In the first post of this brand-spanking new website, Eve Siebert addressed some of the problems that have dogged the arguments of people who do not think that the William Shakespeare who everyone at the time referred to was really “THAT” William Shakespeare. And we are immensely gratified to see people visiting and commenting on the site. We want to reply to one commenter in particular, Howard Schumann, who left a long list of questions for us to answer.
It is important to remember, of course, that ours is not the extraordinary claim. We know this because it is in accord with the best evidence that we have. Not questions about things we don’t know, but documents that point to a particular guy named named William Shakespeare, the broad strokes of whose life we can sketch out using business and legal documents, contemporary commentary, and an understanding of the history and culture of London and England during the period in question. Howard has asked us to answer a number of questions that he harbors, and that’s fine. But I do this as a courtesy, not because it is an obligation. It is always the responsibility of the person making the extraordinary claim to demonstrate the truth of their proposition with positive evidence for the claim. I’m still waiting for that. Regardless, Schumann says:
Thanks but please don’t try to force an answer where the thing is simply shrouded in mystery. Some of these questions may never be answered.
It’s true, some things won’t be answered, but that’s true about all sorts of historical events and literary creations and…everything. But in case, I would contend that there is a lot less mystery than Oxfordians seem to think there is.
So, on to the commentary and questions.
My point is that we have so much documentation for lesser writers, do not you think it a bit odd that we have none for the greatest writer in the English language?
You are factually wrong here. Factually. Wrong. I have in front of me 30 pages of documents from the time. Did you look at the appendices of the Norton Shakespeare? What about the line from William Basse’s elegy, “Mr. Wm. Shakespeare/he dyed in Aprill 1616”? He says: “Sleep, rare Tragaedian Shakespeare, sleep alone.” Actually says the guy was a tragedian and attaches a name and a date of death. Why does that not count as evidence? This is what I meant by “positive evidence for the claim.” The will and testament that we have is dated 25 March 1616. We have the royal Letter Patent that names Shakespeare at the adoption of the Chamberlain’s Men as the King’s Men. And there are pages of the stuff in the back of Norton edition (and that’s not even the good edition!). Look at it. Heck, even Greene famous snitty “upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers” comment is complaining in 1692 about how this guy without a formal education is doing so dang well–and he makes an allusion to Henry the Sixth, 1.2.138. He’s linking the guy (whose name he puns in “the only Shake-scene in a country”), his rise (despite his lower social status) and the plays–he also calls him a Johnannes fac totum a “jack of all trades”! This suggests the broad expertise that you say he can’t have. 30 pages worth of the primary documents you say do not exist can be found in Appendix B of the Riverside Shakespeare.
I’m not sure what the puns on the name Will are about but they are certainly not strong evidence that the author was William of Stratford. De Vere was also called Will.
Do you know who was also called Will? Will Shakespeare. And in Sonnet 136, he distinctly says his name is Will:
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me, for my name is Will.
I would agree, however, that based on the content of the poems, you can glean almost no actual biographical material (for reasons I will discuss below), but it’s not nearly as clever unless his name is actually Will.
Perhaps you could address the following questions:
Sure. I’ll take a swing at ‘em.
1. The Sonnets were published in 1609 bearing the most personal and intimate details of a man’s life. At a time when the author was allegedly still alive, he offered no dedication, took no part in its publication nor did he attempt to stop publication. How is that possible?
OK, publishing was different then, but, the Norton Shakespeare makes a good argument that he may have been involved (p 1921). Basically, they make the case that they came out through a respectable publisher who had a good relationship with the acting company, it was registered officially at the Stationers’ Register: “Unauthorized publication would have jeopardized those connections. Moreover, a publisher did not have a right to include the author’s name without the author’s permission, and hardly any texts of the time that were registered for copyright violated this regulation. If Thorpe had done so, he would have risked a significant financial penalty that he could ill afford.” Now, there are some assumptions here, but only that “Thorpe was a good enough business man to not get sued poor.”
2. The dedication to the Sonnets is written to our “ever-living author”, a tribute almost always reserved for someone who is no longer alive. Please explain?
The dedication on the sonnets is as follows:
TO. THE. ONLY. BEGETTER. OF.
THESE. ENSUING. SONNETS.
MR. W.H. ALL. HAPPINESS.
AND. THAT. ETERNITY.
OUR. EVER-LIVING. POET.
So, to the “begetter”, the publisher is wishing eternal happiness, and who grants that? Oh, yeah, that’s God. The “ever-living poet,” or immortal creator.
3. In Sonnet #125, the author claims to have “borne the canopy”. This refers to carrying the canopy over royalty during a procession. Oxford was known to have done this on several occasions. A commoner such as Shaksper would not have been allowed within 1000 feet of the monarchs. Please explain.
This is an example of cherry picking. Even quote-mining, actually. If you read the whole sentence you’ll find that it actually confirms the opposite of what you think it means:
“Were’t ought to me I bore the canopy,
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which prove more short than waste or ruining?”
This is saying, in essence, “Would it matter to me if I had the status to carry the canopy”? You see, it’s in the conditional, doesn’t say that he has carried the canopy, and even if it did, it’s not an autobiography.
4. The first 100 or so verses of the sonnets entreats a fair young man to marry. Scholars agree that the fair young man refers to Henry Wriotheseley, the 3rd Earl of Southhampton. No commoner such as Shaksper of Stratford would be allowed to address an Earl in such a manner. Please explain.
Scholars, in fact, do not agree on this. Now, some may jump the gun and accept that it was Southampton, but we don’t have any real evidence linking Southampton to the sonnets (now, to the narrative poems, yes, but only as dedicatee, not necessarily as patron). And, again, not autobiography.
5. Shakespeare without question was one of the greatest if not the greatest writer in the English language, yet his daughters were illiterate. How is this possible? I know the rate of literacy of women in that time was very low, but this is not a logical explanation.
Why is that not a logical explanation? It would be more extraordinary if they had been literate. Also, my father is an obstetrician, yet I rarely perform surgery. Furthermore, we don’t have any reason to think…almost anything about his home life. But for most of his professional career he was in London and the daughters were in Stratford. End of story, really.
6. None of Shaksper’s relatives from Stratford ever claimed that their relative was the famous author. Explain.
We don’t know that. How can you say that they never claimed that? All you can say is that we don’t have documentation. That’s a different matter all together. This is what we call the argument from ignorance, a logical fallacy that runs: “I don’t have evidence that X is true; therefore X is not true.” This is the opposite of having what I called “positive evidence.”
7. Dr. Hall was the husband of Susan Shaksper, daughter of William. In his journals he refers to famous men he knew and treated, yet never once mentions his wife’s illustrious father. Please explain.
People were generally not interested in biographies of Shakespeare at the time any of his immediate relatives were alive. James Shapiro (p 49 of Contested Will) mentions that a vicar (presumably in the Statford area, my source says “local”) who had an interest in Shakespeare intended to contact Judith, the younger daughter, about her father, but she died in 1662 before any meeting took place, it seems. Only one of Hall’s notebooks survived, and maybe he was in there. Maybe he never treated Shakespeare–these were, after all, medical journals and not literary journals. This is another argument from ignorance.
8. The sonnets are widely accepted to have been written in the early 1590s at a time when the man from Stratford would have been in his late twenties, yet his sonnets tell us that the poet was in his declining years when writing them. He was “Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,” “With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’er worn”, in the “twilight of life”. He is lamenting “all those friends” who have died, “my lovers gone”. His is “That time of year/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang/Upon those boughs that shake against the cold.” Please explain.
Poems. Not autobiography. They may have been written in character, you know.
9. The sonnets that most contradict Will of Stratford’s life story are those about shame and disgrace to name and reputation. Here Shakespeare’s biographers have nothing to go on. The sonnets talk about a man who was in disgrace from fortune and men’s eyes. What biographical connection is there to the life of the man from Stratford that would have disgraced him and please don’t tell me that the Sonnets were merely literary exercises? It is not credible.
Are you saying that his poems have to be autobiographical? Because they don’t. I mean, how do you tell what’s real and what’s not? Why would the “greatest writer in English” be forced to only write autobiographically? I suspect that you need it to be true. Why not commit to this method of analysis and say that the author of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a fairy because there are fairies in it?
10. Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey were literary pamphleteers who wrote about the most prominent literary figures of the day and have many references to the Earl of Oxford, yet are strangely silent on any writer named Shakespeare. Why?
I see that Nashe wrote about 1 Henry IV, and Harvey wrote about that Hamlet, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. You can find these reprinted in the Norton Shakespeare.
11. After two successful poems were published under the name of Shakespeare (Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece), all the plays were published anonymously for five years until 1598 when William Cecil died. Is there some cause and effect going on?
(In voice of Monty Python’s Bruces) THERE IS NO COMMENT NUMBER TWELVE!!!
13. Many of the known sources for the plays were books in Italian, French, and Spanish that were untranslated at the time. There is no evidence that Shakspere could read any language other than English and there is even some question whether or not he was literate since nothing of his writing remains. There is no literary paper trail of any sort. While Oxford was fluent in those languages, what is there in the known background of the man from Stratford that could explain this knowledge?
Yeah, another argument from ignorance. I don’t have my high school Spanish vocab quizzes, but I still speak Spanish. He would have had Latin (probably) and you are talking about latinate languages. I mean, it’s not that hard for someone who is actually a genius to teach himself a language. And literate? Really? That’s like saying because my grandmother didn’t leave any letters, she was probably illiterate. Or that because someone doesn’t know who their dad is is a reason to believe that they had no father. No. No.
Now, you could persuade me, but you’d need really good evidence. Like, any of Shakespeare’s poetry in Oxford’s hand. Or a single instance of a contemporary discussing the big funny authorship hoax. Or evidence that the Zombie of Oxford was producing smash hits almost a decade after he had died. A note by Francis Meres explaining why he mentions both Shakespeare and Oxford as the best poets for comedy in his Palladis Tamia, or Wit’s Treasury. Then we can talk. But first look at those sources I mentioned, otherwise, you will labor under the misapprehension that there is no documentary evidence for Shakespeare. That’s not fair to you and leads to dubious conclusions.