Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shakespeare's Apricocks

Shakespeare’s natural world has been much commented upon over the centuries.  As in so many matters, his grasp of gardening, in particular, has been declared at times to be exceptional.  One popular 19th century commentator even went so far as to assert that he must surely have worked as a gardener at some point during his youth.

While he may never have been a gardener, he does seem more than superficially knowledgeable about the gardens of his day.  One detail of such matters that he got wrong, however, is as much to the point as any.  In Richard II the Duke of York’s gardener and his helper have a conversation which includes the following (iii.4.30-37):

Gardiner.
Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricocks,
Which, like unruly children, make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight:
Give some supportance to the bending twigs.
Go thou, and like an executioner,
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.

It was Shakespeare’s habit to bring in common folk, of this sort, for comic relief and/or information.  These get off easily compared to most.  They’ve been brought in simply to give excuse for a series of gardening metaphors.

What Shakespeare got wrong here, is that there were no apricot trees in England in the 14th century.  While it is unlikely that the playwright was particular about such anachronisms, we as readers are a bit richer for this one.  For not only were there no apricots in the garden of the Duke of York but there were no apricots in any gardens at least until the 1520s.  Even then it is an educated guess that the trees were first introduced into England through the gardens of Henry VIII.[1]  The first certain mention of the tree in the country is found in 1548, in William Turner’s The Names of Herbs.

Malus armeniaca is called in Greeke, Melea armeniace, in highe duche Land ein amarel baume, in the dioses of Colo kardumelker baume, in frëch Vng abricottier, and some englishe më cal the fruite au Abricok. Me thynke seinge that we haue very fewe of these trees as yet, it were better to cal it, an hasty Peche tree because it is lyke a pech and it is a great whyle rype before the pech trees, wherfore the fruite of thys tree is called malum precox. There are in Colö great plentie of hasty peche trees.[2]

The “we haue very fewe of these trees as yet” makes clear that the tree was still rare in 1548.


In fact, the apricot tree and its fruit would not become common until the reign of Charles I, when a new variation was brought back to England by the famous botanist John Tradescant (the Younger).  John Marston would mention the fruit in a play[3] early in the century but he was so smitten with the plays of Shakespeare, and borrowed so much from his master, that we do not have any reason to feel confident he’d ever actually seen the tree.  The first mention of the fruit in a major play seems to have been an infamous scene[4] from John Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, first published in 1616.  Even at that late date it was clearly associated with the gardens of the nobility.  It was a fruit with class distinctions.

The passage from Richard II is actually quite knowledgeable about the details of how 




[1] Cecil, Evvelyn, A History of Gardening in England, 97. “The greatest addition to the number of cultivated fruits was the apricot, which was certainly introduced before the middle of the sixteenth century, probably by Henry the Eighth's gardener Wolf about 1524.” 
[2] Britten, James. The Names of Herbs, by William Turner A.D. 1548, 52.
[3] Marston, John.  The Fawne (1606), I. ii.  “…pare thy beard, clense thy teeth, and eat apricocks…”  The apricots are intended to mark him out as a gallant.
[4] Webster, John.  The Duchess of Malfi (1616) II.i.all.


Page [1] [2] [3]






  • Desperately Seeking Bridget (de Vere).  August 24, 2014.  "Even most people who assert that the Earl of Oxford was the poet and playwright Shake-speare (a group to which I resoundingly belong) do not seem to know that she was engaged, in 1598, to William Herbert, soon to inherit the Earldom of Pembroke,..."

Shakespeare's Apricocks (p. 2)

gardeners go about their craft.  It is not the only such passage among the plays.  Not only is he right about the proper care for the tree in the month of May (or early June, the month in which, history records, Bolingbroke captured King Richard), and that the fruit would be heaviest at that time, but he is well aware of the appearance of the tree and that it would have been considered an essential plant for the au courant nobleman’s garden at the time the play was written.  Throughout his plays, Shakespeare seems to have been quite conversant in the cherished new plants that were found only in the private gardens of the nobility.

Private botanical gardens[1] were the very expensive hobby of the Royalty of England, a tiny handful of noblemen and the experts who supplied their needs, until well into the 17th century.  After Queen Elizabeth’s botanical garden, (inherited from Henry VIII) at Nonesuch, William Cecil, Lord Burghley’s gardens at Cecil House on the Strand, and later at Burghley House in Stamford, would seem to have been without parallel.  Before the garden could be designed and installed at Burghley House — the work of 20 years under the guidance of the famous herbalist John Gerard — the gardens of the Carew family at their seat in Beddington may have been the finest privately held botanical gardens in the country.


Francis Carew is credited with introducing the orange tree to England.  It had to be before the following letter to him as Cecil’s sometime Paris agent in such matters:

When this messengar was redy to depart, my Lady Throkmorton gave me a lettre from Tho. Cecill, wherin he maketh mention that Mr. Caroo meaneth to send home certen orenge, potngranat, lymon, and myrt trees. I have alredy an orrenge tree; and if the price be not much, I pray you procure for me a lymon, a pomegranat, and a myrt tree ; and help that they may be sent to London, with Mr. Caroo's trees;…[2]

This order is almost certainly intended for the gardens at Cecil House on the Strand which Sir William had moved into, in a state of partial completion, in 1560.  His gardens there were also impressive, in time, but in later years Burghley House had not just one orange tree but a small orchard, each tree residing in a large tub, such that it could be carried to spend the winter inside of an early version of a greenhouse.  Presumably, his lemon trees made the trip as well.

As most Oxfordian’s know, the young Earl arrived at the house on the Strand on September 3, 1562, a year and a half after this shipment of trees.  He lived mostly at the 




[1] I use the term “botanical” loosely here, to describe gardens that regularly featured plants new to the country as part of their program.
[2] Cecil, William to Francis Carew, March 25, 1561, from Westminster.


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  • Shake-speare's Greek.  May 08, 2014.  "It is not at all clear from Jonson’s limited comments on Shakespeare, throughout his life, whether he was aware that the Bard may have actually translated a Greek text popular for many centuries."

Shakespeare's Apricocks (p. 3)

house for the next 10 years, as the gardeners worked outside the windows.  How often he visited Burghley’s first great house, at Theobalds, some five miles from the Strand, where there were also extensive gardens, we are not apprised that I am aware.  It must have been at least as often as the Queen went on progress stopping at her treasurer’s beloved estate along her route.  This she did on numerous occasions.

But the Strand was also impressive enough to entertain a Queen as she was accustomed.  In June of 1583, in fact, she began her progress there, and, after touring the gardens, she permitted Oxford to her presence for the first time in three years.  The young Earl had been exiled from her court, in disgrace, after committing the greatest of sins: he had impregnated one of her Ladies-in-Waiting.

Her Majestie cam yesterday to Grenwich from my Lord Tresurer's. She was never in any place better plesed and sure the howse garden and walks may compare with any delicat place in Itally. The day she cam away which was yesterday my Lord of Oxford cam to her presence and after some bitter words and speches in the end all sins ar forgiven and he may repayre to the court at his pleasure.[1]

As much as we might wish to know more about the “bitter words and speeches,” we learn that the gardens at the Strand were a marvel even in the eyes of a Queen.

But nowhere in all of this is specific mention of apricot trees.  I am not aware of a single direct statement that Cecil had the trees in either of his gardens.  That’s not surprising.  A lot of small detail fails to survive 450 years.


But Gerard’s garden, one-half mile from the Strand, in Holborn, seems to have been something of a gift from Cecil to his botanical advisor.  It was this garden that taught Gerard the skills to build the garden at Burghley House.  Among the trees there was the apricot.

Another piece of circumstantial evidence argues for the presence of the apricot in the various gardens of William Cecil.  In 1607, William Cecil’s son, Robert, the then Earl of Salisbury, and King James I, exchanged Theobalds for Hatfield House.  The king is said to have spent considerable time at his new mansion.  Alterations were made.  Whether to gardens as well as buildings is not clear.

After James’ son, Charles I, was executed, an official survey of the royal lands was undertaken prior to selling them off.  The survey of Theobalds was accomplished in 1650.  Among the many fascinating facts, we learn that “Pheasant garden… conteynes… 5 Apricock trees…” and “goeinge into another garden called by ye name of the Laundrie garden… 5 aprecock trees,…”.[2]  In a corner of the massive kitchen garden, “Also A Dooreway in ye sayd garden, leading into ye Mulberrie walke. Which sayd garden is walled round, and there is growinge to the walls, 25 Apricock trees,..”.




[1] Purdy, Gilbert.  Edward de Vere was Shakespeare:at long last the proof @ 149.  Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Rutland GCB preserved at Belvoir Castle ( London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1888), I.150.
[2] Amherst, Alicia.  A History of Gardening in England (1896), 327-329.

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  • Enter John Lyly.  October 18, 2016.  "From time to time, Shakespeare Authorship aficionados query after the name “John Lyly”.  This happens surprisingly little given the outsized role the place-seeker, novelist and playwright played in the lives of the playwright William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Enter John Lyly

From time to time, Shakespeare Authorship aficionados query after the name “John Lyly”.  This happens surprisingly little given the outsized role the place-seeker, novelist and playwright played in the lives of the playwright William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere.  So pronounced a link between the names of the Earl and the playwright makes Lyly as important as any figure in the debate.

But still, few seem to have taken the time to read (much less study) his works.  Only a small number of the facts of his life are widely known.   Some have even suggested that the name was an alias for Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

The best source of information on Lyly is the exceptional introduction to Warwick Bond’s edition of The Complete Works of John Lyly (Clarendon Press, 1902).  Little new information has been added over the years regarding Lyly.  The references to the Earl of Oxford, though dated, remain helpful.

Bond tells us that the first certain information about the man comes from registrars’ rolls for Magdalen College, Oxford, where his B.A. and M.A. degrees were duly entered in 1573 and 1575 respectively.  Between the two we also have a Latin letter, dated May 16, 1574, written by Lyly to “Viro illustrissimo, et insignissimo Heroi Domino, Burgleo, totius Angliae Thesaurario, Regiae Maiestatis intimis a consilijs, et patron suo colendissimo J. L.[1]

Most illustrious man, and most distinguished Heroic Lord, Burgley, Treasurer of all England, privy councilor to the Queen, and most attentive patron of John Lyly.
He gives the English translation in a footnote.  The young scholar requests that “his patron,” Lord Burgley, intervene with the Queen in his behalf, such that she might order the Magdalen College to bestow a fellowship upon him.


What the letter makes clear is that William Cecil, the Baron Burgleigh, and Lyly already have some sort of relationship.  Some have written that the young man was the son of a distant cousin.  I’ve never been favored with a source for the claim.  Whatever the basis of their relationship, it is strong enough that a mere scholar could think of asking “his patron” to interceded in his behalf with the Queen.  That Burgley has already been supportive in unspecified ways is also made clear.

The Queen’s order was not forthcoming and the documentation for Lyly’s life 1575-79 consists only of an entry in Cambridge University records incorporating his Oxford M. A. there in 1579.[2]  A reference from Gabriel Harvey’s Pierce’s Supererogation places the two adversaries both living and first meeting in The Savoy Hospital complex in about 1578.


During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, The Savoy Hospital had been stripped of the lands the rents from which had previously supported its Hospital and charitable operations.  It was forced to make up as much as it could by renting out the buildings in its modest complex for apartments.  After a crisis, due to mismanagement, Burleigh had come to control it through the hospital manager.  The Savoy being not far from the Burleigh House, on the Strand, the Lord Treasurer may have deposited his young charge there in order to have him on hand for piece work of one sort or another.

It is likely, then, that Lyly wrote Euphues, the Anatomy of Wyt (1578) while living in The Savoy.  It was a grand and immediate success.  Many of the readers that lauded it to the literary world of the Court and London surely also lived at or regularly availed themselves of bed and board at The Savoy.

A number of documents show that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, lived and received guests at The Savoy when in London, in 1573.  Moreover an entry was made in the Savoy records that he was found in arrears of rent in that year for two tenements.  His floor space, then, was considerable.  By various estimates he continued there perhaps as late as 1578.  The overlap between the probable Savoy timelines for the two men make all but certain that they met there in 1577 or 1578.  Again Harvey informs us that Lyly became secretary to the Earl at about that time.  The dedication of Euphues and his England to the Earl in 1580 suggests that year as the latest possible start date for their arrangement.



[1] Lansdowne, MS. xix. No. 16.
[2] Bond takes this piece of information from Charles and Thompson Cooper’s Athenae Cantabrigienses which does not give exact information on the whereabouts of the entry in the university records.


  • Desperately Seeking Bridget (de Vere).  August 24, 2014.  "Even most people who assert that the Earl of Oxford was the poet and playwright Shake-speare (a group to which I resoundingly belong) do not seem to know that she was engaged, in 1598, to William Herbert, soon to inherit the Earldom of Pembroke,..."
  • Shake-speare and the Influence of Ronsard.  May 22, 2014.  "If Shake-speare were actually born in 1564, the question should naturally arise as to why so many of the sources for his works were written between 1560 and 1580,..."

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Herbert Brothers' Other First Folio Dedication. (Page 2)

...Muses of this latter Age, then that which is owing to your Familie; whose Coronet shines bright with the native luster of its owne Jewels, which with the accesse of some Beames of Sydney, twisted with their Flame presents a Constellation, from whose Influence all good may be still expected upon Witt and Learning. 
At this Truth we rejoyse, but yet aloofe, and in our owne valley, for we dare not approach with any capacity in ourselves to apply your Smile, since wee have only preserved as Trustees to the Ashes of the Authors, what wee exhibit to your Honour, it being no more our owne, then those lmperiall Crownes and Garlands were the Souldiers, who were honourably designed for their Conveyance before the Triumpher to the Capitol. 
But directed by the example of some, who once steered in our qualitie, and so fortunately aspired to choose your Honour, joyned with your (now glorified) Brother, Patrons to the flowing compositions of the then expired sweet Swan of Avon SHAKESPEARE; and since, more particularly bound to your Lordships most constant and diffusive Goodnesse, from which, wee did for many calme yeares derive a subsistence to our selves, and Protection to the Scene (now withered, and condemn'd, as we feare, to a long Winter and sterilitie) we have presumed to offer to your Selfe, what before was never printed of these Authours. 
Had they beene lesse then all the Treasure we had contracted in the whole Age of Poesie (some few poems of their owne excepted, which already published, command their entertainement, with all lovers of Art and Language) or were they not the most justly admir’d, and belov’d Pieces of Witt and the World, wee should have taught our selves a lesse Ambition. 
Be pleased to accept this humble tender of our duties, and till we faile in our obedience to all your Commands, vouchsafe, we may be knowne by the Cognizance and Character of 
MY Lord, 
Your Honours most bounden






*
It bears mentioning that, in 1647, the plays of John Fletcher (Beaumont had died much earlier) were far more popular than those of Shakespeare.  Bringing The Bard into the dedication and two of the dedicatory poems would not have been designed to add to the luster of Fletcher.  Quite the opposite was the case: mentioning Shakespeare’s name together with Fletcher’s could only bring more luster to the name of the (at the time) only moderately popular Shakespeare.

So then why even bring Shakespeare and the First Folio up in a dedication to Philip Herbert?  Why even dedicate the Fletcher First Folio to Philip?  Perhaps the dedication celebrates an unusually intimate Shakespeare connection between the playwright and the Herberts.  Perhaps Fletcher had veen all too well aware during his life that in the sentiments of the Herberts, Shakespeare could never possibly be outshone by another.  His name must always be given first place.



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The Herbert Brothers' Other First Folio Dedication.

Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke.
A copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays is traveling the country by way of celebrating what tradition says is the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare.  That tradition identifies a Stratford businessman as the author of the works of Shakespeare.

As I and others have pointed out, the Folio is dedicated to William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, and his brother Philip Herbert, the Earl of Montgomery, two men with close ties to Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.  Oxford died in 1604.  The Folio appeared in 1623.  Between the two dates, William had risen to the office of Lord Chamberlain to King James the First.  Philip had married Oxford’s daughter Susan and been created Earl.

William died in 1630 and his Earldom of Pembroke also fell to Philip.  During William’s service as Lord Chamberlain many literary works were dedicated to him.  I do not find many dedications to Philip.  The First Folio is the only dedication of which I am aware to the two brothers together while they both lived.

The introduction to my Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: at long last the proof  revives a letter written in 1637 by Philip recalling William’s earlier injunction, under his authority as Lord Chamberlain, against  printing any plays that had ever been the property of the players called the King’s Men.  The King’s Men had earlier been known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and, thus, had once owned the rights to most of the plays of William Shakespeare.  A collected plays of Shakespeare was being produced just after 1620 and the project coincidentally abandoned.  The First Folio soon began production under the aegis of the Lord Chamberlain without fear of prosecution.

Among the arguments Stratfordian scholars (scholars supporting the authorship of the man from Stratford) forward most boldly in their candidate’s behalf is the fact that the first recorded appearance of a number of Shakespeare plays occurred after the Earl of Oxford’s death.  Most of these plays have long been understood to show unmistakable signs of having been co-written with one or more co-authors.  The Stratfordian position is that the author had retired to his home town and greatly reduced (but not ended) his literary output.  It was a phase, they say, when he had rather layout the structure and write a few key passages of his plays and leave the rest to one or another amanuensis from among the more talented young playwrights of the time.

My own particular Oxfordian position is that Edward de Vere’s daughter Susan, the wife of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery, and a very active player in the Court masques of her day, came into the possession of the uncompleted manuscripts of De Vere upon his death.  Those manuscripts were farmed out largely (but not entirely) to John Fletcher, the man in their judgment, best able to bring the manuscripts to successful and respectable completed plays.  Thus “new” Shakespeare plays continued to appear for a time.



All Shakespeare scholars, of all stripes, widely agree that John Fletcher’s hand is clear in many of the late plays.  Other playwrights' signature stylistic traits can be seen in some late plays, as well, but to a much smaller extent.  Fletcher’s fellow playwright, Francis Beaumont, for one, is strongly suspected of having contributed passages.

Philip Herbert did, it  turns out, receive at least one literary dedication after his brother’s death.  Actually, the dedication is to both he and his “(now glorified) Brother”.  It is a second dedication of a First Folio, that is to say, to the Herbert brothers.  The First Folio in question is of the Works of John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, published in 1647.   I provide a transcription:

TOTHE RIGHT HONOURABLE
PHILIP
Earle of Pembroke and Mountgomery:
Baron Herbert of Cardiffe and Sherland,Lord Parr and Ross of Kendall; Lord Fitz-Hugh,
Marmyon,and Saint Quintin; Knight of the most noble Order of
the Garter; and one of His Majesties most Honourable Privie Councell:
And our Singular Good Lord.

MY LORD, THere is none among all the Names of Honour, that hath more encouraged the Legitimate... 



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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Why I am not an anti-Stratfordian.

The earliest Google search entry for the term “anti-Stratfordian” is a long article, entitled “The Shakespearean Myth”, in Appleton’s Journal of June 1880.  A number of hints strongly suggest that it is in fact the first use of the term.  Not the least of these hints is the fact that the term “anti-Shakespearean” is used three times in the article and “anti-Stratfordian” only once.

The article was written by James Appleton Morgan[1], a popular writer on the subject of Shakespeare Authorship, and presumably related to the Appleton’s who managed the journal.  The article was expanded and released as a book in 1881.  In the book version, “anti-Shakespearean” was used 11 times and “anti-Stratfordian” once.

The earliest listing for the term “anti-Shakespearean” is letter by Richard J. Hinton in the November 17, 1866, number of  another journal under the name of The Round Table.  While the letter mentions Delia Bacon, it is much more about Harrington, a novel by William Douglas O’Conner, in which the title character asserts that Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh co-wrote the plays of Shakespeare.  The novel (according to Hinton) was written without the knowledge of Delia Bacon’s theory.  The use of “anti-Shakespearean,” in the letter suggests that it had probably been already in general use prior the the letter.

It is not difficult to see the disadvantages of the term “anti-Shakespearean”.  By the 1890s, the moniker “Baconian“ had almost entirely replaced both terms.


Sir Granville George Greenwood’s 1908 volume The Shakespeare Problem Restated being agnostic about who was the true author of the works of Shakespeare, the author reintroduced the term “anti-Stratfordian”.  He was confident that the Stratford man could not be the author but was unable to determine who might actually have written the works.  Thus he was, in the literal sense of the various labels, not a “Baconian,” and certainly not an "anti-Shakespearean" but rather an “anti-Stratfordian”.  Greenwood’s many books and articles on the topic were justifiably the most popular in the popular Shakespeare Authorship debate of the time.  They have aged well into the bargain.

In 1920, Thomas Looney published his "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford.   The Baconians had already descended to the point where they depended heavily upon the most extreme claims of secret ciphers (which they themselves could not decipher), purportedly utilized by Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, and his familiars.  This had become necessary in order to answer otherwise unanswerable historical counter-arguments of their critics.  As the result, they began to be perceived as crackpots.  No such ciphers proved necessary to support the authorship of Edward de Vere (though a few were unwisely adopted by later theorists nevertheless).

The first use of the term “Oxfordian,” according to Google Search, as applied to Shakespeare authorship, appears in the year 1933.  By 1940, the Baconians very much on the wane, and the Oxford theory on the rise, the term “Oxfordian” becomes more common.  Many factors indicate that the authorship question in general, however, had lost its attraction with the general public.

The Shakespeare Authorship debate languished until 1962 when Charlton Ogburn and his mother Dorothy published their Shake-speare: The Man Behind the Name.  Charlton had built a large network of cultural and governmental contacts during his time in the U. S. State Department.  He had already gained many influential converts by the time he published The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality, his third book on the subject, in 1984, and those converts had made many more influential converts still.

The watershed moment of the Ogburn effort came in September of 1987 when the briefs for a moot court case ‘in Re “William Shakespeare”’ appeared in The American University Law Review.  The case was heard on November 25th of that year, by sitting Supreme Court Justices William Brennan, Harry Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens.  The event, which took place at the Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church, in Washington, D.C., was mentioned on the Good Morning America television program guaranteeing an overflow crowd.

The case garnered a meaningful amount of coverage at the time it occurred.  The justices came down on the side of the Stratford man.   That might well have been the end of the matter, as far as academia was concerned, if an 18-page account of the event and the upper crust venues and dramatis personae of the event, simply entitled “The Authorship Question,” hadn’t appeared the next April in The New Yorker magazine.  The article would prove to be orders of magnitude more influential than the moot court case itself.  The Shakespeare academic and theme park industries were in danger of being displaced as the sole legitimate authority over the 300 year old (and highly lucrative) Shakespeare industry.


From 1988 onward, then, traditionalists (i.e. Stratfordians) began to develop a set of strategies and social connections of their own.  The means that proved most effective was also hinted at in James Lardner’s New Yorker piece.   Brief mention was made of the fact that a number of Elizabethan figures had been advanced over the years as the true author of the Shakespeare plays.  The lingering term “anti-Stratfordian” was applied to the supporters of these figures collectively.

Lardner had only mentioned those other figures who might be considered viable candidates.  In the article, it was clear (if unstated) that only the Earl of Oxford, among them, could provide the materials for a strong case. 

The reigning Shakespeare industry did not scruple at such a limitation.  In fact, dozens of ridiculous candidates had been advanced over the decades.  Arguing a socius, the Shakespeare industry rebuffed all questions with the argument that “anti-Stratfordian” arguments were ridiculous.  This amounted to the position that any champion of an alternative candidate must defend themselves from the collective abuses of all alternative candidacies before they were worthy of anything but preemptive derision.  With their own considerable connections, the traditionalists succeeded in establishing the terms of the debate: there were only “Stratfordians” and “anti-Stratfordians”.  Anti-Stratfordians stood responsible to explain how all of "their" candidates could have been Shakespeare at once, how all of the many ridiculous theories could be squared.

An analogy for this would be to make an Evolutionist whose data suggested that Evolutionary theory about the development of the human eye needed to be honed in order to be precisely correct and in accordance with Evolutionary theory, answer for why, “being an obvious anti-Evolutionist,” he or she believed the world was created in 7 days, why he believed in Intelligent Creation, why he believed that ancient aliens had introduced life onto the planet earth, etc.  The reason why this response is unlikely in the realm of science is because it is not at all valid scientific method.  The trope is pure politics and can be found in every hotly contested election in order to prevent actual debate.  Happily the sciences remain functional, introspective and open to new data.  Shakespeare scholarship, on the other hand, again does  not see fit to scruple.

In short, the Stratfordian party, aware of the crippling scarcity of data under which it labors, chose the strategy of filibuster.  All the was not Stratfordian would be required to legitimize the entire anti-Stratfordian universe before (theoretically) being heard.  Failure to meet this demand would be represented to the court of public opinion as yet another unmistakable  sign that “anti-Stratfordians” were prima facia bozos unworthy of a hearing.

I do not imagine that I am the only Oxfordian who rejects the label “anti-Stratfordian”.  But it does seem worth looking at the basis that I reject its new post -1988 co-option as nothing more than a cheap political ploy.  I am “anti” nothing.  The Stratford man is not worth opposing.  He was an unusually successful street hustler and I honor him for his accomplishments in that way.  The times were not easy for a man of his class and limited education.  He clearly had an eye for the main chance and likely spent most of his waking hours pursuing that chance.


  • Check out Virtual Grub Street's English Renaissance Article Index for articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.





[1] President of The Shakespeare Society of New York.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Why I am Not an Anti-Stratfordian

The earliest Google search entry for the term “anti-Stratfordian” is a long article, entitled “The Shakespearean Myth”, in Appleton’s Journal of June 1880.  A number of hints strongly suggest that it is in fact the first use of the term.  Not the least of these hints is the fact that the term “anti-Shakespearean” is used three times in the article and “anti-Stratfordian” only once.

The article was written by James Appleton Morgan[1], a popular writer on the subject of Shakespeare Authorship, and presumably related to the Appleton’s who managed the journal.  The article was expanded and released as a book in 1881.  In the book version, “anti-Shakespearean” was used 11 times and “anti-Stratfordian” once.

The earliest listing for the term “anti-Shakespearean” is letter by Richard J. Hinton in the November 17, 1866, number of  another journal under the name of The Round Table.  While the letter mentions Delia Bacon, it is much more about Harrington, a novel by William Douglas O’Conner, in which the title character asserts that Francis Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh co-wrote the plays of Shakespeare.  The novel (according to Hinton) was written without the knowledge of Delia Bacon’s theory.  The use of “anti-Shakespearean,” in the letter suggests that it had probably been already in general use prior the the letter.

It is not difficult to see the disadvantages of the term “anti-Shakespearean”.  By the 1890s, the moniker “Baconian“ had almost entirely replaced both terms.



Sir Granville George Greenwood’s 1908 volume The Shakespeare Problem Restated being agnostic about who was the true author of the works of Shakespeare, the author reintroduced the term “anti-Stratfordian”.  He was confident that the Stratford man could not be the author but was unable to determine who might actually have written the works.  Thus he was, in the literal sense of the various labels, not a “Baconian,” and certainly not an "anti-Shakespearean" but rather an “anti-Stratfordian”.  Greenwood’s many books and articles on the topic were justifiably the most popular in the popular Shakespeare Authorship debate of the time.  They have aged well into the bargain.

In 1920, Thomas Looney published his "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward De Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford.   The Baconians had already descended to the point where they depended heavily upon the most extreme claims of secret ciphers (which they themselves could not decipher), purportedly utilized by Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, and his familiars.  This had become necessary in order to answer otherwise unanswerable historical counter-arguments of their critics.  As the result, they began to be perceived as crackpots.  No such ciphers proved necessary to support the authorship of Edward de Vere (though a few were unwisely adopted by later theorists nevertheless).

The first use of the term “Oxfordian,” according to Google Search, as applied to Shakespeare authorship, appears in the year 1933.  By 1940, the Baconians very much on the wane, and the Oxford theory on the rise, the term “Oxfordian” becomes more common.  Many factors indicate that the authorship question in general, however, had lost its attraction with the general public.


The Shakespeare Authorship debate languished until 1962 when Charlton Ogburn and his mother Dorothy published their Shake-speare: The Man Behind the Name.  Charlton had built a large network of cultural and governmental contacts during his time in the U. S. State Department.  He had already gained many influential converts by the time he published The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality, his third book on the subject, in 1984, and those converts had made many more influential converts still.

The watershed moment of the Ogburn effort came in September of 1987 when the briefs for a moot court case ‘in Re “William Shakespeare”’ appeared in The American University Law Review.  The case was heard on November 25th of that year, by sitting Supreme Court Justices William Brennan, Harry Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens.  The event, which took place at the Metropolitan Memorial Methodist Church, in Washington, D.C., was mentioned on the Good Morning America television program guaranteeing an overflow crowd.

The case garnered a meaningful amount of coverage at the time it occurred.  The justices came down on the side of the Stratford man.   That might well have been the end of the matter, as far as academia was concerned, if an 18-page account of the event and the upper crust venues and dramatis personae of the event, simply entitled “The Authorship Question,” hadn’t appeared the next April in The New Yorker magazine.  The article would prove to be orders of magnitude more influential than the moot court case itself.  The Shakespeare academic and theme park industries were in danger of being displaced as the sole legitimate authority over the 300 year old (and highly lucrative) Shakespeare industry.


From 1988 onward, then, traditionalists (i.e. Stratfordians) began to develop a set of strategies and social connections of their own.  The means that proved most effective was also hinted at in James Lardner’s New Yorker piece.   Brief mention was made of the fact that a number of Elizabethan figures had been advanced over the years as the true author of the Shakespeare plays.  The lingering term “anti-Stratfordian” was applied to the supporters of these figures collectively.

Lardner had only mentioned those other figures who might be considered viable candidates.  In the article, it was clear (if unstated) that only the Earl of Oxford, among them, could provide the materials for a strong case. 

The reigning Shakespeare industry did not scruple at such a limitation.  In fact, dozens of ridiculous candidates had been advanced over the decades.  Arguing a socius, the Shakespeare industry rebuffed all questions with the argument that “anti-Stratfordian” arguments were ridiculous.  This amounted to the position that any champion of an alternative candidate must defend themselves from the collective abuses of all alternative candidacies before they were worthy of anything but preemptive derision.  With their own considerable connections, the traditionalists succeeded in establishing the terms of the debate: there were only “Stratfordians” and “anti-Stratfordians”.  Anti-Stratfordians stood responsible to explain how all of "their" candidates could have been Shakespeare at once, how all of the many ridiculous theories could be squared.

An analogy for this would be to make an Evolutionist whose data suggested that Evolutionary theory about the development of the human eye needed to be honed in order to be precisely correct and in accordance with Evolutionary theory, answer for why, “being an obvious anti-Evolutionist,” he or she believed the world was created in 7 days, why he believed in Intelligent Creation, why he believed that ancient aliens had introduced life onto the planet earth, etc.  The reason why this response is unlikely in the realm of science is because it is not at all valid scientific method.  The trope is pure politics and can be found in every hotly contested election in order to prevent actual debate.  Happily the sciences remain functional, introspective and open to new data.  Shakespeare scholarship, on the other hand, again does  not see fit to scruple.

In short, the Stratfordian party, aware of the crippling scarcity of data under which it labors, chose the strategy of filibuster.  All the was not Stratfordian would be required to legitimize the entire anti-Stratfordian universe before (theoretically) being heard.  Failure to meet this demand would be represented to the court of public opinion as yet another unmistakable  sign that “anti-Stratfordians” were prima facia bozos unworthy of a hearing.

I do not imagine that I am the only Oxfordian who rejects the label “anti-Stratfordian”.  But it does seem worth looking at the basis that I reject its new post -1988 co-option as nothing more than a cheap political ploy.  I am “anti” nothing.  The Stratford man is not worth opposing.  He was an unusually successful street hustler and I honor him for his accomplishments in that way.  The times were not easy for a man of his class and limited education.  He clearly had an eye for the main chance and likely spent most of his waking hours pursuing that chance.


  • Check out Virtual Grub Street's English Renaissance Article Index for articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.





[1] President of The Shakespeare Society of New York.