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.
Here us a response to your article attempting to answer the 12 questions:
As far as Basse is concerned, I am looking into that and will get back to you on that issue. I’m not sure when the eulogy was written but it does seem to refer to William of Stratford. The question that has to be raised in an instant like this where it is the only eulogy that was delivered close to his death is – did he know the man or is he making an assumption from the works that the Shakespeare on the title page and the man from Stratford were one and the same? The cover-up was engineered by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men/King’s Men to protect de Vere, the source of their plays and consequently their income and it was their intention that the public believe that the writer Shakespeare and the man from Stratford were one and the same. I will get back to you, however, if I come up with something mire than speculation.
The Shake-scene passage is ambiguous and various interpretations are possible. Author Stephanie Hopkins Hughes believes that it refers to fellow actor Edward Alleyn, not William Shakespeare. The entire passage is divided into tales about a character named Roberto, a deathbed repentance, the open letter to the playwrights, and a fable about the Ant and the Grasshopper. All of these tales introduce themes that recur throughout Groatsworth – hatred of profiteers and poverty and remorse over profligate spending. Both Shake-scene and Robert have much in common.
Both are braggarts, both share a predilection for extemporizing, both hire needy playwrights. Some critics have accepted Roberto as a caricature of Shakespeare. The following is a skeptic’s paraphrase of the “Upstart Crow” diatribe:
“Beware of one untrustworthy actor, the “Upstart Crow”. We make him look good in the roles we write, but this player is callous, duplicitous, and arrogant. ; he facies himself himself able to extemporize lines in blank verse that are as good as any of yours (the three playwrights Peele, Marlowe, and Nashe). He even passes off some of your material as his own. And this know-it-all thinks he’s the most important actor around…So while you still have a chance to escape my fate, find some playmasters with more compassion and integrity. Stay away from actor-paymasters and userers (like Johannes Factotum) because you three are too talented to be exploited by such contemptible knaves.”
For more discussion, consult the chapter “Johannes Factotum” pp.45-59, Shakespeare’s Unauthorized Biography by Diana Price.
I do not have access to either the Norton edition of Shakespeare or the Riverside edition but chances are they refer to Shakespeare without identifying the man behind the name. If there was concrete evidence that the man from Stratford and the writer Shakespeare were one and the same, there would be no authorship debate. This debate has gone on for centuries for one reason – the truth hasn’t been told, i.e., the questions about who the real author have not been answered satisfactorily.
Question 1 – pure speculation. Does not answer the underlying question. The title is not The Sonnets by William Shakespeare but Shake-speare’s Sonnets with no other attribution to the author. Shake-speare’s Sonnets implied that these are all that exist and that there will be no more. The fact remains that it is highly unlikely that the author would have agreed to have his intimate poems that deal with references to real people (though unnamed) and are revealing of his innermost sexual thoughts published without a dedication or an introduction.
Question 2 – The dedication is ambiguous and again open to interpretation. Some have passed off the dedication “Our ever-living poet” as referring to God but this is a forced interpretation with no evidence to support it. It seems to me that it is more logical to assume that the author of the included Sonnets is being referred to.
Question 3 – This has also been interpreted many ways but the most likely one is that he “carried the canopy”. Anything you can’t explain is covered by the statement that “this is not autobiography”. I venture to say that if there was the slightest reference to the biography of the man from Stratford you would be trumpeting it to he heavens.
Question 4 – What is evident that at the time the first 17 Sonnets were written (1590-92), Lord Burghley was entreating Southhampton to marry Elizabeth Vere, Oxford’s daughter and the Sonnets were asking the fair young man to marry and procreate. No coincidence there since the majority has identified the fact that the fair youth Sonnets were indeed addressed to Southhampton.
Question 5 – No sorry, not the end of the story, only in your mind. We are not talking about some obscure poet here, but the greatest writer in the English language who created strong, articulate, and smart women in his plays. He retired supposedly in 1612 and lived at home for four years before his death. To think that he would be content to have daughters who could not read or write simply boggles the mind.
Question 6 – Whatever, the reason we have no record that any of Shakespeare’s relatives ever referred to their relative as a writer of great renown. To say that because we don’t have any evidence that George Washington was a closet homosexual, it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t one. You can use that argument for almost anything. The most logical answer is that his relatives did not recognize him as a writer is because he was not.
Question 7 – DR. Hall was the husband of one of Shakespeare’s daughters. His journal was about men he knew and also treated. Even if he didn’t treat William, it doesn’t make sense that he would not refer to him in his journal. Here, like other issues we are talking logic and common sense.
Question 8 – Not likely. The theme of age, losing one’s friends, being lame, and so forth are replete throughout the Sonnets. Why would a young man in his early twenties pretend to me an old man? Doesn’t compute.
Question 9 – Again, you’re the one who needs them to be a so-called literary exercise though common sense tells us otherwise. Believe me, if there was anything in the Sonnets that mirrored the life of Shakespeare of Stratford we would never hear the end of it. The Sonnets are no more of a literary exercise that the Psalms of David. Both come from the deep wellsprings of the author’s heart.
Question 10 – Yes, but they never refer to the writer Shakespeare as one they knew as William of Stratford. They are discussing the works, not the man yet there are plenty of references to the man Edward de Vere.
Question 11 – If the author was indeed the man from Stratford and the poems you refer to were so popular, there is no logical explanation as to why the plays published until William Cecil’s death were anonymous.
Question 13 – (should have been 12) How dare you call this an argument from ignorance. Is it because you have no answer that makes any sense. Five of Shakespeare’s main sources were not translated into English at the time they were used. While we know that Oxford was fluent in five or more languages, there is no evidence that man with a grammar school education could have picked up enough of any language through discussions in the Mermaid Tavern to be able to read books in the original language.
Thank you for at least trying to answer these questions. Unfortunately most of the answers are tortured and do not address the fundamental implications.
My god. I could fill an Olympic swimming pool with all that fail.
Could you elaborate? But then if your heartidly sick of the topic I understand.
Arguements from ignorance or failure to mention something by someone are inherently very dangerous and quite weak. They only work if you can show a connexction between the writer and topic, i.e., if A is true B would have mentioned it; or been likely to. None of the examples of arguement from ignorance work very well here with Shakespeare.
Well even in Shakespeare’s time it was recorded as remarkable if a women was well educated and hiring private tutors etc., was expensive. such money wouldmuch more likely be spent on boys. As for Shakespeare’s education, well Dad was for Stratford upon Avon a wealthy man, so it is very likely Shakespeare had a half decent classical education at the local school. Those “grammer” schools were quite tough in terms of a classical education (the Latin Classics and perhaps some Greek). So it is likely daddy woud send Will to this school, (there was one at Strafford). Its interesting to record that the evidence indicates that Shakespeare became wealthy from his plays.
I would also like to know how Oxford wrote plays after his death. Including Macbeth, which as topical contemporary references in it.
Thanks for the comment, Pacal.
I AM so sick of it (only for now, though). This is the thing. We all have to make assumptions when we are drawing together the evidence, but you are not making unreasonable ones while Oxfordians and Marlovians first assume that Shakespeare was basically a cover story for elaborate and intricate reasons that are undergirded only by absence of evidence. Which makes me sad.
Eve, who has a higher tolerance for Shakespeare goof, is working on another follow-up, however, so you will get to see that follow up. Thanks for coming by!
Mr. Schumann’s dedication is perhaps admirable, but is misguided, as Kit Marlowe wrote the majority of the plays and sonnets attributed to “Shakespeare”. This has been shown by many scholars, by methods similar to those used to incorrectly attribute the works to the Earl of Oxford. Indeed, the negative evidence (that which shows William Shak(e)spe(a)r(e) of Avon did not write them) for both claims is the same.
*Thumps head on desk*
Oh, dear, Bob, was that thump because of me? My post was intended in the style of the Flying Spaghetti Monster; the lack of an emoticon for sarcasm is a real problem.
Don’t worry. I got it, and then I explained it to Bob very slowly.
Don’t do that to me! I’m high strung enough as it is! 🙂
[…] Bob: “*Thumps head on desk*” [An admittedly misappropriated comment but what the […]
The argument that both Shakespeare’s daughter’s were illiterate is frequently made by anti-Stratfordian conspiracy theorists, but there are surviving copies of Susanna’s handwriting. The Anti-Strats who know about the signature claim that she must have been illiterate because when someone wanted to buy a journal that the would-be seller wanted to purchase, she said it wasn’t in her husband’s handwriting. But unless we know that copy is one of the one or two surviving medical journals, how do we know that it wasn’t in her husband’s handwriting? And in any case, failure to recognize someone’s handwriting isn’t a sign of illiteracy, it’s a sign of not recognizing someone’s handwriting.