so high a literary and cultivated figure. Shakspere did not pay to have the will re-written. He included a penalty if his older daughter did not pay out in cash to the younger within a certain time period. He included the "second best bed" for his wife to avoid the penalty of a one-third widow's right to a deceased person's wife if he did not otherwise provide for her. Such is the content of the will you consider the work of England's most cherished and celebrated literary exemplar. As I said in another post, the view does not meet with ordinary logic.

      I can comment little about Hamilton's theory, since when I read the book I wondered why he did not consider the illiteracy of the signatures, and through no fault of his own why he justified proceeding when he had no more sufficient sample than them for comparison to anything.

      Obviously he was working under the impression that this was the great Shakespeare, which appears to have affected his objectivity in examining the circumstances. Legend had it that Shakspere suddenly took ill from a fever after a drinking bout with Jonson. He was quickly dead. From reading Altrocchi's Malice Aforethought, it seems at least plausible that this was a poisoning. It was the leading practice of political assassination at that time. Jonson was working for Herbert and was close to the Vere family. His "On Poet Ape" followed in short order. This is a topic that deserves further study. Piecing the events together is not sufficient causally but does give reason to proceed.

      I feel I have introduced new information and a new approach to you and your readership and I hope that a more open-minded appreciation of the subject matter will follow. We deserve more than a fable about our beloved Author.

    3. "The original will had been written in 1612 ..."

      Your evidence, please? The beginning of the will clearly has the year 1616 stated, and the 25th of the month. "January" has been stricken through, and replaced with "March." There is no internal or external evidence of any kind of which I am aware that would date the first draft of this will to 1612.

      "The pages are of different sizes and materials...". Quite right. So are the folios of Sir Thomas More. Handmade paper is very difficult to make consistently in the exact same size.

      Hamilton did not consider the signatures "illiterate", because he found through his examination that they were each specimens of an unhealthy hand (perhaps dying of arsenic poisoning, as he and you seem to suggest, or perhaps having suffered a stroke) written on March 25, 1616 -- two months after the will's first draft. Illiteracy was not a factor, given the identities of the handwriting in the signatures and the rest of the will -- obviously written by one who was very competent in heirship law, and certainly not "illiterate."

      Shakespeare did not see to the education of his daughter while he was acting and writing plays in London; she would not have been entitled to go to the same school he had attended as a child. She stayed in Stratford, so he could do nothing to make her literate while he was away, and he even acknowledges her illiteracy in attesting her mark as a witness to the Blackfriars mortgage. So her illiteracy was not of concern to him, and an attempt to view his attitude on the subject through 21st-century feminist eyes is anachronistic, to say the least.

      You continually avoid addressing the strongest evidence for the will's authorship, namely, the handwriting comparisons between its text and that of Hand D. Beside that very visual evidence, all the speculation about what kind of person Shakespeare "would have been", or "must have been", is nothing more than conjecture piled upon conjecture.

  6. In reply to your second communique, i must inform you that your assumption that all "remains" were listed in an inventory is contrary to the record of the remaining five million wills from that period of English history. The number of inventories listing books and other valuables is minute. Such material was overwhelmingly included in the will, just as a Bible would be. Here I recommend Bonner Miller Cutting's essay (Shakespeare's Will Considered Too Curiously) in Brief Chronicles, 2009, pp. 169-191. These false assumptions are debunked there. I also recommend Dr. Frank Davis's essay on the comparison of Shakspere's attempted signatures and those of his contemporaries: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? reproduces his essay.

    I must take exception to your claim that the play companies owned the plays. The unpublished plays were in the hands of the "Grand Possessors", mentioned in the Troilus and Cressida front matter. These were no doubt Elizabeth, Bridget, and Susan Vere, de Vere's daughters. Their husbands financed the First Folio, two of whom, the Herberts, were the dedicatees. I feel you are rationalizing when you say the mourners of the great Stratford Shakespeare were just taking a long time to write up their eulogies. It did take a long time to assemble and rectify the nearly forty plays, but this was done by the Herberts' employee Joonson, not the actors who had no background in the editing work. They were used just as Shakspere was to flesh out the hoax as a sentimental tribute. Only the wealthy nobles had 5000 pounds to accomplish the project. The False Folio to which you refer was in 1619. The main point remains that there was not one single tribute to Shakspere upon his demise, as there were copious tributes to every other literary figure under similar circumstances.

    I do not see my previous comment published and trust the two will be in due course. thank you for the opportunity, WJ Ray

    1. The fact remains [no pun intended], William Jay, that the copy of the will in the Registry expressly references an attached "inventory". The reference is by a clerk, who would not have referred to it had it not existed. This is one of the many points on which Cutting goes astray.

      Likewise, your claim about ownership of the corpus of plays is not backed up by any scholarship. The plays were the intellectual property of the acting companies, who bought them from the author. The companies carefully guarded the texts, and complained frequently about pirated copies being published. When the First Folio was published in 1623, it was entered in the Stationers' Register, which would have prevented anyone else from printing copies -- especially important for all of those plays whose texts had never before been published.

      Again your elaborate theory as to how Oxford's heirs bribed Shakespeare's fellow players, Jonson, Digge and many others to go along with a monumental ruse requires far more suspension of credibility than does the simple hypothesis that the testimonies of the First Folio mean just what they say.

    2. It appears there is a communication gap based on divergent ideas and the means of reasoning processes to support them. I did NOT in any way suggest that the Herbert employees and retainers were bribed. They were loyal to Herbert, to the Vere daughters, as was the honorable custom between close class relations. Hemminge and Condell retired soon after the publication of the First Folio. It is known that they never edited anything and were completely involved with their acting, Condell's grocery vocation, and their religious commitments. They COULD have been rewarded for the use of their names. No other writing is attributed to them, certainly not in the high style of the First Folio. Digges was a political ally of Herbert, Basse was Bridget Vere's retainer. Although the surface presentation of the First Folio front matter appears appealing as the loving work of devoted colleagues, it has been accepted for centuries that Jonson's style is reflected in the actual contributions. This can mean nothing else than that it was a contrivance to present to the gullible and inattentive. Which has been carried on generation to generation with no examination of the glaring contradictions, until quite recently, which is a hopeful sign for this unanswered question, what Emerson called the first of all literary questions. How could so unlikely an attributed author be so knowledgeable, experienced, and anguished and lead the venal life of a money-lender. This issue has yet to be openly and thoroughly addressed. in thanks for the exchange, WJ Ray

      We seem to differ about who had control of the plays. Although the Lord Chamberlain's Men had title to about seventeen plays, William Herbert had control of the LCM in his office as Lord Chamberlain in charge of revels. The family likewise had control of the eighteen plays which you do not refer to and which appeared for the first time in the First Folio. That was the meaning of the (Jonson) T&C front matter conceit that that play and the Sonnets had "scaped" the Grand Possessors. They released them in 1609 but did not release the others until 1623. When you say this view is not backed up with any scholarship, how could the traditional scholarship remark about anything correctly, on a subject that it has completely misconstrued as to authorship and the process of publication?

      I am quite familiar with Halliwell-Phillips' report of the missing inventory. There was an inventory. But the historical fact is that a negligible few Elizabethan inventories listed valuable items. That was the purview and function of the will, and books, instruments, manuscripts, etc. were highly prized possession. Where they were not listed in the wills, they were disposed of to relatives and associates, as Bacon gave his library to his brother before he died. Elizabeth did the same before she died. There is no such record for Shakspere. That his parents and children were illiterate is established fact, unheard of for a cultivated person, especially the latter. There are over 200 references to letters in the canon, most of them spoken by women. It simply does not meet the requirements of ordinary logic to claim as you must, that Shakspere was Shakespeare.

    3. I'm sorry, William Jay, but when I am confronted with assertions like: "The family likewise had control of the eighteen plays which you do not refer to and which appeared for the first time in the First Folio", I throw up my hands and can find no common ground on which to debate.

      You assume that the eighteen plays never before published had never before been performed. Here is a list of the Folio plays that had not been published by 1623 (they are marked with an asterisk). Now look at the list of plays mentioned by Francis Mere in 1598 as ones that had already been performed by that date (25 years earlier) -- do you see the overlap?

      So your first problem, as an Oxfordian, is to explain how title to those plays performed a quarter of a century earlier stayed with the Lord Chamberlain when the acting troupe became the King's Men upon the accession of King James. The ownership would have passed to the company heads (Burbage, Heminges and Condell) -- otherwise they would have had no right to continue to perform the plays.

      Also, The Tempest is one of the plays first published in the First Folio, but we know that it was first performed in November 1611. But if you are correct that de Vere wrote that play before he died in 1604 and it "stayed on the shelf" for his daughters to control after his death, what on earth would have convinced the King's Men to perform it in 1611 if they could not own the rights to all future performances? And why would the daughters have chosen to take just that particular play off the shelf at that particular time, while leaving still on the shelf a dozen or so others? It just makes no sense.

      As for the inventory: I just don't know what it listed, and neither do you. Perhaps Shakespeare left (or sold) all his books in London -- which is where they would have had to have been, for them to have been of any use to him while he was writing the plays -- before he moved back to Stratford.

      Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There was an inventory, so there was property disposed of outside the will. To construct a whole Oxfordian edifice based on the lack of any mention of books or manuscripts in the will is to grasp at nonexistent straws.

      The will was handwritten by the same man who wrote the extant fragments of Sir Thomas More. And that man was not Edward de Vere. You Oxfordians can get nowhere until you responsibly address the handwriting evidence.

    4. First, I admire your stamina in taking on a contrary view for the sake of seeking the truth of the matter. For clarity I should have said the eighteen plays did not appear "in print", which would have avoided your impression I meant "never appeared before in any form." Performed plays did not have play transcriptions.

      But the issue of the LCM ownership, in order to print, cannot be separated from the fact that William Herbert had control over that process as Lord Chamberlain. The LCM was formed of the remainder of Oxford's players, the Queen's Men, plus those of Lord Strange, soon assumed and supported by his brother, William Stanley, another of de Vere's sons-in-law. The LCM became in turn the King's Men, which Herbert had power over. When the printers sought to have a compendium of Shakespeare plays in 1619, Herbert quashed it, reserving that publication for himself and his family & allies in 1623. Stanley, Earl of Derby, published Othello as the precursor to the First Folio. His insignia appears on the title page. It definitely appears to be a family produced set of works.

      The ownership of the plays by the LCM amounted to custody of plays the actor's boss had an interest in. In no case did they produce Shakespeare plays against his will. In fact after 1604 there were no new plays, only old or re-worked ones. This might clue us to Oxford's coincidental death. Shakspere was forty in 1604 with a dozen years to live and a rapacious interest in profits. The dog did not bark.

      Speculations about why there was no testamental evidence of a writerly life can go on forever. That there is no evidence there creates an inference of possible conflict of person and putative work. An absent inventory is quite weak as the answer, which is why scholarship has not touched this rationalization until recently, when there appears to be little else to throw at the beast in the doorway.

      Finally I would like to point out that the rhetorical sentence, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" was a Donald Rumsfeld idiocy to get the United States into a disastrous war. Logically analyzed it should read, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence of weapons of mass destruction." The absence of evidence is not evidence at all. We may reasonably infer doubt when expected facts do not show up however. That is the first stage of determining falsehood somewhere in the story. That stage of skeptical inquiry abounds in the study of Shakspere versus Shakespeare.

      I must demur about the will's handwriting, the information concerning which I relied upon Bonner Cutting's work. There are further analyzes in that area by Dr. Frank Davis and Richard Whalen. Ramon Jimenez wrote a trenchant survey of people who knew Shakspere but never mentioned writing in connection with him. One of those was the official who conducted the will signing.

      A very helpful essay to me was Hank Whittemore's description of de Vere's career in theater. de Vere virtually created the English Renaissance with that medium, the prevailing mass communication instrument of the time. I don't have the link but searching his name and 100 Reasons would locate it. It is critical to know the historical progressions in play before the hoax occurred. It didn't come out of nowhere. There was a foreground which made it the best course.

      appreciating the forum,

      William Ray

    5. As stated previously, it is difficult to give credence to some work which uses so slight a sample for such momentous conclusions. And it is not unreasonable to associate characteristics of a person's literary production and expressed ideas with the outline of his own values and circumstances.

      It appears to me that you must make one exception and stretched explanation after another in order to justify this life with this body of work. Shakespeare who showed remarkable respect for women's intelligence not teaching his own daughters to read? His son in law didn't have that bias. Busy at work? No paper in Stratford, even though Shakspere owned a house with thirty-four bedrooms and had bought up the commons?

      The will demonstrates the format of a will-maker's guide published in Warwickshire. That Shakspere knew how to keep and secure property I would readily admit. It is the will's venal nature compared to the extraordinary familiarity with all aspects of law shown in the plays that gives me pause.

    6. William Ray, it is not I or Hamilton, but you and your source Bonner Cutting who "use[] so slight a sample for such momentous conclusions." Here is the sum total of graphological analysis of the will in her entire 23-page article -- it consists of a single sentence:

      "Attempts to claim it as Shakespeare’s own hand have not been credible, and are gainsaid, of course, by his three scrawled signatures."

      And that's it -- no detailed comparisons of the writing, discussion of individual letter forms and the contrast between the original draft by a healthy man and the changes and interlineations by a deathly sick one; but lots of speculation based on differences between paper and ink!

      As for Shakespeare's own daughter being unable to read: how is that remarkable when Shakespeare left his home when she was still an infant, and did not return until she was a grown woman? Ann Hathaway does not appear to have been literate, either, so who was going to teach Judith her letters?

      "No paper in Stratford" -- again it is you who exaggerate. We know that there were at least three sheets of it in Shakespeare's house, but the will ends after three pages -- so why assume that three was all the paper that Shakespeare had access to? And two of the pages even had the same watermark! What more could one ask of a man who was accustomed to drafting play scripts on any piece of paper he could find at hand (witness the Kyd and Thomas More fragments)?

      Cutting faults Shakespeare for following a standard will form book -- but what would you expect of a former law clerk? One's last will and testament -- particularly if one wants to disinherit one's spouse -- is not the place to experiment with literary forms and flights of fancy.

      The will is certainly venal, that I grant you. But both you and Hamilton theorize that Shakespeare was poisoned. So how generous would you be feeling if you knew you had been poisoned in your own home, and suspected your wife, from whom you had long been estranged? Why can't you be consistent with your own assumptions?

    7. To lower the rhetoric a bit, we don't know why Shakspere died so suddenly, although from my reading of other late medieval assassinations it fits the profile, together with the fragmentary Jonson drinking bout legend, of a ruthless politically driven plan. Jonson's "On Poet-Ape" was the one commemoration of Shakspere's passage, and it was hardly elegiacal.

      The notary's secretary hand is evident in "By me William", which differs radically from the "Shakspere" which follows. I believe that Hamilton, working under unquestioned assumptions about the identity of the Shakspere figure with "Shakespeare", took the secretary hand of the clerk as similar to the secretary hand of the scribe who took dictation for 'Sir Thomas More'. And he was right. The penmanship is standardized by both its design and practice. The reign of Henry VII brought on the education of a class of trained scribes, secretaries, administrators, and legal assistants who could write in the format shown in Hamilton and make possible an organized state. I do not remember if he took this background into account.

      In his effort to demonstrate the regularity between separate sources, he inverted the lines on a staggered basis. This is not normal graphological practice. It is more like a means of persuasion to support a prior implicit belief.

      My question about scarce paper in Stratford was obviously rhetorical. Law clerks had paper; they had to have it for their work. What is astounding is that there was no allusion n the will to the testator's posthumously claimed life's work. No paper or writing materials constituted more dogs that did not bark. Comparable wills in the neighborhood featured bequeathing books, encouraging and supporting education, especially in the local school, and supplying materials in that direction. It was a point of national honor to advance education in one's family and community. But from Shakspere, there was no evidence at all toward this objective.

      Much scholarship has shown that Shakespeare , who ever he really was, was so far above being just a law clerk, that not only scholars but lawyers themselves were amazed at the theoretical breadth and scope of his legal knowledge. An enlightening essay by Thomas Regnier is in the Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? compendium.

      I note the continuing difference we seem to have about Shakspere's daughters' education. Does the same man who has women referring to letters 200 times in highly sophisticated plays have no interest in forwarding the education of his own daughters?

      Shakespeare, by contrast, if we can trust the Merchant of Venice as based in part on personal experience, so admired his wife--a superb advocate at court, unheard of in that era--that he based Portia on her character and bearing. His wife in turn wrote in her will to give a quarterly payment to "my dombe man", a reference to a non-aristocrat with whom there was some kind of meaningful arrangement. We wonder if they had bought the paid silence and absence of someone.She requested an appropriate burial "as near unto the body of my late dear and noble lord and husband as may be." To my ear and heart, this sounds a lot more like "Shakespeare" and his wife, than it does Shakspere as Shakespeare.

      My remarks may be becoming repetitious so I will leave off with best wishes toward all acquiring greater knowledge in this field,

      William Ray

  7. Almost all of my understanding of this issue stems from a bit of study concerning the "False Folio" and the "First Folio". My sister-in-law was a serious student of these issues concerning the validity of Shakespeare's works and documents. One must face a bit of reality when approaching the topic. Mr. Haley's plank by plank analysis builds a much sturdier ship than those who wish to speculate endlessly with less than circumstantial evidence.

    El Gringo Viejo

  8. To conclude with your statement: "As far as making a fair assessment of Shakespeare's literary abilities, I prefer the contemporary assessment of Ben Jonson, printed in the First Folio, to your centuries-after-the-fact derogation of him." First, one must differentiate between speaking of "Shakespeare's" abilities and Shakspere's. These two designations are in error as a single individual. The one answers to the description of Jonson in "Poet-Ape", i.e., an imposter who "would be thought our chief"; "become so bold a thief"; "he made low shifts, would pick and glean": "makes each man's wit his own" "buy the reversion of old plays"; "such crimes the sluggish gaping auditor devours"; "judge it to be his as well as ours. Fool!"; and so on. He describes an unprincipled pirate and knave. The Jonson eulogy alludes to such a figure "as some infamous Baud or Whore." Jonson does not begin his eulogy until the SEVENTEENTH LINE. That line is TWENTY-TWO LINES from the end of the first page. Vere is the homonym of VIER, four, Seventeen corresponds to the 17th Earl of Oxford. Note there are SEVENTEEN words in the eulogy's title, that there are SEVENTEEN characters in the subtitle, that the FOURTH word is "envy", which is homonymic to N.V., de Vere nickname and surname Ned Vere. It is adjacent to Shakespeare. There are FOUR Shakespeares in the eulogy. The seventeenth line initiates FOUR exclamation points, which had meaning to contemporary authors as upside down "I"s, I being IO in Italian, sounded as EO, Oxford's initials. This primer only scratches the surface (seventeen authors listed in the eulogy, four forths corresponding to Dutch "fourth" which is deVierde, 40 discontinuous fonts, etc) What you consider a just assessment of Shakspere is a clever covert tribute to another individual, using the epithet "Shakespeare". In short, I do not misconceive what inventories were: listing of lesser miscellaneous property. My views on the signatures are not "idiosyncratic" but common-sense sight of a mess where one has every right to see a fluid and skillful signature. And my concept of an educated person is supported by the Renaissance level of Shakespeare writing, but which is discontinuous with the utter absence of record Shakspere was that or ever wished to be. I have offered you scholarship to find your way out of these errors and hope that it will be useful. More bibliographical selections are available on the website. Received cliches from a mistaken tradition are not reliable steps to truth.

  9. It is well known, from a side-by-side comparison of everything that Ben Jonson wrote (and is thought to have written, such as in the Epigram "Poet-Ape" [meaning "Player" or "Actor" -- one who "apes" the poet's words on stage]), that his relations to and opinions of William Shakespeare varied all over the map. When Shakespeare was his only rival (around 1599-1600), Jonson was at his most satirical, as in his "mustard" jest and the Epigram you cite. But after Shakespeare died, Jonson's resentment faded into a grudging admiration for the sheer accomplishment of the 36 plays he joined in saying that Shakespeare "left us" -- i.e., authored.

    Say what you like about Jonson's jibes at Shakespeare -- the fact remains that in every single instance (including the ones you do not cite, such as Jonson's diaries), Jonson unmistakably identified "William Shakespeare" with the author of the plays published in that name.

    And other than in the First Folio, he did so without any of the typographical codes you cite -- so why did he not continue to indicate he was referring to someone else in all the other instances he refers to Shakespeare? (See this article for a sober assessment of Jonson's overall relationship with Shakespeare, written by a critic of the Baconians.)

    Until you engage seriously with the actual visual analyses of the handwriting of the will, the Thomas More fragment, the conveyances, the coat-of-arms applications, and the numerous other scripts we have in the same hand as the one that wrote the will -- and until you acknowledge the difference between the writing of January and of March 1616 as is so plainly evident in any inspection of the will -- I cannot accept your summary dismissal of Hamilton's expert evidence. But I thank you for engaging in the debate so vigorously, while remaining civil, and I will here provide a link to your site where others may read your fuller claims (to say nothing of your own poetry!) at leisure.

    1. Totally agree that Jonson used the epithet William Shakespeare when referring to the author. Where we differ is in the assumption that this "William Shakespeare" was synonymous with William Shakspere of Stratford and London.

      Jonson did not accept that assumption, since he referred to Sogliardo in EMOOHH as having the motto "Not Without Mustard". This lampooned Shakspere's curious motto, "Not Without Right." The motto was said to derive from the original 1596 rejection of Shakspere's father's application for gentleman status. The official decision in Latin then was Non, Sanz Droit: no, without right.

  10. Just a minor point. As late as the 19th century, one of the leading popular novelists (as well as successful dramatist and poet), Edward Bulwer Lytton, knew the month of his birth but not the year, and was in fact off in his surmise about his actual age. By his own account, he was not particularly interested in tracking down the information. (This is covered in the biography written by his son, the 1st Earl of Lytton). It is not unusual for educated people who lived before the modern centralization of vital statistics by the state to be unaware of their exact date of birth.

    1. A thoughtful analogy but as with all analogies it cannot be determinate on particular facts. To me the important features of the 1612 hearing were the curious inability to construct a skillful personal signature and the inability to know what year in which the writer had been born. For a person of the cultivation and Renaissance breadth of knowledge of the great Shakespeare to have been ignorant of his birth time seemed odd to me. The second Sonnet by contrast shows personal knowledge of the author's age via the opening phrase, "When forty years besiege thy brow...", as though reporting ruefully from his own life-experience. It is widely accepted that "Shakespeare" was addressing the young Southampton who in 1590 was seventeen and considering marriage (to de Vere's daughter Elizabeth). de Vere was forty that year. In addition, astrology was of major importance in that era, and one could not have an accurate chart without that basic information. John Dee, Elizabeth's close advisor, was also her astrologer. Her birth was well-known. As a general observation, we just would never expect such a high talent as "Shakespeare" to respond in a legal hearing like an uneducated rube, and there is no presently available simple explanation for it. Another puzzling feature of the hearing was the testimony of George Wilkins, lately a playwright and known to beat prostitutes. He did not testify as knowing the great Shakespeare, his fellow and colleague in theater work. We have to wonder, was this our beloved Shakespeare?

  11. On Poet Ape settles it. Jonson calls Shakspere a play broker and literary thief who fully admitted that future readers won't know who wrote what. Any other reading does not use common sense.

    And you seem to overly rely on Hamilton. No Shakespearean scholar of any standing agrees that he wrote his own will. Odd how you cherry pick which scholars you agree with. In any case, scholarly consensus is squarely against you on the will. As far as More goes, paleontologists have not weighed in on the subject enough to determine a consensus. Just because a handful of English Lit professors have stated their opinion on the handwriting, that does not make them handwriting experts. Far from it, since they are certainly partisan in this debate.

  12. "On Poet Ape settles it." Really, TD? You rely upon a single short epigram tossed off when Shakespeare was Jonson's greatest competitor on the stage, and yet you charge me with "cherry picking" my evidence?

    I rely upon Hamilton as the only modern paleographer [n.b.: not "paleontologist"] who has done any serious graphological analysis of the will and related manuscripts. His evidence would be acceptable as proof of the authorship of the will in any probate court in the land; your "consensus of scholars" -- based on nothing more than their opinion that the will is an unworthy literary creation, and so could not have been written by the greatest English playwright -- would not be admissible. It is pure snobbery, not hard evidence.

    I wrote my post to encourage Shakespeare scholars to take a serious look at Hamilton's expert work. With prejudices such as yours (and also the Oxfordians') governing the scholarship of today, it seems that Hamilton and I shall have a very long wait in front of us.

  13. Rupert Goold’s 2009 film of “the Scottish play”, based on his triumphant stage production, is mighty fine. Original, witty at times, more earthily human than most interpretations, its avant garde mood gives the familiar material a fresh and new tone. At times it also clashes absurdly with the text of the masterpiece, but we can overlook that as minor in the main.