Making of a Confirmed Shakespearean II: Upon the publication of Shakespeare, In
· Muddling A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “I was astounded to read a line that almost jumped off the page at me: ‘The nine-man Morris if filled up with mud’,” a correspondent wrote to me. How, she wondered, could the Warwickshire provincial have known of this Morris dance, “the only” one of which was performed in a Staffordshire town?
· Monumental Fraud! The Stratford “Bust” – Again. There are few issues more persistent than that the Shakespeare monument in Stratford’s church was altered in order to turn a grain dealer into a poet. In a British De Vere Society publication, David L. Roper takes issue with the facts I presented that indicate insufficient funds were raised to perform so total a transformation. Here are more facts from a “son of Brooklyn” to enlighten this son of a Brit.
· Shake-hyphen-speare – One More Time. In her book Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, Diana Price disputes my scholarship in regard to the hyphenation of Shakespeare’s name. She contends it was a sign to those-in-the-know that it was a pseudonym, even a “made up name.” Price also responds to my facts about “Shakes-speare” on the title pages of some published plays. How good is her scholarship?
My book on the authorship issues, Shakespeare, In Fact, was published in May 1994. It caught the attention of Oxfordians, reflected in reviews online and in print, in comment in chat rooms, and in some personal (sometimes very personal) letters to me. Some of the last insisted an issue decisive to Oxford’s claim had been overlooked. Baconians complained that I entirely overlooked their candidate. (I most certainly did not! I completely ignored him.) Even a Shakespearean who gave the book an enthusiastic review had a complaint: “it does not press home the implications of its examination strongly enough.” That is, I did not address the implausibility of specific aspects of the Oxfordian conspiracy theory, although he acknowledging that it might have been unfair to criticize me “for failing to perform a task other than one he contracts for.” He, like partisans of Oxford and other rival Shakespeares, overlooked something: the title of my book – Shakespeare, In Fact – which means just what it says. That is to say, it is not about the authorship controversy per se. It is instead about the questions that have been raised about the contemporaneous record of Shakespeare and how he became the Shakespeare we know and love – and fight over.
Ogburn had said, “you can’t get anywhere with Oxford unless you dispose of the Stratford man.” There had been a determined effort to do just that for quite some time and he contrived to tie it all together. The result was the portrayal of each document, every allusion, as having something ambiguous or unreliable, suspicious or outright fraudulent, all designed to conceal the true identity of the real author. Over all hangs the inference that the dubious quality of contemporary records, no less the total absence of allusions of a kind suitable to the man who “would have been the greatest playwright and poet in the history of the English language” (my italics), was unique to him.
It was from this doubting viewpoint, instead of the long established one of Shakespearean scholarship’s certainties, that I investigated what has come down to us about his life, career and his reputation, from his day to the present. The ambiguities Ogburn perceived cannot be denied, insofar as ambiguity was then commonplace. The English Renaissance was in love with words, so in love with them that, like Henry V’s desire for France, it wanted to have them all. And so, borrowing freely from languages living and moribund, it constantly minted new ones (to which Shakespeare added his fair share and then some). So busy were they in this endeavor that they didn’t give much thought to a grammar in which to put them.
Decades later, Shakespeare’s admiring critic John Dryden would say of the English language in his time that it was “wanting ... a perfect Grammar.” But in comparison to the customs of language in Shakespeare’s day – and in his plays:
it must be allow’d to the present Age, that the tongue in general is so much refin’d since Shakespear’s time, that many of his words, and more of his Phrases, are scarce intelligible.
He said this in the preface to his revisionist version of Troilus and Cressida, in which he set out to correct these faults in the original, defining the aim of his undertaking as being “to remove that heap of Rubbish, under which many excellent thoughts lay wholly bury’d.” (The word rubbish in regard to Shakespeare’s language, grammar, even his plots, pops up with disturbing regularity in the writings of this period.)
Taken on the whole, as far as the contemporary documents of and allusions to Shakespeare are concerned, when they are placed in context, when they are compared to similar things regarding comparable figures of his time, there is nothing suspect nor outright fraudulent – nothing truly mysterious – to be found. But there is indeed a great mystery. It does appear that data to affirm his reputation as the greatest of playwrights have gone missing. This leads to the question that is central to the authorship question, the mystery at the heart of the Shakespeare mystery.
The disputes over the surviving records have gone on for generations now, and will undoubtedly go on as long as there is an authorship debate (and scholarly journals). The perceived absence of records is another matter. It impacts, in different ways, on the scholarship of both sides. Underlying it is the question of Shakespeare’s standing in the estimation of his day. I thus wanted to find out if Shakespeare, sui generis though we proclaim him to be; a man “not of an age, but for all time” though Jonson declared him to be; was in fact a man apart from and above all others in his own time. In other words, is it true the greatest playwright of all time was recognized as the greatest playwright of his time?
Bardolaters, the ones in the 19th century especially, created the image of a supreme figure, the “myriad-minded Shakespeare”; controversialists insist that what is known of the man doesn’t fit the image. Where Shakespeareans and controversialists most parted company is on the genesis of the man who wrote the plays. Whereas the idolaters of the Romantic Age cleaved to the poet made by nature (to which contemporaries such as Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont and John Milton gave testimony), and devised an appropriately romantic Shakespeare, their opposites insisted on a man of good birth, well educated, experienced in the world and its ways, and who cut a good figure at court, to boot. Thus, where the “evidence” in the plays (seasoned with lore and legend that postdated his life by decades) was used by idolaters to make a life for the Stratford prodigy, in the hands of the heretics they were the source for finding a man (or a woman – Queen Elizabeth is among the candidates) whose life and known literary talents are suitable to the making of a Shakespeare. But both sides agreed on one thing: Shakespeare was no less adored in his day than theirs. That conviction, with some refinement on one side, in full force on the other, survives to this day.
Two questions uppermost in my mind were then: what was Shakespeare’s reputation; what did his contemporaries have to say about his drama; and what was his position in the literary world of his age? What I found, in Shakespeare’s lifetime especially, is that the playhouses were, in the eyes of the gentry and those of lesser majesté, a place to be seen, while saying little of the plays they saw. Some in the intelligentsia were kinder to plays and “playmakers,” but the prevailing view may have been best expressed by Thomas Bodley, the founder of the famous library in Oxford, who classed them as “riffs raffs.” In banishing plays, English ones particularly, from his “so nobvle” library, he granted that he might be in error, but if so, “I think I shall err with infinite others.” Despite their disputed virtues in critical circles, plays were a fixture at court – courtiers, however, were silent as to the qualities of the drama.
In regard to Shakespeare specifically, after he was proclaimed by Francis Meres, a future rector and teacher, as “the most excellent” in both comedy and tragedy, in 1598, he was thereafter rarely singled out for praise during his lifetime. Thus, what we have of Shakespeare is consistent with a man of his status in his time and with his proximate contemporaries in theater. The beginnings of the modern image of Shakespeare were 150 years into the future. (The two chapters on his reputation in the 17th and 18th centuries respectively, are my personal favorites.)
My plan of sticking to Shakespeare and nothing but Shakespeare was skewed by the inevitable references to perceived coincidences in De Vere’s life and to his “qualifications” in authorship literature. I suppose it was also inevitable that I would research some of these assertions, which inevitably accumulated to become the longest chapter in the book, “The Claim for the Earl of Oxford.” My primary source was B. M. Ward’s hagiography, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604, the declared purpose of which was to rescue him from the perception of having been “an eccentric of doubtful character and boorish manners.” With liberal coats of whitewash, Ward succeeds, after a fashion. In his nimble hands Oxford becomes a frenetic of boorish character and doubtful manners. As far as seeing Oxford reflected in the plays, I must concede there is a definite likeness of him in Ophelia’s catalogue of Hamlet’s qualities: “The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword.” Match them up and it becomes the courtier’s eye, soldier’s tongue, scholar’s sword. Oxford to a tee.
Oxfordians could not allow this to go without comment, of course. Apart from the flaws they found in my scholarship, they suggested my personality needed a corrective. I lack “objectivity” (which means another does not agree with oneself, a self that is absolutely, dispassionately, scientifically objective, of course). I also learned I am devoid of “open-mindedness,” an interesting observation coming from those whose fundamental conviction is that the author is Anybody But Shakespeare. Among them are some who are so passionate that if a Celestial Finger etched “It was Shakespeare” on a stone tablet, I suspect it would give rise to a good-sized band of atheists. It is just cannot be possible Someone with a Divine Plan, and the rudiments of common good taste, can possibly have put so much genius into that head!
There is indeed an undercurrent of secular religion in the controversialists. The fervor of their belief in the Lord Oxford, their belief the laurels that should round his noble brow crown the pate of a “stupid, ignorant, third-rate play-actor,” can move a man to tears. Ogburn likened believing that Shakespeare was the author to creationism. And then there are such as the correspondent who closed her letter to me: “Yours in good faith and with the hope that ere long you will experience an Oxfordian epiphany.”
Since I take this to have been a personal letter, I will not reveal the name of its author, who detailed what had led to her own epiphany. For one thing, as a double major in music and English in college, she recognized the author was “an educated musician.” For another, she had also “been involved since early childhood with English Folk and Morris Dancing and a member for some years of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.” Due to this training, when reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “I was astounded to read a line that almost jumped off the page at me: ‘The nine-man Morris is filled up with mud’.”
There had “never” been a nine-man Morris in Warwickshire, she says, but there was one, “the only” one, in Abbotts Bromley in Staffordshire, known as the “Abbotts Bromley Horn Dance.” How could the man from Stratford, in Warwickshire, have known about the nine-man Morris, she wonders?
Now, I have never met a question I didn’t like, and this was an interesting one. (Who wouldn’t be curious about how nine dancing men got filled up with mud?) I made a start, going to my standard source book for questions having to do with the plays, The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, and there, in act two scene one, line 98, is: “The nine man . . .” But wait, my text says, not “man,” but “men’s” – “The nine men’s morris if filled up with mud.”
A misprint, perhaps? An emendation by one of those 18th-century editors who refined the texts? I consulted the ultimate authoritative sources, the first printing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1600, and the First Folio, the collection of Shakespeare’s plays published in 1623. In the 1600 edition it is, “The nine mens Morris is fild up with mudde,” in the Folio, “The nine mens Morris is fild up with mud.” (Same difference.)
I then surveyed fourteen modern editions of the play – in each it was “nine men’s morris.” What’s more, whether in a footnote or a glossary, each gave some version of the meaning of the phrase, all conforming to the one in my Pelican: “square cut in the turf for a game played with counters”. “Morris” in this case turns out to be a corruption of the French word merel: a token, small coin or counter. Popular as merels in medieval Europe, it originated as a board game. Crossing the Channel, it is “One of the oldest of English games … much practiced in Shakespeare’s time,” according to the Encyclopaedia of Sports, Games, and Pastimes. There were regional variants of the Anglicization of merels – such as marls and merry-holes – but morris was most common.
When swells played the game it was on finely crafted boards; the not-so-swells made do. Some merels boards have been found scratched on slate boulders and doorsteps, even on tombstones and castle walls. Lacking these amenities, the lines for the game were cut in the ground, a small hole was made for each morris piece, which in the outdoor version were stakes with and without bark, or stones of different shapes or colors. This version of nine men’s morris was played by, as one historian of English games and sports put it succinctly, rustics.
Rustics. Country folk. People like those who lived in or around, say, Stratford-upon-Avon? Nine men’s morris boards cut into earth gives meaning to “filled up with mud”; and this line in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, coming amidst numerous images of farm and field, leaves no doubt that the context is rural. I breathed a sigh of relief for those nine morris dancers of Abbott’s Bromley.
Unlike my correspondent’s singular, personal, observations, an article by David L. Roper, “Matus, In Fact?” in a publication of the British De Vere Society, takes off on one of the Draculas of Oxfordian orthodoxy: the alleged transformation of the Shakespeare monument in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. Indeed it seems nothing can kill it, “it” being the engraving in William Dugdale’s Antiquities of Warwickshire, published in 1656, which depicts a half-length figure of Shakespeare in the monument that Oxfordians are convinced is exactly the way it looked until a substitute was made in 1748, the one which is familiar to us.
Dugdale’s Shakespeare does, in fact, look quite different from the one the modern pilgrim sees; instead of the poet with pen poised to write on a piece of paper on a cushion, the Dugdale figure clutches to its midsection what Roper identifies quite specifically as a “sack of barleycorn.” As lustily and as relentlessly as Oxfordians argue purported changes to the figure, they do not mention that nearly every detail of the present monument differs to some greater or lesser degree from Dugdale’s. How did so thorough a transformation come about?
By the middle of the 18th century the monument had fallen into disrepair since its installation not later than 1623. The opportunity to restore it was a blessing that came in the disguise of John Ward’s troupe of players. They had strolled into Stratford in May 1746, got permission to turn the town hall into a theater, and stayed on into September. In gratitude for their reception and this long respite from the road, and with some inspiration from Stratford’s schoolmaster Rev. Joseph Greene, the players put on a benefit. The beneficiary of it was to be:
the Curious Original Monument and Bust of that incomparable Poet, erected above the Tomb that enshrines his Dust, in the Church of Stratford upon Avon, [which] Is through length of Years and other accidents become much impaired and decayed; An offer has been kindly made by the Judicious and much Esteemed Mr. John Ward, and his Company, To Act one of SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS, Viz.
Othello, or the Moor of Venice
At Stratford, on Tuesday the Ninth of this instant September: The Receipts arising from which Representation are to be Solely Appropriated to the Repairing of the Original Monument aforesaid.
This notice was preserved by Greene, whose papers include a great deal of information about the restoration in his correspondence and an assortment of documents relating to it. This includes a contract made by John Hall, the limner (an artisan skilled in coloring) who was to repair and renew the monument, and which provided “that he takes care, according to his ability, that the Monument shall become as like as possible to what it was when first erected.” For this work he asked the sum of £16. The corporation offered him no more than £12 10 shillings. Hall accepted and the agreement was signed on December 10, 1748. (The monument is discussed on pages 201-5 and 217-18 of Shakespeare, In Fact.)
Noting the sum paid Hall in my book, I remarked: “With these proceeds, the Oxfordians suppose the statue was altered to turn a grasping commodities speculator into an inspired poet.” Says the sensitive Roper of this: “He sneers at Oxfordians for supposing that £12 10s would have been sufficient for re-modeling the bust of Shakespeare at the Stratford parish church, thereby professing ignorance that inflation has since increased this amount to a sum in excess of £6000 ($10 000).”
I greeted this with a patient smile (I happened to be practicing my patient smile at the moment). I am smiling now (or might it be an upturned sneer), for I have the pleasure of informing Roper that the fees for work such as Hall’s are not measured by inflation in the commodity market but by what comparable artists were paid at that time. At the time Hall was active, a bust by a journeyman given extra for a special job might get £4 15s per week; in proximate decades the popular sculptor Joseph Nollekens paid his assistants £24 per bust, for which he charged about £125. It is unlikely that £12 10s would have come near the cost of labor and materials required for not “re-modeling the bust” merely, but instead for the transformation of the entire monument as depicted in Dugdale into the one that greets the gaze of the modern visitor to the Stratford church.
What’s more, the “re-modeling” of Shakespeare’s face, if true, suggests that the burghers of Stratford must have consulted an art historian if they were indeed responsible for the alleged transformation of the monument. In all of the commentary on this likeness of the Bard, it has escaped notice that the poet’s features are modeled in a style of 17th-century sculpture that was common until the Restoration in 1660. Shakespeare’s head and torso in the monument is an almost typical example of the flat facial features and rigid posture of much monumental sculpture in the first half of the century. Almost. What is atypical is that someone seems to have had the idea of giving it the expression of the poet, lips parted, eyes transfixed, caught in the throes of inspiration. I know of no other attempt to impart such life-like qualities in this sculptural style. If this was indeed the only one of its kind, it may explain why there is not another.
The ultimate source for the inaccuracy of Dugdale’s engraving is Dugdale himself. His sketch of the monument was the model for the engraving made by Wenceslas Hollar for Antiquities of Warwickshire. Hollar made the best of what he had – which, according to Diana Price, wasn’t very good.
Dugdale’s sketch is the subject of her meticulous study, “Reconsidering Shakespeare’s Monument,” in The Review of English Studies (May 1997). In regard to the figure she observes, “the head is too small, forcing an unnatural lengthening of the torso and arms; the arms stick out at an unnatural angle; and the cushion is drawn on end.” In regard to the features she says, “As with other sketches in his collection, Dugdale made no attempt to draw a facial likeness, but appears to have sketched one of his standard faces to depict a man with facial hair. Consequently, Hollar invented the facial features for Shakespeare.”
The conclusion is obvious: In the absence of an accurate and detailed model, Hollar freely improvised his image of Shakespeare’s monument. The improvisation is what disqualifies the engraving’s value as authoritative evidence. The image, printed from the same block in the revised 1730 edition of Antiquities of Warwickshire, simply carries no authority.
The renewal of the monument was completed in early 1749. On September 27, 1749, Rev. Greene wrote a letter to “my Fellow-Collegian & Table-Mate” at Oxford, the Rev. John Sympson, regarding the latter’s request during a visit to Stratford: “You wanted me to inform you of what materials the Original Monument of Shakespeare in the chancel of our Collegiate church was composed.” Of the half-length statue he said: “the Bust & cushion before it, (on which as on a desk this our Poet seems prepared to write,) is one entire limestone,” and goes on to give details of its natural color, texture and “solidity.”
He then moves on to details of the restoration of the monument, that concludes,
care was taken, as nearly as could be, not to add to or diminish what the work consisted of, and appeared to have been when first erected: And really, except changing the substance of the architraves from alabaster to marble; nothing has been changed, nothing altered, except the supplying with the original materials, (saved for that purpose,) whatsoever was by accident broken off; reviving the old colouring, and renewing the gilding that was lost.”
Price concurs with the comment of the scholar of Shakespeare documents, B. Roland Lewis: “Greene’s letters and notes, [were] written honestly, soberly, and clearly, it is obvious that he consider[ed] the bust … to be the actual original placed in the niche by 1623.” As do I.
Lest the always wary Oxfordians suspect Price’s study of the Dugdale sketch is just another contrivance, another obstacle to get around or under, put in their way by a pesky Shakespearean, this is the same Diana Price who is the author of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography. It reveals her to be a successor to Sir George Greenwood, agnostic as to who is the True Author of the legendary plays and poems, but definitely gnostic about who Truly It-is-not: why, William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon, of course.
If you are still not convinced, how about this? In her book, Price takes issue with my evidence regarding the hyphenation of Shakespeare’s name – “Shake-speare” – as it appears on the title pages of editions of some of his plays and in a smattering of other printed texts of the time (pages 28-30 of Shakespeare, In Fact.). This, Oxfordians contend, and Price apparently agrees, is evidence that William Shakespeare was a pseudonym.
I must begin by asking your patience, dear reader. To argue over a hyphen – a mere ‘-’ – may seem ridiculous, but it bears a great burden in the mythos of Oxfordianism because on its narrow shoulders hangs the full weight of their evidence that Shakespeare was indeed a pseudonym, known to those in the know. (Which leaves the question of why those in the know needed a hyphen to know they know it.) I here endeavor to lift this load from the poor, overburdened hyphen.
Price begins her argument by disputing an example of another hyphenated Elizabethan that I offered, Robert Waldegrave, a printer whose name first appears in the imprint of a book in 1578. Four years later he decided to put a hyphen in his name – Walde-grave – and did so in all future works from his press. Price, however, notes this was evidently Waldegrave’s choice, which “therefore makes it a poor comparison to the idiosyncratic hyphens in Shakespeare’s name.” Let’s grant this, for the time being.
Next we learn that Shake-speare was recognized by the Jacobethan literati not as a mere pseudonym but a “made up name.” She offers as an example Martin Mar-prelate, “the notorious pen name cloaking the author(s) of inflammatory pamphlets critical of the Anglican Church in the 1580s.” We are also offered Master Shoe-tie in Measure for Measure, and Ben Jonson’s Sir Luckless Woo-all as “other examples of made up names” (pages 60-61 of her book.)
Oh my! It appears I made a mess of things, doesn’t it? Except for a detail so insignificant or so irrelevant that Price apparently doesn’t consider it worth mentioning: I began my discussion of the hyphenation of Shakespeare with this quote from Ogburn’s The Mysterious William Shakespeare:
Orthodox professors have been unable to come up with a single case of a genuine English name similarly hyphenated in common usage [my italics].
It was to this I responded when I offered Waldegrave as an example of a hyphen in “a genuine English name.” Which Martin Mar-prelate is not, any more than are Master Shoe-tie or Sir Luckless Woo-all, fictitious names in fictional works both. But then, Shakespeare hardly qualifies as a “made up name” to begin with, being as it is both a genuine and common English name. What’s more, it is a name attached to a very specific person, by which he appears in numerous theatrical records and miscellaneous private and public documents, as well as the name by which he was on very public, constant exhibition as a player in a popular acting company.
(There is a curious footnote in regard to Waldegrave, who happens to have been an unusually conspicuous figure. Twice imprisoned for publishing puritan pamphlets, he was, ironically, the printer of Marprelate pamphlets. He left London, moving his press from town to town to keep ahead of the law. Having run out of England, he next fled to France before taking refuge in Edinburgh in 1590, where he became the king’s printer. The king, James VI of Scotland, was to become King James I of England, and Waldegrave followed him to London. Clearly the hyphen he inserted into his name did him no service inasmuch as what was on either side of it spelled trouble.)
Also too negligible for Price to mention are additional examples in my book of genuine English names that were hyphenated, including a very famous one: the medieval protestant martyr Sir John Oldcastle. His was the name originally given to the roistering character in Part One of Shakespeare’s Henry IV that, after protests, was changed to Sir John Falstaff. There is an allusion to this in the epilogue of Henry IV, Part Two:
Where for anything I know, Falstaff shall die of a sweat, unless already ‘a be killed by your hard opinions, for Old-castle died a martyr, and this is not the man.”
Yes, the original name has a hyphen in the original edition. Shakespeare’s apologia was not sufficient, spawning a play for the Admiral’s Men entitled The First Part of the True and Honorable History of Sir John Old-castle, the Good Lord Cobham. When this play was printed in 1600, his name was hyphenated as shown not only on the title page but on the running headings at the top of each page of text as well. Except for the title of the play on the first page of text, that is, where the name appears as “Oldcastle” – without a hyphen. Hyphens come, hyphens go.
For another, Campbell is certainly a familiar, genuine English name, and Sir Thomas Campbell was certainly a name familiar to Londoners. He was inaugurated as the city’s mayor on October 29, 1609, with all the pageantry that went with this annual event. The pageant itself was devised by the all-purpose author Anthony Munday, and when his efforts were put into print the mayor’s name appears as “Camp-bell.”
These examples of Price’s excisions are but a warm up to what she omits in regard to the most familiar place where Shake-speare is found: the title pages of individual plays (known as quartos). In Shakespeare, In Fact I wrote that “it was a common practice in the printing trade for title-page information to be repeated from one edition to the next and even outdated references would survive one printing or more.” But Price is at the ready to poke holes in what she terms “Matus’s theory.”
It’s times like this that I think of the remark of a reviewer of my book, who said of its author, “Bending the old saying, someone has asserted that nobody likes a fact man.” (If he didn’t like the author, he liked my book. I’ll settle for that.) For Price begins her hole-poking with a single, concise observation, which is that a “hyphen appeared [in Shakespeare’s name] in 45% (fifteen out of thirty-three) of the plays published before the First Folio in 1623.” So straightforward. So precise. So misleading. And setting it right requires a dive off the deep end into a pool of data, some arcane, some unfamiliar, and for those reasons confusing to many, and unexciting to just about everyone.
(Here’s some now: For the record, 52 editions of the plays were printed before the folio, including the 1619 quartos printed by William Jaggard, some of which were given the dates of earlier printings, one with a hyphen as in the first edition. All told, there were actually 36 editions with the author’s name on the title page, in 16 of which it is hyphenated – a mere 44%. I will, however, continue to use Price’s figures.)
What better an example can there be of the challenges to a reader’s patience that a fact man faces than when disputing terminology; in this case Price’s assertion that thirty-three plays had been published before 1623? Actually, there were thirty-three editions – not plays. But is this just a matter of terminology? Does it really make any difference? It is the difference of Mark Twain’s epigram that controversialists like quoting: “The difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug.” Except “plays” is not a nearly right word; it is a misleading word.
Price’s word gives the impression that all but a few of the 36 plays in the First Folio had already been put into print individually and that nearly half of them had the telltale hyphen in the author’s name. This is not so. More to the point, this word spares her from having to present facts that alter what she portrays as an epidemic of Shake-speares. The first omitted fact is that, rather than 33 plays, only nineteen different plays had been published before the First Folio. This in turn allows her to omit another fact: his name was hyphenated in 26% of these plays, only five of nineteen. Which points to still another omitted fact: 87% – thirteen of the fifteen with a hyphen – appear in only three plays: Richard II, Richard III and Henry IV, Part One. (The other two are the first, “Bad Quarto,” Hamlet, and King Lear.) One more omitted fact to go: 100% of the editions of these three plays were printed for one bookseller, Andrew Wise, and later for Matthew Law, to whom Wise transferred his copyrights in 1603.
Why Wise should have been nearly the sole proprietor of the secret that these were psuedonymous works is a puzzle. Richard II and Richard III, possibly Henry IV, Part One also, are the first plays with Shakespeare’s name on their title-pages. Was Wise chosen as the conduit for introducing Oxford’s pseudonym to the public by a purported syndicate that some Oxfordians suggest oversaw the publication of the earl’s plays? If so, when Wise teamed with another bookseller, William Aspley, to publish Much Ado About Nothing and Henry IV, Part Two in 1600, why was Shakespeare without a hyphen in both?
Let me to play the part of the controversialist here and come up with a reason. Hmm … I’ve got it! Having established Shake-speare as a signal to the cognoscenti that this was a pseudonym, Wise decided it was no longer necessary to include the hyphen in the two later plays. (See how easy it is to do this?) But if this is so, why then was the hyphen not dropped in the many subsequent editions of the previously published history plays? Then again, perhaps he was thinking about it.
It so happens that a dropped hyphen is Price’s means of refuting my assertion that “title-page information was repeated from one edition to the next and even outdated references would survive one printing or more.” She rejoins that Shake-speare was, “for example, on the 1598 and 1605 quartos of Richard III, but not on the intervening 1602 quarto.” Richard III was one of the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays, running to six editions before the First Folio, and it happens that the omitted hyphen in the 1602 Richard III is not “for example” but the only example of a hyphen-less Shakespeare among the fourteen editions of the three Wise / Law plays with the author’s name on the title page.
Does the unhyphenated Shakespeare in Richard III contradict my “theory”? Is it that rare exception that disproves the rule? Now Price becomes quite precise. She notes that “the relevant title pages reveal too many arbitrary variations in wording, typeface, layout, spelling, and punctuation to support Matus’s conclusion.” However, I said only that “title-page information was repeated from one edition to the next.” This does not mean, as Price would have it, that new editions sought to reproduce faithfully a previous edition of a given book. No one familiar with printing in this period would.
In practical terms, printers did not have only one book in preparation at any given time. The type that was used in the prior edition might have been in use for the composition of another book and, therefore, a different typeface might be used for the new edition, which could affect the layout. And while it is true that a spelling may be altered (hardly a novelty at the time), that a punctuation mark may be changed or omitted, the cause is unlikely to have been anything more than a burst of virtuosity, a personal taste, or mere indifference on the part of the compositor.
The persistence of title-page content may be best illustrated by the most popular play of the 17th century, Mucedorus, which had two earlier editions before it was printed in 1610 to include additions for a performance before King James. The title page reads:
A Most pleasant | Comedie of Muce- | dorus the King, sonne of Valen- | tia, and Amandine the Kinges | daughter of Aragon. || With the merry conceits of Mouse || Amplified with new additions, as it was | acted before the Kings Majestie at | White-hall on Shrove- | sunday night || By his Highnes Servants usually | playing at the Globe. || Very delectable and full of conceited mirth.
Thirteen more editions survive of this version of the play up to the last in 1668. There are to be sure variations in typeface, layout, spelling, and punctuation in these editions. But not in the wording, which stayed the same, from edition to edition, despite the fact that the Shrove Sunday night performance was 58 years earlier, that the king referred to (James I) had been dead 43 years and that the Globe had been torn down 24 years earlier.
The authoritative word on the suspicious hyphen in Shakespeare’s name may be found in a book by a contemporary of his who is the last word on England in that age, William Camden. In Remains of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine, published in 1605, a miscellany of minutiae that was not included in his masterpiece, Britannia, Camden gives the sources of English surnames, among which we find the names of:
Some from that which they commonly carried, as Palmer, that is Pilgrim, for that they carried Palme when they returned from Hierusalem. Long-sword, Broad-speare; Fortescu, that is, Strong-shield, and in some such respect, Breake-speare, Shake-Speare [sic], Shotbolt, Wagstaff, Bagot, in the old Norman [etc.].
Curiously, in his chapter entitled “Poems,” having quoted works by some late medieval poets, he concludes:
These may suffice for some Poetical descriptions of our ancient Poets, if I would come to our time, what a world I could present you out of Sir Philip Sidney, Ed. Spencer, Samuel Daniel, Hugh Holland, Ben Jonson, Th. Campion, Mich. Drayton, George Chapman, John Marston, William Shakespeare, & other most pregnant wits of these of our times, whom succeeding ages may justly admire.
Here Shakespeare’s name does not have a hyphen. Perhaps this suggests a whole new area for exploration by Oxfordians: that it’s really the absence of a hyphen in Shakespeare’s name that indicates it is a pseudonym. Which leads to another thought. You will recall that Shakespeare was hyphenated in only five of nineteen plays. Well, it was not hyphenated in eleven plays. These include the “authorized version” quartos of Hamlet (much better than the one in the bad quarto that Shake-speare wrote), as well as Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, among others. If the absence of a hyphen signifies that these were the works of the imposter, he apparently was every bit as good a writer as Shake-speare.
All said and done, it should be recognized that Price really needn’t have gone down this long, twisty road. There is, after all, a very simple thing that can prove beyond all doubt that a hyphen in Shakespeare is indicative of a pseudonym. All she needed to do is give one other example of what she, like many before her, would have us believe was a practice well known in Elizabethan England: a genuine English name with a hyphen that is known to have been a pseudonym and which was used to hide a person’s identity. All their “sleuthing” and argumentation are merely to divert attention from the fact that they have not found one.
The makings of this Shakespearean are rooted in my initiation into the authorship controversy, not as a curious reader, but with the specific charge to investigate Oxfordian scholarship. Many more Oxfordian exegeses have come my way in the years since; each appearing to be well researched and amply supported by a bevy of authoritative facts, all wrapped up into a neat, appealing package. At first glance. But ever since my initial, and initially breath-taking encounter, with the “desperate contrivance” of the Countess of Southampton, I welcome each new outburst of scholarly creativity with composure, and not a little of the thrill of the game that Sherlock Holmes felt when a new intriguing case came his way. What seems so authoritative, so plausible, at first glance consistently fails to survive scrutiny.
I have heard Occam’s Razor (defined in this case as accepting the simplest of two sets of facts as being the more likely – though the razor itself is not quite that blunt) invoked in the Oxfordian cause. I think I fairly state this argument as being that, if one accepts that the author was a man of superior education and vast knowledge; a man of aristocratic tastes and pastimes, and with vast life experiences to draw on, one must agree Oxford is that author. Unfortunately, to accept this enticingly simple solution one must also accept the mutable, convoluted conspiracy to conceal his identity that goes with it; an “Operation Clean Sweep” (in Ogburn’s words) in order to eliminate every hint he was the author, but which they discover in hyphens and in contemporary allusions and documents which Oxfordians kindly interpret for you, though when read in context do not say what they ask you to believe they say.
There is still another problem with this simple solution. If you agree that education and professional training, firsthand knowledge and experience, are essential to a high degree of achievement, where did Oxford, or any of the others in the throng of alternative Shakespeares, acquire the qualities that are the sole reason that Shakespeare has endured: his consummate skills in the crafting of plays, infusing them and their characters with a “facsimile of life” that transforms them into uniquely successful works for performance on the stage?
The controversialists point to things in the plays that suggest to them an author who had a fine education. Such things, however, are comparatively few, often debatable, and pale beside the real achievement of Shakespeare, which was to create out of some 900 named characters in his plays, so many with an individualized vocabulary, a way of speaking, of thinking, of acting, that we see in them the truth of William Hazlitt’s observation: “Each of his characters is as much itself, and so absolutely independent of the rest, as well as of the author, as if they were living persons, not fictions of the mind” (my italics). To my mind, these cannot be the accomplishments of a man formulating his creations in the splendid isolation of a well-stocked library, but rather, in the words of the theater professional and scholar Harley Granville-Barker, of a man who had “[learned] his playwright’s trade amid the comradely give-and-take of the common theatre workshop,” developing his trade with an artistry that made him “the genius of the workshop.”
On a more fundamental level, Occam’s Razor has a double-edged blade. It is true, as Oxfordians never tire of pointing out, that there is not a document during the lifetime of the man they call “Shaksper” that states he was both the actor and the playwright. On the other hand, in nearly all contemporary documents relating to his acting company and to his plays – which includes such formal government documents as the 1595 Chamber Account, the letters patent by which he and his fellows came under the patronage of King James, and the Wardrobe Account – his name is spelled Shakespeare, just as it is on the title pages of all the quartos (except King Lear, where it is “Shak-speare”).
In addition to formal documents, many private letters of the age survive in which there is mention of the theater; not only such famous ones as those of John Chamberlain and his circle of courtiers, but some of provincial gentry living in London that are in town and county archives as well. Not one in this cognoscenti hints at the improbability that the playwright famed for dramatic poetry could be the same “babbling provincial” they saw acting on the stage.
When all is said and done, I believe that the controversialists’ argument is more with Shakespeare’s scholars than over Shakespeare, especially those of the golden age of Bardolatry in centuries past. Modern Shakespeare scholarship has shaken free from their methodology, if not entirely from their assumptions. Oxfordian scholarship clings to much of both. Hazlitt was prescient when, at an earlier stage of Bardolatry, he wrote: “If we wish to know the force of human genius we should read Shakespeare. If we wish to see the insignificance of human learning we may only study his commentators.”
©2003, 2004 Irvin Leigh Matus
Please visit my related article: Reflections on the Authorship Controversy – (Fifteen Years On)