Shakespeare, William: Fact or Fiction?

Shakespeare, William: Fact or Fiction?

There is a character from an old American TV series, Dragnet, named Joe Friday.  Friday was a cop and he was famous for uttering the words, “Just the facts, ma’am.”  He did this in response to crime suspects that would ramble on and on and mix fact with fiction.  Mainly trying to get off the hook.

And so it is with Stratfordians.  After the movie Anonymous came out, the Stratford Birthplace Trust issued a statement, an ebook actually, aptly titled Shakespeare Bites Back.  Clearly incensed that these base conspiracists, (Marlovians, Oxfordians, etc.) would challenge their authority, they decided to engage in a bit of libel.  Part of their libel consists of citing what they consider facts proving that William Shakespeare from Stratford is the man behind Shakespeare.  But instead of pounding it onto a church door they posted it on the Internet.

They state that there is massive amounts of evidence proving that William Shakespeare, is, well, Shakespeare.[1]  Let’s just take a look at a few of those claims.  Taking stock of the main blunders we have:

Venus and Adonis was Registered with the Name Shakespeare.  The poem was registered with the stationers on April 18, 1593, but it was registered without a name [2] (I would say registered anonymously but that word has connotations with the Earl of Oxford in our subconscious and I won’t go there in this article).  The poem was given an author, of the name Shakespeare, after Marlowe was supposedly dead and gone.  Since “Venus and Adonis” heralded the birth of Shakespeare much is made of this claim by Stratfordians. Shakespeare quickly enters stage right after Marlowe exits stage left.  Did he pick this fortunate occurrence being the genius that he was? I doubt it.  The interesting thing is that Shakespeare turns up right when Marlowe disappears.

Writers of the Period Mention Shakespeare.  Proving what?  The very name of Shakespeare could have been a pseudonym.  One of the writers mentioned in the ebook, Henri Willobie, was a pseudonym.  Willobie, whoever he was, wrote “Willobie his Avisa” a long diatribe of a poem that was banned by Archbishop John Whitgift and the Bishop of London, Richard Bancroft in 1599.[3]  Charles Hughes, early 1900’s writer and editor, attempts an interpretation of the poem because Shakespeare is mentioned within it.[4]  He builds quite a fantasy regarding what he believes to be a likely scenario of the fictitious William Shakespeare and the Earl of Southhampton romping around the Dorset countryside.[5] Perhaps young Henry Willobie even sought out Shakespeare, and they strolled together, probably discussing literature no doubt, to the little town of Mere?[6]  These are nice ideas but they belong in a novel. Not in the form of literary criticism.

Ben Jonson and His Dedication to Shakespeare.  Much is made of Ben Jonson’s dedication to Shakespeare, ‘sweet swan of Avon.’  But what can we make of it beyond the reference to William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon?  Quite a bit actually. The term ‘black swan’ was coined by the Roman poet Juvenal in reference to a rare occurrence or an unusual or exceptional person or thing.[7] John Hudson believes that this is a signature mark of Emelia Lanier, who he believes to be Shakespeare, and cites many examples of the usage of swan symbolism and music.[8] In the Rosicrucian philosophy a Serpent and a Swan are referring to Serpentarius and Cygnus, ‘new star’s that indicate a new dispensation – probably of Rosicrucian ideas.[9]  Ben Jonson was familiar with Theophilus Schweighardt’s print which illuminate the ideas behind the Rose Cross Fraternity and contain the serpent and swan.[10] Robin Williams believes that the Avon reference is referring to Mary Sidney; the river Avon flowed through her  lands.[11] Ben Jonson was in the know about who Shakespeare really was and he would often deliberately confuse or disguise his real thoughts.  He also said this, in the same dedication, ‘Thou art a monument, without a tomb.’ [12]

Ben Jonson Talks to William Drummond About Shakespeare. The ebook mentions the walk and talk that Jonson and Drummond had after Shakespeare supposedly died.  First of all this particular reference to Shakespeare cannot be found in Ben Jonson’s “Conversations With William Drummond,” At least it’s not printed in my Penguin Classics (1988) version of Jonson’s The Complete Poems. It is true that Jonson did say this, but the Trust forgot to add the quote in its entirety: “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. ‘Sufflaminandus erat,’ as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had been so too.”[13]  What Jonson meant was that because Shakespeare had an open and free nature and flowed with such facility he was stopped; his wit was not in his own power. All of this relates to Christopher Marlowe. Subversive as he was, Marlowe went into exile.  The government thought he was a dangerous influence.

In my closing statements I would like to mention a line penned by the creative Charles Hughes in the introduction of “Willobie his Avisa.”  He says that, “Imagination is free and conjecture is cheap.”[14] We should examine this idea closely.  The Shakespeare industry is built upon a vast fictitious fantasy.  Many people directly profit from this industry so therefore imagination is not free and conjecture is not cheap.

If I was in a court of law proving my existence as William Shakespeare and the Trust was my defense attorney – I would fire my defense attorney.  Either that or I’d be facing the rack. And with this testimony containing the fictional evidence that purportedly proves my existence, I’d probably be, unfortunately, hanged, drawn and quartered.

Weigh the evidence and make up your own mind.  Shakespeare, William: fact or fiction?

© the editor


Notes

[1]Paul Edmonson and Stanley Wells.  Shakespeare Bites Back: not so anonymous. (Stratford, United Kingdom: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, 2011), 5, http://bloggingshakespeare.com/shakespeare-bites-back-free-book

[2] William Shakespeare, The Poems, ed. F.T. Prince (London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2000),  xii.

[3] Cyndia Susan Clegg, Press Censorship in Elizabethan England  (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 198.

[4] Henri Willobie, Willobie His Avisa, ed. Charles Hughes (Manchester: Artistic Printing Company, 1904), 15.

[5] Willobie, Willobie His Avisa, xxi.

[6] Ibid., xxiii.

[7]Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan, (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2010), xxi.

[8] John Hudson, “Amelia Bassano Lanier: A New Paradigm,”  The Oxfordian. Volume XI  (2009), 71, http://shakespeare-oxford.com/wp-content/oxfordian/Hudson_Bassano.pdf

[9] Frances A. Yates,  The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), 94.

[10] Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, Frontispiece.

[11]Robin P. Williams, Sweet Swan of Avon: Did a Woman Write Shakespeare? (California: Peachpit Press, 2006), 232-34.

[12] Ben Jonson, The Complete Poems, ed. George Parfitt (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), 264.

[13] English Essays from Sir Philip Sidney to Macaulay, Charles D. Eliot ed., vol. 27, The Harvard Classics (New York: P.F. Collier & Son Corporation, 1910), 55.

[14] Willobie, Willobie His Avisa, xvi.

 

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