Beyond Doubt For All Time

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See also www.shakespearebitesback.com

See also www.shakespearebitesback.com

Paul Edmondson and I were interested to read Diana Price’s courteous response to my blog about her book Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography. Here are some comments.

She writes that I do not ‘directly confront’ what she calls her ‘single strongest argument … the comparative analysis of documentary evidence supporting the biographies of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.’ My reason for not commenting on this impressively researched section is that I find it irrelevant to the discussion of the case that Shakespeare’s works were written by William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. Of course writers (and others) leave only partial records of their activities. The fact that some leave fuller records than others does not invalidate the records of those with a lower score.

Price claims that ‘none of the evidence that survives for Shakespeare can support the statement that he was a writer by vocation.’ On the contrary, this statement is supported by numerous records whose validity Professor Price denies, fallaciously in my view. Some of these do not link Shakespeare with Stratford, some, such as the Stratford monument and epitaphs, along with Dugdale’s identification of the monument as a memorial to ‘Shakespeare the poet’, Jonson’s elegy, and others, do offer this support.

I do not agree (whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say) that posthumous evidence ‘does not carry the same weight as contemporaneous evidence.’ If we took that to its logical extreme we should not believe that anyone had ever died. Most relevant here perhaps are the records of Marlowe’s death and burial. To deny, or even to question the validity of such documents is to fly in the face of the documented historical record.

Professor Price gives several reasons for downplaying the Basse elegy. One is that its authorship has been questioned. This is true but irrelevant. Someone unquestionably wrote it, and in time for Jonson to cite it in his Folio verses. Price says ‘the poem contains no evidence that the author was personally acquainted with Shakespeare.’ Again, true but irrelevant. It seems likely that many of the poets who mourned the death of Prince Henry in 1612 were not personally acquainted with him but that fact does not cause me to suspect that he was not the man the authors said he was. And whether one manuscript title ‘represents the original’ is irrelevant to the content of these titles.

Price writes that ‘Shakespeare is the only alleged writer of consequence from the time period for whom he [we?] must rely on posthumous evidence’ to prove that Shakespeare the writer was the man from Stratford.’ So far as documentary evidence goes this is true, but as I have said I see no justification for discounting posthumous evidence. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

The question of the literacy of Shakespeare’s household is a red herring. Just as ‘good wombs have borne bad sons’ (The Tempest, 1.2.119), so great writers may have illiterate offspring. In any case I reiterate that Price ignores the evidence that Susanna, married to a distinguished physician, was ‘witty above her sex’ and irrelevantly claims that she had bad handwriting. I also have bad handwriting. Price defends her attitude by saying ‘one cannot prove a negative case.’ Why not? It is surely possible to prove that for example Queen Elizabeth 1 was not alive in 1604 or that Sir Philip Sidney did not write King Lear or that Professor Price does not believe that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote Shakespeare.

Professor Price, like many of Shakespeare’s more orthodox biographers, relies far too much on what seems to her to be the evidence of common sense – because she finds it difficult to imagine something it cannot be true; something must be true because the writer cannot imagine otherwise. Such an attitude results in the distortion of historical facts to suit the preconceptions of the writer.

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Author:Stanley Wells

Stanley Wells is Honorary President and a Life Trustee of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Emeritus Professor of Shakespeare Studies of the University of Birmingham, Honorary Emeritus Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Follow Stanley on twitter @stanley_wells or visit his website
  • william sutton

    Tran´ect
    n.1.A ferry.
    Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by C. & G. Merriam Co.

  • Mike Jensen

    Stanley, I don’t know how you keep your patience and politeness when assailed by people who are not nearly as smart as they think they are. As ever, you are model to me.

  • Matt B

    Excellent article!

    “One gets the feeling that their research is not destined at discovering the truth but at finding facts to support a theory.”

  • Colin David Reese
  • http://Oxfraud.com/ Sicinius

    This is a core Oxfordian confusion. I think I can help.

    ‘Topicality’ means that things were topical at the time. House of Cards (in its orginal UK form) was a very popular drama series set after the fall of a long-serving, popular female Prime Minister. In the wake of her departure, a compromise candidate is appointed, weak and lacking the support of the hard liners who brought down the PM. The new PM is, in turn, brought down by the Chief Whip.

    Aha! say the sensible. This looks very like the fall and aftermath of Margaret Thatcher. The actors, manners, cars, language, visual imagery fashions and politics all look like they came from the early 1990’s. It has references to topical events. It was written by a popular author from the early 90’s in a genre that was popular then. It was produced by a company that was working then but no longer exists. This, we can say, was a product of the early 1990’s. Michael Dobbs wrote it, it says so in the credits.

    ‘Don’t be silly!’ cry the Oxfordian scholars. ‘It’s a obvious product of the 1950’s, how can you be so gullible? The 29th Earl of Oxford wrote it before he died in 1961. There was an American company making TV programmes in colour in the 1950’s, There was a British Prime Minister overthrown by his colleagues in the 1930’s, a government whip inveigled himself in to power in 1878 in a very similar way and at least two examples of the Austin Princess limousine would have been available in early 1960. Everything we see in House of Cards has a potential pre-1960 source. Proof positive that the Earl wrote it.’

    Finding earlier potential sources for topical reference is meaningless and futile. The shipwreck Will wrote about in 1610 was the one people were talking about in 1610. Not one buried in a forgotten book published before three quarters of the audience were born. THAT’S what topicality means.

    Shakespeare could have written The Tempest in dung on a barn wall as 5 year old. Whatever stupid story you concoct doesn’t greatly change the odds of it being written at least five years after Oxford died.

  • calendar

    All the relevant contents of Strachey existed in other sources prior to 1604. Besides – Strachey wasn’t published until 1625. It doesn’t help your case to exhibit ignorance of current scholarship.

    All references in the canon to events occurring in Italy are dated 1580 or earlier.

    And, perhaps you’ll answer the question that Mr. Reedy runs away from.

    What’s a “tranect?”

  • http://Oxfraud.com/ Sicinius

    Whilst you are right, I don’t agree with you, I think Neville a far better candidate than Oxford, who is disqualified on so many basic counts.

  • Bruce Leyland

    For the record, I believe Sir Henry Neville wrote Shakespeare. Even if you don’t, I can recommend him as a brilliant historical figure, and one who possesses all the knowledge, capability and humanity that the writer of Shakespeare would require – as well as being Southampton’s closest friend, and deeply admired by Jonson (see his Epigramme 109).

  • http://Oxfraud.com/ Sicinius

    Stylometric analysis, scholarship and the Strachey letter all combine to nail The Tempest to the end of Will Shakespeare’s career, about six years fewer Oxford died but you think that some missing cosmology details are conclusive. Oxford was in his grave, but the fact that there were no earthquake mentions in the canon after 1604 proves this is irrelevant.

    Why thank you, kind sir, for illustrating, so exactly, what I meant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ed-Boswell/1478650288 Ed Boswell

    Only a blowhard would claim they know the exact dates of when the plays were penned. We know when they came out in print, and when they were staged. Circular thinking demands that the plays be backdated in order to fit the life of the Stratford man, 14 years Oxford junior. We do know that references to earthquakes, major fires, and astrological events ceased after 1604. We also know the poet was dead, as in the “ever-living poet” by 1609. Talk about ignoring an obvious fact, that “ever-living” is never attached to a living person!!!!!! I wonder why so many of the quartos were first in print anonymously? The fact that a reference to Hamlet was made in 1589 is not a problem for your ilk. Just say there was an “Ur-Hamlet”. Any copies? Of course not!!!! Any reason why the printer of the First Folio dedicated an important book to Susan Vere a few years before dedicating the FF to her husband, and brother-in-law? Could it be that he was kissing up to Oxford’s in-laws in order to receive the printing? You should leave this fascinating debate until you know enough about Oxford to make a statement based upon expertise instead of ignorance and bluster.

  • Mike Leadbetter

    The academic approach is to treat facts as they come.

    The Oxfordian approach is to sift facts into three categories.

    1. Facts which appear to support Oxford’s case and can be smoothly honed and embellished to improve their value. Not too many of these but the Earl’s Italian experience falls into this category.

    2. Facts which do not appear to support Oxford’s case but do not damage it beyond repair when surrounded with hundreds other factlets which may not help directly but can impress the unwary with their volume. The fact that Oxford died before a third of the work was written is in this category.

    3. Facts which directly contradict Oxford’s candidacy and tie the work to Will from Stratford. These must be ignored for specious reasons of any stripe (the Basse elegy) or ruled offside for specious reasons such as they are yellow, they refer to a Friday or they relate to a date after Shakespeare’s death, even when they don’t, like Jonson’s lists of actors in his First Folio.

    There’s a difference in Prof. Wells use of the word ‘fact’ and Diana Price’s. In fact, they are not remotely the same thing.

  • Mike Leadbetter

    I’ve always thought it was obvious that what Elizabethan theatre was short of was a series of middlemen and if we could identify these brokers, our knowledge of Elizabethan theatre would be greatly improved.

    First and most obvious would be the hunt for a Central Casting Agency. Who EXACTLY were the actor brokers? Who took young lads like that Webster character in Shakespeare in Love after they had been rejected and got them back on the rails. Where did all those 15%s go?

    Play brokers, obviously. There must have been more than one. With as many as two major companies and up to five or even ten more to sell to it would have been impossible for playwrights to market their own work. They must have taken them to the brokers. The fact that no payments to brokers appear to exist would, of course, be down to their nefarious, tax-evading, cash-trader operations.

    And costume brokers, where were they based? Music brokers of course. There must have been lots of those and then there’s props. No one loved a prop like an Elizabethan dramatist. There must have been warehouses full of them.

    And couriers, of course. And food there must have been lots of . . . (that’s enough brokers, ed)

  • Tom Reedy

    Here we see one of the most the common anti-Startfordian strategies in action: the most explicit evidence for Shakespeare is disparaged in favour of the most anti-Shakespearean interpretation of ambiguous references such as “On Poet Ape”. Every reference to a person that can be construed as belittling some unnamed writer is taken out of context (here the War of the Theatres) to automatically refer to Shakespeare, yet any explicit statement supporting Shakespeare’s authorship is classified as “ambiguous”, “not personal”, “not literary”, or “not in his lifetime”. Meanwhile some other “candidate” is put into Shakespeare’s place and touted as a virtual certainty on the basis of “circumstantial evidence” and a conspiracy theory so successful it erased all traces of its existence.

    And you wonder why you’re accused of holding double standards and your theories are laughed at.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sabrina-Feldman/100000572165533 Sabrina Feldman

    Hi Tom, I agree that Jonson’s comments on Shakespeare in the passage known as “De Shakespeare Nostrati” (the source of the paragraph you quote), written some years after the 1623 First Folio was published, is one of the main arguments in favor of the traditional authorship theory. I address “De Shakespeare Nostrati” at length in The Apocryphal William Shakespeare, a book which you remain unwilling to read despite my longstanding offer of a gift copy. I would just like to point out here that in the passage you quote, Jonson is copying almost verbatim from the Roman writer Seneca’s description of his fellow citizen Haterius, as I first learned from Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography. Here is an excerpt from Seneca’s description of Haterius with near-identical sentiments: ““Haterius needs a brake”—he seemed to charge downhill rather than run…But he couldn’t do his own controlling…He had his talents under his own control—but the degree of their application he left to another’s…There was much you could reprove—but much to admire…he made up for his faults by his virtues, and provided more to praise than to forgive.”
    In response to your other comment: I was curious about whether you were correct that “brokage” referred only to the “buying and selling of old things” in Shakespeare’s time, so I did some additional research on the subject. I discovered that during the Jacobean period, brokage was a general term referring to financial transactions involving usurious or legally questionable sales of all sorts of properties. There is no evidence that Dekker or Marston ever had the financial resources to serve as brokers, but William Shakespeare unquestionably did (and was seemingly accused of being a usurer in Greene’s Groatworth of Wit). Here’s the relevant link, followed by an extended quote from the Jacobean Act Against Brokers: http://books.google.com/books?id=JV4LAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA166&lpg=PA166&dq=broker+brokage+ben+jonson&source=bl&ots=ABsqhv5Sxf&sig=IrsFt-0lumwhEiUeMUxOwZKhnk4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bUqUUanrGc_I0gHRoYHYDg&ved=0CFQQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=broker%20brokage%20ben%20jonson&f=false

    “An Act against Brokers, 1 Jac. I. c. 21, is a most interesting
    document, reciting the history and abuses of the institution of pawnbroking in England. The London brokers, we are told, ‘never of any ancient tIme used to buy and sell Garments Household stuff, or to take Pawns and Bills of Sale of Garments and Apparel, and all things that come to hand for Money, laid out and lent upon Usury, or to keep open Shops, and to make open Shows, and open Trade, as now of late years hath and is used by a number of Citizens assuming unto themselves the name of Brokers and Brokerage, as though the same were an honest and a lawful Trade, Mystery, or Occupation, terming and naming themselves Brokers, whereas in truth they are not, abusing the true and honest ancient name and trade of Broker or Brokerage:’ &c. These so-called brokers, it appears, are in league with thieves and swindlers, and the Act declares that sale or pawn of stolen property to any pawnbroker in London, Westminster, or Southwark, shall not alter the property rights therein, etc.”

  • Tom Reedy

    > I agree with Diana Price and some other authorship skeptics that Poet Ape was most likely a lampoon of William Shakespeare

    “… I loved the man, and do honor his memory on this side idolatry as much as any. He was, indeed, honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent fancy, brave notions, and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometime it was necessary he should be stopped …. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too …. But he redeemed his vices with his virtues. There was ever more in him to be praised than to be pardoned.”

    Of course you’re right. It sounds as if Jonson is talking about the exact same person; how could I have missed it? With such probative evidence as you present, I have no doubt that the new paradigm is just around the corner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sabrina-Feldman/100000572165533 Sabrina Feldman

    Hi Tom, I recognize that Elizabethan England did not have the equivalent of modern literary agents (“brokers”) who serve as middlemen between writers and theatre/film/publishing companies. However, the theatre companies certainly used managers / shareholders to buy both old and new plays for their repertoires. Why don’t you think this play-buying function could be considered that of a playbroker: someone who buys plays for a theatre company? Even if the term brokage was used exclusively to refer to the buying and selling of old things, in the context of Jonson’s poem “On Poet Ape” it clearly refers to the buying and selling of plays for use/revision by a theatre company. Also, Jonson is not just saying that Poet Ape reworked old plays — he’s saying that Poet Ape *bought* old plays before reworking them. You find it most likely that Poet Ape was a conflation of Dekker & Marston; I agree with Diana Price and some other authorship skeptics that Poet Ape was most likely a lampoon of William Shakespeare (in large part because Jonson elsewhere used Poet Ape as a derogatory term for actors, and neither Dekker nor Marston was an actor).

  • Tom Reedy

    I was stuck by Price’s reference to Richard D. Altick and John J. Fenstermaker. Just the other day I was looking through the list of further reading from their *Art of Literary Research* (4th ed) and chanced upon this one:

    “Schoenbaum, S. *Shakespeare’s Lives* New ed. Oxford, 1991. A massive but highly readable narrative of the way in which many biographers, sane and insane, have elaborated the few grains of solid information about Shakespeare the man into imposing, usually fragile structures of speculation and myth.”

    After taking the book down to reread the entry, I checked the other comments Altick and Fenstermaker made about Shakespeare. Here is one of the more interesting:

    “The history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors’ early reputations must be compiled from contemporary biographical-critical dictionaries, compilations of excerpts and criticisms (of which Francis Meres’ *Palladis Tamia [1598] is perhaps the best known), the commonplace some readers kept (many of which are still unexamined), and scattered allusions in the imaginative, critical, and controversial writings of the time, such as Robert Greene’s famous attack on young Shakespeare” (123).

    They also have a few things to say about anti-Stratfordians, which I will not repeat to spare the tender ears of our friends across the aisle.

    While they stress the need to carefully examine and evaluate historical evience, it appears that Altick and Fenstermaker aren’t as scrupulous as Price about disallowing evidence because it fails to meet such arbitrary categories as “personal”, “contemporary” or “literary” simultaneously.

  • Tom Reedy

    Brokage meant the buying and selling of old things, and frippery refers to odd pieces of cast-off clothing. Jonson is saying that Poet Ape reworked old plays and then advanced to putting together bits and pieces of old plays–and later outright plagiarising other playwrights–to make a new play. There is a double meaning here, in that Dekker, who began his career working as a play-patcher for Henslowe, was satirised by Jonson in *Poetaster” as Demetrius, “dresser of plays about town”. “Poet Ape” is probably a conflation of Dekker with John Marston, whom Jonson criticised for being a plagiarist. Would you like to guess which playwright he most plagiarised? Hint: it wasn’t Jonson.

    The profession of play broker–what we would today call an agent–did not exist in Shakespeare’s time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sabrina-Feldman/100000572165533 Sabrina Feldman

    Hi Tom, what do you think Ben Jonson meant by the term “brokage” in his poem “On Poet Ape” if the profession of play broker didn’t exist at the time? Jonson is writing about a man who began his playwriting career by buying the “reversion of old plays,” and who has become a bold thief of other works “from brokage.” I’m sure you’re familiar with the poem, but here’s the link anyway. http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20677

  • Pat Dooley

    Diana Price replies to Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson

    In their blog reply to my response to the BloggingShakespeare 8 May 2013 review of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem (“Beyond Doubt For all Time,” 13 May 2013), Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson acknowledge that writers from the time period are documented to varying degrees, some more, some less. They imply that Shakespeare is in the “some less” category, so there are no grounds for suspicion. As Wells puts it, “The fact that some leave fuller records than others does not invalidate the records of those with a lower score.” Based on surviving evidence that supports his activities as a writer, Shakespeare not only rates a “lower score,” he rates a score of zero.

    At the time of his death, Shakespeare left behind over 70 documents, including some that tell us what he did professionally. Yet none of those 70+ documents support the statement that he was a writer. From a statistical standpoint, this is an untenable position, as I have argued elsewhere:

    <>

    While Wells and Edmondson acknowledge that Shakespeare is the only writer from the time period for whom one must rely on posthumous to make the case, Wells disputes my claim that Shakespeare left behind no evidence that he was a writer. The evidence he cites are “the Stratford monument and epitaphs, along with Dugdale’s identification of the monument as a memorial to ‘Shakespeare the poet’, Jonson’s elegy, and others” — all posthumous evidence.

    On the distinction between contemporaneous and posthumous evidence or testimony, Wells states:

    <>

    But historians and biographers routinely cite documentary evidence (burial registers, autopsy reports, death notices, etc.) to report that someone died. Wells may disagree with “whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say,” but I employ the criteria applied by those “historians and critics” who distinguish between contemporaneous and posthumous testimony (e.g., Richard D. Altick & John J. Fenstermaker, H. B. George, Robert D. Hume, Paul Murray Kendall, Harold Love, and Robert C. Williams).

    Jonson’s eulogy and the rest of the First Folio testimony is posthumous by seven years, and it is the first in print to identify Shakespeare of Stratford as the dramatist. Posthumous or not, this testimony therefore demands close scrutiny. And I find in the First Folio front matter numerous misleading statements, ambiguities, and outright contradictions. I am not alone. For example, concerning the two introductory epistles, Gary Taylor expresses caution about taking the “ambiguous oracles of the First Folio” at face value (Wells et al., Textual Companion, 18). Cumulatively, the misleading, ambiguous, and contradictory statements render the First Folio testimony, including the attribution to Shakespeare of Stratford, vulnerable to question.

    From my earlier response:

    <>

    Prof. Wells now counters that

    <>

    There is affirmative evidence that Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. Even allowing for uncertainties in traditional chronology, King Lear was written years after Sidney died in 1586. David Hackett Fischer elaborates on the logical fallacy of “proving” a negative when no affirmative evidence exists (Historians’ Fallacies, 1970, p. 62), and it is in that sense that I state that “one cannot prove a negative.” If there were explicit affirmative evidence that Shakespeare wrote for a living, there could be no authorship debate.

    Diana Price (for the record, I am not a professor)

    http://www.shakespeare-authorship.com

  • calendar

    What’s a “tranect” Tom?

    Stratfordian ‘scholars’ couldn’t even figure that one out.

  • Tom Reedy

    The profession didn’t exist at the time.

  • Tom Reedy

    Details that we think of as specialist knowledge, such as the terms used in hawking, were commonplace, just as historians of the future will be puzzled by commonplaces of our day. Nobody from Shakespeare’s time or even 100 afterward thought he was especially erudite.

    In 1699 J. Drake wrote that Shakespeare “fell short of the Art of Johnson, and the Conversation of Beaumont and Fletcher. Upon that account he wants many of his Graces, yet his Beauties make large amends for his Defects, and Nature has richly provided him with the materials, tho his unkind Fortune denied him the Art of managing them to the best Advantage.”

    This was pretty much the critical consensus until the Jubilee vaulted him into the place of the Greatest Genius Ever in the Universe, an opinion which is still held today by anti-Stratfordians.

  • Tom Reedy

    You completely missed the point. The phrase is in quotation marks because he was quoting Price, who wrote “Historians and critics alike make that distinction.” The reason they were in quotation marks is because what she said is demonstrably not true; historians and biographers routinely use what people said about a person or an event whether they said it during the event or lifetime of that person or afterward. Only in the country of Anti-Stratfordia is posthumous evidence ruled out of bounds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ed-Boswell/1478650288 Ed Boswell

    Kindly note that Green’s GofWit portrays someone as being a thief of other’s works. Choosing Terence to compare with WS is problematic as well. As for Susana, her husband was a physician with a degree from Oxford, kept a 2vol. journal, 1 of which exists, and he only mentions one poet that he met, Michael Drayton. In fact, he was kind of excited about that. He fails to mention that the hosue he lives in was the house of the Bard. I consider this daming evidence, to never mention that glorious fact.

  • V Judd

    Extremely well argued Professor Wells! Time and time again, the historical facts support William Shakespeare, of Stratford, as having written the plays. Your new book, co-edited with the Rev. Paul Edmondson, seals the deal. The anti-Shakespeareans have nothing in their claims to rival it!

  • Reader

    A much more likely “scenario” is that Shakespeare (from Stratford) was a play broker. This would explain the “impersonal praise” and “pointed lampoons.” Even a “hack writer” of the apocryphal plays would leave evidence of writing (as the other writers of the time did).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sabrina-Feldman/100000572165533 Sabrina Feldman

    As an authorship skeptic, I have read “Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography” several times and learned much from the book. However, I do agree with Professor Wells that Diana Price’s claim that “none of the evidence that survives for Shakespeare can support the statement that he was a writer by vocation” ignores or discounts strong evidence that William was known to his contemporaries as a writer. Most notably: the 1592 pamphlet “Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit”; the ~1601 play “2nd Part of the Return From Parnassus”; John Davies’s ~1610 poem “To Our English Terence, Mr. Will Shake-Speare”; Edmund Howes’s 1615 list of English poets from John Stow’s “Annales”; Stationers’ Register entries and title page claims regarding authorship from the 1590s on; the existence of the Stratford Monument; and the testimony of Heminges and Condell in the 1623 First Folio all point to one conclusion: William Shakespeare was well known to his contemporaries not just as a writer, but also as the author of Shakespeare’s plays.

    Why, then, do I doubt William’s authorship of the Shakespeare Canon? There are two main reasons. First, the Bard’s works reveal that the author had a detailed knowledge of the law, the Italian language, Italian geography and customs, aristocratic sports, and other specialized topics which would have been very hard for William Shakespeare to acquire, no matter how brilliant he was. Genius doesn’t and can’t explain specialized knowledge and experiences. Second, I find it exceedingly strange that in his own time, William Shakespeare was credited with writing not only the Bard’s works but also a series of “Apocryphal” Shakespeare plays and Shakespearean “Bad Quartos” that reflect an entirely different writer’s sensibility. In other words, direct title page evidence from William’s time suggests that two different men may have been writing under one man’s name. My own theory is that William Shakespeare was the main author, co-author, and/or adapter of the apocryphal plays and bad quartos, and a front man for the true author of the canon. I suspect that a previously overlooked authorship candidate, Thomas Sackville – a major poetic talent whose influence on the Bard’s works is well documented – was the true Bard, as well as the mysterious ‘poet in purple robes’ who was much admired by a literary coterie in the 1590s.

    This scenario could explain why William Shakespeare received not only scattered, largely impersonal praise for his literary talents throughout his lifetime, but also criticism in the form of pointed lampoons and satirical attacks for being a literary hack, plagiarist, unscrupulous entrepreneur, and buffoonish social climber. Price’s book does an excellent job of presenting much (not all) of the evidence that William was seen as something of a literary joke by some influential members of London’s literary community during the 1590s and early 1600s. While I do not agree with all of her conclusions, she does shine a bright spotlight on some problematic historical records that traditional Shakespeare scholars tend to ignore.

    I would also like to note that Professor Wells does not accurately represent the historical evidence concerning William Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna’s literacy. He writes: “Price ignores the evidence that Susanna, married to a distinguished physician, was ‘witty above her sex’ and irrelevantly claims that she had bad handwriting.” On her website, Price provides clear historical evidence that Susanna could not recognize her own husband’s handwriting, and did not reproducibly for the letters ‘a,’ ‘n,’ and ‘l’ in the one painfully formed autograph that she left. Her full argument can be found at:

    http://www.shakespeare-authorship.com/Resources/Literacy.ASP

    Of course there are possible explanations for why the Bard might have allowed his two daughters Susanna and Judith to grow up illiterate, or nearly so, or seemingly so. But for those of us outside the academic bubble, it remains surprising that the same man who wrote “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven,” and who had the most glorious command of the English language of any poet who ever lived, would have raised one daughter who couldn’t write her own name, and another who did so with apparent difficulty.

    Sabrina Feldman (http://www.apocryphalshakespeare.com)

  • calendar

    I appreciate that Prof. Wells and Dr. Price are engaged in this dialogue. I feel that Prof Wells has made an admission fatal to his case in the above response.

    “I do not agree (whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say) that posthumous evidence ‘does not carry the same weight as contemporaneous evidence.’”

    Here Wells admits that his standards are below the standards of historians. Price has said all along that she is using the accepted standards of historians. The Stratfordians call this ‘gerrymandering’ elsewhere on this site. Now Wells admits that he does not accept the standard criteria of historians. Thanks for clearing this matter up, Professor Wells.

    Of course there’s another example where Prof Wells throws historians under the bus. And that is the matter of the identification of identity of the Cobbe portrait. The Birthplace Trust has proclaimed to all that this portrait is Stratford Will. They so badly need a visual for their man other than the knave-of-clubs abstraction that is the Droueshot engraving that they ignore identification by art historians that the Cobbe portrait is Sir Thomas Overbury. Prof. Wells many calls to respect ‘the scholars’ would ring less hollow were if he acknowledged the consensus among scholars as to identity of the Cobbe portrait’s sitter.

  • Bruce Leyland

    I think the crux is what each side constitutes as “historical facts”. Professor Wells acknowledges many of the facts that Diana Price is interested in – and that argue against Shakespeare of Stratford being the author. Why are these not “historical” facts? There is a widely accepted historical “fact” that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the works attributed to him. But the wide acceptance of this “fact” has no bearing whatsoever on its validity. As much as doubters may want to deny Shakespeare of Stratford the mantle of authorship, Stratfordians must acknowledge wishful thinking in their own prioritisation of the “facts” of history.

Download a free book written by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells about Shakespeare, Conspiracy & Authorship. Download the Book.