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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Kindle Update to Ulysses and Agamemnon (1584)

I am pleased to announce that Kindle has agreed to send all who have purchased my Ulysses and Agamemnon (1584) an upgraded text.  You will find the download on the "Manage Your Content and Devices" page of the Reader or app on which you have the book stored.

Books purchased prior to October 27 will be substantially upgraded.  Books purchased after the 27th will find many fewer changes.

MS Word to Kindle formatting problems have been cleared up such that footnote cross-references now have proper citation numbers.  Collapsed line breaks have been restored.  Google digital book to MS Word formatting problems have all (or almost all) been corrected.

Because MSWord gives up on spell or grammar checking when portions of a text are in irregular spelling and the text is long, there are also a number of typos corrected.  This was a huge project, though, and I've already found one more typo since the corrected text was accepted.  Still, there will be many fewer.

For those who have yet to purchase a copy, I'm pleased that yours will have a cleaner text from the get-go.  Enjoy the read!





Sunday, November 11, 2018

"Shakespeare's Latin Sources for 1000, Alex": Maximianus.


Standard Citation: Purdy, Gilbert Wesley. '"Shakespeare's Latin Sources for 100 Alex": Maximianus.'  Virtual Grub Street,  https://gilbertwesleypurdy.blogspot.com/2018/11/shakespeares-latin-sources-for-100-alex.html [state date accessed].

While reading Robinson Ellis’s article “On the Elegies of Maximianus”[1], for background toward a review of A. M. Juster’s recent translation of the Elegies[2], I came across the following:

The 19th Sonnet of Shakespere begins with these verses :

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood.
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws.

which are, to say the least, very like Maxim. I 271, 2,

Fracta diu rabidi conpescitur ira leonis
Lentaque per senium Caspia tigris erit.

[Long broken down, the angry lion’s rage is checked;
A Caspian tiger will be slow in dotage.[3]]

It is the kind of Shakespeare reference scattered everywhere in our literature.  To wander at large through literary scholarly texts day after day is to come upon such dim, lonely stars, from time to time, far from the central constellations of Shakespeare scholarship.

Often they are suggestions that The Bard might have known one or another Latin text.  In the above instance, the similarity is clear enough but but not necessarily close enough.  Maximilianus was quite popular during the Middle Ages, and, during the 16th century, Schweiger’s Handbuch der classischen Bibliographie lists editions published in 1501 (Venice), 1503 (Paris), 1509 (Strasburg), 1518 (Lyon)[4], and 1588 (Florence).  Our poet could easily have read the elegies.  But it lacks blunted claws or toothless jaws.  For me, it is too general to be advanced as a certainty.

Of course, most investigations of Shakespeare’s debt to Latin works are not obiter dicta.  Nor are all commentators sure they enjoy the task.

‘Any learned scholar who took a delight in what I confess seems to me the barren and ungrateful task of pointing out all the passages in Shakespeare capable of serving as a text, or pretext, for classical quotations,’ Paul Stapfer complains, ‘would have to distinguish three separate classes: first, the passages borrowed directly from ancient authors; second, those borrowed indirectly; third, mere coincidences.


The distinction is not always easy to make; as, for instance, when Ophelia is buried, Laertes takes last leave of her in the touching and poetic words:—

"Lay her i' the earth ;
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring! " (Act V., Sc. 1.)

And in Persius we find—

"Non nunc e manibus istis,
Non nunc e tumulo fortunataque favilla
Nascentur violae?"

[Is not now his departing spirit,
Not now the grave that holds his fair ashes
Sprung up with violets?]

Did Shakespeare borrow this, or is it a mere coincidence?’[5]

Here, I suggest, the exact match of small details tells us that the two passages are indeed related.  Both sets of remains are of fair (fortunataque) persons.  Both graves specifically sprout violets.  Shakespeare seems clearly to have read from the Satires of Persius.

What seems not to be related is the tone and context.  Persius cannot give himself momentary permission to compose a genuinely beautiful lyrical swatch without it being also a sneer. There is no sign that such is the case in Hamlet’s elegiac moment on the death of Ophelia.

Among the many points half made in Stapfer’s book is the fact that ‘…it was not on account of an insufficient knowledge of Latin that he preferred to use the English translation of Ovid's "Metamorphoses" rather than the original, but because he read English more quickly, and less time was lost.’[6]  There are plenty of signs that he was widely read in the Latin classics.  But as he moved away from plays for Court audiences, toward plays for London audiences, there were fewer references drawn directly from Latin sources. 

What sources Shakespeare went to in each play are amongst the best evidence of when and in what order the plays were written.  As a general rule, plays written to be acted before the Royal Court tended to display their authors’ classical learning.  Plays with Latin quotes are almost certain to have been written for either the Court or the Universities.  If the quotes throughout were short, the stuff of school lessons, and/or generally epigrammatic, the play was written to be performed by a boys’ company probably in Blackfriars.  If the quotes were longer and integrated more into the play it was written to be performed at a university or an Inn of Court.  Shakespeare displays these same stylistic markers.

When Shakespeare switched from writing plays for the Court to plays for a general audience, Latin rarely appeared in the text.  Displays of education were neither detected nor appreciated by such audiences.  He also goes to translations more because he is writing more, with more complex delineation of character, and, thus, at a more demanding pace.  In the words of Stapfer “he read English more quickly, and less time was lost.”  Also, as a result, he began plagiarizing whole speeches from works the style of which he greatly admired.  Whether as an effect or a parallel development, his plays were becoming more complex literary works needing new strategies in order to get them ready for performance in the limited time at hand.



[1] Ellis, Robinson.  “On the Elegies of Maximianus I”. The American Journal of Philology,   Vol. V, No. 17, 1.  New York: MacMillan and Co., 1884.
[3] Juster, 37.
[4] Published together with selections from Catullus, Tibullus and Propertius as was often the case.
[5] Stapfer, Paul.  Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity, 95.
[6] Stapfer, 102.


  • Edward de Vere’s Ulysses and Agamemnon. Highlighting the Real Issue.  October 30, 2018. “When I did return to investigate more deeply, the results were astonishing.  All tests indicated that the earlier play was incorporated in its entirety.”
  • The Battle Over Shakespeare's Early and Late Plays. September 24, 2018. "Vere had been writing The Tempest for his daughter’s upcoming wedding.  Upon his death, his friend William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, who was known to have collected every printed and manuscript word he could get his hands on about the ongoing explorations in the South Atlantic, likely put on the final touches."
  • Shakespeare on Gravity. August 26, 2018. “So carelessly does Shakespeare throw out such an extraordinary divination. His achievement in thus, as it were, rivalling Newton may seem in a certain sense even more extraordinary than Goethe's botanical and osteological discoveries;…”
  • Let the sky rain potatoes! December 16, 2017. "In fact, the sweet potato had only just begun to be a delicacy within the reach of splurging poets and playwrights and members of the middle classes at the time that The Merry Wives of Windsor (the play from which Falstaff is quoted) was written.  The old soldier liked to keep abreast of the new fads."
  • Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.






Sunday, November 04, 2018

Shakespeare as Literary Theorist


In writing my new book — a variorum edition of Edward de Vere’s Ulysses and Agamemnon (1584)[1] — it was incumbent upon me to choose representative citations from among contemporary scholarly work as well as traditional.  The divergence from the 1990s onward, in particular, was, as expected, striking.

I was impressed with just how much the divergence amounted to a Shakespeare topic of its own.  Elizabeth Wightman, for one example, informs the reader:

Shakespeare reproduces and enhances the contradictions of earlier versions of the Troy story, so that the exempla which are supposed to signify a singular virtue instead point to a confusing variety of possible motives and interpretations.[2]
For her, Shakespeare is a post-modern theorist.

She is not entirely wrong.  Vere did write the play in order to show the disparity between the chivalric image the English Royal Court had of itself and the actual craven self-interest that lurked just below its surface.  Whether or not he ever specifically saw it in terms of a greater iconoclasm, he must have realized that the theme had wider implications.

As for the character Cressida, Wightman’s approach is once again not altogether misbegotten.

More than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, Troilus and Cressida thematizes vision, and Cressida in particular is defined by the male gaze as she is read or misread by others.[3]
While Shakespeare did not likely have a single thought specifically about “male gaze” throughout his entire life, it would not be possible to deny that he himself looked from a male gaze.  Thankfully, Wightman stayed away from declaring his life’s work one great spree of “mansplaining”.


To the extent, however, that we might concede that Troilus and Cressida “thematizes vision,” it is not because Shakespeare made a conscious theoretical decision.  It is far more likely that it is because a great deal of the play was written before he had mastered how to draw upon all of his characters’ senses in order to make them more fully human.  Ms. Wightman’s theoretical study takes us further away from Shakespeare and his play rather than closer to them.

James Simpson is harder to appreciate even with provisos:

He uses the possibilities of the ephemera tradition to demolish the pretensions of the classical traditions, just as he demolishes the enclaves of the late medieval tradition created by Chaucer. In breaking down the protected spaces of Chaucer’s narrative, Shakespeare conducts a kind of literary demolition, taking every chance he can get to demolish the emotional and ethical nobility of a range of Trojan War traditions.[4]
The trendy post-Colonial  phrase “protected spaces” aside, Vere chose the Ephemera tradition because it provided the closest parallel to the conditions which he was depicting.  He needed Achilles to be the bad guy of the story.  The Ephemera tradition provided that.

As I have shown, Chaucer was far less a source of Ulysses and Agamemnon than he was of the later expansion of the play into Troilus and Cressida.  A look at the texts separately makes this perfectly clear.  The additional text, on the other hand, is almost entirely based upon Chaucer.  There is no sign that Shakespeare noted “protected spaces” in Chaucer’s narrative or that he took the man as his source in order to subject him to “literary demolition”.

For the theorists Wightman and Simpson, Shakespeare was also a theorist.  He necessarily started with an abstract aim and from it built a play.

As I have shown, Ulysses and Agamemnon started with a very practical not an abstract aim.  And I suggest that such was always the case in all of the poems and plays.  We should be thankful it was because theories result in mediocre works at best.



[1] The Early Plays of Edward de Vere (William Shakespeare): Ulysses and Agamemnon (1584).  Richmond, VA: The Virtual Vanaprastha, 2018.  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07JD7KM1T
[2] Wightman, Elizabeth Laura. Shakespeare’s Deconstruction of Exempla in Troilus and Cressida. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon: Private, 2005. ii.
[3] Ibid., 45.
[4] Simpson, James. “‘The formless ruin of oblivion’: Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and literary defacement." Love, History and Emotion in Chaucer and Shakespeare: Troilus and Criseyde and Troilus and Cressida, eds. Johnston, Andrew James, Russell West-Pavlov, and Elisabeth Kempf. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016. 18.


  • Edward de Vere’s Ulysses and Agamemnon. Highlighting the Real Issue.  October 30, 2018. “When I did return to investigate more deeply, the results were astonishing.  All tests indicated that the earlier play was incorporated in its entirety.”
  • The Battle Over Shakespeare's Early and Late Plays. September 24, 2018. "Vere had been writing The Tempest for his daughter’s upcoming wedding.  Upon his death, his friend William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, who was known to have collected every printed and manuscript word he could get his hands on about the ongoing explorations in the South Atlantic, likely put on the final touches."
  • Shakespeare on Gravity. August 26, 2018. “So carelessly does Shakespeare throw out such an extraordinary divination. His achievement in thus, as it were, rivalling Newton may seem in a certain sense even more extraordinary than Goethe's botanical and osteological discoveries;…”
  • Let the sky rain potatoes! December 16, 2017. "In fact, the sweet potato had only just begun to be a delicacy within the reach of splurging poets and playwrights and members of the middle classes at the time that The Merry Wives of Windsor (the play from which Falstaff is quoted) was written.  The old soldier liked to keep abreast of the new fads."
  • Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.






Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Edward de Vere’s Ulysses and Agamemnon. Highlighting the Real Issue.

A goodly number of years ago, now, it became clear to me that the play Troilus and Cressida was not actually one play.  It was two.  One part of the play was written resoundingly in the style of the 1580s or before and the other circa 1599.  The two were so strikingly different that major portions of the old play, at least, were clearly intact in their original form.

In a different, later line of study, I would also learn that the Earl of Oxford had a close relationship with a play, performed in 1584, the title of which corresponded exactly to the plot of that older play.  I mentioned the fact in my Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: at long last the proof (2013)[1]:

121.  In 1580, Oxford formed his own troop of players.  In 1584, they would perform a play entered in the records as Ulysses and Agamemnon.  Scholars have long recognized that Shake-speare’s play Troilus and Cressida is actually two plays sutured together: one about the couple in the title, the other about Ulysses prodding of Agamemnon to demand his due, as king, from the overweening Greek warrior Achilles.
I long promised myself to look more deeply into the matter when the time came available.  In the meantime, I jotted notes, experimented seeking viable textual and other tests, etc.

When I did return to investigate more deeply, the results were astonishing.  All tests indicated that the earlier play was incorporated in its entirety.  The single major change was that the earlier prose lines were broken at points roughly approximating blank verse.  A number of rhymed couplets were added in order to mark out scene breaks as had become the habit in the mid to late 1590s.


In the Introduction to my subsequent edition of Ulysses and Agamemnon (1584)[2], I clarify the earlier paragraph from Edward de Vere was Shakespeare:

In actuality, according to the minimal records of the time, the play was performed on St. John’s Day, December 27, by “Earl of Oxenford his boys,” a name briefly given to the Boys of St. Pauls.  Whether any of the Earl of Oxford’s adult troop participated is not known.  The play was performed in the royal palace at Greenwich.
Throughout the hundreds of pages of scholarly text I have provided, I include hundreds of citations from traditional and contemporary sources regarding the evident existence of two plays (one about Ulysses and Agamemnon).

Another set of English commentators, from Steevens to Seymour, have satisfied themselves that Shakespeare's genius and taste had been expended in improving the work of an inferior author, whose poorer groundwork still appeared through his more precious decorations. Verplank.[3]
Placed beside Shakespeare of 1599, the Vere of 1584 was indeed “inferior”.  Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was not yet the playwright we know as Shakespeare.

H. P. Stokes’s deservedly famous edition of the First Quarto of Troilus and Cressida is another who saw that there were two plays.

It has often been remarked that passages and even scenes in Shakespeare's "Troilus and Cressida," as printed in the Quarto and the Folio, seem to be boulders from an older drama embedded in the newer and more celebrated formation.[4]
Being famously understated, the fact that he made his observation at all is telling.  And he did not stop with a single sentence.

The last Act in particular is evidently worked up from some other sources, and is disjointed and uncertain. Doubtless when it was acted, it would be vigorous and popular, as we know corresponding scenes in other Trojan plays were; but if the various parts of this last Act were carried on for the same length of time and in the same manner as these corresponding scenes, the present writer does not wonder that Shakespeare's play (as we now have it) did not often appear upon the stage, and he is confirmed in his opinion expressed elsewhere, that the 1609 Quarto represents an amalgamation which our author had lately made of the "Love" and the "Camp" Stories connected with Trojan Tale.[5]
Rolfe and Stokes are only two drops in an ocean of evidence I present.  Troilus and Cressida is  two plays.  Few changes were made to the older play and it has been fully recovered.



[2] Purdy, Gilbert Wesley.  The Early Plays of Edward de Vere: Ulysses and Agamemnon (1584). @ 231 of 9294.
[3] Rolfe, William J., ed.  Shakespeare's History of Troilus and Cressida. 21.  Citing Verplank, Giulian C. The Illustrated Shakespeare. Volume III: Tragedies. 
[4] Stokes, H. P. M.A. Troilus and Cressida: the First Quarto, 1609. x.
[5] Ibid. x-xi.





Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Nymphs of Doctor Foreman’s Macbeth.


Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Witches
on the Heath (1855).  Théodore Chassériau.
Standard Citation: Purdy, Gilbert Wesley. “The Nymphs of Doctor Foreman’s Macbeth.” Virtual Grub Street, https://gilbertwesleypurdy.blogspot.com/2018/10/the-nymphs-of-doctor-foremans-macbeth.html [state date accessed].

Hard to believe it has already been three weeks since my last post.  The time was needed to finish the new book,[1] though, and to get out the word a bit.  I am still struggling to recover from the exhausting effort.

On the 30th past, I teased that a telling detail from the April 20, 1611 dairy[2] entry of Doctor and Astrologer Simon Foreman that could help date Shakespeare’s Macbeth [see my "Account of a Performance of Macbeth: April 20, 1611." [Link].].  As I said then, the hint is in plain sight and all but impossible to see.

Foreman’s entry on Macbeth begins:

“In Mackbeth at the glob, 16jo, the 20 of Aprill, ther was to be obserued, firste, howe Mackbeth and Bancko, 2 noble men of Scotland, Ridinge thorowe a wod, the[r] stode before them 3 women feiries or Nimphes, And saluted Mackbeth, sayinge, 3 tyms vnto him, haille mackbeth, King of Codon; for thou shall be a kinge, but shalt beget No kinge, &c. then said Bancko, what all to mackbeth And nothing to me. Yes, said the nimphes, haille to thee Banko, thou shalt beget kings, yet be no kinge. …”[3]
As he describes the play he saw, it did not feature three witches (joined later by another  three witches), but, rather, “3 women feiries or Nimphes”.

Shakespeare’s play, however, clearly features neither nymphs nor fairies but witches.  Having them refer to each other as “beldams,” naming the leader Heccat (Hecate), and having that name spoken on stage, would have made the matter clear to the audience, as would the recipe brewing in a caldron before them.



There is one curious addition to the witches of Macbeth, however.  In their main scene Hecate arrives midway and says:

And now about the Cauldron sing
Like Elues and Fairies in a Ring,

While I am sure a few scattered references can be found in the period literature of witches doing a ring dance there are not many.  Indeed, ring dances are the domain of nymphs and fairies.

From where did Foreman get his “women feiries or Nimphes,” one can quite properly wonder.  Why do Shakespeare’s witches in Macbeth do a ring dance?

The mystery only deepens from here.  The seemingly most likely answer is that Foreman got the detail wrong.  He made a mistake.  That has been the consensus of scholarly opinion on the matter since.  But, if he did, it was a coincidence of astronomical proportions.

Shakespeare’s source for Macbeth was almost entirely Holinshed’s Chronicle.  It is from Holinshed that all episodes of the “Weird Sisters” are taken.

Herewith the foresaid women vanished immediatlie out of their sight.  This was reputed at the first but some vaine fantastical! illusion by Mackbeth and Banquho, insomuch that Banquho would call Mackbeth in iest, king of Scotland; and Mackbeth againe would call him in sport likewise, the father of manie kings. But afterwards the common opinion was, that these women were either the weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) the goddesses of destinie, or else some nymphs or feiries, indued with knowledge of prophesie by their necromanticall science, bicause euerie thing came to passe as they had spoken.[4]
The old chronicler identifies them as “nymphs or feiries”.

How did Foreman make the mistake of describing them precisely as Holinshed?  But differently from the text we have of Macbeth?  To consider Foreman’s account a simple mistake would require an astronomically improbable coincidence.

Only two other avenues of explanation would seem to remain.  First possibility, Foreman may have known his Holinshed intimately and by heart in order to have written a description of the play immediately after it was performed that subconsciously applied Holinshed’s terms instead of the terms we find in our text.  Second possibility, Holinshed’s terms came to him through the play he watched.  There was no mistake.  In 1611, the play actually featured “nymphs or feiries” rather than “beldams,” witches. 

This might also explain Hecate’s uncharacteristic call for her fellow sisters to do a ring dance.  The nymph’s, it would seem, did not survive a further rewrite by Thomas Middleton who counted upon witch scenes for some considerable part of his popularity as a playwright.  The ring dance the nymphs performed, however, was too popular a special effect to be foregone, so Hecate explains that she orders the witches to add a new twist to their shtick regardless of the expectations of the audience in such matters.

It seems quite probable, then, that we can assign Middleton’s rewrite to post-April 1611.  The Gunpowder Plot references so furiously debated in Authorship circles, then, are genuinely what they appear to be, and also were written by Middleton, post-1611, not by Shakespeare.





[1] The Early Plays of Edward de Vere (William Shakespeare): Ulysses and Agamemnon (1584).  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07JD7KM1T
[2] Furness, Howard.  A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: Macbeth.  356.  “In this volume mention is made of the discovery among the Ashmolean MSS of notes on the performance of some of Shakespeare' s plays written by one who saw them acted during the lifetime of the Poet.  These notes ' bear the following title: "The Booke of Plaies and Notes thereof,… Formans, for common Pollicie,” and they were written by Dr Simon Forman, the celebrated Physician and Astrologer, who lived at Lambeth, the same parish in which Elias Ashmole afterwards resided.”
[3] Ibid., 356.
[4] Ibid.,  387.  Citing Holinshed’s Chronicles, I.iii.59.





Sunday, September 30, 2018

Account of a Performance of Macbeth: April 20, 1611.


Alexandre-Marie Colin. The Three Witches from "Macbeth," 1827.
In earlier years, I used to read “Tam O’Shanter” every Hallow E’en. This because life has so few traditions anymore.  At least that are not at all related to a seasonal television show or a holiday menu.  I don’t recall just when I left off but it was a good while ago.  I wonder if, this year, I am casting a wider net?   

The following is a literary treasure.  It is an extended diary account, by Doctor and Astrologer Simon Foreman, of a performance, on April 20, 1611, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It can be difficult to find and I will hopefully be referring to it, in further posts, as the holiday approaches, to explore a few questions. 

Foreman himself was a fascinating character. Perhaps there will even be some time to explore the rest of the diary someday.

One detail of this account, in particular, promises to go a long way toward understanding the date of composition and a key detail as to the state of the text in 1611.  Can you see it?  It is very well hidden in very plain sight, I think it’s fair to say.


'In Mackbeth at the glob, 16jo, the 20 of Aprill, ther was to be obserued, firste, howe Mackbeth and Bancko, 2 noble men of Scotland, Ridinge thorowe a wod, the[r] stode before them 3 women feiries or Nimphes, And saluted Mackbeth, sayinge, 3 tyms vnto him, haille mackbeth, King of Codon; for thou shall be a kinge, but shalt beget No kinge, &c. then said Bancko, what all to mackbeth And nothing to me. Yes, said the nimphes, haille to thee Banko, thou shalt beget kings, yet be no kinge. And so they departed & cam to the courte of Scotland to Dunkin king of Scotes, and yt was in



the dais of Edward the Confessor. And Dunkin bad them both kindly wellcome, And made Mackbeth forth with Prince of Northumberland, and sent him hom to his own castell, and appointed mackbeth to prouid for him, for he wold Sup with him the next dai at night, & did soe. And mackebeth contriued to kull Dunkin, & thorowe the persuasion of his wife did that night Murder the kinge in his own castell, beinge his gueste. And ther were many prodigies seen that night & the dai before. And when Mack Beth had murdred the kinge, the blod on his handes could not be washed of by any means, nor from his wiues handes which handled the bloddi daggers in hiding them, By which means they became both much amazed &  ffronted, the murder being knowen. Dunkins 2 sonns fled, the on to England, the [other to] Walles, to saue them selues. They beinge fled, they were supposed guilty of the murder of their father, which was nothinge so. Then was Mackbeth crowned kinge, and then he for feare of Banko, his old companion, that he should beget kinges but be no kinge him selfe, he contriued the death of Banko, and caused him to be Murdred on the way as he Rode. The next night, being at supper w1th his noble men whom he had bid to a feaste to the which also Banco should haue com, he began to speak of Noble Banco, and to wish that he were ther. And as he thus did, standing vp to drincke a Carouse to him, the ghoste of Banco came and sate down in his cheier be-hind him. And he turning About to sit down Again sawe the goste of banco, which fronted him so, that he fell in-to a great passion of fear and fury, Vtteringe many word« about his murder, by which, when they hard that Banco was Murdred they Suspected Mackbet.

'Then Mack Dove fled to England to the kinges sonn, And soe they Raised an Army, And cam into scotland, and at dunston Anyse ouerthrue Mackbet. In the mean tyme whille macdouee was in England, Mackbet slewe Mackdoues wife & children, and after in the battelle mackdoue slewe mackbet. '

‘Obserue Also howe mackbetes quen did Rise in the night, in the night in her slepe, & walke and talked and confessed all & the doctor noted her wordes.'[1]



[1] A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, MacBeth (1903). H. H. Furnivall, ed. 356-7.

  • The Battle Over Shakespeare's Early and Late Plays. September 24, 2018. "Vere had been writing The Tempest for his daughter’s upcoming wedding.  Upon his death, his friend William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, who was known to have collected every printed and manuscript word he could get his hands on about the ongoing explorations in the South Atlantic, likely put on the final touches."
  • Shakespeare on Gravity. August 26, 2018. “So carelessly does Shakespeare throw out such an extraordinary divination. His achievement in thus, as it were, rivalling Newton may seem in a certain sense even more extraordinary than Goethe's botanical and osteological discoveries;…”
  • Let the sky rain potatoes! December 16, 2017. "In fact, the sweet potato had only just begun to be a delicacy within the reach of splurging poets and playwrights and members of the middle classes at the time that The Merry Wives of Windsor (the play from which Falstaff is quoted) was written.  The old soldier liked to keep abreast of the new fads."
  • Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.



Monday, September 24, 2018

The Battle Over Shakespeare's Early and Late Plays.

The earlier and later plays of Shakespeare are uniformly problematical.  Well before the Authorship Question, the finest and most dedicated scholars struggled with facts inconsistent with then prevailing theories.  Since the Question, Oxfordians have struggled, regarding some plays, traditionally assigned late dates, that contain apparent references to events that occurred after Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford’s, death (in June of 1604). Stratfordians have struggled with plays the details of which suggest dates before 1587 (when the Stratford man is thought to have arrived in London).  Earlier dates are also worrisome to them because their candidate must somehow have found the time to acquire vast amounts of education on the fly and to be an apprentice actor and playwright before writing the greatest plays of English literature.

This, then, explains why Stratfordian-aligned scholars have suddenly begun discovering that more and more Shakespeare plays must have been written after June of 1604.  The references in all of the plays in question have been known and acknowledged for a century or more.  Previous scholars have determined that there was insufficient evidence to assign the plays to Shakespeare and/or a date.  The growing popularity of Oxfordianism, however, has clearly lowered the bar.  Troubled times, it seems, have called for troubling abandonment of standards.

The answers to the post-Oxford dilemma, of course, are three.  1) Many of the references for which sources allegedly did not exist until after Oxford’s death were actually available.  The effort to bring those sources to light has gone passably well. 2) Shakespeare never wrote the play Double Falsehood now being assigned to him in an effort to disqualify Oxford by any means necessary (a matter for later publication).  3) Edward de Vere was working on at least three plays at the time of his death.  The Tempest and Macbeth were in-progress.  Henry VIII was either an earlier unfinished play or also in-progress. That is why their line counts are so short.  That is why they are finished by others.  All of the other plays from the First Folio were complete at that time.



Vere had been writing The Tempest for his daughter’s upcoming wedding.  Upon his death, his friend William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, who was known to have collected every printed and manuscript word he could get his hands on about the ongoing explorations in the South Atlantic, likely put on the final touches.  The fingerprints of Thomas Middleton are all over about a third of Macbeth which Vere had been writing in hopes that the new Scottish King James I would be pleased.  It was Middleton who wrote the lines concerning the Gunpowder Plot.  A brief early account of a performance of Macbeth makes clear that the witches (one of Middleton’s specialties) had been written quite differently at the time.  This indicates that an earlier hand had been put toward finishing the play with unsatisfactory results before Middleton was called in.  That hand arguably still peeks through here and there.

Very little of the Henry VIII play had been written at the time of Vere’s death.  Little more than an outline and early partial-versions of several scenes.  These John Fletcher, the then most popular up-and-coming playwright of the time, tried to turn into a full Shakespeare play.  But he only knew how to be John Fletcher and his is the dominant hand.  The play was presumably called Shakespeare’s in hopes of drawing larger audiences.  The gods apparently being offended, the Globe Theater burned to the ground in the middle of its first performance.

As for plays published before 1588-or-so, authors were not yet listed on title pages.  If they were an earlier version of a Shakespeare play, published in quarto, they are explained away, by Stratfordians, as having been earlier plays, by lesser writers, that he rewrote.  The fact that he re-used the text and action of many of them in a wholesale fashion — engaged, that is to say, in wholesale plagiarism — is said to have been common at the time (although other such examples from other playwrights curiously do not seem to have survived).  If such an explanation seems insupportable, the earlier, much less mature play, is declared to have been imperfectly copied by hand by an audience member trying to steal it.  One way or another, the apprentice hand is explained.

In some few cases— such as the early King Leir — Vere/Shakespeare really did not write the play (which further confuses the early plays question).  But more on that another time.

This said, Oxfordians struggle to make a compelling case about the much earlier dates of the plays.  It’s a tough slog.  There are no shortcuts.  Amateur scholars have neither the patience, as the rule, nor the paycheck of the greats of the 19th century.  While we are more resourced toward success, with the help of computers and the Internet, we are less likely to achieve success with the massive attention-drain of television, computers and the Internet.

Anyway, I will soon publish just such a compelling case.  It’s not summer beach reading.  That’s for sure.


  • Edward de Vere Changes the Course of History: Christmas, 1580. September 17, 2018. “First Secretary to the Queen, Sir Francis Walsingham, had been pressing the Queen since at least the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, in France, in 1573, to recognize that Catholicism was, by its nature, unalterably inimical to her person and her throne.”
  • Why Did Queen Elizabeth Fear Richard II So? September 10, 2018.  Interestingly, the infamous “deposition scene” in the play, in which Richard concedes his unfitness for the crown, did not appear in the 1597 first quarto.  It did not appear until after Queen Elizabeth’s  death when the third quarto was published in 1608.
  • Shakespeare On Blood-Flow. August 19, 2018, “For all of the obvious examples, such as Hamlet’s mention of the supernova that held the attention of all the world, in 1572, and the description of St. Elmo’s Fire in The Tempest, however, the answer lies much more quietly woven into the text of the poems and plays as a whole.”
  • 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.'
  • Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.