The Historical Error
The case requires an explanation of how history got it wrong. Specifically, it requires answers to these questions:
- Why did de Vere choose to write under a pseudonym?
- Given the need for a pseudonym, why " William Shakespeare"?
- What was the relationship between de Vere and the Stratfordian?
- Why did others continue to use the pseudonym after de Vere's death?
- What about the Stratfordian's graveyard?
1. Court etiquette: Baldassare Castiglione, an Italian philosopher, wrote the definitive book on court etiquette for de Vere's time. The book, entitled Il Cortegiano (the Courtier), emphasized the key role of the nobility in the functioning of the state, and outlined the proper standards of behaviour for the nobility. Castiglione's book had been translated into English by the 1560s. As an indication of how seriously de Vere took Il Cortegiano, he undertook to translate Castiglione's book into Latin, thereby making it available to the nobility of Europe. When De Vere was twenty-two years old, he wrote the preface for the Latin translation. The preface saw the courtier as the most perfect of beings. In Il Cortegiano, Castiglione observed that a nobleman who is also a writer must "take care to keep them [his writings] under cover ... and let him show them only to a friend who can be trusted."
2. De Vere's secret office: In 1586, de Vere was granted a lifetime pension by Queen Elizabeth in the amount of £1,000 - an enormous amount of money at the time. The pension was renewed by King James after the death of Queen Elizabeth. De Vere once described the pension as related to his "office". There has been no documentation explaining why the pension was granted by a normally frugal queen, or what de Vere's "office" was.
William Cecil, de Vere's father in law and the Queen's principal adviser, was undoubtedly behind the pension. More than anything, he was probably looking for financial support for his daughter and granddaughters.
De Vere was primarily interested in the arts, particularly theatre. He had written masques that had been presented at court, had supported acting companies, and socialized with actors, writers and other playwrights. If there were any serious "office" that de Vere could hold, it would probably relate to the arts. At the time, Londoners were developing an interest in the theatre.
Queen Elizabeth was concerned with holding the country together against internally divisive Protestant - Catholic forces, and protecting the country against military and diplomatic threats from Spain. The Spanish Armada set sail to conquer England only two years later in 1588..
All these factors suggest that the "office" may have been to oversee the production of plays to develop English nationalism within the general population and to glorify and build support for the Tudor regime.
If this suggestion is true, then it would explain why so many historical plays form part of the works of Shakespeare. It would also explain the secrecy attached to the purpose of the funding, for to the extent that it were known that one of the country's leading courtiers wrote the plays, their propaganda value would diminish. It would explain why de Vere's name is not attached to the plays; a condition of the pension would require that de Vere not use his own name.
3. Too much anonymous material: Initially for de Vere's "office", anonymous authorship would be sufficient, but too many anonymous plays would trigger questions about the real authorship, so a pseudonym would become necessary. By 1592, anonymous plays such as Harey the VI, Harey of Cornwall, and Titus and Ondronicus - probably early versions of plays later attributed to Shakespeare - were being staged in London.
4. The theft of anonymous material: Copyright laws did not exist in Elizabethan times. There was no shortage of individuals around that could and did claim to author anonymous material. Writing anonymously meant that unscrupulous individuals could claim the material as their own and get paid for it.
5. De Vere's bad reputation: By 1593, when the name "Shakespeare" first appeared in publication, de Vere's reputation was largely in tatters. He had squandered his family fortune. He had abandoned a military post as a leader of the defence forces when the Spanish Armada was threatening, thereby putting his country at risk. He had treated his first wife Ann Cecil badly, a fact that her father - one of the most powerful men in England - was undoubtedly quick to point out (e.g. on Ann Cecil's tomb). He had had an affair with another woman while married, made her pregnant twice, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London as a consequence. He had been involved in a family feud with the other woman's family for several years. He had reconciled to Rome at a time when Protestant England felt threatened by Catholicism, confessed his wrongdoings in court, and put himself at the mercy of Queen Elizabeth, undoubtedly to his own humiliation. He had been accused of homosexuality and other heinous acts in the Arundell Libels. He had associated with actors and writers and other persons considered to be of low class ("lewd friends" in the words of William Cecil, his wife's father). Quite possibly, de Vere felt a pseudonym would be preferable to his own name for the publication of his writings. (Shakespeare's dedication in the publication of Venus and Adonis describes the work as "the first heir of his invention", hinting that more works were coming). In one of the poems known to be written by de Vere, he says: "To wail this loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground."
6. The intended content of De Vere's writing: The author of the Sonnets clearly expected them to be published at some time. Given the content of the Sonnets, and the fact that the Sonnets were written to other parties with whom the author had a relationship, often a close one, the author may have felt a pseudonym would be appropriate not only to protect his reputation, but also that of the targets of the Sonnets. With regard to the plays, a pseudonym would give the author some freedom to skewer public figures with some degree of anonymity. One poem known to be written by de Vere lays out de Vere's plan, namely to use his wit, presumably through his writings, to avenge his injuries.
Fain would I sing, but fury makes me fret,
And Rage hath sworn to seek revenge of wrong;
My mazed mind in malice is so set,
As Death shall daunt my deadly dolours long;
Patience perforce is such a pinching pain
As die I will, or suffer wrong again.
I am no sot, to suffer such abuse
As doth bereave my heart of his delight;
Nor will I frame myself to such as use
With calm consent, to suffer such despite;
No quiet sleep shall once possess mine eye
Till Wit hath wrought his will on Injury.
My heart shall fail, and hand shall lose his force,
But some Device shall pay Despite his due;
And Fury shall consume my careful corse,
Or raze the ground whereon my sorrow grew.
Lo, thus in rage of ruthful mind refus'd,
I rest reveng'd on whom I am abus'd.
Background: In relationship to the plays, long poems and Sonnets of William Shakespeare, the name first appeared in 1593 with the publication of Venus and Adonis. It then appeared in 1594 with the publication of The Rape of Lucrece. After that, it appeared with official quarto editions of various plays. The title pages of these plays typically included wording indicating that these were "author approved" versions, to distinguish them from a variety of unofficial versions that proliferated in an era before copyright laws. After de Vere's death, the name "William Shakespeare" appeared with the publication of plays up until around 1607, the publication of the Sonnets in 1609, the publication of Othello in 1622 and finally in 1623 the publication of the First Folio - a collection of 37 plays, many of which had not been previous published. The spelling was either "Shakespeare", or "Shake-speare".
1. The Bolbec symbol: De Vere's Bolbec coat of arms features a lion shaking a broken spear, from which comes "Shake-speare", or "Shakespeare".
2. Similarity to a living person connected with the theatre: In 1592, Robert Greene - a pamphleteer, playwright and friend of de Vere's - wrote Groatsworth's Wit just before he died. Groatsworth's Wit appeared in London book stalls in October 1592. The story is about a scholar and author on the one hand (de Vere), and a country bumpkin (the Stratfordian) on the other. The bumpkin had been a puppet master and "country author" who put together morality plays in carnivals. Seven years into his career, the bumpkin arrived in London, hired others to write plays that he produced, had garments used in theatres as his share of the plays that were produced, filled his speech with Latin phrases he did not understand, and was fond of pompously expressing trite statements. Greene warned his friends to watch out for this "upstart crow, beautified with our feathers", a dilettante and vainglorious braggart who was "in his own conceit the only shake-scene in the country."
In short, there was a country bumpkin who steals and produces plays. This bumpkin has been in the business seven years, and just recently arrived in London in 1592. His biography is consistent with what is known about the Stratfordian, namely that he had left Stratford-upon-Avon in 1585, disappeared from historical view for seven years, and reappeared in London in 1592 with a name similar to "shake-scene".
From de Vere's perspective, it made sense to select a pseudonym similar to that of a real person involved in the theatre. With de Vere's typical wit, he selected a pseudonym similar to that of a real person and related to his own coat of arms. With his arrogance, he presumably assumed that no one that mattered would assume that the country bumpkin from Stratford-upon-Avon could possibly be the author to the works he would publish under the Shakespeare "brand". He undoubtedly never imagined that the "street smart" country bumpkin from Stratford-upon-Avon would claim the works of Shakespeare as his own, and that history would believe him.
1. The Stratfordian stole plays. Suggestive evidence to this effect comes from three sources other than Groatsworth's Wit, mentioned above.
In 1599, the anonymous play Histrio-Matrix appeared. It burlesqued Troilus and Cressida. Poverty - the lead character in the play - speaks of himself as one who "shakes his furious spear" (i.e. de Vere, based on his coat of arms), and scorns a scoffing fool, an "artless idiot" who plucks "fairer feathered birds" (i.e. the writings of others). The language is consistent with that used by Greene in Groatsworth's Wit ("upstart crow, beautified with our feathers"), and presumably referring the same country bumpkin who roamed the country side and appeared in London in 1592 and was associated with "shake-scene", namely the Stratfordian.
In 1599, Ben Jonson wrote an epigram about a "poet-ape" who many saw as England's best author (Shakespeare) but who was in fact someone who initially stole witty pieces from one or more playwrights, and eventually stole entire plays and claimed to be the author, as he became more prominent in the London theatre scene. The "poet-ape" began as a broker, but eventually became a thief. The "poet-ape" was more than likely the same person referred to in Histrio-Matrix, and in Groatsworth's Wit, namely the Stratfordian.
Also in 1599, Jonson wrote a comedy called Every Man Out of His Humour. The comedy lampoons Sogliardo, a buffoon who so wanted to become a gentleman that he bought gentleman status - an obvious reference to the Stratfordian's successful application for a coat of arms so that he could call himself a gentleman in 1599. In the comedy, Sogliardo's coat of arms is a boar without a head, brain or wit. De Vere's heraldic crest was a boar. Jonson was in essence saying that by claiming the works of de Vere/Shakespeare as his own, the Stratfordian was a headless and brainless version of de Vere.
2. De Vere was annoyed. In Act 5, Scene 1, from As You Like It, a comedic scene turns suddenly and inexplicably nasty. The number of parallels between the scene and what was likely occurring in real life between de Vere and the Stratfordian provide a circumstantial case that de Vere was "Shakespeare", that he was very annoyed with the Stratfordian, and that he was resorting to the pen to express his anger.
The scene includes Touchstone and William. The setting is the forest of Arden, near a property formerly owned by de Vere but also close to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Both Touchstone and William want to marry Audrey. William is a twenty-five year old who was born near Arden (like the Stratfordian). When Touchstone asks William if he is wise, William replies that he has a "pretty wit", to which Touchstone replies that a fool thinks he is wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. Note the similarities between the character of William and the "upstart crow" and "poet-ape" of Groatsworth's Wit, Histrio-Matrix, and Every Man Out of His Humour. Touchstone addresses William as "gentle friend", meaning "gentleman friend". This is likely a reference to the Stratfordian's initiative to buy a coat of arms so he could be called a gentleman. After a little friendly banter, the conversation turns ugly. Touchstone says:
"Then learn this of me: To have is to have. For it is a figure of rhetoric that drink, being pour'd out of cup into a glass, by filling one doth empty the other. For all your writers do consent that ipse is he. Now, you are not ipse-for I am he."
In Italian, "to have is to have" translates to "A Vere is a Vere." The reference to drinks and cups relates to a concept from Plato's Symposium where knowledge cannot be passed around through association. Touchstone is telling William he does not acquire knowledge by being associated with Touchstone. "Ipse" means "he himself", and Touchstone is telling William that there has been a confusion of identities and he is not "the one". Touchstone goes on the tell William, whom he describes as a "clown", to abandon Audrey. If he does not,
"thou perishest; or, to thy better understanding, diest. Or, to wit, I will kill thee, make thee away, translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage. I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel; I will bandy thee in faction, I will o'errun thee with policy. I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways. Therefore, tremble and depart."
What is striking about this outburst is that it does not follow from the play. There is no suggestion in the play that William is confusing identities, or trying to acquire knowledge by association. This non-sequitur suggests the use of the play to deliver a message outside the play to someone involved in the theatre and certain to hear it, namely the Stratfordian.
3. The Stratfordian got paid off. The first biography of the Stratfordian was published by Nicholas Rowe of London in 1709. This is almost 100 years after his death, which raises the question why so little contemporary interest in the man whom history has viewed as one of the greatest writers ever in the English language. Rowe's source was the actor Thomas Bitterton, who claimed to have obtained the information while visiting Stratford-upon-Avon. Rowe notes that the Stratfordian was the oldest of ten children. His father was a wool dealer and butcher who withdrew his son from school at an unusually early age. After a deer poaching incident, the Stratfordian escaped punishment by fleeing Stratford-upon-Avon. He started in a theatre company at a low level, and his top performance was as the ghost in Hamlet. According to Rowe, Sir William D'Avenant claimed the Earl of Southampton gave the Stratfordian £1,000 for the purchase of property.
In 1596, the Stratfordian's wife had borrowed from a shepherd and had still not repaid the money at the time of the shepherd's death in 1601. The Stratfordian was a tax defaulter in St. Helen's Bishopsgate, for an earlier unpaid assessment of 5 shillings. He had also been involved in a public brawl. In 1597, he was a tax defaulter at the same address for the unpaid portion of 13 shillings on another assessment.
Suddenly, his fortunes changed. In 1597, he undertook to buy the second largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon for £60. In the years that followed, he became the third largest grain hoarder in his home county. He became a partner or joint venturer with the Burbages in the Globe Theatre, which was being the rebuilt in Southwark. Within eight years, he had bought tithes in 4 jurisdictions for £440. He was buying and selling grain, malt, and stone. He was making loans, and if they were not repaid, he went to court. Rough estimates suggest the Stratfordian invested about £900.
The scripts for plays by Shakespeare were worth about £6 each. All the plays together would not have been worth more than £240. As a playwright, the Stratfordian could not have amassed that kind of money for his life's work, let alone his production up to 1596. As an actor, there was not much money for lesser actors, and there was no indication that the Stratfordian was anything more. Writing and acting could not have produced the money.
All this suggests that Southampton may have, in fact, given the Stratfordian £1,000. The question is why. Southampton was a patron of the arts, and known to support playwrights and actors. It is conceivable that if the Stratfordian created the works of Shakespeare, then the Southampton might have provided the money as a patron of the arts. However, £1,000 would have been a lot of money in the 1590s, far more than needed to support a struggling artist.
A more plausible scenario is that de Vere, with his good friend Southampton, paid off the Stratfordian to stop claiming the works of William Shakespeare as his own. Note that Southampton and de Vere were both aristocratic patrons of the arts. De Vere, much older than Southampton, had urged Southampton to marry his daughter. Southampton's upbringing in the Cecil household paralleled de Vere's, so perhaps they had this upbringing in common. In addition, if de Vere created the works of Shakespeare, then de Vere dedicated two long poems to Southampton, and in all likelihood, wrote a number of Sonnets to Southampton, including a number urging the subject of the sonnet to marry and have children. In short, they were very close. Southampton's pay out could have been done to help his friend.
1. Publisher's Pressure: Shakespeare was a well known author. Publishers would have an easier time selling their books under the authorship of Shakespeare than under a less known name such as Edward de Vere.
2. De Vere's Wishes: De Vere's wishes would have relevance if either the holders of the source material, or the financiers of the publication, were de Vere's family. There is little doubt that the source material lay with his family, and his family was directly involved in the publication of the First Folio. It is clear from the Sonnets that the author expected the Sonnets to be published at some later date, and given the content of the Sonnets, presumably after the author's death. In that case, it is likely that the author would have communicated his wishes regarding publication to his family. Those reasons that led to de Vere to begin using a pseudonym in 1593 for the publication of the Venus and Adonis would presumably continue to be relevant after his death, and include a commitment he made not to use his real name initially to Queen Elizabeth and presumably later to King James as part of his "office" for which he was paid £1,000 per year, the view that courtiers should share their views only with trusted friends, and a desire to protect the Shakespeare "brand" from his own bad reputation.
3. The salacious material in the Sonnets: Many of the Sonnets appear to be written to a man much younger that the author toward whom the author expressed strong feelings of love. Some modern commentators have suggested that they hinted a homosexual relationship. Many believe the target of these Sonnets was Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Southampton lived until 1625, and the continued use of the pseudonym by de Vere's family and their publisher would have protected his reputation.
4. The politics at the time of the First Folio: In 1621, King James was planning to marry his son Prince Charles to the Spanish Infanta Doña Maria. Four earls opposed the Spanish marriage; de Vere's son; his daughter's husband the Earl of Montgomery, her brother-in-law the Earl of Pembroke, and Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton. Henry de Vere and Henry Wriothesley were imprisoned about that time for their opposition. In 1621, Othello was registered for publication under the name William Shakespeare, and published the following year. This was the first new Shakespeare play in fourteen years. De Vere's daughter Susan and his son Henry probably wanted to see the publication of their father's plays, not only because they were great works of art, but also because they undoubtedly knew de Vere wanted and expected his works to be in the public domain, as indicated in the Sonnets. If the alliance with Spain had proceeded, there was a risk that the plays would never be published, given that de Vere was an apologist for the Tudor regime. To publish them under the name Edward de Vere would have been risky for the sponsors of the publication, because their sponsorship might be perceived by King James and his associates as a political act intended to undermine the King's authority. Remember too that many of the plays deal with the death and overthrow of Kings, Queens and other leaders. So by the 1620s, the politics of the day may have supported the continued use of the pseudonym.
1. The tombstone:The graveyard includes the Stratfordian's tombstone, and a monument.
The tombstone includes these uninspiring words:
Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be ye man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.
One would expect more from one of the greatest masters of the English language.
2. The Monument: The monument to the Stratfordian in his graveyard, in combination with the preface of the First Folio, is the most direct evidence for the Stratfordian as the author of the works of Shakespeare.
In the preface to the First Folio, Leonard Digges wrote: "When that stone is rent/And time dissolves thy Stratford monument...". It is odd that the preface to one of the greatest assemblies of works in the English language refers to a monument in a graveyard. Surely, there are better things to talk about, unless of course the preface is part of a plan to draw attention to a monument which obscures the real identity of the author of the First Folio.
The monument consists of the Stratfordian's coat of arms, two figures sitting on a ledge sheltering a figure (presumably the Stratfordian) with his arms on a pillow, quill pen in his right hand, a blank piece of paper on the pillow, and an epitaph, which reads:
JUDICIO PYLIUM, GENIO SOCRATEM, ARTE MARONEM:
TERRA TEGIT, POPULUS MAERET, OLYMPUS HABET.
STAY PASSENGER, WHY GOEST THOU BY SO FAST?
READ IF THOU CANST, WHOM ENVIOVS DEATH HATH PLAST
WITH IN THIS MONUMENT SHAKSPEARE; WITH WHOME,
QUICK NATVRE DIDE: WHOSE NAME DOTH DECK Y TOMBE,
FAR MORE THAN COST: SIEH ALL, Y HE HATH WRITT,
LEAVES LIVING ART, BVT PAGE, TO SERVE HIS WITT.
Note that the name "Shakspeare" is not spelled the way it appears on publications.
The epitaph at first reading appears complimentary, but a closer look suggests a second meaning may have been intended. "SIEH" is German for "Look there", and if one looks around the monument at all that the Stratfordian has written, one sees a blank page on the monument and uninspiring poetry on the tombstone. In the last line of the epitaph, consider these definitions of the words used: "art" means "contrivance" and "page" means "servant". With these definitions, the last line means "leaves this living contrivance or ruse as a servant to serve his wit".
The first line is similar in language to other epitaphs written by Ben Jonson, who oversaw the production of the First Folio. This suggests the monument may have been linked to the production of the First Folio, rather than to the death of the Stratfordian.
When the Stratfordian died in 1616, there was no particular notice either in London or in Stratford-upon-Avon. No records exist regarding the construction of the monument.
If the politics of the day forced the sponsors of the First Folio to continue the use of the "William Shakespeare" pseudonym, then they may have felt it was in their interest to cement the deception by by constructing a monument to the Stratfordian in his graveyard. The monument would have been constructed around 1623. The preface to the First Folio would promote its existence. If those in power took offense at the publication of the First Folio, the author was William Shakespeare from Stratford-upon-Avon, but he was dead and buried, with a suitable monument near his tombstone.