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Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography
New Evidence of an Authorship Problem
All Contents Copyright © 2001-2023 Diana Price - All Rights Reserved (ver 1.6)


$19.95 / £13.95

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Update April 2024:

In an interview for the Shakespeare Authorship Trust in London, Dr. William Leahy (Chairman of the Trust) responded to two questions:

Q At what point did you begin to question the authorship of Shakespeare’s works?

A Diana Price's book, Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography, was the turning point for me. At that time, it confirmed and deepened my own views that there was a problem with the Shakespeare-of-Stratford-as-author narrative, but that evidence did not clearly identify an alternative.

Q What is the one book, talk, paper, movie, or television presentation you consistently suggest to those new to the authorship question?

A Diana Price’s book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography.

Update January 2023:

Chapter 10 (“The First Folio”) of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography appears in its entirety and by permission in the January 2023 newsletter of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust. The edition celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of The First Folio.

Update August 2022:

Canadian actor Keir Cutler loaded up an improved (audio) version of my 2016 speech in Toronto on YouTube.

Update November 2021:

The paperback is no longer available at amazon.co.uk. You can still order from either Amazon in the US or email the author. If you buy from the author, the cost of the book plus s/h from the US will be approximately the same as was available at amazon.co.uk. For inquiries including payment and specific shipping costs based on prevailing rates, e-mail the author at .

Update September 2021:

The website has been redesigned to work better on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. It has also been moved to a secure platform.

Update March 30. 2021:

Al Hirschfield on Maybe Shakespeare Really Didn't Write the Plays" : "I am only posting this piece because the person in the first video, Diana Price, author of, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography;New Evidence of an Authorship Problem, was one of the most impressive "experts" in a completely mind blowing documentary I happened upon called, "Last Will and Testament" (free on Amazon Prime Video), and I could find very little else anywhere, on the internet or YouTube, about the Shakespeare authorship question" (includes the YouTube video link to Price's 2016 lecture in Toronto).

Update July 2019:

Diana Price responds to Oliver Kamm’s criticism in Quillette.

Update April 2019:

Joseph Hewes reviews Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography on YouTube.

Update February 2019:

From Sir Mark Rylance’s Foreword to Barry R. Clarke’s Francis Bacon’s Contribution to Shakespeare: A New Attribution Method (Routledge Studies in Shakespeare): “Read Diana Price’s excellent Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography and tell me I am wrong. I dare you!”

Update February 2019:

“Literary Paper Trails”: based on ch. 1 and the comparative chart in Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biographyy. In Critical Stages 18.

Update March 2018:

“My Shakspere: ‘A Conjectural Narrative’ Continued.” A chapter in My Shakespeare: The Authorship Controversy. Ed., William D. Leahy. Brighton, UK: Edward Everett Root Scholarly Publishers. Released February 28, 2018.

Price’s “Comparative Chart of Literary Paper Trails” appears in David Gowdey,  “Secret Whispers: Searching for the Truth of Shakespeare”  Amazon Digital Services LLC (August 2017). See also this customer review .

Update May 2016/September 2016:

Price’s 16-May-2016 email message to the British Library re: the Hand D Additions to Sir Thomas More. Day #: no change in the British Library’s claim that The Book of Sir Thomas More is Shakespeare’s only surviving literary manuscript. Update September 2016: the claim can now be found here.

Update January 2017:

An article cited in my Hand D paper in JEMS 5 is not at present accessible on the website listed; instead, please note the interim location: Matley Marcel B. (1992), Studies in Questioned Documents: Number Seven: Reliability Testing of Expert Handwriting Opinions. San Francisco, CA: Handwriting Services of California, <https://archive.org/details/ReliabilityTestingOfExpertHandwritingOpinions1992> accessed 2 January 2017.

Update May 2016:

YouTube: “Shakespeare Authorship Question Legitimized.” Diana Price discusses why the Shakespeare Authorship Question is a legitimate academic subject. This event commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare of Stratford’s death and took place on April 24, 2016, at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto. Her remarks are introduced by Keir Cutler, PhD., who produced the video. Her remarks are also on YouTube as Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography By Diana Price. You can listen to Keir’s CBC interview where he discusses the authorship question and academia.

Update May 2016:

Mark Rylance and Sir Derek Jacobi discuss the authorship question in a YouTube video. At approximately 3:02 into the video, Mark holds up his copy of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography and recommends it to viewers. See his blurb on the back cover of the paperback edition on the homepage of this website.

Update April 2016:

Diana Price’s article “William Shakespeare: Syrian Refugee Advocate?” is published on the American Thinker website. The article was prompted by the announcement, made by the British Library in March 2016, of a project to digitize early modern manuscripts, one of which is the collaborative play The Book of Sir Thomas More. According to the British Library’s website, the Hand D Additions constitute “Shakespeare’s only surviving literary manuscript.” Price’s article challenges that identification with reference to her Journal of Early Modern Studies research paper, published shortly before the British Library’s announcement. The announcement appeared in numerous media worldwide.

Update March 2016:

The website has been redesigned.

Update March 2016:

Price’s research paper on the Sir Thomas More manuscript, titled “Hand D and Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Literary Paper Trail” is now published in the Journal of Early Modern Studies, Jems 5 (University of Florence, 2016).

Update March/April 2016:

A special event, “Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: A Celebration,” commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Sunday, April 24, at the Berkeley Street Theatre in Toronto. The event featured Keir Cutler speaking about his work, Shakespeare Crackpot and keynote remarks by Diana Price.

Update February 2015

Review in Notes and Queries.

Update January 2015

Prof. Stanley Wells concedes Price’s thesis again, this time in his comments published online in a Dec. 26, 2014 article in Newsweek (under the misleading title “The Campaign to Prove Shakespeare Didn’t Exist”):

Stanley Wells, in his Stratford office, sighs at having to repeat all the points he’s made over the years about Shakespeare’s identity. For him, there is no mystery: “Yes, there are gaps in the records, as there are for most non-aristocratic people. We do, however, have documentary records and there’s lots of posthumous evidence. There’s evidence in the First Folio, the memorial in the church here in Stratford, the poem by William Basse referring to him, all of it stating that Shakespeare of Stratford was a poet,” he says.

What would settle this question for good? “I would love to find a contemporary document that said William Shakespeare was the dramatist of Stratford-upon-Avon written during his lifetime,” says Wells. “There’s lots and lots of unexamined legal records rotting away in the national archives; it is just possible something will one day turn up. That would shut the buggers up!” [emphasis added]

Price reviews Stanley Well’s Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare

Update May 2013

Stanley Wells reviews Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography An Unorthodox and Non-definitive Biography at Blogging Shakespeare. Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine

Stanley Wells reviews Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography at Blogging Shakespeare. Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine.

You can read Diana Price’s responses to these reviews posted by Pat Dooley in the Comments section.

Price reviews Shakespeare Beyond Doubt

Media coverage of the new paperback edition

Keir Cutler’s Shakespeare Crackpot video on YouTube (June 2014)

Quote from an Interview with Shakespeare Scholar and Editor Stanley Wells

[09/27/2013] Professor Wells discussed the Shakespeare authorship controversy, speaking and pronouncing Shakespeare, and editing Shakespeare’s texts.

“The best scholarly book by a non-Shakespearean is Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, by Diana Price. I wrote several blogs recently trying to refute her claims in that book. She knows a great deal; it’s just a great shame that her knowledge is put to such ignoble ends. The anti-Shakespeareans are not necessarily ignorant people, some of them know a great deal. Nevertheless there’s something in their psyches that compels or persuades them to deny what seem to me to be obvious truths.

This Brunel University in England, although they claim they’re not anti-Shakespearean, nevertheless has given honorary degrees to Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance and Vanessa Redgrave. They give honorary degrees to the three anti-Shakespeareans who are most prominent in the public eye.

Some of them come out in favor of a particular candidate, and it’s interesting that Derek Jacobi was Marlowe until a few years ago until he was paid for being in the film about the earl of Oxford. Mark [Rylance] is more circumspect. He’s more happy nowadays just to take the view that it wasn’t Shakespeare. Diana Price is the same. Her book does not propound any specific candidate, it’s just saying that the evidence is against Shakespeare of Stratford.”




The Door’s Open

To the Editor:

   The singular fact is that after 400 years, the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays remains an open question – no side has been able to close the sale. The greatest strength of the case for the man from Stratford is his incumbency, but no understanding of that case is complete without reference to Diana Price’s “Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography.”

Wayne Shore

San Antonio


Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography : New Evidence of an Authorship Problem
This book re-opens the Authorship Question with an arsenal of new information and powerful arguments. It is the first major authorship book since 1916 without an ideological bias, the first to introduce new evidence, and the first to undertake a systematic comparative analysis with other literary biographies. It was released in 2001 as no. 94 in Greenwood Press’s academic series, “Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies,” making it the first book on the subject to be published in a peer-reviewed series. The updated paperback edition is now available.
Among the new evidence and arguments introduced in this book:
Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography proposes that William Shakespeare of Stratford was a successful entrepreneur, financier, play broker, businessman, theater shareholder, real estate tycoon, commodity trader, money-lender, and actor, but not a dramatist. It further proposes that the works of “William Shakespeare” were written by an unnamed gentleman. This book exposes logical fallacies and contradictions in the traditional accounts of Shakespeare’s whereabouts; his professional activities; his personality profile; chronology; autobiographical “echoes” in the plays; the dramatist’s education and cultural sophistication; circumstances of publication of the plays and poetry; and in particular, the testimony of playwright Ben Jonson. Citations are drawn almost entirely from orthodox sources. The book includes 33 illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.

For an interview with the author, visit PBS Frontline’s website.

Price has been seen in two documentaries for TV, Last Will. And Testament , broadcast in 2012-2014 on various PBS affiliates, and Claus Bredenbrock’s 2013 The Naked Shakespeare , produced for the Florian Film Group and broadcast on various (European) ARTE affiliates. Her research paper, “Hand D and Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Literary Paper Trail,” was published in March 2016 by the University of Florence’s Journal of Early Modern Studies (JEMS 5). She contributed a chapter titled “My Shakspere: ‘A Conjectural Narrative’ Continued” published in My Shakespeare: The Authorship Controversy, ed. William Leahy, in March 2018. Her research is presented in the Feb. 2019 online journal, Critical Stages 18.

Price has published a variety of articles on related topics in peer-reviewed journals and magazines. Her article “Reconsidering Shakespeare’s Monument” (The Review of English Studies, 1997) introduced the first known image of Shakespeare’s funerary monument. Price debated Prof. Donald Foster in The Shakespeare Newsletter (1996 and 1997), and her articles are cited in Counterfeiting Shakespeare by Brian Vickers (September 2002) and Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza in Shakespeare Quarterly (June 1997). Her essay proposing a solution to Philip Henslowe’s puzzling annotation “ne” appeared in Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama (2003), and her article “Evidence for A Literary Biography” was published in the fall 2004 issue of the Tennessee Law Review (2004). Her review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, ed. Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) is posted on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and, with full bibliography, here.

She has lectured at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Tennessee Law School, Cleveland Public Library, California State University (LA), Cleveland State University, the University of North Carolina (Greensboro), John Carroll University, Griffith University (Brisbane), the Cleveland Renaissance/Early Modern Seminar, as well as numerous civic organizations.

For a detailed résumé, click here.

For queries to the author, email

Much Ado About Something A Documentary Film by Mike Rubbo (April 2002). “Diana Price has written one of the best books making the case against Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography.. It was an inspiration in the final stages of making the film.”

Greensboro News & Record (by Trudy Atkins, 22 July 2001): “In this unique biography, Diana Price has researched every shred of evidence about the Stratford-born Shakspere, analyzing and interpreting literary allusions as well. What makes her biography unique is her examination of the same evidence for other writers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Her research seems to point to an overwhelming conclusion: that someone else wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare.”

Choice (by D. Traister, May 2001): “A deeply uninteresting exploration of a question that, for most scholars, is even more deeply unnecessary. Collections with a focus on Shakespeare and a fetishistic desire for “completeness” will acquire the book. So too might collections that specialize in extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds.”

Academia: an Online Magazine and Resource for Academic Librarians (by Rob Norton, Jan. 2001, Vol. 1, No. 6), Profilers’ Pick: “Price argues compellingly that there is little evidence from life that the Stratfordian was the playwright William Shakespeare and that most of what we do know of Shakspere would make it impossible that he could have written plays and poetry clearly aristocratic in context, vocabulary, and sensibility. This book would be a good first stop for those seeking some introduction into this controversy and allow them to proceed intelligently to books written by those who have strong opinions as to the real identity of the Bard.”

Book News, Inc. (Portland, OR; booknews.com): “Price jumps into the eternal controversy with the unusual position of having no candidate to promote. Based on a systematic comparative analysis with other literary biographies, known biographical facts, and contemporary commentary, she concludes that William Shakespeare was the pen name of some anonymous aristocrat.”

Library Journal (15 November 2000): “Gives the Shakespeare doubters some very good ammunition…. Academic libraries should buy this book for the debate it will spark and the in-depth detective work it provides. Public libraries can safely pass.”

Northern Ohio Live magazine (by Michael L. Hays, April 2001): “The best unorthodox biography of Shakespeare in years. Well-researched and challenging … Price is the first to compare Shakespeare to a number of his contemporaries with respect to personal literary evidence. Her conclusion: He is unique in lacking any.”

The Elizabethan Review (by Warren Hope, 11/20/00): “Her book [is] unlike any book dealing with the Shakespeare authorship question that has appeared in years. … [It] tackles the question of who William Shakspere of Stratford actually was - a subject that has been too frequently ignored by Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians alike… . Price works that field admirably and the harvest is abundant.” For the full review, click on Hope.

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH, by Marianne Evett, 12/18/00): “Faulty logic and lack of knowledge of the broader social and theatrical milieu of the time undermine her argument. She uses a double standard for evidence.” For the author’s response, click on Response to Plain Dealer.

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Peter Happé reviews the paperback in Notes & Queries (Feb. 2015) 142-145 [reviewed with Katherine Duncan-Jones’s Shakespeare: Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan 1592–1623 ]. Extract:

These two studies share much material about Shakespeare’s life and work but their objectives and their methods are sharply contrasted…

Price writes a polemic which is engaged in promoting a view of Shakespeare’s life and examining evidence about it, whether in its support or in rejection of such a view…

Because the material she reviews and the evidence she adduces and discusses are so wide ranging the book is interesting and stimulating. It is apparent that many questions might be asked about the details which have grown up around the life of Shakespeare… .

In spite of the polemical approach to some of these issues the book does point to and leave open for further examination a considerable number of fascinating problems generated in the canon and the life of Shakespeare…

The discussion of whether Hand D in Sir Thomas More is Shakespeare’s is intriguing in view of the limited basis for comparison of attested samples of Shakespeare’s handwriting which are so few. These are but a sample of the questions which Price raises and one might hope that they will stimulate further enquiry.


Don Rubin reviews Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? (ed. Waugh and Shahan), which cites the literary paper trails comparative analysis from Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography (Critical Stages vol. 9, Feb 2014):

It is a woman, ironically, who lands the strongest shot of the battle, who sends the Stratford man to the canvas with exactly that: “documentary evidence,” evidence that no one on the Wells’ team seems able to stand up and refute. This solidest of evidentiary blows references authorship scholar Diana Price and her own extraordinary book (Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography). It is Price who brings into the battle some two dozen dramatists from the period. A core part of the Shahan book, she looks at each writer in terms of education, correspondence concerning literary matters, proof of being paid to write, relationships to wealthy patrons, existence of original manuscripts, documents touching on literary matters, commendatory poems contributed or received during their lifetimes, documents where the alleged writer was actually referred to as a writer, evidence of books owned or borrowed, and even notices at death of being a writer. Such evidence, we find out, exists in some or even all of these categories for each of the writers studied. For the Stratford man, however, not a single check in a single category. Stratford comes up blank.

The Wells team is silent here…


Stanley Wells reviews Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography An Unorthodox and Non-definitive Biography at BloggingShakespeare. Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine

Diana Price responds to Stanley Wells’s review of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography

I am grateful to Professor Stanley Wells for following up on Ros Barber’s challenge to him and Paul Edmondson (eds., Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, Cambridge University Press, 2013, launched at the ‘Proving Shakespeare’ Webinar, Friday 26 April 2013). Barber criticized their collection of essays for failing to engage in the arguments presented in Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem ([SUB] Greenwood Press 2001; paperback 2013). As the first academic book published on the subject, it surely should have been addressed in essays relevant to Shakespeare’s biography. But better late than never.

In his review on Blogging Shakespeare (May 8, 2013), Prof. Wells takes issue with any number of details in my book, but he does not directly confront the single strongest argument I offer: the comparative analysis of documentary evidence supporting the biographies of Shakespeare and two dozen of his contemporaries. That analysis demonstrates that the literary activities of the two dozen other writers are documented in varying degrees. However, none of the evidence that survives for Shakespeare can support the statement that he was a writer by vocation. Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine

Wells is aware of this argument; in the Webinar, he alludes to Andrew Hadfield’s counter-argument, as first expressed in Hadfield’s 60-second video on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website. (The link is noe dead).

Question 16: Should we be concerned that there are gaps in [Shakespeare’s] historical record? … My favourite non-fact is that, although Thomas Nashe is, I think, the only English writer ever to have forced the authorities to close down the theatres and printing presses, making him something of a celebrity, we do not know when or how he died. Traces of Shakespeare, though scanty, do not require special explanation. Or, alternatively, we could imagine that a whole host of writers who emerged in the late sixteenth century, were imposters.

Hadfield repeats this explanation in his 2012 biography, Edmund Spenser: A Life (4). And it is true: we do not know how or when Nashe died. But we do know that Nashe left behind:

a handwritten verse in Latin, composed during his university days. His letter to William Cotton … refers to his frustrations “writing for the stage and for the press.” A 1593 letter by Carey reports that “Nashe hath dedicated a book unto you [Carey’s wife] … Will Cotton will disburse … your reward to him.” Carey also refers to Nashe’s imprisonment for “writing against the Londoners.” (SUB, 118)

Hadfield claims that, as with Nashe’s life, there are similar “frustrating gaps” in the lives of, for example, Thomas Lodge and John Webster. But Lodge refers to his books in personal correspondence and in a dedication, expresses gratitude to the earl of Derby’s father, who “incorporated me into your house.” There are payments to Webster for writing plays, and he exchanged personal commendatory verses with his friends Thomas Heywood and William Rowley. There is no comparable literary evidence for Shakespeare. Further contradicting his claim about the absence of literary evidence for Shakespeare and his contemporaries, Hadfield can cite solid literary evidence for Spenser. Such personal literary paper trails include his transcription of neo-Latin poetry in a book that he once owned, records of his education at Merchant Taylor’s and Pembroke Hall, and his handwritten inscription in a book he gave to Gabriel Harvey. There is no comparable evidence for Shakespeare. Yet Wells takes comfort that Hadfield’s explanations are true. From the Webinar Wells introduces

Theorising Shakespeare’s authorship by Andrew Hadfield… . That chapter really is incredibly helpful, I think, because it’s, its about helping us all to relax about that fact that we shouldn’t be worried about there being gaps in the records of people’s lives, or, that the kinds of records that we would most wish to see in someone’s life don’t in fact survive and aren’t there.

But the absence of personal literary paper trails for Elizabethan or Jacobean writers of any consequence is not a common phenomenon; rather, the absence of any literary paper trails for Shakespeare’s biography is a unique deficiency. In the Webinar, Wells expresses “no objection whatever to the validity of posthumous evidence.” Posthumous evidence can be useful, but it does not carry the same weight as contemporaneous evidence. Historians and critics alike make that distinction (see, e.g., here). Wells relies, as he must, on the posthumous testimony in the First Folio to prove that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. But even if he accepts the testimony in the First Folio at face value, no questions asked, no ambiguities acknowledged, he is still left with the embarrassing fact that Shakespeare is the only alleged writer of consequence from the time period for whom he must rely on posthumous evidence to make his case.

Wells has himself commented on the paucity of evidence. In his essay “Current Issues in Shakespeare’s Biography,” he admits that trying to write Shakespeare’s biography is like putting together “a jigsaw puzzle for which most of the pieces are missing” (5); he then cites Duncan-Jones who “in a possibly unguarded moment, said that Shakespeare biographies are 5% fact and 95% padding” (7). One difference, then, is that my work has no need for “guarded” moments, particularly as I re-evaluate that 5%.

Instead, of confronting the deficiency of literary evidence in the Shakespeare biography, Wells instead takes exception to particular statements and details in my book.

For example, he criticizes my references to Shakespeare’s illiterate household in Stratford, while at the same time I acknowledge that daughter Susanna could sign her name. And yes, she did, once. She made one “painfully formed signature, which was probably the most that she was capable of doing with the pen” (Maunde Thompson, 1:294), but she was unable to recognize her own husband’s handwriting. Her sister Judith signed with a mark. That evidence does not support literacy in the household; it points instead to functional illiteracy. In another criticism, Wells states that:

Price misleadingly says that ‘there are ‘no commendatory verses to Shakespeare’, ignoring those printed in the First Folio as well as the anonymous prose commendation in the 1609 edition of Troilus and Cressida and that by Thomas Walkley in the 1622 quarto of Othello.

In this criticism and elsewhere, Wells disregards the criteria used to distinguish between personal and impersonal evidence, explicit or ambiguous evidence, and so on. Such criteria are routinely used by historians, biographers, and critics (SUB, 309 and here). The prefatory material for Troilus and Othello necessitate no personal knowledge of the author and could have been written after having read or seen the play in question. (As pointed out above, the prefatory material in the First Folio is problematic, but the complexities require over a chapter in my book to analyze.)

“Price downplays William Basse’s elegy on Shakespeare … which circulated widely in manuscript – at least 34 copies are known – before and after it was published in 1633, and she fails to note that one of the copies is headed ‘bury’d at Stratford vpon Avon, his Town of Nativity’. Yes, and another version reads “On Mr. Wm. Shakespeare. He dyed in Aprill 1616.” There are various additional derivative titles.

I “downplay” this elegy for several reasons. Its authorship remains in question; it may have been written by John Donne, to whom it is attributed in Donne’s Poems of 1633. There is no evidence that either Basse or Donne knew Shakespeare. And yes, the elegy does exist in numerous manuscript copies; the one allegedly in Basse’s handwriting is tentatively dated 1626 and shows one blot and correction in an otherwise clean copy– suggesting that it might be a transcript.

The poem itself contains no evidence that the author was personally acquainted with Shakespeare. Whether by Donne or Basse, it is a posthumous and impersonal tribute, requiring familiarity with Shakespeare’s works, and, possibly, details on the funerary monument in Stratford. Wells and Taylor themselves cannot be certain which manuscript title (if any) represents the original (Textual, 163).

Wells concludes that “of course, she can produce not a single scrap of positive evidence to prove her claims; all she can do is systematically to deny the evidence that is there.” Questioning the evidentiary value of existing documentation is not the same thing as denying that documentation. It is true: I cannot prove that the man from Stratford was not the writer the title pages proclaim him to be, because one cannot prove a negative. However, I do demonstrate why there is an overwhelming probability that he did not write the works that have come down to us under his name. If he wrote the plays and poems, he would have left behind a few scraps of evidence to show that he did it, as did the two dozen other writers I investigated.

It is regrettable that Prof. Wells characterizes my book as an attempt to “destroy the Shakespearian case.” My book is an attempt to revisit the evidence and to reconstruct Shakespeare’s biography based on the evidence. Finally, I do not claim that my biography is “definitive.” But I think it is a step in the right direction.


Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson reply ("Beyond Doubt For All Time") on Blogging Shakespeare 13 May 2013. Now, their reply can only be found using the Wayback Machine.

Diana Price replies to Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson (14 May 2013)

In their blog reply to my response to the Blogging Shakespeare 8 May 2013 review of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem (“Beyond Doubt For all Time,” 13 May 2013), Professors Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson acknowledge that writers from the time period are documented to varying degrees, some more, some less. They imply that Shakespeare is in the “some less” category, so there are no grounds for suspicion. As Wells puts it, “The fact that some leave fuller records than others does not invalidate the records of those with a lower score.” Based on surviving evidence that supports his activities as a writer, Shakespeare not only rates a “lower score,” he rates a score of zero. At the time of his death, Shakespeare left behind over 70 documents, including some that tell us what he did professionally. Yet none of those 70+ documents support the statement that he was a writer. From a statistical standpoint, this is an untenable position, as I have argued elsewhere:

Even the most poorly documented writers, those with less than a dozen records in total, still left behind a couple of personal literary paper trails. Based on the average proportions, I would conservatively have expected perhaps a third of Shakespeare’s records, or about two dozen, to shed light on his professional activities. In fact, over half of them, forty-five to be precise, are personal professional paper trails, but they are all evidence of non-literary professions: those of actor, theatrical shareholder, financier, real estate investor, grain-trader, money-lender, and entrepreneur. It is the absence of contemporary personal literary paper trails that forces Shakespeare’s biographers to rely — to an unprecedented degree — on posthumous evidence. (“Evidence For A Literary Biography,” in Tennessee Law Review, 147)

While Wells and Edmondson acknowledge that Shakespeare is the only writer from the time period for whom one must rely on posthumous to make the case, Wells disputes my claim that Shakespeare left behind no evidence that he was a writer. The evidence he cites are “the Stratford monument and epitaphs, along with Dugdale’s identification of the monument as a memorial to ‘Shakespeare the poet’, Jonson’s elegy, and others” — all posthumous evidence. On the distinction between contemporaneous and posthumous evidence or testimony, Wells states:

I do not agree (whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say) that posthumous evidence ‘does not carry the same weight as contemporaneous evidence.’ If we took that to its logical extreme we should not believe that anyone had ever died.”

But historians and biographers routinely cite documentary evidence (burial registers, autopsy reports, death notices, etc.) to report that someone died. Wells may disagree with “whatever ‘historians and critics’ may say,” but I employ the criteria applied by those “historians and critics” who distinguish between contemporaneous and posthumous testimony (e.g., Richard D. Altick & John J. Fenstermaker, H. B. George, Robert D. Hume, Paul Murray Kendall, Harold Love, and Robert C. Williams).

Jonson’s eulogy and the rest of the First Folio testimony is posthumous by seven years, and it is the first in print to identify Shakespeare of Stratford as the dramatist. Posthumous or not, this testimony therefore demands close scrutiny. And I find in the First Folio front matter numerous misleading statements, ambiguities, and outright contradictions. I am not alone. For example, concerning the two introductory epistles, Gary Taylor expresses caution about taking the “ambiguous oracles of the First Folio” at face value (Wells et al., Textual Companion, 18). Cumulatively, the misleading, ambiguous, and contradictory statements render the First Folio testimony, including the attribution to Shakespeare of Stratford, vulnerable to question.

From my earlier response:

Wells concludes that “of course, she can produce not a single scrap of positive evidence to prove her claims; all she can do is systematically to deny the evidence that is there.” Questioning the evidentiary value of existing documentation is not the same thing as denying that documentation. It is true: I cannot prove that the man from Stratford was not the writer the title pages proclaim him to be, because one cannot prove a negative.

Prof. Wells now counters that:

Price defends her attitude by saying ‘one cannot prove a negative case.’ Why not? It is surely possible to prove that for example Queen Elizabeth 1 was not alive in 1604 or that Sir Philip Sidney did not write King Lear or that Professor Price does not believe that Shakespeare of Stratford wrote Shakespeare.

There is affirmative evidence that Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. Even allowing for uncertainties in traditional chronology, King Lear was written years after Sidney died in 1586. David Hackett Fischer elaborates on the logical fallacy of “proving” a negative when no affirmative evidence exists (Historians’ Fallacies, 1970, p. 62), and it is in that sense that I state that “one cannot prove a negative.” If there were explicit affirmative evidence that Shakespeare wrote for a living, there could be no authorship debate.

Please note: I am not a professor.


Centerwall, Brandon S. “Who Wrote William Basse’s ‘Elegy on Shakespeare’?: Rediscovering A Poem Lost From the Donne Canon” Shakespeare Survey 59 (2006).

Hackett, David Hackett. Historians’ Fallacies. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

Hadfield, Andrew. Edmund Spenser: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

─────. “60 Minutes with Shakespeare” at https://60-minutes.bloggingshakespeare.com/conference/ (Dead link)

Price, Diana. “Evidence For A Literary Biography” in Tennessee Law Review 72 (fall 2004): 111-47. (accessible here)

‘Proving Shakespeare’ Webinar, Friday 26 April 2013, 6.30-7.30 BST. https://rosbarber.com/proving-shakespeare-webinar-transcript/ as of 9 May 2013.

Thompson, Edward Maunde. “Handwriting” In Shakespeare’s England: An Account of the Life and Manners of his Age, 1:284-310. 2 vols. 1916. Reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Wells, Stanley. “An Unorthodox and Non-definitive Biography” on Blogging Shakespeare (May 8, 2013) Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine

─────. “Current Issues in Shakespeare’s Biography” 5-21). In The Footsteps of William Shakespeare, ed. Christa Jansohn. Lit Verlag, Munster 2005.

Wells, Stanley, Gary Taylor with John Jowett and William Montgomery. William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion. 1997. Reprinted with corrections, New York: Norton, 1987.

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University of Miami Law Review (Jan. 2003). “Could Shakespeare Think Like A Lawyer?: How Inheritance Law Issues in Hamlet May Shed Light on the Authorship Question” (by Thomas Regnier). “Diana Price’s recent Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography … meticulously demolishes the Stratfordian presumption.”

Radio National Perspective, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (by Prof. Patrick Buckridge, 25 March 2002). “At the core of Price’s book is a demonstration of just how exceptional Shakespeare’s case really is in comparison with his contemporaries in the theatre. … Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography was published by Greenwood Press, a respected American publisher, in their academic series, “Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies.” This in itself is a remarkable breakthrough for a viewpoint that has hitherto been strictly quarantined to that part of the book market where wacky theories about the secrets of the Pyramids or the secret sex life of Billy the Kid are canvassed freely and with no impact at all on serious scholarship. It remains to be seen whether the book gets the serious attention it deserves.”

Studies in English Literature (by William B. Worthen, 2002): Price “follows the typical trajectory of anti-Stratfordian writing — [and] unfurls the usual wash of ’evidence’.”

Shakespeare Bulletin (by Prof. Daniel L. Wright, winter 2002). “Price’s text revisits the terrain of the Shakespeare authorship problem and sweeps away the detritus of conjecture. In doing so, she clarifies our understanding of why some of the problems related to Shakespeare are so vexing, contententious, and fascinating.”

History Today (August 2001). The cover story, “Who Wrote Shakespeare?” by Prof. William Rubinstein, examines the authorship controversy and suggests five books, including Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography for further reading.

Prof. Alan Nelson at his website (which is no longer available) (3/01): “Diana Price knows how to put a sentence together, but she does not know how to put an argument together without engaging in special pleading: that is, taking evidence that has an apparent signification, and arguing with all her might that it does not fit the special case of William Shakespeare for this or that special - and wholly arbitrary - reason.” For the author’s response, click on Nelson.

Prof. Alan Nelson replied to my rebuttal on his website at https://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/ (which is no longer available): “Leonard Digges composed a handwritten inscription directly concerning William Shakespeare and directly touching on literary matters. … So close was Digges himself to Shakespeare that he called him not “Shakespeare," “William Shakespeare,” or “Mr. Shakespeare,” but - with singular affection and using his nick-name - “our Will Shakespeare". … “our” is simply the plural of “my", entirely appropriate in a literary discussion among three close friends, Will Baker, James Mabbe, and Leonard Digges.” For the author’s response, click on Response to Prof. Alan Nelson.

David Kathman, co-author with Terry Ross of The Shakespeare Authorship Website, contributed comments to “Shaksper,” the on-line orthodox discussion group, moderated by Prof. Hardy Cook: “Price’s book presents a superficial appearance of scholarship which may fool those not trained in the field, but in many ways this makes it more dangerous than the more obviously wacko anti-Stratfordian tomes which litter bookstore shelves.” Although Mr. Kathman explained that “Terry Ross and I have both been far too busy with more important matters to write up a comprehensive response to Price (doing exciting real scholarship is somehow much more fulfilling than refuting pseudo-scholarship),” he endorsed a lengthy review by Tom Veal (a much expanded version of his review on Amazon.com). Kathman directed “Shaksper" subscribers to Veal’s review, “which points out just some of its multitudinous faults.” Many of Veal’s criticisms are already addressed elsewhere on this website. For additional material on his criticism concerning the Sir Thomas More manuscript, click on More and page forward to pages 127-133.

One of Veal’s major criticisms is that I cite the Tudor “stigma of print” to explain why an arisotcratic playwright would need to conceal his identity. Veal cites The Shakespeare Authorship Page, which contends that the “stigma of print” is a myth. For the author’s response, click on Stigma of Print.

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The Tudor stigma of print is a factor in my discussion of Shakespeare’s authorship. I discuss the matter in chapter 12 to explain why an aristocratic author would wish to conceal his or her identity, either in anonymity or behind a pen name. This essay responds to those critics who challenge the very existence of a Tudor “stigma of print” and further assert that my alleged failure to support my claims with adequate evidence is symptomatic of slipshod scholarship.

It is my perception that Tudor aristocrats did not wish to be perceived as interested in earning money for professional work. That was the province of the commercial class, and earning money by writing was viewed as professional activity. The stigma of print therefore affected what the aristocrat wrote and whether it was published.

Tudor England was still largely a manuscript culture, and “the recognized medium of communication was the manuscript, either in the autograph of the author, or in the transcription of a friend” (Marotti, Donne, 4). The transmission of manuscript into print was influenced by a socially-imposed stigma of print which affected some genres much more than others. It had less effect, for example, on the publication of pious or didactic works, learned translations, historical treatises, or the like. Such educational or devotional tracts had no taint of commercialism.

More to the point here, any nobleman good enough to write professionally could not be seen to be doing so. I argue that in the social caste system of Tudor England, aristocrats chose not to publish certain genres considered commercial, such as satires, broadsides, or plays written for the public stage, or frivolous genres, such as poetry. Some of these distinctions are covered in chapter 12, where I cite the evidence concerning the dramatic writing of the earls of Derby and Oxford. This essay is to augment the evidence in that chapter and respond to recent criticism.


David Kathman and Terry Ross, authors of The Shakespeare Authorship Home Page, propose that the stigma of print is an anti-Stratfordian fantasy. As far as I can tell, their challenge relies entirely upon a 1980 article by Stephen May, Tudor Aristocrats and the Mythical “Stigma of Print," which is reproduced on the website with accompanying commentary:

As May demonstrates, “Tudor aristocrats published regularly.” The “stigma of print” is a myth. May does concede that there was for a time a “stigma of verse” among the early Tudor aristocrats, “but even this inhibition dissolved during the reign of Elizabeth until anyone, of whatever exalted standing in society, might issue a sonnet or play without fear of losing status.” This essay first appeared in Renaissance Papers. (Kathman & Ross)

More recently, in a review on Amazon and on his own website, Tom Veal has attempted to provide some more meat on the bone, although his reliance on The Shakespeare Authorship Home Page is evident. In his dismissal of my scholarship, David Kathman recommended Veal’s criticism to the orthodox discussion group, “Shaksper” (Feb. 8, 2002):

I hope you’ll allow me to direct SHAKSPER readers to a lengthy review of Ms. Price’s book which points out just some of its multitudinous faults:


Terry Ross and I have both been far too busy with more important matters to write up a comprehensive response to Price (doing exciting real scholarship is somehow much more fulfilling than refuting pseudo-scholarship), but last year Terry wrote up some rather lengthy responses to specific points and posted them at humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare. [links via Google; see Bibliography below]

Price’s book presents a superficial appearance of scholarship which may fool those not trained in the field, but in many ways this makes it more dangerous than the more obviously wacko anti-Stratfordian tomes which litter bookstore shelves. See the above review and posts for a small fraction of the problems with it.

Following Kathman’s endorsement of Veal’s review, I decided to begin to respond to major points of criticism, and the allegedly “mythical” stigma of print seemed a good place to start.


I disagree with Prof. May’s conclusion for several reasons. One, the very evidence that he cites to demonstrate why the “myth” of the stigma of print was first postulated is, in my view, evidence of a genuine social dynamic. Among that evidence is The Arte of English Poesie (1589):

Now also of such among the Nobilities or gentrie as to be very well seene in many laudable sciences, and especially in making or poesie, it is so come to passe that they have no courage to write, & , if they have, yet are loath to be a knowen of their skill., So as I know very many notable Gentlemen in the Court that have written commendably, and suppressed it agayne, or els suffred it to be publisht without their owne names to it: as if it were a discredit for a Gentleman to seeme learned and to show him selfe amorous of any good Art. (Elizabethan Critical Essays :2:22).

And in her Maiesties time that now is are sprong up an other crew of Courtly makers, Noble men and Gentlemen of her Maiesties owne servaunts, who have written excellently well as it would appeare if their doings could be found out and made publicke with the rest; of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford. Thomas Lord of Bukhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Walter Rawleigh, Master Edward Dyar, Maister Fulke Grevell, Gascon, Britton, Turberuille and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for envie, but to avoyde tediousneffe, and who have deserved no little commendation. (Elizabethan Critical Essays :2:63-64).

The stigma of print, as discussed here, especially applies to verse. It is worth noting that the author of The Arte of English Poesie chose to remain anonymous himself.

May concludes that there was a “stigma of verse” but no general “stigma of print.” I would infer, then, that the stigma of print, such as it was, was confined to the genre of poetry. By extension, other genres, regardless of worth or respectability (including plays, whether verse or prose), must have remained unaffected. But that scenario does not, in my view, sufficiently distinguish between either social class or genre, nor does it explain the absence of creative works published by the nobility.

George Pettie offers testimony to a general reluctance of the Tudor gentleman to betray his learning by writing and publishing anything, even serious matter, and his statements support the existence of a stigma of print. Pettie adopts some typical poses to explain his own appearance in print:

A Petite Palace is prefaced by three letters that fictitiously describe how it came to press against the will of its author. In the first, “To the Gentle Gentlewoman Readers,” one “R. B.” recounts his role in the “faithless enterprise,” claiming that he named the work after Painter’s Palace of Pleasure. Having heard Pettie give the stories “in a manner ex tempore ” on many “private occasions" and having learned that he had then written them down, R. B. apparently begged the manuscript from his friend, promising to keep it for private use. But fervent admiration for the opposite sex drove R. B. to “transgress the bounds of faithful friendship” and publish the stories for the “common profit and pleasure” of readers “whom by my will I would have only gentlewomen.

In the second prefatory letter -- supposed to have accompanied the manuscript when Pettie confided it to his treacherous friend -- Pettie asks R. B. to keep the manuscript secret because “divers discourses touch nearly divers of my near friends.” The third letter is from the printer, who claims to know neither Pettie nor R. B. but to have been given the manuscript by a third party. Alarmed by the “too wanton” nature of the work, the printer then “gelded” it of “such matters as may seem offensive.” Authorial disavowal of an intention to publish was not uncommon in the late sixteenth century; such a stance represents an attempt to circumvent the class derogation attached to print. But Pettie’s second work, The Civil Conversation, maintains the fiction that his first was published without his permission.” (Juliet Fleming, Dictionary of Literary Biography 136: Sixteenth-Century British Nondramatic Writers . Ed. David A. Richardson. The Gale Group, 1994.)

In Pettie’s preface to his translation of The Civile Conversation, we read further:

“a trifling woorke of mine [Pettie Palace ] (which by reason of the lightnesse of it, or at the least of the keeper of it, flewe abroade before I knewe of it). … I thought it stood mee upon, to purchase to my selfe some better fame by some better worke, and to countervayle my former Vanitie, with some formal gravitie. …for the men which wyll assayle me, are in deede rather to be counted friendly foes, then deadly enemies, as those who wyll neyther mislyke with me, nor with the matter which I shall present unto them, but tendryng, as it were, my credite, thynke it convenient that such as I am (whose profession should chiefly be armes) should eyther spende the tyme writing Bookes, or publyshe them being written. Those which mislyke studie or learning in Gentlemen, are some fresh water Souldiers, who thynke that in warre it is the body which only must beare the brunt of all, now knowyng that the body is ruled by the minde, and that in all doubtfull and daungerour matters: but having shewed els where how necessarie learning is for Souldiers, I ad only, that if we in England shall frame our selves only for warre, yf we be not very well Oyled, we shall hardly keepe our selves from rusting, with such long continuance of peace. … Those which myslike that a Gentleman should publish the fruites of his learning, are some curious Gentlemen, who thynke it most commendable in a Gentleman, to cloake his arte and skill in every thing, and to seeme to doo all things of his owne mother witte as it were: … they wyll at the seconde woorde make protestation that they are no Schollers: whereas notwithstanding they have spent all theyr time in studie. Why Gentlemen is it a shame to shewe to be that, which it is a shame not to be? In divers thynges, nothynge to good as Learning.

Pettie defends the idea of publishing serious work, although he explains that he is publishing Civile Conversations to make up for the triviality of Pettie Palace. There is of course no reason for Pettie to recite such an exercise if there was no stigma attached to publishing in the first place.

Pettie’s words also suggest perceived distinctions between serious and not-so-serious genres. May cites numerous publications to demonstrate the non-stigma of print, but most of these works could not be characterized either as frivolous or as commercial. Some even include apologies for poetry (such as Sir John Harington, who writes in the preface to his translation of Ariosto: “Some grave men misliked that I should spend so much good time on such a trifling worke as they deemed a Poeme to be” ( Elizabethan Critical Essays, 2:219). According to McClure, Harington “despised the professional man of letters. … In an age when the writing of verse was a gentleman’s pastime, he employed his talents for the entertainment of himself and his friends": “I near desearvd that gloriows name of Poet; / No Maker I … / Let others Muses fayn; / Myne never sought to set to sale her writing” (Epigrams, 34). (Note also that when his translation was first published, Harington had no title.)

Creative poems were considered literary trifles or frivolous toys, which accounts for the reluctance to be seen writing poetry as a full-time occupation. In contrast translations and closet dramas were educational and suitable for study. But plays written for the public stage were worse than frivolous. They were commercial, and public theater itself was often viewed as downright disreputable. Nevertheless, if there was no stigma of print, or if any authorial shyness was just an affectation, then we should expect to identify various members of the nobility who published their poems and plays, with or without apology.

On the other hand, if there was a stigma of print, we should expect to find some sort of correlation between social rank, genre, and publishing, i.e., the higher the social rank of the author, the more reluctance to publish; and the more frivolous or commercial the genre, the more reluctant the author. According to Arthur Marotti, “literary communication was socially positioned and socially mediated: styles and genres were arranged in hierarchies homologous with those of rank, class, and prestige” (Marotti, “Patronage,” 1). One would therefore expect to see the effect of the stigma of print on something of a sliding scale, having even an exponential effect on publishing as we climb the social ladder. At the top end, we should expect find very few, if any, of the nobility choosing to publish anything. Of those few books that might be published with authorization, the genre should be serious, educational, political, or devotional. Then, as we descend the social ladder, we should expect less serious genres to appear, with or without authorization, or with apology. And when at last we find self-proclaimed poets or dramatists (or satirists or fiction writers) freely and openly publishing their creative work, we should be looking at the lowest rungs of the gentry and the commoners, the would-be’s, the aspiring amateurs, the professionals affecting the conduct of the gentleman-amateur. And that is exactly what we find.

Many members on the top rungs of the Tudor aristocracy had outstanding reputations as poets. But none of them published their creative work. The earl of Surrey’s attributed poems were published in miscellanies after his death. So were Thomas, [Baron] Lord Vaux’s. The earl of Oxford published nothing during his lifetime. Further down the social ladder were Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edward Dyer, and Sir Fulke Greville, all of whom also earned reputations as writers. None of them published their work, either. Like those of their social betters, the relatively few poems that appeared in print turned up in miscellanies. So here we have just what we should expect if there were a stigma of print. All these poets established literary reputations either on works transmitted orally, circulated in manuscript, or in miscellanies published by someone with access to those circulating manuscripts. It is not until one descends to the aspiring gentlemen, the would-be’s, those seeking preferment, and of course the newly emerging class of professionals (e.g., Greene and Nashe) that one finds unrestrained (and even then often apologetic) efforts to publish.

May acknowledges that “To all appearances the code [of the stigma] was upheld by the next generation of courtier poets, insofar as Sidney, Dyer, Ralegh, and the earl of Essex, among the more prominent Elizabethan courtiers, likewise made no provision to publish their works.” But it is that appearance of conformity to the social code -- that very failure to publish -- by the highest-ranking poets of reputation in Elizabethan and Stuart England that demonstrates the stigma of print. The stigma of print is manifested first and foremost with the nobility, and is gradually diluted as we descend the social ladder. The members of the nobility in Tudor and early Stuart England are relatively few in number, and their ventures into publishing almost nil.

Most of the plays written by aristocrats were closet dramas, not intended to be performed, and more properly categorized as learned translations or political treatises. Even so, nearly all the closet dramas that were published were either unauthorized or were printed posthumously. The Countess of Pembroke was the highest ranking aristocrat who published a (possibly authorized) play, and it was closet drama. The earl of Derby wrote plays for common players, but none survive, at least not under his own name. If other aristocrats wrote plays for the public stage, history does not record what those plays were, and none were published with attribution. William Alexander was a Scot and had no title when he published his four closet dramas. Greville recorded his reluctance to see any of his plays published, even posthumously.

Many of the works May cites to deny a stigma of print are political, pious, or didactic works and translations, which, as we move down the social ladder, were published with less restraint and, even so, often with apology by the upper classes. And those aristocrats (e.g., Oxford or Raleigh) who contributed prefatory material to other men’s work were appearing in the role of patron, which did not constitute a social breach.

May concludes that “the substantial number of upper-class authors who published during the sixteenth century effectively discredits any notion of a generally accepted code which forbade publication, since noblemen and knights, courtiers and royalty, trafficked with the press in ever-increasing numbers.” But this is contradicted not only by Pettie’s testimony but also by the publishing record. No member of the Tudor nobility published poetry, plays, satires, or the like. May’s examples include authors from the Caroline period (e.g., the Cavendishes or Fanshawe), too late to be relevant to the period. He also lumps the top rungs of the aristocracy in with the middle and lower gentry and even those yet to receive their title. The only verse pamphlet by Sir John Beaumont was published when he was less than 20 years old, and he did not become a “Sir” until just before he died. Thomas Sackville had no title when Gorboduc was published.

Finally, we have the testimony of dozens of untitled writers who aspired to the code of the gentlemen-amateurs, who wished to wash the money and printer’s ink off their hands. Ca. 1603, Samuel Daniel wrote:

About a year since, upon the great reproach given to the Professors of Rime and the use thereof, I wrote a private letter, as a defense of mine owne undertakings in that kinde, to a learned Gentleman, a great friend of mine, then in Court. Which I did rather to confirm my selfe in mine owne courses, and to hold him from being wonne from us, then with any desire to publish the same to the world" (A Defense of Rhyme, in Elizabethan Critical Essays :2:357).

Here we see Daniel posturing to emulate the code of the aristocracy. Like Daniel, numerous writers apologized for publishing their work, and since there is an absence of published work by the top-ranking aristocrats, I conclude that these apologies were not entirely affectations.


I now wish to relate all this to Veal’s specific criticism, which relies heavily on Kathman and Ross’s web page. Following is the section of Veal’s review relevant to the “stigma of print":

As in other anti-Stratfordian works, the “stigma of print” looms large in Miss Price’s picture of Elizabethan society. It is vital to her position, because it furnishes her sole explanation of why the real Shakespeare hid his authorship.

Elizabethan gentlemen wrote for others in their social circle with no thought of seeing their compositions in print. Custom prohibited the upper class gentleman from having any profession at all, writing included. To publish for public consumption was the business of the paid professional, not the gentleman. [218]

The “stigma” theory, devised in the 19th Century to explain why so few Tudor aristocrats published their works, has fallen out of favor for the simple reason that the phenomenon that it sought to explain did not really exist. As Steven May, the leading authority on Elizabethan courtier poets, has demonstrated, those Elizabethan gentlemen who wrote at all (a small minority) published quite a bit and were not disgraced thereby. Miss Price ignores Professor May’s article in her book, though she claims on her website to have read it (one of many instances in which she deals with uncongenial analysis by averting her eyes). More importantly, she makes no effort to examine the directly pertinent question: Would an Elizabethan or Jacobean courtier who wrote plays have had any strong motive to hide his authorship?

The case for a “stigma” is much weakened by the fact that persons of high station did in fact write, or attempt to write, for the theater. Sir Thomas Sackville, a cousin of the Queen and later a baron and earl, co-authored Gorboduc, the first noteworthy Elizabethan tragedy. It was printed under his name in about 1570, evidently from a manuscript that he supplied. Two plays by William Cavendish, earl of Newcastle, were presented at Blackfriars, London’s most popular theater, in the early 1640’s. Manuscripts, dated about 1600, survive of several dramas written by Lord William Percy, a younger son of the earl of Northumberland, for production by the Children of Paul’s. Noble authors whose works never, so far as we know, reached the stage include Fulk Greville, Lord Brooke, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (translator of a blood-and-thunder French tragedy) and William Alexander, earl of Stirling. Many of these pieces are conventionally labeled “closet dramas", but, unlike Goethe’s Faust or Hardy’s The Dynasts, they are not unactable epics or novels in dialogue. Their form and structure differ not at all from popular drama.

The “stigma of print" in Tudor England was not “devised” in the 19th century. According to May, it was Edward Arber who first wrote about the Tudor stigma of print, but then Arber is merely the first to have noticed the phenomenon. Far from having fallen out of fashion, the “stigma of print” remains an integral part of literary studies today.

The landmark study on this subject is J.W. Saunders’s 1951 essay “The Stigma of Print.” I also refer to his related article, “From Manuscript to Print,” and The Profession of English Letters. According to Saunders, the professional poet had “his eye on personal profit,” whereas the gentleman-amateur “attempted to keep poetry within private genteel circles and attached to appearance in print a formidable social stigma ("Stigma,” 155; “Manuscript,” 509). Saunders considered some of the mystifications that cloaked the well-born author in print, as well as some of the apologies and disclaimers that appeared when a work escaped into print: “Underlying many of the quotations … is a certain moral hesitation about the value of the imaginative literary arts, lyric poetry, drama, and so on, in which the Court excelled" (Profession, 60), so here Saunders touches on the frivolous nature of poetry, fiction, and drama.

Many Tudor gentlemen describe writing poetry as vain or foolish (e.g., Spenser’s “ydle rimes … The labor of lost time” (FQ, verse to Burghley); or Thomas Blenergasset’s “learned men, yet none which spende their tyme so vainely as in Poetrie” (Mirrour for Magistrates, cit. by Saunders, “Manuscript,” 512). According to Richard Helgerson, “as a plaything of youth, a pastime for idle hours, poetry might be allowed. … But as an end in itself, as the main activity of a man’s life, poetry had no place. … For the courtier, poetry could be only an avocation, never a vocation” ("Role,” 550). Pettie articulated this value in the preface cited above. It is this value system that underlies the aristocrat’s reluctance to be published. Helgerson also notes that while “the amateurs avoided print; the laureates sought it out.” He views Sidney as “that most nearly laureate of amateur poets” ("Laureate,” 201, 202), and of course, Sidney published none of his work during his lifetime.

Concerning characteristics common to both poetry and drama, Helgerson writes elsewhere:

If playwriting could so easily be made to occupy the place more commonly taken in an amateur career by verse-making, it was because both were supposed to be equally frivolous. Neither private verse nor public drama made the claim to literary greatness that distinguishes the laureate and his work. The courtly amateur claimed to write only for his own amusement and that of his friends; the professional, for money and the entertainment of the paying audience (“Laureate,” 206).

Helgerson has described two principal factors behind the stigma of publishing plays written for the public theaters; they were perceived as commercial and frivolous.

Among other 20th century authorities who have incorporated the concept of the stigma of print into their studies are:

These citations demonstrate that current scholarship accepts the stigma of print as a genuine phenomenon. However, the above cited authorities generally discuss the stigma in connection with poetry (but occasionally prose or drama). Let us now consider the works of aristocratic dramatists.

Veal claims that the aristocratic plays that were published in Tudor or Stuart England “are conventionally labeled ’closet dramas’ [but] … they are not unactable epics or novels in dialogue. Their form and structure differ not at all from popular drama.” Closet drama is not intended for performance, but it is not the actability of the plays that is at issue. It is the question of whether the aristocrat wrote plays to be performed on the public stage and published them with attribution. The purpose, the intended audience, and the venue are all of concern.

So, let us consider the published works that, according to Veal, demonstrate that there was no stigma of print. To arrive at a judgment, at least two factors need to be examined, (1) genre, and (2) circumstances of publication, including irregularities, signs of piracy or unauthorized publication, disclaimers, and so on.

Thomas Sackville : Gorboduc

Sackville (1536-1608) was son of Sir Richard Sackville, became Lord Buckhurst in 1567, and the earl of Dorset in 1604. Gorboduc was acted in 1562 at the Inner Temple, published in 1565, and reprinted in 1570 and 1590. At the time of publication, Sackville had no title, so its publication is irrelevant to the discussion.

Nevertheless, the 1565 edition was pirated (see Chambers, Stage 3:457 or Brooks, Printing, 30-31). According to the title page of the 1570 edition, the play was “written about nine years ago by the right honorable now Lord Buckhurst, and by T. Norton,” “was never intended by the authors thereof to be published,” and the original publisher obtained the play from “some yongmans hand that lacked a little money and much discretion.” There’s the disclaimer that demonstrates the stigma of print, in this case invoked perhaps since by 1570 one of its authors did have a title.

William Cavendish

Cavendish (1592-1676), the earl of Newcastle’s plays from the 1640s are too late to be relevant to the discussion.

Lord William Percy

Percy (1575-1648) was the third son of the 8th earl of Northumberland. The surviving plays in question are preserved in manuscripts that bear the initials “W.P., Esq.” According to Chambers (Stage, 3:464-65), Percy’s “authorship appears to be fixed by a correspondence between an epigram in the MS. to Charles Fitzgeffry with one Ad Gulielmum Percium in Fitzgeoffridi Affaniae (1601).” It is not know if they were ever performed at St. Paul’s, but it is certain that they were never printed during the author’s lifetime. The first play was not printed until 1824. Percy’s plays therefore cannot be cited to dispute the stigma of print.

Sir Fulke Greville : Mustapha

Greville (1554-1828) was knighted in 1603 and created Baron Brooke in 1621. Mustapha is a closet drama (May, Courtier, 167). According to M.E. Lamb, Mustapha is “overtly political in purpose and show[s] more concern in reforming the state than the stage” (“Myth,” 201). In the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Charles Larson writes:

Always the gentleman amateur, Greville never permitted any of his writings to be published while he was alive, and it was probably a considerable annoyance to him when an unauthorized printing of Mustapha appeared in 1609. His was not a drama written for the popular theater, and, indeed, he claimed in the Life of Sidney never to have had any intention of having his plays staged under any circumstances: “I have made these Tragedies, no Plaies for the Stage…. But he that will behold these Acts upon their true Stage, let him look on that Stage wherein himself is an Actor, even the state he lives in, and for every part he may perchance find a Player, and for every Line (it may be) an instance of life.” This is one of the most explicit statements extant on the theory of Elizabethan closet drama, and it is important to put a positive face on it: Greville most certainly does approve of drama as a literary form. Staged plays might be merely entertainment and thus the fit recipients of the attacks that the Puritans were waging against the theater at that moment, but the drama as a literary text engages the mind seriously and leads to important discoveries about the nature of life.

In particular, Greville “had difficulty writing ideological drama that is credible as dramatic literature. Of course, one should recall that he did not intend these plays for the stage" (Larson, DLB).

Mustapha was published without attribution. Even May describes the edition of Mustapha as “surreptitious" (Courtier, 325). Greville’s own surviving papers tell us explicitly about his ambivalence and reluctance to have any of his works published, even posthumously: “These pamphlets [i.e., his plays] which having slept out my own time, if they happen to be seene herafter, shall at their own peril rise upon the stage when I am not.”

Mary Sidney Herbert : Antonie

Mary (1561-1621), countess of Pembroke, was Sir Philip Sidney’s sister and a distinguished member of the nobility. According to the editors of her Works, the countess’s translation of Garnier’s Marc Antoine “emphasized political commentary” (Hannay, 38). It is classified as a “closet drama” (May, Courtier, 167), and “with its discussion of moral issues presented in set speeches rather than stage action, the genre would have been particularly suited to reading aloud by the assembled guests at an English country house like Wilson. Marc Antoine was successfully staged in France; however, there is no record that Pembroke’s translation was ever performed, even at Wilton” (Hannay, 41; see also Bergeron, “Women,” 70). Further, “the genre was also particularly suited for women who desired to write plays but would not be permitted to write for the public arena” (Hannay, 41).

Hannay et al. assume the countess authorized publication of her translation. May cautiously states that “the countess probably [emphasis added] authorized the publication of Antonie because it illustrated the precepts of dramatic tragedy formulated in [her brother’s] Defense … and asserted that a good ruler seeks to be loved rather than feared by his subjects” (May, Courtier, 167).

William Alexander : The Monarchicke Tragedies

William Alexander (1567-1640) was tutor to Prince Henry and came down to London from Scotland when James acceded the throne. He was raised to the rank of viscount in 1630 and to the earldom in 1633. His four historical tragedies on classical subjects, Darius, Alexander, Caesar, and Croesus, were first published at the beginning of James I’s reign and issued collectively as The Monarchicke Tragedies.

Alexander’s four tragedies are closet dramas. The only entry for him in the Dictionary of Literary Biography appears, significantly, in the volume of 17th century British Nondramatic [emphasis added] Poets. Beckett writes that “The plays in The Monarchicke Tragedies were never intended for the stage, as its dedication to King James makes clear. Each deals with the dangers of ambition in a monarch, and each is both didactic and sententious.” According to Lamb, “the grave political advice which fills his cumbersome Monarchicke Tragedies, dedicated to the new English king, strongly suggest a desire to establish himself as a wise counselor, not as a budding playwright” ("Myth,” 200). The circumstances of publication are straightforward, but at time of publication, he had no title. So again, this is irrelevant to the stigma of print as it affected the aristocracy.

Veal’s final criticism:

Of crucial importance too was the attitude of the monarch. Although plays were considered scarcely better than pornography in Puritan circles, those were not the sentiments that prevailed at the fons honoris. Elizabeth and James were theatrical enthusiasts. The Queen saw six to ten plays in an average season, the King twice as many. Virtually all of those works were drawn from the repertories that the leading professional companies presented in London. Contrary to what Miss Price imagines [264], there was, during the period of Shakespeare’s activity, no special category of “court plays” distinct from the commercial theater. There is, in short, no credible reason to think that a late Tudor aristocrat would have suffered at all from being known as the mind behind some of the most popular dramas of the day.

Veale must have missed the distinction between writing plays for academic, private, or royal venues, and being recognized as having written and published a commercial play. In addition, it was one thing to patronize a play at court; it was another to be seen as the author who wrote for public consumption.


Although writing closet drama was a respectable pastime, few aristocratic authors published their dramas. The countess of Pembroke “probably" authorized the publication of Antonie , but the circumstances remain unclear. Young master Percy’s plays were not published during his lifetime. Alexander wrote his plays, not for the stage, but to convince King James that he was fit to serve as a counselor to a monarch, and at the time that he did publish, he was newly arrived from Scotland and had no title. Gorboduc and Mustapha were printed without authorization, and at the time of publication, Sackville had no title.

In my book, I build the case that the works of Shakespeare were written by an unnamed nobleman, and that the stigma of print was a contributing factor to the appearance of another man’s name on the works. Having reconsidered the stigma of print in light of the criticism from Mssrs. Veal and Kathman, I have no reason to amend anything on this topic in my book. If the works of Shakespeare were written by an aristocrat, then that aristocrat had good reason to conceal his identity. In short, there is ample evidence to demonstrate the Tudor “stigma of print.” Today, literary critics continue to incorporate the phenomenon into their studies, and it remains a factor relevant to the Shakespeare authorship question.

POSTSCRIPT: According to Veal, “a bevy of gentlemen of rank wrote the prefatory verses to Spenser’s Faerie Queene, “but he has that back-to-front. Spenser addressed prefatory verses to a bevy of aristocrats, not they to him.



Beckett, Robert D. “William Alexander” in the Dictionary of Literary Biography 121: Seventeenth-Century British Nondramatic Poets, ed. M. Thomas Hester. The Gale Group, 1992.

Bergeron, David M. “Women as Patrons of English Renaissance Drama.” In Readings in Renaissance Women’s Drama: Criticism, History, and Performance 1594-1998. Ed. S.P. Cerasano and Marion Wynne-Davies. London: Routledge, 1998.

Brooks, Douglas A. From Playhouse to Printing House. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Chambers, E.K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 vols. 1961. Reprint, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923.

Dutton, Richard. “The Birth of the Author.” In Elizabethan Theater: Essays in Honor of S. Schoenbaum, ed. R.B. Parker and S. P. Zitner, 71-92. Newark: University of Delaware Press. 1996.

Elizabethan Critical Essays. Ed. G. Gregory Smith. 2 vols. 1904. Reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Google links to hlas.:



Hannay, Margarget P., Noel J. Kinnamon, and Michael G. Brennan, ed. The Collected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.

Helgerson, Richard. “The Elizabethan Laureate: Self-Presentation and the Literary System.” ELH 46:2 (summer 1979): 193-220.

─────. “Role of the Poet.” Entry in Spenser Encyclopedia. Ed. A. C. Hamilton. University of Toronto Press, 1990.

Jones, Norman, and Paul Whitfield White. “ Gorboduc and Royal Marriage Politics.” English Literary Renaissance 26:1 (winter 1996): 3-16.

Kathman, David and Terry Ross. The Shakespeare Authorship Home Page : https://ShakespeareAuthorship.com/

Lacey, Robert. Sir Walter Raleigh. New York: Atheneum, 1974.

Lamb, Mary Ellen. “The Countess of Pembroke’s Patronage,” English Literary Renaissance 12 (spring 1982): 162-79.

─────. “The Myth of the Countess of Pembroke” in The Yearbook of English Studies 11 , London: Modern Humanities Research Assoc., London, 1981: 194-202.

Larson, Charles. “Sir Fulke Greville," Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 62: Elizabethan Dramatists. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Fredson Bowers, University of Virginia. The Gale Group, 1987.

Marotti, Arthur F. John Donne, Coterie Poet. The Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1986.

─────. “Patronage, Poetry, and Print.” The Yearbook of English Studies: Politics, Patronage and Literature in England 1558-1658 , Special Number 21, (1991): 1-26.

May, Steven W. “Tudor Aristocrats and the Mythical ’Stigma of Print.’" Renaissance Papers, 1980 (on-line at "The Shakespeare Authorship home page ).

─────. The Elizabethan Courtier Poets: the Poems and Their Contexts. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991.

McClure, Norman Egbert.The Epigrams of Sir John Harington., Philadelphia, 1926.

Oxford Companion to English Literature. Ed. Margaret Drabble. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Saunders, J.W. "The Stigma of Print.” Essays in Criticism 1, 139-164. 1968. Reprint; Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger N.V., 1951.

─────. “From Manuscript to Print.” Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society 6 (1951): 507-28.

─────. The Profession of English Letters. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Ed. Ernest Rhys. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1910.

Readings in Renaissance Women’s Drama: Criticism, History, and Performance 1594-1998. London: Routledge, 1998.

Riggs, David. Ben Jonson: A Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Rollins, Hyder Edward. Introduction to The Phoenix Nest 1593. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1931.

Shakespeare Authorship Home Page. https://ShakespeareAuthorship.com/.

Veal, Tom. “Stromata" website: https://stromata.typepad.com/stromata_blog/2004/07/book_review_ind.html

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Typographical Errors in the Paperback Edition

Reader Tony Minchin catches the following typos (for this relief much thanks):

p. 78: “Gullio is a conceited paymasters” should read “Gullio is a conceited paymaster”

p. 133: “while no foul papers survive” should read “although no foul papers survive”

p. 156: “the silence in the historic record” should read “the silence in the historical record"

Errata and additions (for the paperback edition of 2013)

p. 67:

The absence of “gent.” in the 1601 burial entry for John leads to speculation that William passed himself off as newly armigerous, although technically, he would have been entitled to style himself a gentleman only after his father had died (see Lewis, 1:212). John Shakspere was buried on 8 September 1601. William Shakspere was styled “gent” in a deed for the Globe theatre property dated 7 October 1601.

Tom Reedy points out that son William was entitled to the honorific “Mr” when father John’s application was approved, making the entry in the 23 August 1600 SR the first instance in which son William styled himself “Mr.” I stand corrected. For a full response to Mr. Reedy concerning the implications this correction has for Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, click here.

Errata and additions (for the hardback edition of 2001)

pp. 139-40: Re: John Weever’s “curious” omission in his 1631 publication, Ancient Funerall Monuments of Shakspere’s epitaphs.

On an e-discussion group, David Kathman pointed out that Weever included only a small portion of the contents of his notebook in his 1631 publication, that no epitaphs from Warwickshire were included, so the omission of Shakspere’s epitaphs is hardly “curious.” I stand corrrected (see Honigmann, Weever, 63).

p. 162: In the epitaph, “ With in this monuement Shakespeare” should read “With in this monument Shakspeare.”

p. 189: I write that two references were made in the Shakespeare First Folio to “moniment,” both times spelled with an “i,” and that the spelling of the word “moniment” (i.e. in the sense of records or written work) signals the pun on “monument” (i.e., in the sense of a statue or memorial). In particular, Jonson’s line, “thou art a moniment without a tomb,” suggests a double meaning. The line can mean that (1) Shakespeare is memorialized by his body of work, not by a tomb -- witness Shakespeare’s own sonnet 81: “Your monument shall be my gentle verse”; and (2) Shakspere’s Stratford monument was originally supposed to sit on top of the tomb itself, but since it does not, it is a monument without a tomb.

Terry Ross has pointed out that the spelling of the words “moniment” and “monument” were interchangeable in Shakespeare’s day, so Ben Jonson’s pun on the word in his First Folio eulogy (“thou art a moniment without a tomb) is not signaled by drawing attention to the letter “i.” Jonson’s ambiguity therefore relies on the context, not the spelling.

p. 197: The sentence concerning Jonson’s denigration of Shakespeare’s source for Comedy of Errors is in error. The following would replace that sentence: In his Conversations with Drummond, Jonson referred to the plot device, specifically confusion and mistaken identity resulting from a double set of twins, found in Plautus’s Amphitruo. Jonson rejected Amphitruo as a viable source for a play, because he did not think the roles of the twins could be convincingly cast. While Shakespeare’s principal source for Comedy of Errors was Plautus’s Menaechmi, Shakespeare was also indebted for part of his plotting to Amphitruo. Implicit in Jonson’s rejection of Amphitruo as a viable source for a play is criticism of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. (Amphitruo is a Roman, not a Greek play.)

p. 26: “Quandam [sundry]” should read “Quandam [former]”

p. 50: In the 5th line from the bottom, “addresses” should read “addressees”

p. 203: In the marginal note, “Ingeriorum” should read “Ingeniorum.”

p. 307: In the entry for Harvey, #2 should read: letter to Sir Robert Cecil, referring to “sundrie royale Cantos” being readied for publication (Stern, Harvey, 51).

p. 310: In the entry for Middleton, # 7 should read: “no evidence.” The verse from Richards was published posthumously. (The corresponding checkmark on p. 303 should be deleted.)

p. 310-11: In the entry for Lyly, # 2 and #6 should read: “I may … write prayers instead of plays - prayers for your long and prosperous life and a repentence that I have played the fool so long” (1598 petition to the Queen, Lyly, ed. Bond, 1:64-65).

p. 312: In the entry for Watson, # 8 should read: “no evidence” Watson’s and Marlowe’s arrest after a fracas sheds no light on a literary exchange. (The corresponding checkmark on p. 305 should be deleted.).

p. 337: The entry for Andrew Hannas should read: Hannas, Andrew. “From Thence to Honor Thee”:/ To ‘Small Latine’ T’is the Key.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of The Shakespeare Oxford Society, Cleveland, OH, 1992.

Additions (to chart of personal literary paper trails)

p. 308: In the entry for Samuel Daniel, add to #3 (“paid to write”): payment to “Danyell the Poet” in the earl of Hertford’s accounts (John Pitcher, “Samuel Daniel, the Hertfords, and A Question of Love,” Review of English Studies 35 [1984], 449-462); a corresponding checkmark can be added to category #3 on p. 303.

p. 308: In the entry for Samuel Daniel, add to #10 (“notice at death as a writer”): letter dated 7 Feb. 1620 by William Alexander to William Drummond: “am glad that you exercise your Muse, since Samuel Daniel is dead”; Daniel was buried in October 1619 (William Drummond, The Works of William Drummond, Edinburgh, 1711, p. 151); a corresponding checkmark can be added to category #10 on p. 303.

p. 308: In the entry for George Peele, add to #7 (“commendatory verse”: “William Gager’s verses for Peele’s translation of Iphigenia, in which Gager acknowledges their friendship and encourages “my Peele” (David H. Horne, The Life and Minor Works of George Peele. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1952; 1:42-46); a corresponding checkmark can be added to category #7 on p. 303.

p. 308: In the entry for George Peele, add to #9 (“evidence of books”): “James Peele Clerke is allowed bokes by order of the Gouv’nors for George his sonne who is in the Gram Skole” (P.H. Cheffaud, George Peele ; Paris: Librairie Felix Alcan, 1913; p. 8 n); a corresponding checkmark can be added to category #9 on p. 303.

p. 310: In the entry for John Marston, add to #2 (“record of correspondence, especially concerning literary matters”): letter to Sir Gervase Clifton concerning Marston’s masque, pleading his “excuse for not yett sending the booke. First with my owne hand I wrott one coppye; for all the rest which I hadd caused to be transcribed were given and stolne from me att my Lord Spencer’s. Then with all suddeine care I gave my coppy unto a scrivener…” (W.H. Grattan Flood, “A John Marston Letter," Review of English Studies 4 [January 1928]: 86-87; see also Robert E. Brettle, “The ‘Poet Marston’ Letter to Sir Gervase Clifton, 1607,” Review of English Studies 4 [April 1928]: 212-14); a corresponding checkmark can be added to category #2 on p. 303.

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The De Vere Society newsletter (by Arthur Challinor, January 2001): “One of the most impressive factors about this book is that it does not overreach. Knowing that one will never overturn orthodox scholarship by argument which is intellectually shoddy or suspect, she will not be led by the heart. … The challenge is there and it is formidable. The breadth of the author’s research is impressive.”

Shakespeare Oxford Society newsletter (by Richard F. Whalen, fall 2000): “Price declines to discuss who might be the true author of Shakespeare’s works. … If Will Shakspere was not the author, then who was this aristocrat she keeps mentioning?"

A reader (Craig T. Niedzielski from Hermosa, Bataan, Philippines) on www.amazon.com (dead link) (1/21/02): “For readers without preconceptions, Ms. Price provides a scrupulously researched biography which does not, for once, depend upon page after page of “surely," “most probably,” and “almost certainly.” Reading a typical, orthodox biography is like chomping down on a fluff of cotton candy: t’ain’t much there. This, by contrast, is USDA Select Beef, with something to bite into and chew over on every page. Do not let the premium price deter you. You get what you pay for, in this case a substantial work of scholarship. For the still-hesitant prospective buyer, I strongly urge you to drop by Ms. Price’s website. There you will find reviews and responses, errata and addenda, and most importantly get a glimpse of the author’s ability to defend her work. Just type in the title slash “author’s home page” and let your browser do the rest. In sum, a very well-researched, very readable book that gets Shakespearean scholarship off to a great start for the new millennium. My highest endorsement.”

A reader (from Los Angeles, CA) on www.amazon.com (dead link) (1/9/01): “Essential for those who wish to come to grips with the Shakespearean authorship problem, first as an exposition of the anti-Stratfordian case, and second as a reference work of the first order…. Price offers the most comprehensive biographical analysis to date….There is a fair amount of strictly new evidence. Second, much of the evidence compiled will be new to readers of orthodox biographies, where it is either missing or distorted. Third, reexamination of “old" evidence reveals overlooked matter. Fourth, the treatment of the subject by prior scholarship is itself revealing evidence. Very few persons will come away from a reading of Price’s book without having learned much of its subject.”

A reader (Edward Thomas Veal) on www.amazon.com (Link is now dead) (11/29/00 and 1/18/01): This “case against the Stratford man … amounts to nothing more substantial than bile and overheated air.” Further, in Part 2, “time and time again, Miss Price, instead of seeking to refute inconvenient analyses, pretends that they don’t exist. For the author’s response, click on Response to an Amazon.com reader review. For additional material on his criticism concerning the Sir Thomas More manuscript, click on More and scroll forward to pages 127-133.

Edward Thomas Veal has posted a lengthy review on his website. Many of his criticsms are already addressed in responses elsewhere on this website. For a response to his criticism concerning the “stigma of print," click on Stigma of Print.

A reader (TMT from Wheeling, WV) on www.amazon.com (2/03/01): “I recommend you read it to see what the fuss is all about.”

A reader (JT from Detroit, MI) on www.amazon.com (1/15/01): “A fine mystery, and some fine sleuthing as well.”

A reader (from Santa Fe, NM) on www.amazon.com (dead link) (1/13/01): “Readers who are passionately attached to the traditional attribution will get nothing from this book and will rail against it, and this book is not meant for them. It is meant for open-minded readers who are willing to let go of previous assumptions and received wisdom, and to look at old evidence in a new light. I count myself among these…. This book is the best presentation I’ve yet seen as to WHY it does not add up.”

A reader (Ron Song Destro) on www.amazon.com (2/07/01): “Filled with new information and an accurate analysis of the flaws found in traditional Shakespearean scholarship. I recommend it heartily.”

A reader (Spotsmom) on www.amazon.com (11/11/00): “A learned and readable exposition of the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy.”

A reader (JMT) on Barnes and Noble (11/21/00): An “easy-to-read and well presented explanation of the role of William Shaksper in the world of Elizabethan letters.”

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Prof. Alan Nelson’s review was originally posted on his website at socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/ but is no longer accessible at the link. Following is the text of his review, with the author’s response (indented and blue).

Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography (2001)

Diana Price knows how to put a sentence together, but she does not know how to put an argument together without engaging in special pleading: that is, taking evidence that has an apparent signification, and arguing with all her might that it does not fit the special case of William Shakespeare for this or that special - and wholly arbitrary - reason.

Take the fact that Ben Jonson writes a poem of dedication to the “memory of my beloved, the author, Mr. William Shakespeare”; or the fact that Jonson reported that he had offended “the Players” who thought he had insulted their “friend” Shakespeare. Jonson explains, “I loved the man, and do honor his memory (on this side Idolatry) as much as any.”

Master William Shakespeare, whom Jonson also calls “Sweet Swan of Avon,” associating him with Stratford upon Avon for any but the wilfully deaf, is thus the recipient of a greater expression of friendship than any contemporary author.

Price cannot of course accept this evidence, so she must find some way to discredit it: such evidence is necessarily ironic, or satiric, or deliberately misleading, or written after Shakespeare’s death: note that there is always some reason why evidence does not count in the case of William Shakespeare. Of course, one could make up a set of special rules for any other author of the period: why could there not have been two Edmund Spensers, one real but stupid (since any evidence that he was a writer cannot be allowed to count), another the pseudonym for some aristocrat?

Prof. Nelson apparently believes that I have succeeded in establishing a set of rules that somehow contrive to exclude all evidence proving that Shakespeare’s vocation was writing, while at the same time admitting such evidence for any other alleged writers. His criticism is perhaps more indicative of an entrenched faith in Shakespeare’s biography than it is descriptive of my methods of analysis.

I need not invent any arbitrary rules to admit or disqualify literary evidence for Edmund Spenser. Despite the fact that there were several Edmund Spensers in Elizabethan England, there is no question about the poet Edmund Spenser’s literary career. Spenser left behind professional evidence of his occupation of writing, and that evidence is explicit, unambiguous, and contemporaneous; some of it is cited in the appendix in my book. It is the absence of any comparably explicit contemporaneous evidence for Shakespeare that is unique to his biography.

If there is a case to be made for special pleading, it is that routinely exercised by the orthodox biographer. Biographers have made exceptions to their own rules in order to admit, transmute, or create evidence for Shakespeare to support his career as a playwright. In order to do that, they have (page numbers are to my book)

A close examination of the documentary evidence for Shakspere [spelling chosen to indicate the man from Stratford] shows that his literary biography relies on posthumous evidence, rather than on any solid contemporaneous evidence. In the genre of literary biographies for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd string Elizabethan and Jacobean writers, that is a unique phenomenon. In the course of his commentary on my book, Prof. Nelson has himself engaged in special pleading, by selectively departing from the standards otherwise evident in the genre of literary biographies, as I demonstrate below.

The argument which is most important to Price concerns the “literary trail” which she thinks must necessarily have been left by any author of the time … why she thinks so is never fully explained.

Prof. Nelson must have missed some introductory material in Chapter 1, including Gerald Eades Bentley’s comments concerning “letters to or from or about William Shakespeare” or “diaries or accounts of his friends.” According to Bentley, it is “personal material of this sort which provides the foundation of most biographies” (Handbook, 4-5).

Prof. Nelson must have also missed the opening paragraphs to Chapter 8, which read in part: “Biographers construct their narratives around documentary evidence. Some types of documentation are of a general character, such as christening, marriage, or tax records. Such records tell us that someone was born or paid taxes, but they do not necessarily tell us about the person’s profession. Other types of evidence, however, are specific to a vocation or make incidental reference to an occupation. … Shakspere’s biography is presumably about a writer. … a man of letters may be expected to leave behind personal records that reveal his chosen vocation.”

That expectation turns out to be reasonable. Each of the 24 other writers in the survey did leave behind such personal records that attest to their vocation of writing. Shakspere is the only one who did not.

She attaches ten categories to the trail, and rates each of many authors “Yes” or blank … never “Possibly” or “Probably.” To nobody’s surprise, Shakespeare receives a blank in every category … but would you have expected otherwise?

Yes, one would expect otherwise, IF Shakspere was the writer we are told that he was. If I can find hard documentary evidence for everyone else, why should biographers need to make an exception for Shakspere, i.e., admit evidence that has to be qualified with a “possibly” or a “maybe”? Shakespeare’s work was, presumably, pre-eminent in its own time, and one should therefore expect the author’s personal literary paper trails to be up there, qualitatively speaking, with others of the first rank, namely, Ben Jonson and Edmund Spenser. He certainly should not be less well-documented than, say, George Peele, John Webster, or John Fletcher.

The ten categories represent a subset of the larger category of evidence which I define in my book as “personal literary paper trails.” The goal of the analysis is to test evidence that may support the fundamental assumption that “he was a writer.” Therefore, each piece of contemporaneous evidence is tested to determine whether it is (a) personal, and (b) related to literary activity and interests. If it satisfies both tests, it qualifies as a personal literary paper trail.

Since I don’t have the patience to go into every tired but discredited argument, every instance of special pleading, and every incorrect statement or overlooked document in her book, I will simply give my own answers to Price’s list of “paper-trail” topics:

1. Evidence of Education: Yes. Since his father was an alderman and burgess of Stratford, Shakespeare would certainly have attended the school at Stratford which was given active support by the aldermen and burgesses of Stratford for the education of their sons. On the other hand, we know for a dead certainty that Shakespeare did not attend the university (nor did Jonson): this is made clear by the Cambridge Parnassus play of about 1600.

There is no evidence of Shakspere’s education, and Prof. Nelson has not cited any. Prof. Nelson apparently has not understood that my comparative analysis is concerned with documentary evidence. His assumption that Shakspere “would certainly have attended school” based on his father’s civic standing, is not the equivalent of documentary evidence of an education. In contrast, I cite documentary evidence to support the educational training of Nashe, Spenser, Kyd, Marlowe, and Middleton, among others. There is no comparable evidence for Shakspere.

2. Record of correspondence, especially concerning literary matters: Yes, a letter was addressed to Shakespeare by Richard Quiney (1598). (The letter is not about literature, and therefore does not qualify for Price’s “especially” clause, but it does indicate that Mr. William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon was capable of reading a letter addressed to him and was thus literate).

Quiney’s letter to Shakspere concerning borrowing money is not evidence of Shakspere’s literary career; rather, it is good evidence that Shakspere was regarded as a man with financial resources. In contrast, a letter to Drummond by Drayton discussing his progress on Polyolbion is solid personal literary evidence. Quiney’s letter to Shakspere also compares poorly to Samuel Daniel’s letter to Robert Cecil, (1605), apologizing for “making the stage the speaker of my lines,” or his letter to the earl of Devonshire, 1604, explaining that “in this matter of Philotas … first I told the Lordes I had written 3 Acts of this tragedie.” There is no comparable evidence for Shakspere.

Incidentally, I do not argue that Shakspere was illiterate. On the contrary, on pp. 234-35, I argue that Shakspere did achieve basic literacy. However, inferring that Shakspere could read a letter does not prove that he was a literary giant. I doubt that even Prof. Nelson would use Quiney’s letter to argue that Shakspere was a literary giant.

3. Evidence of having been paid to write: Yes. The fact that he dedicated a second book to the earl of Southampton is evidence that he received a reward for having written the first; moreover, he was paid for an impresa in 1613, clearly as an author, since Burbage was a painter and would have done the artwork. (It must be said, however, that Shakespeare as a fellow of his company of actors would probably not have been paid directly for his plays, which instead brought him money through the commercial success which they guaranteed to his company.)

There is no documentary evidence that Shakspere was rewarded by Southampton, or ever met him. In contrast, the earl of Leicester’s accounts show a payment to “Robert Grene that presented a booke to your lordship vli.” In a letter by Sir George Carey to his wife, we read that “nashe hath dedicated a booke unto you with promis of a better, will cotton will disburs vls or xx nobles in yowr rewarde to him.” The earl of Northumberland’s accounts show a payment to “to one Geo. Peele, a poett, as my Lord’s liberality 3£.” There is no comparable evidence for Shakspere concerning rewards from his potential patron.

Despite Prof. Nelson’s assertion, the wording in the second dedication to Southampton is not evidence that patronage was received, as I go to some length to demonstrate. The dedication is couched in typically formulaic language, suggesting that the poet had heard reports of the prospective patron’s presumably generous disposition. So I reject the Lucrece dedication as evidence that Shakspere obtained patronage, but this is not, as Prof. Nelson asserts, an arbitrary disqualification. Rather, this issue provides a good example of special pleading by the orthodox in defense of Shakspere’s literary biography. By accepting the Lucrece dedication as evidence that Shakspere obtained patronage from Southampton, Prof. Nelson attempts to transmute an impersonal dedication into a personal one, thus upgrading its evidentiary value.

Perhaps it is useful to take the time here to show how another biographer dealt with this question of personal vs. impersonal dedications. In his Thomas Kyd: Facts and Problems, Arthur Freeman was considering whether Kyd did or did not know personally his dedicatee, the Countess of Sussex. Freeman analyzed the language Kyd used to address her:

All these phrases, especially the ‘service’ and ‘honourable favours past’, indicate that Kyd was personally acquainted with the Countess, and that he had been in a position to receive her favours earlier – presumably before his imprisonment. Boas comments that ‘Kyd may be merely alluding to some token of good will which she extended to him as to other men of letters, including Greene, who dedicated to her his Philomela ’. But the fact is that the ‘other men of letters’ who dedicated books to the Countess at this period did not know her personally, by their own testimony, and Kyd, by his, did. Greene presented her Philomela in 1592 because he was ‘humbly devoted to the Right honourable Lord Fitzwalters your husband’, but the Countess herself he knew by repute only. Likewise the publisher William Bailey, who dedicated a book of lute music to her in 1596, writes of ‘your Honourable Ladyship, whom I have heard so well reported of.’ (Freeman, 33)

In the dedication to Lucrece, Shakespeare writes that “the warrant I have of your Honourable disposition” made his poem “assured of acceptance.” In other words, Shakespeare had heard reports of Southampton’s presumably generous disposition, just as Bailey writes of “your Honourable Ladyship, whom I have heard so well reported of.” Freeman is demonstrating the same standard to test personal vs. impersonal evidence. One must suspend this standard in order to use the Lucrece dedication as evidence that Shakspere succeeded in gaining patronage from, or personally knew Southampton.

With respect to the impresa payment, the document in question provides inadequate evidence with which to draw any conclusion with confidence. The record does not contain the first name of the payee (although the association with Burbage lends weight to the assumption that William is indeed the payee), but unlike the payment to Burbage “for painting and making it,” there is no specification as to the capacity in which “Mr. Shakspeare” was paid, whether it was to write a motto, fashion an equestrian accessory, or act as agent for someone else. Of three interpretations offered by orthodox scholars, I expect that Stopes’s hunch that Shakspere was paid as an agent for someone else is the correct one. Prof. Nelson’s assertion that Shakspere was paid “clearly as an author” is unsupported by the record in question.

4. Evidence of a direct relationship with a patron: Yes, the earl of Southampton.

There is no evidence that Shakspere ever met, much less established a direct or personal relationship with Southampton. In contrast, John Florio dedicated his Italian-English Dictionary to the “most Honorable earl of Southampton, in whose pay and patronage I have lived some years.” Spenser’s dedication of Colin Clouts Come Home Againe to Sir Walter Raleigh refers to his “infinite debt” owed for “singular favours and sundry good turns.” The language in Florio’s and Spenser’s dedications is comparable to that used in Kyd’s to the Countess of Sussex (see extract from Freeman’s discussion, above). There is no comparable evidence for Shakspere and Southampton.

5. Extant original manuscript: Yes, if Hand D in The Book of Sir Thomas More is his.

The case for “Hand D” as Shakespeare’s was advanced by A.W. Pollard and several others in 1923 in an attempt to counter the anti-Stratfordian challenge, coming at that time from Sir George Greenwood and Mark Twain. Pollard and his colleagues were attempting to compensate for the deficiency of Shakspere’s personal literary paper trails, which my comparative analysis has clearly exposed. Although there is insufficient evidence with which to make a paleographic case for “Hand D” as Shakespeare’s, such a case was advanced nonetheless. The balance of arguments introduced to corroborate the paleographic case are inconclusive. Please click on More and page forward to pages 127-133 for the section of my essay that addresses this topic more fully.

Prof. Nelson would allow a checkmark in this category, qualified with a very big “If.” For other writers, however, there is no need to enter a provisional checkmark qualified with “If,” because we have handwritten manuscripts of the creative work of, e.g., Jonson, Nashe, Massinger, Harvey, Daniel, Peele, Drummond, Munday, Middleton, and Heywood. There is no such evidence for Shakspere.

6. Handwritten inscriptions, receipts, letters, etc., touching on literary matters. Yes. In a sense this category merely repeats “Record of correspondence” above. But a letter survives in the hand of Leonard Digges, who in 1613 compared the sonnets of Lope de Vega to those of “our Will Shakespeare” - notice the use of the familiar “Will” by a close neighbor of Shakespeare’s in both Aldermarston and in London.

Leonard Digges’s notation concerning “our Will Shakespeare” is found in an inscription (not a letter) written on the fly-leaf of a book by Lope de Vega. Notice that Digges uses the impersonal “our.” Had Digges written “my good friend Will Shakespeare,” Prof. Nelson would have had a point. Although Digges and Shakspere lived within proximity to one another, there is no evidence that the two men knew, or ever met each other.

7. Commendatory verses, epistles, or epigrams contributed or received: Yes, first and foremost in the First Folio, but also in numerous contemporary manuscripts and printed books.

The Folio testimony is indeed personal and literary and therefore can be used to support the statement “Shakspere’s vocation was writing.” But, as I conclude in chapter 10, “the authorship attribution in the Folio constitutes the first historical evidence identifying Shakspere in personal terms as the dramatist. The evidence is posthumous, and for no other writer of Shakespeare’s time period are we asked to trust such ambiguous and belated information, uncorroborated by any solid documentation left during the author’s life, as evidence of authorship.”

The balance of testimony to which Prof. Nelson may refer will be either impersonal evidence (such as title pages), impersonal allusions (such as Weever’s sonnet about Shakespeare), or posthumous references. Prof. Nelson will not be able to cite any personal allusions or evidence comparable to that cited for other writers from the time period; the evidence collected in the appendix for the two dozen writers is hardly exhaustive, but it is representative. Whereas Scoloker writes of “Friendly Shakespeare’s Tragedies,” with no hint of any personal knowledge of Shakespeare, other writers refer to their “beloved friend,” “their approved good friend,” their “honest as loving friend,” etc. There is no comparable personal evidence for Shakspere.

8. Miscellaneous records (e.g., referred to personally as a writer): Yes, many such records in print, including Meres (1598) who reports that Shakespeare’s sonnets were circulating among his private friends (an astonishingly personalized revelation!), and Thomas Heywood’s reference (1612) to Shakespeare’s being upset over a book of poems published by Jaggard.

Prof. Nelson has apparently not understood the distinction between personal and impersonal evidence, despite the attention I give to that distinction in chapter 8. If the testimony need not require firsthand knowledge of the subject, if an allusion demonstrates familiarity only with the written work (and not the author), or if it merely expresses the common opinion, it is impersonal, not personal evidence.

It may be that Prof. Nelson is simply following the lead of other orthodox scholars. On pp. 137-38 of my book, I show how Samuel Schoenbaum transmutes impersonal literary allusions (e.g., “Friendly Shakespeare’s Tragedies” and “so dear loved a neighbour…Shakespeare”) into personal evidence of Shakspere’s circle of friends and acquaintances.

In Meres’s case, there is no evidence that he knew who Shakespeare was. As I point out in the section dealing with Palladis Tamia, “Meres could have written his commentary based on what he had been reading, seeing, or hearing around town. In contrast, one could claim that Meres knew the poet Barnfield, because he described him as his ‘friend master Richard Barnfield.’ But Meres named dozens of writers in his section on English poets, and no one would suppose that he personally knew every single one of them” (135).

9. Evidence of books owned, written in, borrowed, or given: Yes, possibly, in a book now at Stratford and in another at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. (This category perhaps deserves a blank, but it does not merit a positive “No.”)

Not one book has been authenticated as having been owned by Shakspere, so Prof. Nelson has again demonstrated the need for special pleading in Shakspere’s case. For Jonson and Harvey, Spenser, and Drummond, we don’t have to say “yes, possibly” they owned books. We can say, “yes, certainly,” because we have their books. And for Nashe, Chapman, Marston, Lodge, and Fletcher, we have other evidence that they owned, wrote in, or were bequeathed books, so we don’t have to suppose a “maybe” for their access to books either. Once again, Prof. Nelson cannot cite evidence for Shakspere comparable in quality to that for his lesser contemporaries.  

10. Notice at death as a writer: Yes, positively and abundantly, in a poem written by William Basse; the literary allusions (including to Virgil) in the Funeral Monument; and above all in the First Folio, which is the greatest tribute to a recently-deceased writer in all of English literature.

As I have noted several times, “The authorship attribution in the Folio constitutes the first historical evidence identifying Shakspere in personal terms as the dramatist. The evidence is posthumous, and for no other writer of Shakespeare’s time period are we asked to trust such ambiguous and belated information, uncorroborated by any solid documentation left during the author’s life, as evidence of authorship.” And considering the presumed magnitude and impact of Shakespeare’s career during his lifetime, one reasonably expects to find the type of contemporaneous professional documentation one finds so readily for his lesser contemporaries. By continuing to cite the First Folio as the definitive evidence supporting Shakspere’s literary biography, critics merely reinforce my point: there is no evidence left during Shakspere’s lifetime that likewise qualifies as both personal and literary. It is a unique deficiency.

You will note, if you have read Price’s book with care, how hard she has worked to discount all evidence which could possibly contribute to a “Yes” response for Shakespeare in any of her categories. In fact, the selective demolition of evidence is what her entire book is about.

In my analysis, I employed consistent standards to qualify or disqualify evidence as a “personal literary paper trail.” It will be evident that I did not play favorites when one looks at the evidence I rejected for other writers from the time period (see below). In accepting or rejecting evidence, I merely followed the guidelines or examples found in other biographies, such as that cited above from Freeman’s biography of Kyd. I simply made no exceptions for Shakspere.

In every biography that I analyzed, including Shakspere’s, I found contemporaneous documentary evidence of the individual’s professional or vocational activity. For two dozen writers, that professional evidence supported the statement that “he was a writer.” However, in Shakspere’s case, the professional evidence supported his activities as a shareholding actor, real estate investor, commodity trader, and landlord, but not a writer. Not until 1623 is there personal literary evidence for Shakspere.

If Price had worked with equal diligence to discredit the evidence which applies to other writers of the period, she would have succeeded in reducing all historical evidence of any kind whatsoever to utter meaninglessness. Fortunately, all one has to do is to watch for Price’s instances of special pleading, dismiss any associated arguments, and let the documentation which survives this exercise speak for itself.

I did work with equal diligence to accept or disqualify evidence for other writers. Among the evidence that did not qualify, and my reason for rejecting the following as personal literary paper trails, are:

Finally, I agree that the documentation speaks for itself, and that is why I compiled the appendix of comparative evidence for Shakspere and two dozen of his contemporaries.

Alan Nelson’s Reply to Diana Price’s Reply

Prof. Alan Nelson’s reply to my rebuttal was posted on his website at socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/ but is no longer accessible at the link. Following is the text of his rebuttal in blue, with the author’s response (indented).

Diana Price’s reply to my “review” is just another instance of special pleading. To avoid an exponential inflation of argument I limit myself to one topic, from which the reader may extrapolate to others.

I will concentrate on Price’s Topic 6, which she herself entitles: “Handwritten inscriptions, receipts, letters, etc., touching on literary matters.”

In her reply, Price overlooks the point of her own argument, for in 1613, while Shakespeare was still alive, Leonard Digges composed a handwritten inscription directly concerning William Shakespeare and directly touching on literary matters. Regardless of anything else, Price’s analysis of this particular topic should have led her to respond with an unequivocal YES. Thus this single topic demolishes her controlling thesis that William Shakespeare fails to qualify in a single one of her categories.

Price asserts that Digges did not write a letter in 1613, but merely an inscription. This is a quibble. Yes, Digges wrote on a flyleaf of a book, but what he wrote on that flyleaf is clearly a letter, addressed to “Will Baker” and signed “Leo: Digges".

With respect to an acquaintanceship, Price asserts:

Although Digges and Shakspere lived within proximity to one another, there is no evidence that the two men knew, or ever met each other.

In point of historical and documentary fact, there is an extraordinarily close family connection between the two: Leonard Digges was the step-son (from 1603) of Thomas Russell, a man who was not only a neighbor of Shakespeare’s both in London and in Stratford, but whom Shakespeare remembered in his will, and indeed appointed one of the two overseers of his will.

In short: Leonard Digges was the step-son of Shakespeare’s particularly close personal friend and overseer.

So close was Digges himself to Shakespeare that he called him not “Shakespeare," “William Shakespeare,” or “Mr. Shakespeare,” but - with singular affection and using his nick-name - “our Will Shakespeare".

With regard to the latter, Price states:

Notice that Digges uses the impersonal “our.” Had Digges written “my good friend Will Shakespeare," Prof. Nelson would have had a point.

But to assert that “our” is impersonal while “my” is personal is both inaccurate and tendentious, for “our” is simply the plural of “my", entirely appropriate in a literary discussion among three close friends, Will Baker, James Mabbe, and Leonard Digges.

Note that Price goes so far as to specify the language she would consider acceptable; since the language she specifies does not occur here, she rules the phrase - and the document - out of court.

Granted that the phrase in question could mean “our (English) Will Shakespeare” as well as “our (common friend) Will Shakespeare,” Price has no grounds beyond sheer personal bias for prefering the first of these two significations over the second. Perhaps more important as concerns her argument, even the second remains a “Handwritten inscription, touching on literary matters.”

Diana Price responds

Prof. Nelson and I disagree over whether Digges’s allusion to Shakespeare is personal or impersonal. This distinction is critical in the construction of biography. As I demonstrate in my book (137-38), Shakespeare’s biographers, including Samuel Schoenbaum, convert impersonal allusions to Shakespeare’s works into personal evidence of his character and circle of friends. Yet, as many biographers of other subjects have pointed out, some allusions “are of a purely literary character and necessitate no personal knowledge” (Harold Jenkins, The Life and Work of Henry Chettle, London, 1934: 11).

Leonard Digges’s comments about Lope de Vega and Shakespeare is an impersonal allusion, and fortunately, the inscription is sufficiently straightforward as to leave no room for doubt. Here is the full text of the inscription (Paul Morgan, Shakespeare Survey #16, 1963: 118-20):

Will Baker: Knowinge
that Mr Mab: was to
sende you this Booke
of sonnets, wch with Spaniards
here is accounted of their
lope de Vega as in Englande
wee sholde of o[u]r: Will
Shakespeare. I colde not
but insert thus much to
you, that if you like
him not, you muste never
never reade Spanishe Poet
Leo: Digges

This is not about mutual friends, it’s about comparing the reputations of two poets who are recognized as the pride of their respective countries. Digges compares Lope de Vega’s literary reputation in Spain with Shakespeare’s in England ("which with Spaniards here is accounted of their lope de Vega as in Englande wee sholde of o[u]r : Will Shakespeare” [emphases added]. There is nothing in this inscription to suggest that Digges was a friend of, or was known to Shakespeare.

Digges’s inscription to Will Baker is evidence that Digges knew Baker; that Digges at one time had possession of this book; that he considered Lope de Vega an excellent writer; and that in his opinion, Shakespeare’s works deserved to be esteemed in England as Lope de Vega’s were in Spain. This literary opinion is consistent with Digges’s two poems about Shakespeare. But the inscription is not evidence that Digges knew the man who wrote the works of Shakespeare, nor for that matter, Lope de Vega. Digges’s impersonal allusion to Shakespeare can be transmuted into personal evidence only by special pleading.

Leonard Digges subsequently wrote two poems on Shakespeare: the first, published in the 1623 First Folio, refers openly to the playwright’s Stratford monument; the second, published in 1640 (but written like the first about 1622), openly credits Shakespeare with the enduring success of his company, the King’s Men.

My point is proved: for Price to deny the obvious significance of Leonard Digges’s letter of 1613 is nothing but special pleading.

The assumption that Digges and Shakespeare were personally acquainted is widely held, so I will take this opportunity to comment further. Morgan, who introduced Digges’s inscription in the Shakespeare Survey, qualifies his statements about Digges and Shakespeare; Morgan cites Leslie Hotson’s I, William Shakespeare, and concludes that “it seems certain that Digges was personally acquainted with his great contemporary” (118-19). The reason that Morgan must write that “it seems certain,” as opposed to “it is certain” is quite simple. It is not certain. The very allusion Morgan was introducing did not remove doubt, as his own qualified statement demonstrates. Since there is no documentary evidence showing that the two men knew each other, and no personal literary allusions, Shakespeare’s and Digges’s personal relationship remains a matter of conjecture.

As far as we know, Leonard Digges wrote about Shakespeare three times, the flyleaf inscription being the first. He also wrote two tributes to Shakespeare, one published in the 1623 First Folio, the other in the 1640 edition of Shakespeare’s Poems. According to John Freehafer ("Leonard Digges, Ben Jonson, and the Beginning of Shakespeare Idolatry," Shakespeare Quarterly 21, winter 1970, 63-75), Digges’s tributes “refer vividly to the early staging and criticism of Shakespeare’s plays, reveal an exceptional enthusiasm for those plays, and record the views of a scholar who was associated with the Shakespeare circle in both Stratford and London” (63). To support his statement that Digges was “associated with the Shakespeare circle,” Freehafer cites pp. 237-59 of Leslie Hotson’s I, William Shakespeare.

But Leslie Hotson’s discussion of the links between the Digges family, Thomas Russell, and Shakespeare, provides no evidence that Shakespeare knew Digges, either. Shakespeare’s will is good evidence that he and Thomas Russell were acquainted, but it does not tell us that Shakespeare knew Thomas Russell’s family, including Russell’s step-son, Leonard. Hotson says that Digges “in his youth in Aldermanbury had well known the actors Heminges and Condell; and finally he had grown up under his stepfather’s care as Shakespeare’s neighbor and friend at Alderminster by Stratford” (244). But this is an assumption that relies on proximity, on the assumption that two people living in the same neighborhood know each other. A few degrees of separation does not constitute evidence of personal relationships.

The circumstances under which Digges contributed his poem to the First Folio point, not to Shakespeare, but to Digges’s documented relationship with one of its publishers, Edward Blount. Arthur W. Secord points out that “commendatory verses were sometime written in the interest of the publisher," and he argues that this was the case with the First Folio ("I.M. of the First Folio of Shakespeare and Other Mabbe Problems," Journal of English and German Philology 47, 1948: 374-81). Hotson (244) likewise supposes that Blount “was probably responsible" for soliciting verses from James Mabbe and Leonard Digges. (The case for Mabbe as the author of the poem subscribed with “I.M” in the Folio was summarized by Secord and is accepted today by most scholars.)

Blount published Digges’s translation of Claudian in 1617 and his translation of Cespeses’s Gerardo the year before the Folio. In 1623, Digges contributed an impersonal commendatory verse to Guzman’s The Rogue, translated by James Mabbe, and published by Blount. Ben Jonson wrote verse for Mabbe’s book, and Blount had published Jonson’s 1605 Sejanus. Finally, Hotson (255) cites Digges’s letter to one Philip Washington in 1632, with the postscript: “I pray send the enclosed to Ned Blount,” further corroborating their relationship. In short, Digges’s poem in the First Folio is accounted for by his documented relationship with Blount, but his personal relationship with Shakespeare remains a matter of speculation.

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This article was first published in the Elizabethan Review.

View the PDF here.

This article was first published at 72 Tenn. L. Rev. 111 (2004) and appears here by permission of the Tennessee Law Review Association, Inc.

View the PDF here.

This article was published in Journal of Early Modern Studies (JEMS vol. 5. March 2016.

View the PDF here.

Note: The summary here is adapted from the article in Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 42 (2003): 62-78. The author gratefully acknowledges the kind permission of Peter Greenfield, then editor of Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama (RORD), for permission to reproduce the box office chart.

The hypothesis : “Henslowe’s “ne” marks a performance at which twice the usual admission fee was charged at the doors to the Rose, whether that performance was — or was not — the premiere. The probable scale of admissions for the Rose, with estimated capacity in parentheses, can be summarized as:

1d for the yard (500)

2d for the galleries or two-penny rooms (1,568)

3d for the gentlemen’s room (40)

6d for admission to the lords’ room and possibly, for a stool on-stage (16)

The largest receipts generated by a non- “ne” performance are only a few shillings less than the largest “ne” receipts, so not all admission fees could have been doubled. The double price evidently was charged only at the main entrances to the theater. Playgoers continuing on to a gallery then paid the usual extra penny, not two extra pennies. Those heading for the gentlemen’s rooms presumably paid the usual third penny after having passed through the main door and the gallery door at the stairwell. Gallery admissions were the same for “ne” and non- “ne” performances, and Henslowe did not benefit from the second penny charged at the main entrances at “ne” performances. So the differential between “ne” and non- “ne” revenues cannot be explained by the take at the main gates.

However, the playgoers occupying the most expensive seats did not enter the theater through the main doors. They entered through the tiring-house door. And Henslowe would benefit from those admissions. If Henslowe charged sixteen lord’s room customers at double the usual rate (i.e., 12d) at the tiring-house door at “ne” performances, he could gross up to 192d or 16s. His 50% share would be 96d or 8s, so at maximum capacity, “ne” sums would exceed non- “ne” sums by approximately 4s. Three projected “box office” statements for three performances (see below) support this assumption.  

In his papers, Henslowe twice recorded numerical tables in which “n” stands for the numeral “2,” so “ne” may be his shorthand for the word “twice ” or “double ” (2 plus the final “e” in “twice” or “double.”)

If “ne” signifies “twice” the usual entry fee for plays so marked between February 1592 and November 1597, then such “ne” plays may be newly-composed, newly revised, or simply promoted at twice the price, perhaps to cash in on a play’s popularity or a special occasion. So while it is possible to infer that many, probably most of the plays marked “ne” were new, at least to Henslowe, a “ne” annotation is not prima facie evidence that the play was newly-composed. Conversely, a non- “ne” play is not necessarily an old one.

Dr Faustus Harry vi Tragedy of the Gyves
non-"ne" (Sept. 30, 1594) ne (March 3, 1592) ne (30 January 1593)
Main Gate gathering stations Projected capacity Admission fee Paid Attendance Revenue (pence) Admission fee Paid Attendance Revenue (pence) Admission fee Paid Attendance Revenue (pence)
1 Groundlings 500 1 500 500 2 500 1,000 2 500 1,000
2 Galleries 1,568 1 1,552 1,552 2 1,568 3,136 2 1,504 3,008
3 Gentlemen’s rooms 40 1 40 40 2 40 80 2 40 80
Galleries gathering stations
4 Two-penny rooms 1 1,552 1,552 1 1,568 1,568 1 1,504 1,504
5 Gentlemen’s rooms 1 40 40 1 40 40 1 40 40
6 Doors to Gentlemen’s rooms 1 40 40 1 40 40 1 40 40
7 Tiring-house door: lords’ room (& stools?) 16 6 16 96 12 16 192 12 16 192
8 Total attendance (lines 1,2,3,7) 2,124 2,108 2,124 2,060
9 Gross revenue for galleries and tiring-house (lines 4-7) 1,728 1,840 1,776
Henslowe’s 50% share of line 9 (pence) 864 920 888

Figure 1. Three “box office statements” for the Rose playhouse. These statements attempt to reconcile one possible configuration of the Rose and admission scale, with the sums of money that Henslowe recorded.

Principal bibliography for this article appears here; additional bibliography appears in the notes to the original article.

Astington, John H. “Playhouses, Players and Playgoers in Shakespeare’s Time” in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare, ed. Margreta de Grazia and Stanley Wells (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001: 99-113).

Baskervill, C.R. “The Custom of Sitting on the Elizabethan Stage,” in Modern Philology 8 (April 1911): 581-89.

Berry, Herbert. “Playhouses, 1560-1660” in English Professional Theatre, 1530-1660, ed. Glynne Wickham, Herbert Berry, and William Ingram (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000).

Cook, Ann Jennalie. The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare’s London, 1576-1642 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1981.

Foakes, R.A. “The Discovery of the Rose Theatre: Some Implications,” in Shakespeare Survey 45 (1991): 141-48.

Foakes, R.A. & R.T. Rickert, ed. Henslowe’s Diary, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

Greg, W.W. ed. Henslowe’s Diary, 2 vols. London: A.H. Bullen, 1904-8.

Gurr, Andrew, and John Orrell. “What the Rose Can Tell Us,” in Times Literary Supplement (June 9-15, 1989): 636, 649.

─────. Rebuilding Shakespeare’s Globe. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.

Harbage, Alfred Shakespeare’s Audience (1941; paperback edition, New York: Columbia UP, 1961.

Hosley, Richard. “A Reconstruction of the Fortune Playhouse: Part II,” in The Elizabethan Theatre VII, ed. G.R. Hibbard (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1980): 1-20.

─────. “The Theatre and the Tradition of Playhouse Design” in The First Public Playhouse: The Theatre in Shoreditch, ed. Herbert Berry (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1979): 47-79.

─────. “A Reconstruction of the Fortune Playhouse: Part I,” in The Elizabethan Theatre VI, ed. George Hibbard (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1978):1-20.

─────. “The Playhouses” in The Revels History of Drama in English, 1576-1613, vol. 3, ed. J. Leeds Barroll, Alexander Leggatt, Richard Hosley, and Alvin Kernan (London: Methuen and Co., 1975:119-235).

─────. “The Gallery over the Stage in the Public Playhouse of Shakespeare’s Time,” Shakespeare Quarterly 8:1 (1957): 15-31.

Knutson, Roslyn L. “The Repertory” in John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan, ed., A New History of Early English Drama (New York: Columbia UP, 1997: 461-80).

─────. “The Puzzle of Short Runs in Henslowe’s Diary,Publications of the Arkansas Philological Assoc. (1987): 54-67

─────.  “Henslowe’s Diary and the Economics of Play Revision for Revival, 1592-1603,” Theatre Research International 10:1 (1985): 1-18,

─────. “Henslowe’s Naming of Parts: Entries in the Diary for Tamar Cham, 1592-3 and Godfrey of Bullouigne, 1594-5,” in Notes and Queries (April 1983: 157-60).

─────. The Repertory of Shakespeare’s Company 1594-1613 (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1961).

Lawrence, W.J. “Early Systems of Admission” in The Elizabethan Playhouse and Other Studies, Second Series (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1913: 95-118).

─────. “The Situation of the Lords’ Room” in The Elizabethan Playhouse and Other Studies I (1912; reprint, New York: Russell and Russell, 1963) 29-40;

Rutter, Carol Chillington. Documents of the Rose Playhouse,Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984.

Wilson, F.P. “Lambarde, The Bel Savage, and The Theatre,” in Notes and Queries (March 1963), 92-93.

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Note: For convenience, I use “Shakespeare” when referring to the author of the plays and poems, and “Shakspere” when referring to the man from Stratford; original spellings are in quotation marks.

On an overlong thread of exchanges below my Amazon.com review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy (ed. Wells and Edmonton), Tom Reedy pointed out that by 1599, when the College of Heralds evidently approved the applications for John Shakspere’s coat of arms, son William was automatically entitled to style himself “Mr” and to use a version of the arms.

In my book, I state that William was entitled to style himself “gent” only after his father died; his father never used the term “gent” and the Burial Register record did not identify him as “gent,” only as “Mr.” John Shakspere. John had been entitled to use the honorific “Mr” by virtue of his one term as bailiff (the equivalent of a modern-day mayor) of Stratford-on-Avon. Reedy elsewhere recommended reference to B. Roland Lewis’s The Shakespeare Documents, which, ironically enough, was the source for my mistaken impression, as indicated in my citation (which Mr. Reedy seems to have missed).

When researching this subject, I had consulted Lewis and several sources in his bibliography, including Guy Rothery. When I consulted Fox-Davies, I failed to find the section setting forth the protocols for eldest sons. Subsequently, after taking note of Mr. Reedy’s correction, I revisited Fox-Davies and found a section under the term “label”: “The eldest son during the lifetime of his father differences his arms by a label of three points couped at the ends…succeeding to the undifferenced shield on the death of his father” (487). Since, by definition a gentleman is “a man entitled to bear arms,” then by extension, the eldest son, bearing a ‘differenced’ coat of arms, could style himself a “gentleman” (Fox-Davies, 21). In general, I have found Lewis to be reliable, but my spot-check of his bibliography was obviously insufficient in this case, and Shakspere was entitled to style himself “Mr” in 1599.

For Mr. Reedy, this is no trifling detail. He claims that the grant of the coat of arms immediately conferred on son William the title “Mr.”, and that this styling, in turn, proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that William of Stratford wrote the plays. Mr. Reedy’s slam-dunk is based on the 23 August 1600 entry in the Stationers Register (SR) of Much Ado About Nothing and Henry IV(2), both recorded as “Wrytten by master Shakespere” (Arber, 3:170).1 (Neither title page contains the word “master”). So the “master” in the SR entry, according to Mr. Reedy, proves that Shakespeare of Stratford was the dramatist.

However, an entry in the SR is not a personal literary paper trail. Like title-pages, entries in the Stationers Registers are not necessarily reliable with respect to authorship or attribution, and they are usually impersonal evidence, i.e., the information and details could appear without any involvement by the actual author. For example, the SR entry for A Yorkshire Tragedy (as well as the title page, printed in 1608) reads “by Wylliam Shakespere” (Greg, 16), although almost all scholars consider it a play by Thomas Middleton (Proudfoot, 60-61; Vickers, “Authorship,” 113). Titles themselves can also falsely claim authorship, such as Greene’s Groatsworth of Witte (1592) or Willobie His Avisa (1594). The SR is similarly unreliable for the 8 November 1623 SR (and title-page) for the First Folio, which reads in part “Mr William Shakspeers … Henry the eight … Timon of Athens … and Mackbeth,” despite the identification of numerous co-authors, such as John Fletcher and Thomas Middleton (Vickers, “Incomplete,” 311). As Tiffany Stern demonstrates, catalogue and license entries are unreliable sources for play titles and authorship (“Forgery,” 557-58).

The matter of son William’s entitlement to style himself “Mr” and use the “label” or differenced arms upon approval from the College of Heralds ca. 1599 raises yet more issues as a telling microcosm of Shakespearean biography. In his two-volume Facts and Problems, Chambers spends over fourteen pages on the coat of arms, including speculation on the Arden arms proposed for exemplification, but he has not a word to say about son William’s role in it all (he introduces a scene from Every Man Out of His Humour : “Sogliardo’s motto seems to glance at Shakespeare’s, although the coat does not resemble his” and specifies further reservations about including the allusion (2:202-3). Rothery states that it was son William’s ambition that drove the coat of arms application but does not elaborate on the protocols. I do not recall any biographer or historian presenting this information, not even Robert Bearman, when he was considering the evidence of William’s social ambitions and pretensions in his book on the Stratford Records (17, 43). The protocol certainly strengthens his case that William was indeed a social-climbing upstart, pursuing the trappings and stylings of the upwardly mobile and aspiring landed gentry.

Do any biographers have something to say about the eldest son’s entitlement to privileges immediately upon approval by the College of Heralds? And, more importantly, do they make the connection to the SR entry for Much Ado and H4(2) ? They do not. E.K. Chambers doesn’t, not in his sections on the relevant quartos nor in the coat of arms section ([William] “could of course have made a fresh application in his own name, which would have been irregular during his father’s lifetime” (2:23). Sidney Lee doesn’t (281-87). Neither does Samuel Schoenbaum; “John Shakespeare renewed his application- or, more likely, his son did … it was proper that the grant be made to the oldest male in the direct line … There was nothing, however, to prevent the eldest son from setting into motion the machinery for a grant in which the entire family would take pride” (227-28; see also 38-39). James Shapiro surely would have reported on this matter in Contested Will, but all he says is that “the Shakespeares’ request in 1596 for a grant of a coat of arms – bestowing on the Stratford glover and his actor son the status of gentlemen” (19) (he doesn’t mention the matter in A Year in the Life). Matus doesn’t mention it, either. After mentioning the coat of arms for father John, Arthur F. Kinney states that “in time, William would have a coat of arms too” (2), so he evidently did not assume William’s automatic entitlement. In the same volume, James Kearney likewise stated that the status so obtained for the father would, in theory, be inherited by the dutiful son” (183).

The Oxford Textual Companion editors don’t make the connection (351, 371). Neither does the Arden Two editor of Much Ado or Henry IV(2), and he factors into the date of Much Ado considerations based, not on the coat of arms, but on Kemp’s departure from the company early in 1599 (3); the Arden 3 editor of Much Ado is also silent on the matter (McEachern, 125-27).

Why are all these major biographers and editors silent on the matter, if indeed Mr. Reedy is correct to claim that the SR entry is the clinching piece of evidence that Shakspere of Stratford was the dramatist? If a title-page is not necessarily reliable evidence of attribution or authorship, an entry in the SR cannot compensate for that unreliability. Perhaps biographers missed the details, or perhaps they intuitively understand that an entry in the SR is not reliable evidence of authorship or attribution, and so remain silent.

I would propose that the “mr” does have some significance in the interpretation of other evidence. In particular, it strengthens the case for Sogliardo as a satirical portrait of Shakspere, and it reinforces the other important documentary evidence of his social posturing and ambitions, i.e., the exemplification of the purchase of New Place, and particular provisions in his last will.  Upon correcting the necessary sentences, the unorthodox narrative does not change much.

However, it presents more of an obstacle to Robert Bearman’s recent reinvestigation into the New Place exemplification documentation, in which he attempts to reconsider some claims in his earlier Shakespeare in the Stratford Records. In his 1994 book, Bearman speculated that Shakspere, “like the other ‘new’ gentry of his time, was indulging in a little harmless snobbery. There are many other examples of middle-class families who invested their money in lands… . They then had their title to these secured by elaborate certified copies of their deeds, and kept the College of Heralds busy by making tenuous claims to a right to bear a coat of arms in order to secure entry into the élite band of gentry. We cannot assume that Shakespeare was above such things” (18).

Bearman’s 2012 article proposes a more altruistic narrative: “Far from being an ostentatious display of newly acquired wealth, Shakespeare’s acquisition of New Place may instead be interpreted simply as his taking advantage of an opportunity to provide a home not only for his wife and children but also perhaps his parents and three of four unmarried siblings” (485). Bearman further suggests that the exemplification may have been obtained instead “to ensure that his agreement with Underhill [the seller] by final concord was given additional weight by arranging for its exemplification” (483), in other words as a legal safeguard “to a sale by final concord only” (485). Putting a more charitable spin to the narrative will place that narrative in more conflict with the balance of evidence attesting to Shakspere’s selfish opportunism and mean streak, such as the evidence of Thomas Whittington’s will; the evident lack of effort made to ensure father John’s burial in the parish register as a “gent.”; and especially the terms of Shakspere’s last will, including bequests to his close circle of upwardly-mobile landowners and businessmen, and his less-than-loving treatment of his daughters and widow (Honigmann, “Businessman,” 41; Price, 302-4).

My unorthodox narrative is, if anything, strengthened by the coat of arms and Shakspere’s immediate entitlements. Jonson’s satirical portrayal of Sogliardo’s purchase of a coat of arms gains more immediacy and bite. If my theory is correct, if Shakespeare bought and sold, or traded in costumes, properties, and playbooks, then the 1600 SR entry reflects “mr” Shakspere’s role as an agent of transmission. His surviving theatrical evidence, and a comparison of that evidence with evidence in which other business agents, whether John Heming, Christopher Beeston, or Thomas Greene, are named, supports the theory. These unorthodox narratives theory are reinforced by the testimony of George Buc, the Heywood apology, Battillus allusions, and so on (Price, e.g., 61-65, 102-8,108-11).

In conclusion, my statement (67) that William needed to wait until his father died to adopt the coat of arms and title for himself stands corrected, but the SR entry does not constitute proof, as Mr. Reedy claims, that Shakspere wrote Much Ado About Nothing,  Henry IV(2) or A Yorkshire Tragedy.

1 Mr. Reedy’s exasperation notwithstanding, the actual wording of the entry in the SR, i.e., whether it reads “Mr” or “Master,” is understandably a matter of some confusion, especially for those without immediate access to Arber. In his Bibliography, Greg cites the SR wording as both “mr Shakespere” and then “Shakespere” with no title (16, 272, 274). Chambers’s SR entry reports “master Shakespeare” (1:377, 1:384), and he cites Arber. The Arden 2 editor, A.R. Humphreys cites “master Shakespere” for both Much Ado (2-3) and H4 (2) (xi). Wells and Taylor cite “mr Shakespere” (351). The Malone Society Reprint of Henry IV(2) has “Wrytten by mr Shakespere” (v). The terms “master” and “Mr” would appear, for many scholars, to be interchangeable.


Arber, Edward. A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554-1650 A.D. 5 vols. 1875-94. Reprint, New York: Peter Smith, 1950.

Bearman, Robert. Shakespeare in the Stratford Records. Stroud, UK: Alan Sutton, 1994.

─────. “Shakespeare’s Purchase of New Place.” in Shakespeare Quarterly 63.4 (2012): 465-486.

Chambers, E. K. William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems. 2 vols. 1930. Reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Fox-Davies, A.C. A Complete Guide To Heraldry. 3rd ed. 1909, reprint, New York: Gramercy Books, 1993.

Greg, W. W. A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration. Vol. 1, “Stationer’s Records, Plays to 1616: Nos. 1-349.” London: Oxford University Press, 1939.

Honan, Park. Shakespeare: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Honigmann, E.A.J. “’There Is a World Elsewhere’: William Shakespeare, Businessman.” In Werner Habich, D. J. Palmer, and Roger Pringle, eds., Images of Shakespeare: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the International Shakespeare Association, 1986, 40-46. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1988.

Humphreys, A. R., ed. 2 Henry IV. The Arden Shakespeare Second Series. 1966. Reprint, New York: Routledge, 1989.

Humphreys, A. R., ed. Much Ado About Nothing. The Arden Shakespeare Second Series. 1981. Reprint, London: Routledge, 1991.

Kearny, James. “Status” in The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare, 182-201. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Kinney, Arthur F., ed. “Introduction” in Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare, 1-12. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Lee, Sidney. A Life of William Shakespeare . 6th ed. London: Smith, Elder, 1908.

Lewis, B. Roland. The Shakespeare Documents: Facsimiles, Transliterations, Translations, and Commentary . 2 vols. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1940.

Matus, Irvin Leigh. Shakespeare: In Fact. New York: Continuum, 1994.

McEachern, Claire, ed. Much Ado About Nothing. The Arden Shakespeare Third Series. London: Methuen Drama, 2007.

Price, Diana. Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem. Paperback ed. Shakespeare-authorship.com, 2013.

Proudfoot, Richard. “Is There, and Should There Be, a Shakespeare Apocrypha?” In In the Footsteps of William Shakespeare. Ed., Christa Jansohn. Münster: Die Deutsch Bibliotehek (2005): 49-71.

Reedy, Tom. Thread below Price’s Amazon US review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, accessed Oct-10-13.

Rothery, Guy Cadogan. The Heraldry of Shakespeare. London: Morland Press, 1930.

Schoenbaum, S. William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. 1977. Revised edition with a new postscript, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Shapiro, James. Shakespeare A Year in The Life: 1599. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.

─────. Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010.

Stern, Tiffany. “‘The Forgery of Some Modern Author’?: Theobald’s Shakespeare and Cardenio’s Double Falsehood.’” Shakespeare Quarterly 62:4 (2011) 555-93.

Vickers, Brian. “Shakespeare and Authorship Studies in the Twenty-First Century.” Shakespeare Quarterly 62:1 (spring 2011): 106-142.

─────. “Incomplete Shakespeare: Or, Denying Coauthorship” in 1 Henry VI. Shakespeare Quarterly 58 (2007): 311-52.

Wells, Stanley and Paul Edmonton, ed. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Wells, Stanley, Gary Taylor with John Jowett and William Montgomery, ed. William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion. 1987. Reprinted with corrections, New York: Norton, 1997.

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On the assumption that from Shakespeare’s poems and plays could be extracted a well-rounded conception of the author that was as authentic as one derived from personal letters, eyewitness accounts, and other such documents, every line was searched for hidden biography. To many critics, the sonnets were the chief key to the mystery, and an incalculable amount of time and labor was spent on elucidating their enigmatic statements, which, a century and a half after the industry began, still defy interpretation that is generally acceptable. To others, the living Shakespeare could be discovered in the plays instead. And he was discovered: as a Tory and a Radical, a Protestant and a Catholic (or else a freethinker), a widely traveled cosmopolitan and a stay-at-home, a heavily learned savant and a fresh-cheeked countryman, a soldier and a seaman, a shrewd businessman and a musician, a sportsman and a naturalist. Whatever one’s preference, it could be documented from Shakespeare’s works. However sharply the commentators’ versions of Shakespeare the man conflicted with one another, taken altogether, they represent “the largest mass of conjectural biography under which any author has ever staggered on his way to immortality.”(97)

— Richard D. Altick, Lives and Letters: A History of Literary Biography in England and America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965)

Scientists know that no evidence is evidence, biographers learn that by bitter experience.(67)

— Paula R. Backscheider, “Evidence: Bare Patches and Profusions.” In Reflections on Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

The criteria for the acceptance of an attribution as proven have traditionally been based on legal models for the evaluation of evidence… . Certain basic standards of proof are common to both. In criminal law, guilt has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt; in civil cases the balance of probability determines the findings. In attribution studies the second would be sufficient to let a received attribution stand but … it would require the first to overturn an accepted attribution or to establish a new one from scratch.(209)

— Harold Love, Attributing Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)


The prudent archaeo-historicist must cultivate a habit of perpetual doubt and suspicion. Do we have first-hand reportage or hearsay? How close to the date of the event? Are we working from holograph, fair copy, or a printed version? What is the likelihood of doctoring? … Even where tampering or fabrication are not an issue, the scholar must be rigorous about taking the possibility of bias into account. … One often cannot be sure of the reliability of crucial evidence, but one can at least be above-board in indicating the degree of doubt that attaches to it.(124, 125)

At the outset of any genuine inquiry, the investigator must attempt to determine what evidence exists, how it can be tested or validated, and how far it should be trusted.(159)

Whether the investigator is relying on texts or anecdotes or generic categories or historical context or statistics of whatever sort, some sceptical testing is well advised. Something that looks fine to the casual eye (and has gone unchallenged for decades) can crumble disconcertingly when someone tests it. Neither primary evidence nor present-day hypothesis should be employed unless subjected to severe interrogation. To use a piece of evidence just because respected predecessors have used it can only be considered reckless and irresponsible. No investigator can be expected to conduct exhaustive tests on everything employed. A serious scholar, however, performs what the financial world calls ‘due diligence’, which means enough systematic spot-checking that blatant problems should come to light.(160)

To put the point bluntly, if you commit to a system of explanations you become a fanatic and cease to be an inquirer. Or as [R.S.] Crane observes, prior commitment to theory is ‘incompatible with inquiry.’(161)

— Robert D. Hume, Reconstructing Contexts: The Aims and Principles of Archaeo-Historicism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999)


The historian can and in fact must do what the judge, at any rate in England, is precluded from doing, make the best of evidence which is not strictly first hand.(49)

— H.B. George, Historical Evidence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909)

Events reported by writers secondhand frequently become trusted documents for theater historians. … Because of its presentation, a historian might trust such a source, and if confirmation was warranted external sources might be consulted to corroborate the account. Nonetheless, in many cases no independent verification exists, leaving the historian at the mercy of the author and his integrity. … One can only hope for authors who are largely accurate in citing their sources and expressing their intentions. But … in an era in which oral and written communication were well-developed arts the telling of “truth” and the telling of rumor could be largely the same.(31-32)

— S.P. Cerasano, “The Telling of Rumor: John Chamberlain’s Theatrical Reports” in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England (1997): 19-33


What a man leaves behind him after he dies is a mess of paper: birth certificate, school grades, diary, letters, check stubs, laundry lists … This paper trail, extending from his entrance to his exit, is what the biographer tries to tread.(xiii)

— Paul Murray Kendall, The Art of Biography (1965. Reprint, New York: W.W. Norton, 1985)

The sources whence we directly derive our information, whatever the quality of that information may be, are usually divided into those which are, and those which are not contemporary. …‘Historical evidence, like every kind of evidence [quoting Cornewall Lewis] is founded on the testimony of credible witnesses. Unless those witnesses have personal and immediate perception of the facts which they report, unless they saw and heard what they undertake to relate as having happened, their evidence is not entitled to credit. As all original witnesses must be contemporary with the events which they attest, it is a necessary condition for the credibility of a witness that he be a contemporary, though a contemporary is not necessarily a credible witness.’(48-49)

— H.B. George, Historical Evidence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909)

A primary source is a document, image, or artifact that provides evidence about the past. It is an original document created contemporaneously with the event under discussion.(58)

— Robert C. Williams, The Historian’s Toolbox: A Student’s Guide to the Theory and Craft of History (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2003)


Eyewitness reports from ostensibly neutral observers will not necessarily agree.(123)

— Robert D. Hume, Reconstructing Contexts: The Aims and Principles of Archaeo-Historicism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999)

In the midst of complex jealousies and desires for self-justification, the external juxtaposition of the whitewash brush and the tar bucket, we can never be sure either of all the relevant facts or of the true motives of people long dead.(49)

— Richard D. Altick & John J. Fenstermaker, The Art of Literary Research (4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993)

This pamphlet gathering five heterogeneous Letters contains several references to unpublished poems and the interests of a literary coterie, to current events and affairs of state, and to well-placed people in public life. The Letters testify to the credentials of the “new Poete” [Spenser]. … As soon as we recognize, however, that the Letters are public rather than private documents, we have placed their evidentiary value in doubt. The efforts to fashion a poetic persona that had motivated the [Shephearde’s ] Calendar ’s elaborate program are also evident in the Letters. Why should we expect these texts to provide trustworthy information about the private person.(81)

The Letters are of interest primarily for what they tell us about the two writers’ friendship and Harvey’s importance in Spenser’s formation as a poet and a public servant.(93).

— Jon A. Quitslund, “Questionable Evidence in the Letters of 1580 between Gabriel Harvey and Edmund Spenser,” in Spenser’s Life and the Subject of Biography, ed. Judith H. Anderson, Donald Cheney, David A. Richardson (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1996)


Allusions to Shakespeare in [Henry] Chettle’s England Mourning Garment are of a purely literary character and necessitate no personal knowledge.(11)

— Harold Jenkins, The Life and Work of Henry Chettle (London, 1934)

[Thomas] Kyd’s translation … is dedicated ‘To … the Countesse of Sussex.’ … Among the conventional praises of her Ladyship’s wit, beauty, and virtue, Kyd takes to refer to her ‘honourable favours past,’ which he will not itemize because he considers it ‘Pharasaical’ to do so. … All these phrases, especially the ‘service’ and ‘honourable favours past’, indicate that Kyd was personally acquainted with the Countess, and that he had been in a position to receive her favours earlier – presumably before his imprisonment. Boas comments that ‘Kyd may be merely alluding to some tokens of good will which she extended to him as to other men of letters, including Greene, who dedicated to her his Philomela ’. But the fact is that the ‘other men of letters’ who dedicated books to the Countess at this period did not know her personally, by their own testimony, and Kyd, by his, did. Greene presented her Philomela in 1592 because he was ‘humbly devoted to the Right honourable Lord Fitzwalters your husband’, but the Countess herself he knew by repute only. Likewise the publisher William Bailey, who dedicated a book of lute music to her in 1596, writes of ‘your Honourable Ladyship, whom I have heard so well reported of.’(32-34)

— Arthur Freeman, Thomas Kyd: Facts and Problems (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967)

Gervase Markham dedicated The Most Honorable Tragedie of Sir Richard Grinvile (1595) to Lord Mountjoy, and added three sonnets, the second of which is to [the earl of] Southampton, but there is no indication in it that Markham enjoyed any degree of intimacy; while he acknowledges Mountjoy’s favor, he only makes a bid for Southampton’s.(2:200)

— D. Nichol Smith, “Authors and Patrons,” in Shakespeare’s England : An Account of the Life and Manners of his Age (2 vols. 1916. Reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1962)

[George] Chapman may drop the names of the earls of Derby and Northumberland in his first letter to Matthew Royden, but these are strategic claims of association, hardly signs that he knew these powerful men.(6)

— John Huntington, Ambition, Rank, and Poetry in 1590s England (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2001)

It has been suggested that in using the epithet ‘friendly’, Scoloker is claiming acquaintance with Shakespeare. However, the epithet may, rather, be a literary judgment, approximating what we might now call ‘accessible,’ ‘readable,’ or even ‘user-friendly’.(179)

— Katharine Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare (The Arden Shakespeare, 2001)

There is ample testimony in commendatory poems and dedications of the number of our playwright’s friends and of the regard in which they held him. Joseph Taylor the actor, who played Paris in The Roman Actor, addresses [Philip] Massinger as ‘his long-known and loved Friend’, and says that he (Taylor) writes his poem both to praise a good tragedy and “to profess our love’s antiquity’. … To the ubiquitous George Donne he is his ‘much esteem’d friend’; and to Thomas May he is ‘his deserving friend’. There is no indication of friendship or of more than a slight acquaintanceship in John Ford’s commendatory poems for The Roman Actor and The Great Duke of Florence. Shirley, too, … does not seems to have been very close to Massinger, and addresses him stiffly as ‘my honoured friend’ in the verses before The Renegado. In return, in his commendation of The Grateful Servant, Massinger calls Shirley his ‘judicious and learned friend the Author’. … As might be expected, the majority of Massinger’s friends were either writers by profession or men-of-letters by inclination.(45)

— T.A. Dunn, Philip Massinger: The Man and the Playwright (University College of Ghana by Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1957)

Spenser continued his praise of [Thomas] Watson in The Ruines of Time … . That it was prompted by personal friendship, or even acquaintance, is unlikely. It is doubtful whether the two men could have met before Spenser went to Ireland in 1580, and when he returned to England in 1589 Watson was in Newgate prison as the result of an affray, and remained there until after the publication of the Faerie Queen. … Spenser’s praise of Watson, I think, was probably motivated simply by his admiration for him as an artist.(486, 487)

— William Ringler, “Spenser and Thomas Watson” in Modern Language Notes (November 1954): 484-87


Autographs are more plentiful for Spenser than for most other Elizabethan literary figures. They comprise over a hundred items, being roughly equivalent in quantity to 120 folio pages of continuous writing, and include eleven authentic signatures. However, no autograph survives from the Spenser canon, the only literary document of any kind being a single-leaf transcript of a Latin letter on poetry from Erhardus Stibarus to Erasmus Neustetter and two Latin poems from Lotichius’ Poemata.(345)

— Anthony G. Petti, “Spenser’s Handwriting,” in The Spenser Encyclopedia (Ed. A. C. Hamilton, University of Toronto Press, 1990)

Efforts to identify the author of the Arte have proved inconclusive. … [Richard Puttenham’s] … biographical evidence, so far as it goes, presents no serious difficulties, but …the absence of any indication of literary activities or intellectual interests renders his case both doubtful and problematic. He is a runner in the Arte sweepstakes, but his chances can only appeal to a gambler who will take a risk on a dark horse at very long odds.(xii, xvii-xviii)

On George [Puttenham]’s behalf a much stronger claim can be made. Two lines of approach to the question of his authorship are open: the biographical and the literary. … That he had both an adequate knowledge of Latin and an interest in its literature is shown by some fragments of translation from Suetonius. Further indication of intellectual interests is contained in a letter of 1578 … [and] conclusive proof both of his ability as a writer and of its recognition is provided by his Justificacion.(xviii, xxii)

— Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker, ed., The Arte of English Poesie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936)

Donaldson draws “from his inexhaustible knowledge of Jonson’s life records, literary and otherwise.” (428)

— David Riggs’s review of Ian Donaldson’s Ben Jonson: A Life in Shakespeare Quarterly 63:3 (fall 2012): 428-31.


Attribution studies should not be performed in isolation: one item of external evidence can overturn all such internal evidence.(249)

— M.W.A. Smith, “Attribution by Statistics: A Critique of Four Recent Studies” in Revue Informatique et statistique dans les sciences humaines 26 (1990): 233-51

Let him amass all the evidence he can find. Let him set down, in orderly fashion, all the arguments in favor of his interpretation, and then, with equal or greater scrupulousness, all those against. Let him study the evidence, giving full value to every argument; for it may very well happen that a single bit of contra evidence will make the piling up of pro arguments like the adding together of zeros: whether there are twelve or twenty, the total is still zero.(228-29)

— Chauncey Sanders, An Introduction to Research in English Literary History (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1952)

External evidence may and often does provide incontestable proof; internal evidence can only support hypotheses or corroborate external evidence.(150)

— Samuel Schoenbaum, Internal Evidence and Elizabethan Dramatic Authorship (London, 1966)

The uncritical acceptance of an attribution on a title page or in a bookseller’s catalogue is quite as unscholarly as an attempt to prove authorship through the unsophisticated citing of similarities between disputed and undisputed plays.(21)

— MacDonald P. Jackson, Defining Shakespeare: ‘Pericles’ As Test Case (Oxford: Oxford University Press., 2003)

An edition of Sir John Oldcastle in 1600 likewise bears the words, ‘Written by William Shakespeare,’ and this boast, absurd on the face of it, is proved mendacious beyond the shadow of a doubt, by the record in Henslowe’s Diary of the actual authors: Munday, Drayton, Wilson, and Hathway.(viii)

— C.F. Tucker Brooke, The Shakespeare Apocrypha (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1918)

Auxiliary “do” evidence puts this play [The Puritan ] well beyond the possibility of Shakespearean authorship. … Auxiliary “do” evidence rules Shakespeare out as the author of the whole text of [A Yorkshire Tragedy ]. As with The Puritan, Middleton is confirmed as a possible candidate for authorship.(153)

— Jonathan Hope, The Authorship of Shakespeare’s Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994)

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The Cleveland Plain Dealer does not grant permission to reprint articles in their entirety on web sites, so the following is the author’s response (indented) to specific points raised in the review by Marianne Evett on Monday, December 18, 2000:

The reviewer singles out the comparative analysis of Literary Paper Trails as the “new evidence” claimed in my title, and reports that according to my book, “only Shakespeare fails the test.”

The comparative analysis of evidence supporting the literary biographies for Shakespeare and two dozen of his contemporaries is one of five major new arguments; all are summarized on the home page. None of the other new arguments was noticed by this reviewer.

The reviewer suggests that the “sheer volume of detail and scholarly superstructure may convince some readers” but that the book is “slow going.”

This reviewer has grudgingly acknowledged the scholarship supporting my arguments. I would agree that some of the book, especially chapters 4-7 and parts of chapter 11, can be “slow going,” but that is the fairly predictable result of an analysis that attempts to be comprehensive. My decision to examine all the principal documentation for, and allusions to, Shakespeare necessarily requires in-depth analyses of historical records, prose, and verse, and a consideration of what previous biographers and historians have concluded from that evidence. The reviewer admitted that my handling of the material was “clear,” but criticized my examination in minute detail of “works no longer very accessible to the general reader.” This reviewer seems to be again (inadvertently) complimenting my research, although I hasten to point out that nearly all of the sources listed in my bibliography were accessed at The Cleveland Public Library.

The reviewer claims that many of my arguments are seriously flawed. She acknowledges that there are indeed “gaps in the historical records,” but asserts that “the explanations for those gaps are at least as plausible on the positive side as those Price offers on the negative.”

My book challenges the traditional explanations for the “gaps in the historical records.” It is up to the reader to decide whether the unorthodox narrative that I re-construct for Shakespeare is more plausible.

The reviewer objects to my criteria of rejecting hearsay and posthumous evidence in my analysis, because it results in “a very narrow and subjective interpretation of contemporary references.” The reviewer particularly objects to the disqualification of Shakespeare’s Stratford monument and inscription, and the testimony in the First Folio as evidence of Shakespeare’s career as a writer.

This reviewer implies that I summarily dismiss the testimony in the First Folio. My analysis of this testimony comprises all of chapter 10 and part of chapter 11. The reviewer implies that I likewise summarily dismiss the matter of Shakespeare’s tomb and inscription, a subject with which chapter 9 is exclusively concerned.

The disqualification, on the basis of dates, of documentation and testimony as evidence of a literary career is applied rigorously to all the writers in the comparative analysis. Shakespeare is the only individual for whom historians must rely on posthumous evidence (in the First Folio) to make their case for a career as a writer. Every other writer meets the criteria quite easily. Similarly, biographers rely on ambiguous or impersonal evidence to make their case for the authorship attribution to Shakespeare, and again, Shakespeare is the only writer for whom this stretch is necessary. The reviewer is apparently content to give equal weight to hearsay. I rather agree instead with Prof. Stanley Wells, who wrote: “Oral tradition is notoriously unreliable, but cannot be definitely disproved, while Schoenbaum may be right to dismiss it.… What is surely clear is that it belongs to a different category of evidence from that which can be documentarily supported” (“Shakespeare’s Lives: 1991-1994” in Elizabethan Theater: Essays in Honor of S. Schoenbaum, p. 19). In addition, as I point out in various places in the book, praise of Shakespeare as a great writer is not necessarily identification of the man from Stratford as that writer. If I postulate that “Shakespeare” was recognized as a pen name by Elizabethan critics, then a reference by a critic to “Shakespeare’s fine filed phrase” is good evidence that the critic thought that Shakespeare, whoever he was, wrote good poetry. But the allusion can refer to Shakespeare, the man from Stratford, or to the name on a title page that was recognized as representing some other author. One cannot draw personal conclusions from impersonal evidence without corroborating documentation. It is interesting that I was impressed with this distinction when studying the biographical records of other writers. In most cases, historians have been careful to conclude only as much as the evidence permits. It is in the Shakespearean biography that I see historians breaking their own rules in order to support the traditional attribution.

At the risk of becoming tedious, I would quote an eminent historian and biographer, Mark Eccles, who contributed an article to The Huntington Library Quarterly entitled “A Biographical Dictionary of Elizabethan Authors” in 1942, when he was engaged in a research project to supersede the Dictionary of National Biography. He considered a new Dictionary “desirable in three respects: thoroughness in searching for evidence, accuracy in presenting evidence, and determination to go to first-hand sources wherever possible instead of repeating information at secondhand” (282). He added that a biography “must also go back to the original evidence for every statement it makes, instead of resting content with information taken from secondary sources” (284). My own research plan for Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography attempted to follow these guidelines. Eccles advised any biographer to test every single link in the chain of evidence, and even cautioned the researcher to “be sure that the person mentioned [in print] is the author and not someone else bearing the name” (301). It is discouraging to find a reviewer criticizing me for respecting such standards.

This reviewer criticized me for not being ” the dispassionate researcher” I claim to be. She faults me for arguing that the author was “an aristocrat, well-read, well-traveled, conversant with the law and other languages,” whereas I describe Shakespeare of Stratford as “an uneducated, greedy entrepreneur and moneylender, ready to take the chance when some nobleman asks him to be the front man for getting his plays on the stage.”

I do argue that Shakespeare was numerate and had an incomplete grammar school education from which he emerged as an uncultured but street-smart opportunist. His activities as an entrepreneur and moneylender are documented with hard evidence, and his greedy attitude is likewise supported by both documentary evidence and allusions. In countering the traditional portrayal of Shakespeare as “sweet,” “gentle,” and self-effacing, I show precisely how orthodox biographers have manipulated the evidence to manufacture their artificial construct. I consider such manipulation of evidence indicative of orthodoxy’s bias, not mine.

She further takes exception to my argument that “noblemen, because of their rank, were permitted neither to publish poetry nor to dabble in the theater.” This reviewer faults me for “faulty logic and lack of knowledge of the broader social and theatrical milieu of the time [which] undermine her argument,” and asserts that “nobles were not prohibited from printing, for example, or from being known as playwrights. A list of them is available.”

The reviewer mis-stated my position. I did not argue that aristocrats were “prohibited” from printing. Of course they were free to print from a legal standpoint. My argument is that they chose not to publish certain genres because of a socially imposed “stigma of print.” Aristocrats did not wish to be perceived as interested in commercial profit, which was the province of the commercial class. This stigma of print applied to frivolous or commercial writing, specifically poetry and plays for the public stage. The stigma of print did not affect publication of pious or didactic works, learned translations, or the like. Aristocrats avoided being perceived as writing for public consumption by circulating their “toys” or “trifles” in manuscript to their circle of friends or associates, rather than publishing. These distinctions and supporting evidence are covered in chapter 12. It’s unfortunate that this reviewer did not specify which “list” of published aristocrats she has in mind, but I would guess that any of those whom she might name were either victims of surreptitious (i.e., unauthorized) publication, or were authors of “closet dramas,” not intended to be performed, and more properly categorized as learned translations or political treatises, genres that were considered more respectable.

The reviewer faults me for using “a double standard for evidence. It’s OK if it does not favor Shakespeare, suspect if it does.”

Any serious analysis requires a testing of evidence to determine what can be safely concluded. I do not reject any evidence, favorable or otherwise, left behind by Shakespeare. On the contrary, I accept all of it, including some evidence ignored or edited by traditional biographers. My book describes how I tested the evidence and what I concluded from it. In that process, I reject many of traditional conclusions, and provide reasons for that rejection as well as for my alternatives. That’s not applying a double standard. That’s applying a consistent standard and arriving at a different conclusion.

The reviewer argues that “Shakespeare’s plays do not show more classical learning than could be got from an Elizabethan grammar school education. The view of court life in the plays is not that of an insider. As for travel, any decent writer can acquire enough information secondhand to make a setting sound authentic (and Shakespeare gets some details about Europe quite wrong).”

These objections are unsupported assertions, and are standard issue in traditional biographies. I challenge each of those assertions with sustained evidence and argument.

The reviewer concludes by claiming that “there is not space here to go into disproving all the points on which Price founds her case, but Shakespeare, in Fact by Irvin Leigh Matus (Continuum, 1994) and the website (dead link) run by David Kathman and Terry Clark refute each of them.”

These closing remarks refer the reader to two sources, which tell me that the reviewer is not herself well-read on the subject of Shakespeare’s biography. Matus’s book is largely a refutation of the case as argued by Oxfordians, and those sections in his book are, for the most part, irrelevant to my case. However, Matus does raise many good questions about anti-Stratfordian arguments; some I agree with, some not. (I take issue with him in chapter 5.) His book, which was published six years ago, did not anticipate the new arguments I present in mine, so it cannot be useful in refuting the new case that I’ve made. The Shakespeare Authorship web site contains much useful information and provides excellent links to other sites, but as of the date of this review, Mssrs. Kathman and Ross had not yet posted any specific criticisms of my book. So it is unreasonable for the reviewer to suggest that everything in my book is refuted by them.

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Deconstructing the Stratford Man, November 29, 2000
(see also the reader’s follow-up from January 18, 2001)

Reviewer: Edward Thomas Veal from Chicago, Illinois USA

Despite the absence of the “new evidence” promised by its subtitle, this book can claim to apply a new method to the “controversy” over who wrote Shakespeare’s works.

Among the new evidence and new arguments presented in this book are:

  1. Comparative analysis of literary papers trails for Shakespeare and his contemporaries (chapter 8, appendix);
  2. Analysis of theatrical documentation showing that Shakespeare was a theatrical financier and business agent (pp. 104-109);
  3. Introduction of Sir William Dugdale’s drawing, ca. 1634, of Shakespeare’s funerary monument (pp. 154-158);
  4. Comparative analysis and interpretation of Groatsworth of Wit and Vertue’s Commonwealth (pp. 54-56); and 
  5. Analysis of Jonson’s “De Shakespeare Nostrati” and the significance of Jonson’s classical source (pp. 196-209). There are several other “nuggets” throughout the book that I have not found in any other Shakespearean biography.

Diana Price uses the tools of modern literary theory to deconstruct contemporary references to Shakespeare.

My book is a re-construction, rather than a deconstruction, of the biography of Shakespeare, based on the evidence. Specifically, it is a challenge to the documentary biography of Shakespeare, not to literary theories about Shakespeare. I have taken into account the evidence used by biographers (principally Schoenbaum, Chambers, Honigmann, Bentley, Lewis, Lee, Honan, Kay, Chute, and Bradbrook), analyzed how they have used or considered evidence, and evaluated their reasons and conclusions. When I take issue with their reasoning or with their conclusions, I offer alternatives and my own reasoning. My book is not an exercise in, nor dependent upon any sort of literary theory. 

On the surface, this evidence straightforwardly attributes the famous plays and poems to an actor from Stratford-on-Avon.

This is the very premise that I challenge throughout the book. To pre-suppose that this evidence of attribution is “straightforward” is to employ circular reasoning.

Miss Price will have none of that. She searches for ambiguity and coded meanings, predictably finds them, and thus feels justified in substituting an implausible scenario, supported by no positive evidence at all, for Shakespeare’s orthodox biography.

If the reviewer does not find any ambiguities in places where I do, that is his interpretation. However, he is ignoring the numerous orthodox critics whom I cite, both Shakespearean and Jonsonian, who have likewise found ambiguities in the allusions.

Among the positive evidence that I cite to support the unorthodox Shakespeare is his prominent position in the theatrical documentation, the passage from Vertue’s Commonwealth reinforcing my interpretation of Groatsworth of Wit, and the documentary records of Shakespeare bearing on and reinforcing his financial interests and skills (such as the Quiney letter, Shakespeare’s will, his various real estate investments, etc.) The comparative analysis of literary paper trails shows the absence of evidence supporting the statement “Shakespeare was a writer.”

Her thesis, in brief, is that William “Shakspere” of Stratford was an actor, theatrical investor and moneylender - but not a writer. Among his activities were arranging the printing of, and taking credit for, other men’s plays. One of his victims was an anonymous nobleman, a supplier of scripts to the acting company with which Shakspere was associated. This author - just by coincidence - had adopted “William Shakespeare” as a pen name for his published poems, “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece”.

I do not argue that the author “just by coincidence” adopted “William Shakespeare as a pen name. I outline several scenarios and conditions, among which I propose is to be found the point of intersection between the name “William Shakespeare” as representing an unnamed aristocratic author in print, and the name of “William Shakespeare,” the man from Stratford. In particular, the allusions to “Battillus” and the precedent in the case of Terence, bears on the “coincidence” of the pseudonym and the name of the man from Stratford.

When his pseudonym’s namesake expropriated his works, he could not complain, because identification as a writer for the popular stage would have led to social stigmatization. The literary world was conscious of the imposture, however, and Miss Price finds the truth hidden in many a coded epigram, including the dedicatory poems to the First Folio.

For readers who are familiar only with the unfortunate theories about Great Cryptograms and other mystical ciphers proposed by some anti-Stratfordians, the above criticism may set off alarm bells. I do not argue that there are “codes” waiting only for a decoder ring to reveal their secrets. Rather, I argue that ambiguity is present in the prefatory material in the First Folio, and I support that argument with citations from numerous Jonsonian critics. Nor do I claim to “find the truth,” since that implies that I have solved the entire mystery and identified who wrote the works of Shakespeare. I claim to find sufficient ambiguity to cast doubt on the traditional attribution. I demonstrate that the First Folio material is not the straightforward testimony it is purported to be in traditional biography, and further demonstrate that because it is replete with ambiguous statements, its evidentiary value as “proof” of Shakespeare of Stratford’s authorship is questionable. I also show that allusions to Shakespeare collectively reflect ambiguity, whereas allusions to other writers of the day are often straightforward.

Like many creators of alternative Shakespeares, Miss Price seems to bear a grudge against the claimant from Stratford.

I have no grudge against Shakespeare, but his contemporaries did, and I report that without apology. Much of the evidence for Shakespeare is unflattering (including Groatsworth, the 1598 grain hoarding record, the warrant for arrest with Langley, the last will, the notes concerning his position regarding the Welcombe enclosures). It is interesting that this reviewer did not mention the passages in my book where I expose outright bias or distortion in the orthodox biographer’s treatment of evidence.

Her account of his career is jaundiced to a high degree, and she sees him as the figure behind practically every Elizabethan lampoon of braggart actors, plagiarizing poets or unscrupulous impresarios.

Nearly every satire or lampoon in which I identify Shakespeare as the target has been identified by orthodox scholars. I cite them when I introduce the satires.

“Facts” collected from such caricatures form much of the basis of her reconstruction of “Shakspere’s” life, though the probability that they actually allude to him is generally small. For example, she is confident that the buffoon Sogliardo in Ben Jonson’s “Every Man Out of His Humour” is a hit on Shakspere. She does not note that the play was written for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, of which the Stratford man was a principal shareholder. One somehow doubts that Shakspere was so tolerant as to finance a parody of himself.

The Sogliardo lampoon is not a particularly good example of an improbable satire of Shakespeare. It was first noticed as a “hit’ at Shakespeare by orthodox scholars and is cited by many biographers. Using that identification as a starting point, I extended the analysis.

To animus is joined partial scholarship. The author has read extensively but declines to confront evidence or analysis inconsistent with her views. To take a few instances:

The “stigma of print” is vital to her case, as it furnishes her sole explanation of why not only the noble author, but also every other contemporary, failed to unmask “Shakspere” as a fraud. In fact, this stigma was supposedly so powerful that the editors of the First Folio kept up the pretense after both Shakspere and the real playwright (who, Miss Price believes, died before 1609) were gone from the world.

But was there any such stigma? Steven May, the leading authority on the literary works of Tudor courtiers, lambasted the theory in “Tudor Aristocrats and the Mythical ’Stigma of Print’” (Renaissance Papers, 1980). Miss Price takes no notice of this article. Conceivably she overlooked it, but her bibliography does list Professor May’s book “The Elizabethan Courtier Poets”, which contains ample evidence that aristocrats of the era had no qualms about seeing their literary works, including their plays, in print under their own names.

I have read Prof. May’s article, and it has been on David Kathman’s Shakespeare Authorship Web page for some time. I do not view Prof. May’s article on this subject as the final word, nor do I agree with it entirely. Nor do the authorities whom I cite concerning the conception of a “stigma of print.”

More to the point, the evidence that I cite in support of a “stigma of print” is, in my view, sufficiently strong as to leave the reader with no doubt that just such a social convention existed as an effective restraint in Shakespeare’s day. I would question Prof. May’s conclusion specifically on two counts. One, the very evidence that he cites to demonstrate how the “myth of the stigma of print” was first postulated is, in my view, evidence proving, not disproving, the “stigma of print.” (Among that evidence is the testimony found in The Arte of English Poesie, which I also cite.) Second, while May argues that there was more of a “stigma of verse” than a “stigma of print,” I would respond by suggesting that he does not sufficiently distinguish between genres, in particular the genres of poetry (considered “literary trifles”) and plays written for the commercial stage, as distinct from the more serious, pious, or didactic works and translations, which were published with less restraint and/or less apology by the upper classes. Again, please refer to the works by Arthur Marotti and Richard Helgerson (see my fn. p 218).

Miss Price thinks that the real Shakespeare was dead by 1609, because the publisher’s dedication to the Sonnets refers to “our ever-living poet”. She cites Don Foster’s article, “Master W.H., R.I.P.”, to prove that the adjective “ever-living” was not customarily applied to people who were still alive. She does not cite the article’s conclusion: that “ever-living” is applied most frequently to God, the “ever-living poet” Who is asked to bless the (living) sonneteer.

The reviewer has proposed an alternative reading to the dedication to the Sonnets. I have proposed mine.

Miss Price derides the notion that Shakespeare could have acquired classical and literary knowledge through private reading. Yet Ben Jonson did precisely that. Jonson’s works are vastly more erudite than Shakespeare’s, but his formal education did not go beyond a few years of grammar school.

Historians are able to trace at least part of Jonson’s education through his two explicit tributes to his mentor, William Camden. Jonson received an honorary degree from Oxford University noting that he was “happily versed in all humane literature” (Riggs, 262). For Shakespeare, there are no comparable records.

Moreover, Jonson pursued his independent studies in the face of dire poverty, whereas Shakespeare of Stratford appears always to have been at least modestly affluent (besides which, a family friend was one of London’s most important booksellers). The facts about Jonson’s self-education are set forth in a book cited several times by Miss Price in other contexts (David Riggs, “Ben Jonson: A Life”, pp. 57-58).

This criticism only underscores my point. If Shakespeare had the means and the access to educational and cultural opportunities, why aren’t there any paper trails to trace his progress as a developing writer, as we can trace Jonson’s? This reviewer hardly mentioned the argument in my book that I consider the strongest: the comparative analysis of evidence supporting the literary biographies of Shakespeare and two dozen of his contemporaries. I found personal literary paper trails for everyone except Shakespeare.

To buttress her contention that Shakespeare left no “literary paper trail”, Miss Price states flatly that no manuscripts in his hand survive. As a student of Elizabethan literature, she is surely aware of the famous “Sir Thomas More” manuscript, a portion of which is widely believed to be Shakespeare’s autograph. That belief may, of course, be mistaken, but it should be refuted with arguments rather than silence.

The reviewer must have missed my reference (p. 127, also listed in the index) to the possibility that Hand D in Sir Thomas More is that of Shakespeare.

The reviewer, in introducing the pages from Sir Thomas More as possibly being in Shakespeare’s hand, tacitly acknowledges the deficiency of personal literary paper trails in Shakespeare’s traditional biography. As the reviewer seems to be aware, the evidence for Shakespeare’s as “Hand D” in the manuscript of Sir Thomas More is inconclusive. I note in passing that Anthony Holden identified -- without qualification -- the facsimile of a page of Sir Thomas More as the only fragment of a manuscript in Shakespeare’s handwriting ( William Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Genius. A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1999).

Any reader who is impressed by Miss Price’s facade of scholarship should bear omissions like these in mind. Consciously or not, she has fashioned a brief for a preconceived opinion, not a fair-minded evaluation of facts and circumstances. She is less incoherent than Charlton Ogburn, Jr., and less bizarrely speculative (but also less entertaining) than Joseph Sobran, but her case against the Stratford man, like theirs, amounts to nothing more substantial than bile and overheated air.

The Review of English Studies (RES) occasionally recommends previously published articles in their “Instructions to Authors” as a model to follow in terms of Style. The RES has cited my article (“Reconsidering Shakespeare’s Monument,” May 1997) several times in such “Instructions.” I expect if the editors of this highly respected journal considered my article merely a “facade of scholarship,” they would not have accepted it in the first place, much less recommended it to prospective contributors.

Finally, I should be grateful if the reviewer would direct my attention to the particular pages on which he finds “bile and overheated air,” since he did not specify which passages gave offense.

Following is the AUTHOR’S RESPONSE (indented) to the same reader’s review (PART 2) posted on Amazon.com (www.amazon.com.)

PART 2. A Correction, January 18, 2001

Reviewer: Edward Thomas Veal from Chicago, Illinois USA

Diana Price has complained on her website that the last bullet point in my earlier review ignored her “reference (p. 127, also listed in the index) to the possibility that Hand D in Sir Thomas More is that of Shakespeare”. Though my oversight was inadvertent, she is correct. By way of atonement, I reproduce in its entirety what “Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography” says about Sir Thomas More and Hand D:

The poor quality of Shakspere’s penmanship is as suspicious as is the paucity of extant handwriting for a man who supposedly lived by the pen, and scholars continue to search for more specimens. Some have pored over manuscript pages of the play Sir Thomas More, hoping to find Shakspere’s handwriting in it. Yet there remain only six inconsistent, blotchy signatures against which to make any comparisons. At best, the six signatures support the conclusion that Shakspere could sign or at least scrawl his name, but they do not support the conclusion that he was a professional writer.

A reader will not learn here that scholars have assembled an impressive (though not uncontroverted) body of evidence in support of the identification of “Hand D” with that of William Shakespeare. I’m sorry that I overlooked this passage, because it neatly illustrates my main point: Time and again, Miss Price, instead of seeking to refute inconvenient analyses, pretends that they don’t exist. I noted a few examples in my review.

If I wanted to pretend that the case for “Hand D” in Sir Thomas More case did not exist, I would not have mentioned it in my book. However, the reader’s criticism is that I did not offer a more complete discussion of the relative merits and demerits of the case for “Hand D” as Shakspere’s. In retrospect, I have to agree with him. [Update March 2016: I’ve addressed this subject in my research paper on the Sir Thomas More manuscript, titled “Hand D and Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Literary Paper Trail,” which was published in the Journal of Early Modern Studies, Jems 5 (University of Florence, 2016), online here.]

If Amazon allotted infinite space to reviewers, I could add more, as well as describe other departures from scholarly practice. (One of my favorite instances: George Chalmers, an eccentric defender of William Henry Ireland’s Shakespearean forgeries, is cited as a sound “orthodox” authority (p. 93)! Curiously, though Miss Price relies on him, she doesn’t list his work in her bibliography.)

I mention Chalmers as a critic with whom an early Jonsonian editor, William Gifford, takes issue. (Chalmers is the orthodox critic who proposed Shakespeare as the target of Jonson’s “Poet-Ape.”) Gifford’s work, which I quote, is duly listed in the bibliography. Gifford shares the reader’s opinion of Chalmers as an unreliable critic. After citing Gifford’s outrage at Chalmers’s proposal, I go on to present my own reasons for accepting Shakespeare as the target of the allusion.

The anti-Stratfordians who have rallied around Miss Price’s book should ponder whether gaining converts through the tactic of suppressio veri is a good long-run strategy. Their cause would be far better served by an author who was willing to confront, rather than shut her eyes to and sneer at, the other side of the case.

The identity of the reviewer on Amazon from Santa Fe is unknown to me, but from his or her comments, that reader was not pre-disposed to an anti-Stratfordian position. So it is not necessarily committed “anti-Stratfordians who have rallied around” my book. That reader describes his/herself as someone with an open mind who was persuaded by rational argument. And on a point of semantics, I do not consider the anti-Stratfordian position a “cause.” Nor am I looking for “converts.” I consider the authorship question essentially an academic issue that requires critical analysis and further research if it is to be resolved.

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The Shakespearean Authorship Trust & Brunel University events at Shakespeare’s Globe

Smithsonian Institution, Resident Associate Program

Cleveland Public Library

PBS broadcasts of Last Will. And Testament

The Naked Shakespeare, a documentary by Claus Bredenbrock, Florian Film Group (ARTE, various European venues)

University of Tennessee Law School (CLE symposium)

Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C.

DACOR, Newberry Lecture Series, Washington, D.C.

WETA (NPR) radio, “The Program,” Washington, D.C.

Cleveland State University, Dept. of English

John Carroll University, Cleveland, Dept. of Communication and Language Arts

North Carolina Shakespeare Festival

California State University, Los Angeles

University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Dept. of English

Griffith University, Brisbane

University of the Third Age, Brisbane

English-Speaking Union, Greensboro chapter

Rotary Clubs of Downey and Redondo Beach, CA

Kiwanis Club of Starmount, NC

Lakewood Public Library, Lakewood,OH

University School, Cleveland

College Club of Cleveland

Greensboro Public Library (NC)

“Chautauqua Books,” Ch. 5, Chautauqua, NY

WJTN Radio, Jamestown, NY

Rose Institute for Life Long Learning, Beachwood, OH

Borders Books & Music, various northern Ohio locations

Barnes & Noble, Greensboro

WFDD-FM (NPR), Greensboro

Ch. 8 Fox news, Greensboro

WKYC-TV news, Cleveland

WCPN (NPR) Radio

Australian Broadcasting Co. “Nightlife” (radio)

Rotary Clubs of Cleveland, OH; Rockville, MD

Judge, English-Speaking Union Shakespeare Competition

Joseph-Beth Booksellers & Cafe, Cleveland

Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland

Shakespearean Research Symposium I & II. Los Angeles; Detroit

Lorain County Community College, Dept. of Liberal Studies. Elyria, OH

Shakespeare Authorship Trust (UK) & Brunel University

WCPN (NPR) radio “The Sound of Applause”

Delta Kappa Gamma, Cleveland, OH

Judson Manor & Judson Retirement Community, Cleveland, OH

Your group or forum can schedule presentations by the author on the following topics:

1. New Evidence of a Shakespeare Authorship Problem

For audiences with a general interest in the subject, the author offers an overview of the questions and issues raised in her book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography.


2. Shakespeare and Documentary Evidence

This three-part lecture series (with slides) is ideal for anyone interested in Shakespeare, critical thinking, literature, history, and specifically Shakespeare’s authorship. Is The Shakespeare Authorship Question a crackpot issue — or a real problem that the orthodox would prefer to sweep under the carpet? This analysis of literary evidence for Elizabethan writers is both entertaining and instructive, and is bound to make you more skeptical. You’ll be surprised to learn that both sides of the Shakespeare authorship issue have advanced bad arguments or fiddled with the evidence. Which side has made the better case? These lectures encourage you to decide for yourself. Whether you are considering Shakespeare’s authorship or some other controversial topic, these lectures can help you to question what the authorities tell you — and to test the evidence yourself. Running times: approximately 40-50 minutes each.

Part 1
Primary Evidence for a Literary Biography

What is primary evidence? The author examines types of documentation that underpin literary biographies. She investigates primary evidence for Shakespeare and several of his contemporaries.

Part 2
Secondary Sources: Can you trust them?

The author questions the experts. She analyzes specific issues as reported by Shakespearean scholars as well as those who have challenged the traditional biography, to determine whether the conclusions are supported by the primary evidence.

Part 3
Shakespeare and his Contemporaries:
A Comparative Investigation.

Is Shakespeare the odd man out? The author rounds up primary evidence for Shakespeare, and two dozen of his contemporaries, including Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, and Edmund Spenser. She compares the quality of evidence used to support each of the respective literary biographies, and her results are surprising.


To schedule a presentation, e-mail the author (address on Home page)

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Responding to the claim that “we have no paper trail of Shakespeare as a playwright or poet, no correspondence, manuscripts, personal library or ephemera," David Kathman writes:

By “paper trail” I assume you mean the things you mention - “correspondence, manuscripts, personal library, or ephemera.” Actually, we do have one letter written to Shakespeare by his townsman Richard Quiney, and a book (William Lambarde’s Archaionomia) with a signature that is now widely, but not universally, accepted as William Shakespeare’s. (Kathman, HLAS, 7 March 2002)

A letter written to Shakespeare by Quiney, a Stratford man in search of financing, is hardly evidence that Shakespeare was a writer, so we move immediately to Kathman’s claim for Shakespeare’s signature in the Lambarde book. If the signature were genuine, it would not only count as the seventh authenticated signature, it would effectively put a book in Shakespeare’s hand and qualify as a “personal literary paper trail.”

On his website in his section on Hand D, Kathman directs readers to Giles Dawson’s 1992 article, “A Seventh Signature for Shakespeare.” In a message to the “Shaksper (dead link)" discussion group on 19 June 1995, Kathman cited some authorities concerning “the Folger Shakespeare Library’s copy of William Lambarde’s Archaionomia, a treatise on Anglo-Saxon law.

This has a signature on the title-page which many, many very knowledgeable people believe to be that of William Shakespeare. I will not attempt to summarize the evidence here, but it is summarized by Samuel Schoenbaum’s William Shakespeare: Records and Images (1981), and by Giles Dawson in an article he wrote for Shakespeare Quarterly a few years ago (1992?), a couple of years before his death. Schoenbaum, a notorious skeptic, believes that the signature is more likely to be genuine than not (and for him, that’s saying a lot), and Dawson believed flat-out that the signature is genuine. I think the evidence is pretty persuasive; if the signature was forged, the forger was one of the best ever.

This information provides a place to start, and I begin by inquiring how Mr. Kathman would quantify his phrases “many, many very knowledgeable people," and “widely, but not universally accepted.” If the alleged seventh signature is “widely” accepted, we should expect to find numerous “very knowledgeable” authorities quoting it as evidence after the initial reports of its discovery in 1942, and only a few hold-outs. What we find, however, are a few lone voices of acceptance, versus “wide" non-acceptance.

The Folger acquired the Lambarde book in 1938 and it was examined by Giles Dawson, James McManaway, and Edwin E. Willoughby. Scholarship has therefore had the opportunity to examine, question, accept, or reject, the signature in Archaionomia since 1942, when Dawson reported his findings and Joseph Quincy Adams published on the subject. Both accepted the signature as genuine. Very few subsequently followed their lead, and the subject dropped out of sight for awhile.

In 1973, W. Nicholas Knight rekindled the subject and got some media attention with his book, Shakespeare’s Hidden Life: Shakespeare at the Law 1585-1595. The signature in Archaionomia was one of his principal “new” pieces of evidence. The appearance of Knight’s book prompted comments concerning not only his disqualification as one of Kathman’s “knowledgeable people” but also the genuineness of the signature.

N.W. Bawcutt, for example, criticizes Knight’s “use of evidence [as] surprisingly careless. … Even if we accept that the Lambarde signature is genuine,” it does not support Knight’s additional claims (164-65). So Bawcutt does not seize the opportunity to accept the signature as genuine.

In the Shakespeare Quarterly review, R.J. Schoeck criticized “Knight’s lack of scholarly objectivity” and arguments built on “a host of assumptions,” including the Archaionomia signature, a signature “known to Shakespearean scholars for three decades … [and] blown up into ’this new fact about Shakespeare’s private life’” (305-7).

In his review in Renaissance Quarterly, Ronald Berman commends Knight’s “fine detective work on the authentication of Shakespeare’s signature” but has very little else good to say:

The question of Shakespeare’s autograph is clearly stated in a fact sheet assembled by the Folger Library on William Lambarde’s Archaionomia (1568). Professor Knight has attempted to identify a signature in that book as that of William Shakespeare. Current scholarly opinion on the matter is summarized by the Folger in purely descriptive terms: no ascription has at this time been generally accepted. (99)

In his 1992 article, Giles Dawson argues that there “is an overwhelming probability that the writer of all seven signatures was the same person" (79). But there is no proof that even the first six signatures were written by the same person, since Jane Cox has argued, and Jonathan Hope has recently reminded us all (on the Shaksper news group), that some of the allegedly genuine signatures on Shakespeare’s will may not be that of the testator:

At the risk of appearing willfully mischievous, could I point out that the authenticity of the signatures on the will is not certain. David Thomas’ Shakespeare in the Public Records (1985: Public Record Office), page 34, notes that signatures were often ’supplied’ in a different hand from their own by the scribe - wills were proved by executor’s oath not by the signature. (Hope, Feb. 27, 2002)

As for the “wide” acceptance of the seventh signature by recent biographers, Park Honan doesn’t mention it. Neither does Duncan-Jones. In his discussion of Hand D, Dennis Kay notes that “the only other examples of his hand are six [emphasis added] signatures” (180). In his biography of Shakespeare, Schoenbaum (Compact, 215) compares Hand D to “the six [emphasis added] authenticated signatures,” and he was writing years after Dawson’s and Adams’s articles. The Reader’s Encyclopedia describes the signature as “disputed.”

Another place to seek the extent of “wide” or scant acceptance is in discussions of Shakespeare’s possible handwriting in Sir Thomas More. Numerous scholars have revisited the Hand D arguments subsequent to the proposed addition of a seventh signature to the control sample of handwriting. R.C. Bald, writing seven years after Dawson’s initial report, accepts “only six signatures” in the control sample (54). I.A. Shapiro likewise refers to six signatures, and Michael L. Hays doesn’t mention the Archaionomia signature.

So where are all the authorities who justify Kathman’s claim that there is “wide acceptance” among “many, many” authorities of the signature in Archaionomia. The group would seem to consist of Giles Dawson, Joseph Quincy Adams, Hereward T. Price (per Schoenbaum, Records, 107n, who describes H.T. Price’s paper as “special pleading"), and David Kathman.

It is possible that, by unhappy chance as I checked through articles on Hand D, recent biographies, and relevant articles, I have unintentionally missed all the “very knowledgeable” scholars who accept this signature. At the least, the seventh signature has not permeated Shakespearian scholarship to any significant degree, as far as I have been able to ascertain. On the contrary, it has been roundly ignored.

Kathman cites Schoenbaum as believing “that the signature is more likely to be genuine than not.” But Schoenbaum’s discussion appears in a section subtitled “Doubtful and Spurious Signatures” in Records and Images. Schoenbaum concludes that Dawson “thinks there is a better chance that the signature is genuine than that it is not. That strikes [Schoenbaum] as a fair statement of the position. Handwriting analysis alone cannot resolve the question, and it seems unlikely, so long after the event, that evidence of another sort will be forthcoming. The Lambarde signature makes a better claim to authenticity than any other pretended Shakespeare autograph, but it is premature, to say the least, to classify it as the poet’s seventh signature” [emphasis added] (Records, 109).

Mr. Kathman’s claim that this signature is “widely accepted” by “many, many” people as the poet’s seventh signature, is likewise premature.


Bald, R.C. “The Booke of Sir Thomas More and Its Problems.” Shakespeare Survey (1949): 44-61.

Bawcutt, N.W. “The Year’s Contributions to Shakespearian Study,” Shakespeare Survey 28 (1975): 164-5.

Berman, Ronald. Review of Shakespeare’s Hidden Life by W. Nicholas Knight. Renaissance Quarterly (spring 1974): 99-100.

Campbell, Oscar James. The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1966.

Dawson, Giles. “A Seventh Signature for Shakespeare.” Shakespeare Quarterly 43 (spring 1992): 72-79.

Duncan-Jones, Katherine. Ungentle Shakespeare: Scenes from His Life. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001.

Hays, Michael L. “Shakespeare’s Hand in Sir Thomas More: Some Aspects of the Paleographic Argument” Shakespeare Studies (1975): 241-253.

Honan, Park. Shakespeare: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Kay, Dennis. Shakespeare: His Life, Work and Era. New York: William Morrow, 1992.

Knight, W. Nicholas. Shakespeare’s Hidden Life: Shakespeare at the Law 1585-1595. New York: Mason & Lipscomb, 1973.

Schoeck, R.J. Review of Shakespeare’s Hidden Life by W. Nicholas Knight. Shakespeare Quarterly (summer 1975): 305-7.

Schoenbaum, Samuel. William Shakespeare: Records and Images. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

─────. William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. 1977. Revised Edition with a New Postscript, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Shapiro, I.A. “The Significance of A Date," Shakespeare Survey 8 (1955): 100-105.

Thomas, David, and Jane Cox. Shakespeare in the Public Records, Public Record Office. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1985.

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Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography has been criticized on an internet news group (humanities.lit.authorship.shakespeare) for unfairly characterizing Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna as “functionally illiterate.” While most on the group are familiar with Shakspere’s six signatures, they can be at a disadvantage if they have not had an opportunity to examine other evidence concerning literacy amongst members of his family.

The statements in question are:

The evidence for these statements has been available for years, but many of the books are out-of-print or require a trip to an academic or reference library. This page is to set forth evidence concerning the literacy of Shakspere and members of his family.

Judith Shakspere’s mark

Shakspere’s younger daughter signed with a mark. The pigtail shape in the middle of the image is the “mark.” A scribe or attorney wrote the name Judith “Shakespeare.”

Susanna Hall’s signature

Shakspere’s elder daughter was able to sign her name. One example survives. This is the image given in Halliwell-Phillipps’s Outlines. Paleographer E. Maunde Thompson describes this as a “painfully formed signature, which was probably the most that she was capable of doing with the pen.”

Note how the letter u is out of place compared to the following letters. The three a’s are all different, as are the two n’s and the two final l’s.

John Hall’s medical case-book

Susanna Shakspere married John Hall, a respected physician. Dr. James Cooke translated Hall’s casebook from Latin into English and published it. In his introduction, Cooke gives an account of his interview with Susanna and describes how he obtained the manuscript:

…to see the Books left by Mr. Hall. After a view of them, she told me she had some Books left, by one that professed Physick, with her Husband, for some mony. I told her, if I liked them, I would give her the mony again; she brought them forth, amongst which there was this with another of the Authors, both intended for the Presse. I being acquainted with Mr. Hall’s hand, told her that one or two of them were her Husband’s and shewed them her; she denyed, I affirmed, till I perceived she begun to be offended. At last I returned her the mony.

From an edition of Hall’s case-book, we read:

“As the notes were in abbreviated Latin, Cooke sent them to London to ‘an able doctor’ to obtain an opinion about publishing them. The opinion offered was that the abbreviated Latin would cause the translator some difficulty. Cooke, however, had some ’spare hours’ and a conviction of their worth for he set about translating Hall’s condensed Latin. This he accomplished with the help of Hall’s apothecary, Richard Court, and in 1657 one of the notebooks appeared in print” (Harriet Joseph, Shakespeare’s Son-in-Law, [1964], 31).

One can conclude from the first account that Susanna did not recognize her own husband’s handwriting. Various excuses have been offered, including the suggestion that all the notes were in abbreviated Latin, which Susanna would not have been able to decipher.

The sample page of Hall’s journal here shows that such an excuse is without foundation. Readers can clearly make out names (“Hall” on the top line, “Mrs Herbert” at the line marked by the marginal no. “20”, “Maria Wilsune” in the first line of the final paragraph), and ailments (such as “colica” in the second and final lines of Susanna’s paragraph).

Peter Farey kindly pointed out that the first line reads: “Generosa Hall uxor mea” (Gentlewoman Hall, my wife).

John Hall’s signature

His signature is what one would expect from a man who wrote in a clear Italian hand. Would that his father-in-law’s signatures had had such clarity and consistency.

Shakspere’s six signatures

Shakspere’s six surviving signatures demonstrate that he could write. They are all affixed to legal documents dating from the last four years of his life.

Jane Cox of the Public Records Office raises the possibility that some of the signatures may have been prepared by scribes. In my book (p. 125), I accept all the signatures as authentic, noting Cox’s reservation.

Gerald E. Downs has pointed out that the words “by me William” in the last signature appear to be written by a scribe.

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Price reviews Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, ed. Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)

1. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy is a collection of essays that purports to put an end to the so-called Shakespeare Authorship Question, once and for all. Its editors, Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson, recruited 20 contributors, most of whom also contributed to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s “60 Minutes with Shakespeare,” a project that provided 60 seconds each to 60 scholars addressing various topics, most with significance for the authorship question.

The essay collection was prompted in part by the release of Roland Emmerich’s 2011 film Anonymous (a box office flop dramatizing a fringe version of a “royal birth” theory positing the earl of Oxford as the real Shakespeare) and the “Declaration of Reasonable Doubt” (now signed by over 2,700 individuals) published on the website Shakespeare Authorship Coalition. The substance of the declaration is, in some measure, based on the research in my own book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem. It was the first book challenging the traditional biography to be published by a mainstream publisher in a peer-reviewed series (Greenwood Press, 2001, “Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies” no. 94; now revised and published in paperback by shakespeare-authorship.com, 2012). A major argument in the book is based on a comparative analysis of documentary evidence left behind by Shakespeare and two dozen writers active during his lifetime. The results of that analysis demonstrate that Shakespeare is the only alleged writer of consequence from the time period who left behind no evidence that he wrote for a living, or even as a vocation.

At the April 2013 launch of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt in Stratford-on-Avon, Ros Barber (author of the prize-winning The Marlowe Papers, a fictionalized case for Marlowe’s authorship) criticized the editors of the essay collection for failing to contend with their peer-reviewed opposition. In this review essay, I focus on particular contributors who defend the traditional biography, with the hope that my critique will move the debate forward.

As a general comment, it is unfortunate that a decision on nomenclature was made in this collection to re-label authorship skeptics as “anti-Shakespeareans,” rather than the more accurately descriptive “anti- Stratfordians . “Anti-Shakespearean” is unnecessarily pejorative (and it was a relief to read James Shapiro’s reversion to the term “anti- Stratfordian” in his Afterword). Also, in several places, some contributors assert that the authorship question first emerged, not during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but in 1856-57, when Delia Bacon published her unreadable tome (2, 87, 246). But Miss Bacon was not the first to ask questions about Shakespeare’s authorship. She was the first to formalize the question. Expressions of confusion about Shakespeare’s authorship were recorded during Shakespeare’s lifetime by Thomas Edwards, the Parnassus authors, Gabriel Harvey, and John Davies of Hereford, among others.

Now to particulars.

ii. Andrew Hadfield is the author of the recent and well-received biography of Edmund Spenser. Spenser left behind good evidence of his literary interests and activities, the evidence that I call personal literary paper trails. These include books exchanged with his friend, Gabriel Harvey, his handwritten transcription of a Latin poem, and records of his education. Despite such evidence for Spenser, in his essay “Theorizing Shakespeare’s authorship,” Hadfield attempts to lower his reader’s expectations for evidence surviving for writers from the time period, essentially excusing the absence of literary paper trails for Shakespeare:

Even a superficial trawl through the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography will reveal how little we know about many important figures, making the gaps in the biographical records of Shakespeare seem typical rather than unusual and therefore in no need of explanation… What are left are scraps, fragments, and clues in parish registers, court records, and probate offices” (65, 66).

To which list I would add personal literary paper trails.

Hadfield admits that “there are virtually no literary remains left behind by Shakespeare” (66), but he also claims that in that sense, Shakespeare is no different than other writers, such as Henry Chettle, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Middleton, Anthony Munday, and Thomas Nashe, among others (66). While the canons of these writers, like Shakespeare’s, present various attribution or authenticity problems, unlike Shakespeare, these writers left behind solid records of their activities as writers. To take one example (chosen here because Hadfield singled out Nashe in his 60 seconds contribution to the SBT program), among the personal literary paper trails for Nashe are an autograph poem from his days at Cambridge; a record of how much he was rewarded for writing by one of his patrons, as specified in a letter from Sir George Carey to his wife (the dedicatee of the pamphlet in question); and a letter to Carey’s servant describing his difficulties “writing for the stage and for the press.” Despite the survival of that letter, Hadfield claims that “personal letters did not survive in an age when paper was scarce and expensive” (64). Yet additional autograph letters DO survive for, among others, George Chapman, Ben Jonson, John Marston, and Michael Drayton, and all of them contain reference to literary topics (Price, Unorthodox, 314-18). There are no comparable records for Shakespeare, so Hadfield’s claims do not hold up. The deficiency of personal literary paper trails for a writer from the time period is not an expected or common phenomenon; the deficiency is unique to Shakespeare.

iii. David Kathman’s essay “Shakespeare and Warwickshire” attempts to situate Shakespeare in the intellectual and literary communities in Stratford-on-Avon, investing him with intellectual credentials in a sort of literacy-by-association. Yet his sections on Shakespeare’s Stratford associates do nothing to establish Shakespeare as a man interested in literary matters. Identifying neighbors, such as Richard Quiney or Abraham Sturley, who read books or wrote letters, sometimes in Latin, is not evidence that Shakespeare read books or wrote letters. Indeed, the reason Kathman can state categorically that Quiney or Sturley read books or wrote letters is because letters survive to support those statements (124-27). No comparable evidence survives for Shakespeare.

Kathman claims that the plays “include numerous offhand references to people and places from the area around stratford” (129). but those “numerous” warwickshire characters and locations appear in only two plays, Henry IV (2) and The Taming of the Shrew. He further claims that the plays “are peppered with dialect words from Warwickshire and the West Midlands” (129). He cites three sources in his endnote, primarily C.T. Onions, and also R.C. Churchill (actually Ivor Brown’s introduction) and Hilda M. Hulme . Not only do these sources fail to verify all his claims, he omits other resources that would compromise or invalidate several of them. After consulting Joseph Wright’s still valuable six-volume The English Dialect Dictionary, James Orchard Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic Words, James Appleton Morgan’s Warwickshire Glossary, and the OED, I would propose that at least five of the nine words Kathman mentions don’t belong on his list.

For example, Kathman defines a “ballow” as a ‘cudgel,’ which Onions locates in the north Midlands (12). But the texts of King Lear (IV.vi.238) read, variously, “battero” (Qq), “bat” (Q1 and Q2), and “ballow” (F), so there is not even a secure basis for accepting “ballow” as the intended word. The OED elaborates:

Only in the Shakes. Folio of 1623, and subseq . editions, in loc. cit., where the Quartos have battero, and bat (stick, rough walking-stick); besides which, batton, battoun, ‘stick, cudgel’ obs. f. baton n. (q.v.) is a probable emendation. Bailey (1742) has ‘ Ballow, a pole, a long stick, quarter-staff, etc. Shakesp .’ (quoted by Halliwell as ‘Northern’): but no such word seems to exist, or to have any etymological justification.

The Arden 2 editor goes with “ballow” and cites Wright’s entry (1:145) for the word as common to Nottinghamshire (Muir, 173; Wright also specifies the word as in use in the shire of Kent). The Arden 3 editor goes with “baton,” rejecting the Folio reading of “ballow” since he could find “no convincing parallels” (Foakes, 346).

According to Onions, “potch,” meaning to thrust, “survives in Warwickshire” (165). Wright lists the word “potch” as a variant form of “poach” (4:562), defines “poach” (and its variant spellings) as “to poke, esp. with the fingers; to thrust, push suddenly,” etc., and locates the variant “potch” not only in Warwickshire, but also in Staffordshire, Shropshire, and Gloucestershire. The Arden 2 editor of Coriolanus glosses potch as “jab, poke” but is silent on the matter of dialect (Brockbank, 149), as are the editors of recent Oxford and Cambridge editions, as well as Halliwell . Morgan’s Glossary contains neither “poach” nor “potch .”

The word “batlet,” meaning ‘club (for washing)’ is described by Onions as “current recently in Yorks [hire] and Warwick[shire] (13). “Batler” is in the OED with reference to the modified word “batlet” in modern editions of As You Like It, but no dialect is mentioned. The word in the Arden 2 edition of As You Like It (II.iv.46) reads “batler .” Halliwell lists “batler” but does not assign a shire of origin or use (149). The New Variorum editor (Knowles, 93) cites [John R.] Wise’s list of Warwickshire words, but also cites Wright, who specifies Yorkshire and Warwickshire (per Wise’s list) and adds a disclaimer: “not known to our correspondents in Warwickshire” (1:186). Morgan’s glossary contains only “batten,” defined as “a stick used in washing clothes” (76), but provides no examples in the Shakespeare canon.

At least two other words in Kathman’s list, “pash” and “tarre,” fare no better. Of the nine dialect words cited by Kathman, only four may withstand scrutiny. Kathman acknowledges that while the dialect words that he cites “don’t prove anything,” they are “consistent” with the Stratford man’s authorship (129). But they are not. In order to make that case, he would need to show (1) that Warwickshire and West Midlands dialect words are particular to, or better yet, usually exclusive to, those shires, and (2) that the Shakespeare canon contains disproportionately higher numbers of dialect words from those regions. When a word such as “batlet” is found in Yorkshire as well as (possibly) Warwickshire, Kathman’s argument is weakened. It is further diluted as the known use of a word is discovered in additional shires or regions. It is difficult to give credence to words that he claims as Warwickshire dialect, even those found in Onions’s Glossary, when there is no further support or corroboration from Halliwell, Morgan, the OED, various critical editions, or especially Wright.

It is puzzling that Kathman cites Hulme’s research in his endnote. Her examples of Warwickshire or Midlands dialects are either qualified or introduced as speculative. She also shares the skeptical opinion that future research will likely “establish as more widely current such elements of apparently ‘Stratford’ language as occur in his text” and cites G.D. Willcock’s opinion that the Shakespeare corpus “shows no sign of surviving local patriotism” (316, 315). Hulme cites some idiosyncratic Shakespearean spellings consistent with, if not unique to, Warwickshire spellings (316, 318), but some of her citations depend upon the unfounded assumption that the printing house’s orthography faithfully followed the author’s manuscript (the hypothetical ‘foul papers’), when spellings are more likely scribal, compositorial, or editorial.

The last section in Kathman’s chapter is about “Shakespeare and Stratford after 1616,” in which he claims that “a wealth of evidence from the decade after Shakespeare’s death illustrates Stratford’s fame” (130). That “wealth of evidence” is, by definition, posthumous. The first testimony in the historic record explicitly identifying Shakespeare of Stratford as the dramatist appeared in the 1623 First Folio, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. Kathman failed to establish any significant connection between the author of Shakespeare’s canon and Warwickshire during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

iv. Addressing Shakespeare’s alleged education, Carol Chillington Rutter has briefly covered some of the same territory as T.W. Baldwin in his two-volume Shakespeare’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, a 1944 survey of educational institutions, curricula, etc. in Elizabethan England, including the varying educational capabilities of provincial schoolrooms, such as the one in Stratford. And like Baldwin, Rutter is unable to cite one document to support the statement that Shakespeare attended school, or expressed gratitude to a mentor, or attended university or one of the Inns of Court, or owned a book, or wrote a word of dialogue, a line of poetry, or even a letter concerning his business affairs. Shakespeare remains a man of no recorded education. The best that can be said is that if Shakespeare of Stratford wrote the plays, then he must have attended the Stratford Grammar School. His assumed education is therefore the result of circular reasoning. Further, Rutter’s essay fails to take into account the playwright’s familiarity with Italian, French, and Spanish, languages not taught at the grammar school.

v. In recent decades, and using increasingly sophisticated methods to identify stylometric features and patterns, scholars have been able to identify more co-authors in plays such as Titus Andronicus (with George Peele), 1 Henry VI (with Thomas Nashe), and Timon of Athens (with Thomas Middleton). In “Shakespeare as collaborator,” John Jowett attempts to identify Shakespeare, the theatrical shareholder, with Shakespeare, the dramatist. There is ample evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford was a shareholding member of theatre companies, but when Jowett claims that “Shakespeare [the playwright] was evidently participating as a member of the theatre company” (99), he is assuming that which has yet to be proved.

MacDonald P. Jackson specializes in the “evidence of stylometrics,” developing tests and using data to map out sections of texts by particular authors. However, when Jackson asserts that Shakespeare and Fletcher “clearly planned their collaborative plays as a joint enterprise” (106), he is stating more than we know. Jowett claims that “careful scrutiny of the Shakespeare collaborations shows him both writing a draft for someone else to complete (as is clearly seen only in Timon of Athens) and (as is more common with Shakespeare) completing a play begun by another dramatist” (98-99). In her edition of Two Noble Kinsmen, Potter advances her theory of collaboration: “the two dramatists began writing concurrently, but … Fletcher constructed the final draft. In [certain scenes], he seems to have been working on, or in the light of, Shakespearean material; nothing suggests that Shakespeare was ever working on Fletcher’s” (32). These competing theories do not exhaust the possible dynamics of collaboration, but since we do not have anything for Shakespeare’s plays comparable to the evidence of collaborations in Henslowe’s papers (Henslowe’s, 125; Stern 23-24, 25), thus far, the nature of Shakespeare’s collaborations remains a matter of speculation, and no consensus has emerged.

Whether Shakespeare, the author, whoever he was, actively collaborated with other dramatists is certainly a matter of interest. Obviously Jowett, Jackson, and others prefer to envision Shakespeare as all-around man of the theatre, steeped in playhouse practices, and immersed in all aspects of the theatre company activities. It is tempting to extend this characterization to include the role of company dramatist, both solo and in collaboration. But such a conception of Shakespeare, however attractive it may be, still lacks any evidence that could prove that Shakespeare of Stratford was a writer. In addition, there are reasons to question the nature of Shakespeare’s commitments to the acting and theatre companies, and one of them concerns schedule conflicts. Although most biographers separate conflicting evidence into different chapters, when examined chronologically, the documentation shows that Shakespeare, the actor-shareholder was absent from London in 1597-98, during the all-important Christmas holiday season when the company performed at court, and again in 1604, after the theatres re-opened (Price, Unorthodox, 32 -35). Any such absences during busy performance seasons raise questions about just what Shakespeare’s responsibilities were with those companies, making it more difficult to build on the traditional biographical narrative.

vi. Jowett’s essay is one of two in the collection to introduce the Hand D manuscript additions to the play Sir Thomas More as not only composed by Shakespeare but also in the handwriting of Shakespeare of Stratford. He claims that D’s handwriting can be positively identified as Shakespeare’s by comparison with the six extant signatures (93). In their essay “What does textual evidence reveal about the author ?,” James Mardock and Eric Rasmussen also accept the Hand D additions as in Shakespeare’s handwriting (113). The argument cannot be made on the available evidence. Even if the Hand D additions fall close to, or within the Shakespeare universe from a stylometric standpoint, the absence of an adequate control sample of Shakespeare’s handwriting with which to make a comparison constitutes an insurmountable obstacle (Hays, esp. 241, 248-49).

None of the contributors claiming the Hand D additions as evidence for the man from Stratford cites Michael L. Hays’s important paleographical examination or Paul Werstine’s research. (In addition to Werstine’s 1999 article, his recent Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and The Editing of Shakespeare exhaustively retraces the search for authorial ‘foul paper’ and devotes a section to the Sir Thomas More manuscript, including the Hand D additions. Even though Shakespeare Beyond Doubt probably went to press before Werstine published in January 2013, among those who are named in the acknowledgements are John Jowett and Eric Rasmussen, so they were undoubtedly aware of his research.) Jowett is understandably persistent in his acceptance of Hand D as Shakespeare; his 2011 critical edition of Sir Thomas More appears in the Arden Shakespeare series, which itself gives the argument the appearance of legitimacy. Yet Werstine criticizes Jowett’s “summary of scholarship on the Shakespeare attribution [as] bent on marginalizing what it demonstrates to be widespread recent skepticism about his authorship of the Hand-D pages” (Early, 345, n 29).

In addition, the Hand D pages contain instances of eyeskip, a characteristic consistent with scribal transcription (Downs, “Book,” 5-15). So there can be no certainty that the Hand D additions are authorial; they could as easily be scribal copy (Werstine, Early, 252). Jowett’s “greater confidence” in the Hand D additions as Shakespeare’s (93) would seem to be as yet unwarranted.

vii. Jowett’s “man of the theatre” argument linking Shakespeare of Stratford with the playwright is also advanced by Mardock & Rasmussen, even though they cannot cite any evidence to prove that the actor was also a playwright, either. However, they identify names of actors such as Will Kemp, Richard Cowley, and John Sincklo, that appear in a few printed texts (e.g., Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado, and 3 Henry VI) in some of the speech prefixes, in place of character names. They cite these actor names to argue that Shakespeare, the actor-playwright “often seems to have had specific members of his company in mind” for various roles he wrote (115), even though the majority of such roles are bit parts. But the dramatist, whoever he was, is not the only possible source for such speech prefixes. Indeed, those speech prefixes are more likely scribal, of playhouse origin, or the result of a memorial report. As co-editor with John D. Cox of the Arden 3 edition of King Henry VI (3), Rasmussen himself cites those who argue the cases for non-authorial origins of such speech prefixes (169-73; see also Werstine, Early, 118). Cox and Rasmussen begin their section on character names:

3 Henry VI was set into type from an authorial manuscript rests largely upon the appearance in that text of three names — Gabriel, Sinklo and Humfrey — thought to refer to specific Elizabethan actors. (166-67)

The theory that compositors who set type had before them an “authorial manuscript” — the so-called ‘foul papers’ — still enjoys considerable currency, even though no ‘foul papers’ have ever been found, so the features they may have contained, such as speech prefixes that specify actors instead of characters, remain unknown. As H.R. Woudhuysen dryly put it: “The argument is a circular one: ‘foul-paper’ texts can be identified by the presence of those features which are characteristic of ‘foul-paper’ texts” (320). Quite recently, Werstine expanded on the subject, not only dissecting W.W. Greg’s unsuccessful attempts to identify characteristics in the hypothetical ‘foul papers’ by comparing extant theatrical manuscripts to printed texts, but also demonstrating that such imagined characteristics, as enumerated by Greg and others, are not unique to the imagined ‘foul papers,’ or, in the words of Barbara A. Mowat :

the very stigmata used by bibliographers to demonstrate that a play was printed from shakespeare’s autograph can be found in scribal and theatrical manuscripts as well. (133)

Which brings us back to the texts in which speech prefixes name players rather than characters. According to Andrew Gurr, “the naming of players in playscripts is a vexed question that depends heavily on what sort of manuscript is identified as the source for the printed text, and when the names were inserted in the manuscript” (72n); “the source” could be an authorial manuscript, but it also could be a scribal transcript, edited copy, a reported text, a playhouse script, or some other descendent copy. However, since no ‘foul papers’ by Shakespeare or anyone else have ever been discovered, the arguments proposing that Shakespeare’s ‘foul papers’ served as printer’s copy for this or that printed text are sheer speculation. The related argument that Shakespeare, as author, wrote those actor names instead of speech prefixes, is also speculation.

It would have saved Greg years of frustration if he had succeeded in discovering any ‘foul papers’ from the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Several additions in the Sir Thomas More manuscript, such as those by Thomas Dekker and possibly Thomas Heywood, are autograph, and therefore would seem to be good candidates for ‘foul papers’ categorization, yet Greg had difficulty reconciling them with characteristics that he considered essential to his definition of ‘foul papers,’ such as illegible handwriting. The main part of the Sir Thomas More manuscript is in the hand of Anthony Munday, who is also identified as the principal author of the play. However, Werstine explains that “it is impossible to know whether Munday authors the play in whole or part, or simply transcribes it, there being no plays of his undisputed authorship to use for comparison.” Munday could even have been copying his own composition. There is similar uncertainty as to whether the Hand D additions are authorial (whether in the act of composition or as copyist), or scribal. Despite the problematic evidence and the absence of consensus of opinion about most aspects of the Sir Thomas More manuscript (Werstine, Early, 251-52, 255), the Hand D theory, as confidently advanced by Jowett, Mardock, and Rasmussen, seems to be taking on a new life of its own.

viii. In 2011 and 2012, Brian Vickers furthered the argument that the 1602 additions to Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy can be attributed to Shakespeare. In August 2013, The New York Times (Schuessler) announced a forthcoming paper proposing that Shakespeare’s handwriting can explain textual problems in those additions, as printed in 1602. That case rests entirely on accepting the Hand D additions as authorial and in Shakespeare’s handwriting, essentially promoting the Hand D additions to the status of ‘foul papers,’ the first ever discovered. Such wishful thinking is reminiscent of Greg’s search for ‘foul papers’ containing features that could explain problems found in many of the “good” Shakespearean texts. All the ‘foul papers’ that he thought he had identified turned out instead to be, for example, scribal transcripts or fair copies. Now Douglas Bruster is going down much the same path, adopting the Hand D additions as a control sample of Shakespeare’s handwriting and compositional habits that can be used, as Greg had hoped, to solve problems in a printed text by inferring how letter formations, spelling patterns, and other authorial idiosyncrasies may explain mistakes or confusions in the printing house.

Bruster is proposing that in 1602, those printers had before them Shakespeare’s handwritten manuscript additions to The Spanish Tragedy. Bruster is careful to qualify his thesis by allowing for the “possibility that an author’s unpunctuated foul papers served as copy-text, at however close a remove ” [emphasis added], but if ‘foul papers’ served as printer’s copy, then the copy-text was not at one remove from those ‘foul papers.’ A manuscript once or more removed from those ‘foul papers’ — such as a fair copy of the ‘foul papers’ — is obviously less reliable as an indicator of an author’s preferences or idiosyncrasies. Nevertheless, Bruster builds his case on the assumption that features in the Hand D additions also would have been present in the printer’s copy for the 1602 additions. In other words, like Jowett, Mardock, and Rasmussen in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, Bruster accepts the Hand D additions as Shakespeare’s authorial manuscript, even though the Hand D additions are written in an unknown hand and could be scribal copy.

ix. Stanley Wells surveys the Shakespearean allusions from 1592 to 1616 (the year of Shakespeare’s death) and on to 1642 (the closing of the theatres and the start of the Civil War). He challenges anti-Shakespeareans (or, as I would say, anti- Stratfordians) at the outset: In order to “suggest alternative nominees for the authorship” a skeptic would need “to disprove everything that goes to show that they were written” by William Shakespeare of Stratford (73). On the contrary, one does not need to disprove everything about Shakespeare of Stratford; rather, a skeptic needs to re-evaluate everything about Shakespeare of Stratford to determine if he and Shakespeare the writer were one and the same. Reconsidering the evidentiary value of testimony is not the same thing as denying that testimony, and that distinction is often ignored in favor of accusing anti- Stratfordians of being wholesale deniers of evidence.

As mentioned earlier, the first testimony in the historic record explicitly identifying Shakespeare of Stratford as the dramatist appeared in the 1623 First Folio, seven years after Shakespeare’ death. Wells admits that “despite the mass of evidence that the works were written by a man named William Shakespeare, there is none [i.e., allusions recorded up to 1616] that explicitly and incontrovertibly identifies him with Stratford-upon-Avon” (81). If, by that, Wells means that none of the Shakespearean literary allusions or evidence can be directly and personally linked to the actor-shareholder from Stratford, then Wells has identified the problem. He tries to get around the problem by uncritically accepting posthumous allusions as equal in weight and reliability with contemporaneous testimony. Thus, in a tribute to Shakespeare in 1638 (twenty-two years after Shakespeare died), William Davenant refers to “The banks of Avon.” Wells claims that this, like the First Folio tribute to the “swan of Avon,” “again associates the poet with the River Avon” (85), thereby reinforcing the identification of Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon as the poet. But Wells misses the more likely explanation: Davenant’s association of Shakespeare with the river “Avon” is derivative of the 1623 First Folio front matter. Surely, Wells would not stretch this reasoning to claim that the preface to the 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher folio, referencing “the then expired sweet Swan of Avon Shakespeare” was reliable primary testimony, rather than derivative.

Does Wells have a cut-off date to differentiate contemporaneous and/or firsthand testimony from posthumous hearsay, legend, or derivation? He asserts that “to refuse to credit the considerable amount of posthumously derived evidence linking the writer with the Stratford man is totally illogical. To put it at its most basic level, if we refused to accept posthumous evidence we should have to refuse the evidence that anyone has ever died” (81). These objections are incorrect on several levels. One, Shakespeare is the only alleged writer from the time period for whom one must rely on posthumous evidence to make the authorship case. As I have said elsewhere and repeatedly, the absence of contemporary personal literary paper trails for Shakespeare’s biography is a unique deficiency. Two, and again to repeat, questioning the evidentiary value of testimony, both contemporaneous and posthumous, is not the same thing as “refusing to accept” that testimony. And three, Wells claims that on the basis of this criterion, we should “have to refuse the evidence that anyone ever died.” So, Wells would “refuse” all the affirmative evidence of death routinely cited in biographies (burial registers, epitaphs, eulogies, correspondence, diary entries, probated wills, litigation, deeds and other legal documents, etc.). Such records demand scrutiny, of course, but despite whatever license or whitewashing may be present in, e.g., eulogies, tributes, or litigation, such records are generally useful in documenting a death.

Regrettably, Wells does not put the allusions under the microscope. Each reference to Shakespeare, or to a Shakespeare play, poem, character, or quotation, presents an opportunity to interrogate the allusion, for example, to attempt to determine if its author demonstrates personal knowledge of Shakespeare, as distinct from familiarity merely with the printed page or performed dialogue. Such distinctions are important, since the contemporaneous literary allusions to Shakespeare that Wells cites are either “cryptic” and “obscure” (79), or they are essentially book or theatre reviews, necessitating no firsthand knowledge of the author. Anyone can write a review, or cite a Shakespearean line, without personally knowing the author.

An epigram by John Davies of Hereford illustrates the importance of such interrogation. Wells introduces the epigram as “explicitly addressed to Shakespeare” (79). While Wells describes the epigram as “somewhat obscure,” he does not examine Davies’s choices of words and possible intended meaning(s). Instead, he asserts that the title (“our English Terence”) “compares [Shake- speare ] to one of the greatest of Roman playwrights.” But Terence was also well-known to Elizabethans and Jacobeans as freed slave who took credit for plays written by the aristocrats Scipio and Laelius, and other language in the epigram suggests deliberate ambiguity. In 1995, Wells supposed that the sobriquet Terence “seems to imply that Davies thinks of [Shake- speare ] primarily as a comic playwright, but goes on to speak of him in cryptic terms as an actor.” After quoting the first four lines, Wells concluded that the verse is “too vague to be helpful” (Drama, 26).

Yet in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, he is content merely to identify “our English Terence” as “one of the greatest of Roman playwrights,” without further analysis. Should an analysis of Davies’s poem be limited to the title, or should the vagueness of the poem prompt questions? Is the epigram straightforward or ambiguous? Is it a literary allusion or a theatrical allusion or both? Is it personal or impersonal testimony? It is easy enough to cite an epigram, but it should be incumbent on anyone attempting to defend — or challenge — the traditional biography to re-examine the testimony to determine what may or may not be concluded (see Price, Unorthodox, 60-63).


When Wells belatedly read my book in response to Ros Barber’s criticism, he shared his comments on Blogging Shakespeare, a website for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. But he failed to address the single most important argument I make in Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography : that Shakespeare is the only alleged writer of consequence from the time period who left behind no evidence during his lifetime to support the statement that he was a writer. And I pointed that out in the Comments section.

To my surprise, Professor Wells responded:

My reason for not commenting on this impressively researched section is that I find it irrelevant to the discussion of the case that Shakespeare’s works were written by William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Even allowing that Prof. Wells disagrees with my conclusion, it is unsettling that he considers a comparative analysis of evidence “irrelevant to the discussion.” Because evidence and criteria are relevant; they do matter to historians and biographers. In my book, and more extensively on my website, I quote various historians and scholars on the subject of criteria, including distinctions they make between contemporaneous and posthumous evidence. Now theoretically, Wells could have argued that the absence of contemporaneous literary paper trails is “irrelevant” — if Shakespeare had left behind perhaps only 3 or 4 documents during his lifetime. In that case, Wells could have stretched the odds to argue that too few records survive to expect any of them to document his alleged literary activities. But Shakespeare left behind over 70 records. As I point out elsewhere, all of Shakspere’s undisputed personal records are nonliterary, and that is not only unusual. It is bizarre. Statistically, it is also a virtual impossibility:

As far as i have investigated the biographies of shakespeare’s literary contemporaries, the deficiency of contemporaneous evidence for shakespeare’s career as a writer is unique. Yet his life is, comparatively speaking, quite well-documented. He left behind over seventy records. Even the most poorly documented writers, those with less than a dozen records in total, still left behind a couple of personal literary paper trails. Based on the average proportions, I would conservatively have expected perhaps a third of Shakespeare’s records, or about two dozen, to shed light on his professional activities. In fact, over half of them, forty-five to be precise, are personal professional paper trails, but they are all evidence of non-literary professions: those of actor, theatrical shareholder, financier, real estate investor, grain-trader, money-lender, and entrepreneur. It is the absence of contemporary personal literary paper trails that forces Shakespeare’s biographers to rely — to an unprecedented degree — on posthumous evidence. (Price, “Evidence,” 146-47)

Acknowledging the priority of contemporaneous evidence is not a deviant anti- Stratfordian obsession. A few years ago, in the Journal of American History, Michael F. Holt commented on Matthew Pinsker’s essay “Lincoln Theme 2.0”:

I heartily agree with Pinsker’s assessment that one of the most important developments in Lincoln scholarship since the appearance of David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln in 1995 has been the willingness of Lincoln scholars to give credence to oral and written testimony about Lincoln given after, and often long after, Lincoln’s assassination. I studied as a graduate student with Donald a quarter of a century before Pinsker did, but at that time we were trained to regard such post hoc testimony as toxic .

In this regard, however, I am puzzled by Pinsker’s assertion that Michael Burlingame’s massive new two-volume biography … “will force scholars to confront their increasing reliance on recollected material in ways that might alter the ongoing reinterpretation of Lincoln’s private life.” Burlingame does reject some recollections as spurious, but as I read him, … his modus operandi is not to reject recollected evidence but rather to pile quotation upon quotation from these posthumous witnesses. The implicit rule of evidence implied here, as I see it, is that if eight or ten “witnesses,” as opposed to only two or three, recall essentially the same thing, then it must qualify as historical fact. [emphasis added]

Holt is pointing out some of the hazards of treating contemporaneous, posthumous, and derivative testimony as equally reliable.

Wells includes “Publication Evidence” at the end of his essay to prove the Stratford man’s authorship. It is a list of plays and poems published with title-page attribution prior to the 1623 First Folio. The title-page attributions constitute excellent circumstantial evidence for the man from Stratford. They do not necessarily constitute reliable evidence of authorship (consider Pericles, Lover’s Complaint, Passionate Pilgrim, A London Prodigal, and A Yorkshire Tragedy, as well as plays now known to contain sections by co-authors, such as Titus, Timon, or 1 Henry VI), nor can they be used to demonstrate that which has yet to be proved: that the man from Stratford wrote the works so attributed.

xi. Hardy M. Cook prepared “A selected reading list” as an appendix, and I am sorry to note that he included Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography in a paragraph listing books arguing the case for the earl of Oxford (247). I do not argue for or against any alternative candidate. I do not know how he became aware of my book, but Cook cannot possibly have glanced at it or my website, or checked the Amazon listing, or consulted Hope and Holston’s history and bibliography of anti- Stratfordian studies. Unfortunately, contributors to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt likewise were either unaware of my research or made a decision to ignore it. Either way, Dr. Barber was right to call them out on it.

xii. To conclude, the evidence and arguments that I have considered, as presented by some of the contributors to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt fail to put an end to the authorship question, and indeed, too many of the claims prove to be vulnerable or untenable. Wells’s opinion that the unique deficiency of personal literary paper trails for Shakespeare is “irrelevant” to the debate suggests to me that the orthodox biography is more in doubt than ever.

Select bibliography of works consulted or cited

Baldwin, T. W. William Shakspere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke. 2 vols. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944.

Barber, Ros. https://rosbarber.com and https://rosbarber.com/home/blog/, accessed 17 Aug. 2013.

Bliss, Lee, ed. Coriolanus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Brockbank, Philip, ed. Coriolanus. The Arden Shakespeare Second Series. 1976. Reprint, London: Routledge, 1988.

Bruster, Douglas. “Shakespearean Spellings and Handwriting in the Additional Passages Printed in the 1602 Spanish Tragedy.” Notes and Queries at https://nq.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/07/19/notesj.gjt124.full (19 July 2013), accessed 19 Aug. 2013.

Cox, John D. and Eric Rasmussen, ed. King Henry VI (3). The Arden Shakespeare Third Series. London: Thomson Learning, 2001.

Declaration of Reasonable Doubt. The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, at https://doubtaboutwill.org/declaration, accessed 17 Aug. 2013.

Downs, Gerald E. “Memorial Transmission, Shorthand, and John of Bordeaux.” in Studies in Bibliography 58 (2007-8): 109-34.

─────. “Hand D and The Book of Sir Thomas More : By The Nature of Your Error.” Undated pamphlet. (A version of this paper was published without permission in Shakespeare Yearbook, 2007; the paper had already been accepted and announced by Studies in Bibliography.)

Duncan-Jones, Katharine. “Jonson’s Epitaph on Nashe.” Times Literary Supplement (7 July 1995): 4-6.

Foakes, R.A., ed. King Lear. The Arden Shakespeare Third Series. London: Thomson Learning, 1997.

Gurr, Andrew. The Shakespearian Playing Companies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Hadfield, Andrew. Edmund Spenser: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Halliwell, James Orchard. Dictionary of Archaic Words. 1850. Reprint, London: Bracken Books, 1989.

Hays, Michael L. “Shakespeare’s Hand in Sir Thomas More : Some Aspects of the Paleographic Argument” in Shakespeare Studies 8 (1975): 241-53.

Henslowe’s Diary. Edited by R.A. Foakes and R.T. Rickert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961.

Holt, Michael F. “Lincoln Reconsidered” in Journal of American History 96 (Sept. 2009): 451–55, at https://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/projects/lincoln/contents/holt.html, accessed 17 Aug. 2013. (Dead link),

Honan, Daniel. “Computer Software Proves Shakespeare Co-Authored Plays,.” at https://bigthink.com/how-to-think-like-shakespeare/computer-software-proves-shakespeare-co-authored-plays, (Dead link) (6 April 2011) accessed 19 Aug,. 2013.

Honigmann, E.A.J. John Weever: A Biography of a Literary Associate of Shakespeare and Jonson, Together with a Photographic Facsimile of Weever’s ‘Epigrammes’ (1599) . Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987.

Hope, Warren, and Kim Holston. The Shakespeare Controversy: An Analysis of the Authorship Theories. 2nd ed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

Hulme, Hilda M. Explorations in Shakespeare’s Language. 1962, Reprint, New York: Longman Group Limited London, 1977.

Ingleby, C. M., Lucy Toulmin Smith and F. J. Furnivall. The Shakspere Allusion-Book: A Collection of Allusions to Shakspere from 1591 to 1700 . 2 vols. 1909. Reprint, Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1970.

Jackson, MacDonald P. “The Date and Authorship of Hand D’s Contribution to Sir Thomas More : Evidence From Literature Online.” Shakespeare Survey 59 (2006): 69-78.

Jowett, John, ed. Sir Thomas More. The Arden Shakespeare Third series. London: Methuen Drama, 2011.

─────. Shakespeare and Text. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Knowles, Richard, ed. As You Like It. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare. New York: The Modern Language Assoc., 1977.

Latham, Agnes, ed. As You Like It. The Arden Shakespeare Second Series. 1975. Reprint, London: Methuen, 1989.

Morgan, James Appleton. A study in the Warwickshire dialect; with a glossary and notes touching the Edward the Sixth grammar schools and the Elizabethan pronunciation as deduced from the puns in Shakespeare’s plays . Third Edition. New York, 1899.

Mowat, Barbara A. “The Problem of Shakespeare’s Text(s).” In Textual Formations and Reformations. Edited by Laurie E. Maguire and Thomas L. Berger. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses (1998): 131-48.

Muir, Kenneth, ed. King Lear. The Arden Shakespeare Second Series. 1964. Reprint, London: Metheun, 1975.

Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd edition. CD 3.0 including Additions Series Volumes 1-3, 2000.

Onions, C.T. A Shakespeare Glossary. 1911. 2nd edition. Reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Parker, R.B. ed. Coriolanus. Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Pinsker, Matthew. “Lincoln Theme 2.0.” in Journal of American History 96 (Sept. 2009), 417–40, at https://www.journalofamericanhistory.org/projects/lincoln/contents/pinsker.html, accessed 19 Aug. 2013 (Dead link).

Potter, Lois, ed. The Two Noble Kinsmen. The Arden Shakespeare Third Series. Walton-on-Thames, UK: Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., 1997.

Price, Diana. Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem. Paperback: shakespeare-authorship.com, 2013.

─────. “ Evidence For A Literary Biography ” in Tennessee Law Review 72 (fall 2004): 111-47.

Schuessler, Jennifer. “Much Ado About Who: Is It Really Shakespeare?: Further Proof of Shakespeare’s Hand in ‘The Spanish Tragedy’ at https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/13/arts/further-proof-of-shakespeares-hand-in-the-spanish-tragedy.html?pagewanted=all , (12 August 2013) accessed 19 Aug, 2013.

Vickers, Brian. “Identifying Shakespeare’s Additions to The Spanish Tragedy (1602): A New(er) Approach.” in Shakespeare 8:1 (2012): 13-43, at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17450918.2012.660283#.UhU5-ZKkpFs , accessed 20 Aug. 2013.

───── . “Shakespeare and Authorship Studies in the Twenty-First Century.” Shakespeare Quarterly 62:1 (spring 2011): 106-42.

Wells, Stanley “Beyond Doubt For All Time,” https://bloggingshakespeare.com/beyond-doubt-for-all-time on Blogging Shakespeare (13 May 2013), accessed 18 Aug. 2013. Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine.

───── . “An Unorthodox and Non-definitive Biography,” at https://bloggingshakespeare.com/an-unorthodox-and-non-definitive-biography (8 May 2013), accessed 18 Aug. 2013. Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine

─────. William Shakespeare: A Life in Drama. New York: Norton, 1995.

Wells, Stanley, Gary Taylor with John Jowett and William Montgomery. William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion. 1997. Reprinted with corrections, New York: Norton, 1987.

Werstine, Paul. Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

───── “Shakespeare More or Less: A. W. Pollard and Twentieth-Century Shakespeare Editing.” Ottawa, Canada. Florilegium 16 (1999): 125-45.

─────. “Narratives About Printed Shakespearean Texts: ‘Foul Papers’ and ‘Bad’ Quartos.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41 (spring 1990): 65-86.

Woudhuysen, H.R., ed. Love’s Labour’s Lost. The Arden Shakespeare Third Series. Walton-Thames, UK: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1998.

Wright, Joseph, compiler. The English Dialect Dictionary. 6 vols. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (1898-1905).

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Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem

•   Paperback edition with corrections and additions (shakespeare-authorship.com, 2013)

•   Hardback Edition. Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies, no. 94, Greenwood Press (2001)


“Literary Paper Trails”: based on chapter 1 and the comparative chart in Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biographyy. In Critical Stages 18 (February 2019).

“My Shakspere: ‘A Conjectural Narrative’ Continued.” A chapter in My Shakespeare: The Authorship Controversy. Ed., William D. Leahy. Brighton, UK: Edward Everett Root Scholarly Publishers (February 2018).

“William Shakespeare: Syrian Refugee Advocate?” in American Thinker (April 6, 2016).

“Hand D and Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Literary Paper Trail” in  Journal of Early Modern Studies (JEMS vol. 5, March 2016) PDF.

Review essay of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy. Ed. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.  Amazon US Amazon UK, and this  website.

“Shakespeare’s Authorship and Questions of Evidence” in Skeptic Magazine, vol. 11:3 (2005).

“Evidence For A Literary Biography” in University of Tennessee Law Review (fall 2004).

“Henslowe’s ‘ne’ and ‘the tyeringe-howsse doore’” in Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 42 (2003): 62-78.

“Reconsidering Shakespeare’s Monument” in Review of English Studies 48 (May 1997): 168-82.

“Shaxicon and Shakespeare’s Acting Career: A Reply to Donald Foster” in Shakespeare Newsletter (spring 1997): 11, 14.

“Shaxicon and Shakespeare’s Acting Career” in Shakespeare Newsletter (summer 1996): 27-28, 46.

“Shakespeare, Shake-scene and the Clayton Loan” in Elizabethan Review 4 (spring 1996): 3-13.

“A Fresh Look at the Tudor Rose Theory” in Elizabethan Review (fall 1996): 4-23. Response to reader comments (spring 1997): 9-11, 15-17.

Research cited or challenged by

Al Hirschfield on Maybe Shakespeare Really Didn't Write the Plays (March 30. 2021)

Elizabeth Winkler’s “Was Shakespeare A Woman?” in the June 2019 Atlantic.

Oliver Kamm’s Quillette review (“Conspiracism at the Atlantic”) of Elizabeth Winkler’s Atlantic article (June 2019).

Joseph Hewes reviews Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography on YouTube (April 2019).

Price’s “Comparative Chart of Literary Paper Trails” appears in David Gowdey,  “Secret Whispers: Searching for the Truth of Shakespeare”  Amazon Digital Services LLC (August 2017). See also this customer review.

Hard Thinking blog,  “Scipio Who?” (August 2017)

Hard Thinking blog,  “Scary Question: Did Shakspere Write Shakespeare?” (July 2017)

Hard Thinking blog,  “A Rational Person Reads Shakespeare” (May 2017)

Michael L. Hays. “Shakespeare’s Hand Unknown in Sir Thomas More: Thompson, Dawson, and the Futility of the Paleographic Argument.” In Shakespeare Quarterly 67:2 (summer 2016): 180-203.

Mark Rylance and Sir Derek Jacobi discuss the authorship question in a YouTube video. At approximately 3:02 into the video, Mark holds up his copy of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography and recommends it to viewers. See his blurb on the back cover of the paperback edition on the homepage of this website.

Criminal Thought blog,  “ It Matters That People Who Have Been To School Come Out Believing Myth Is Reality ” (March 23, 2016)

Waugaman, Elisabeth Pearson, Ph.D.   “What’s in a Name?”  in   Psychology Today  (Mar 09, 2016)

Criminal Thought blog,  “Direct From The Waiting Room, Here’s Something Fun” (Feb 24, 2016)

Margreta De Grazia cites RES article in Shakespeare Quarterly 65:4 (winter 2014)

Keir Cutler’s Shakespeare Crackpot video on YouTube (June 2014)

James Shapiro, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010)

Shakespeare and His Authors: Critical Perspectives on the Authorship Question, ed. William Leahy (London & New York: Continuum, 2010)

Warren Hope and Kim Holston, The Shakespeare Controversy: An Analysis of the Authorship Theories (2nded., Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2009)

Brandon S. Centerwell, “Who Wrote William Basse’s ‘Elegy on Shakespeare’?: Rediscovering A Poem Lost From the Donne Canon” in Shakespeare Survey 59 (2006)

Jonathan Bate (letter to the Times Literary Supplement, June 23, 2006)

Peter Beal (letter to the Times Literary Supplement, June 16, 2006)

William Niederkorn, “Seeing the Fingerprints of Other Hands in Shakespeare” (New York Times, Sept. 2, 2003)

Brian Vickers, ‘Counterfeiting’ Shakespeare: Evidence, Authorship, and John Ford’s Funerall Elegy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

William Rubinstein, “Who Wrote Shakespeare?” in History Today (August 2001)

Katherine Duncan-Jones, Ungentle Shakespeare (2001)

Sotheby’s catalogue for the auction of a Shakespeare portrait (December 1997)

Ward Elliott & Robert Valenza, “Glass Slipper and Seven-League Boots: C-Prompted Doubts About Ascribing Funeral Elegy and A Lover’s Complaint to Shakespeare” in Shakespeare Quarterly (June 1997)

Lectures for academic audiences

California State University, LA

Cleveland State University

Cuyahoga Community College

Griffith University, Brisbane

John Carroll University, Cleveland

Lorain County Community College, OH

Rose Institute for Life Long Learning, OH

Shakespearean Research Symposiums: Los Angeles, Detroit

Smithsonian Institution, Resident Associates Program

University of North Carolina, Greensboro

University of the Third Age, Brisbane (AUS)

University School, Cleveland


WCPN (NPR) radio “The Sound of Applause”

PBS broadcasts of  Last Will. and Testament

The Naked Shakespeare, a 2012 documentary by Claus Bredenbrock, Florian Film Group (ARTE, various European venues)

Australian Broadcasting Co. “Nightlife” (radio)

“Chautauqua Books,” Ch. 5 TV, NY

Fox TV news, Ch. 8 Greensboro

WCPN (NPR), Cleveland

WETA (NPR), “The Program,” D.C.

WFDD-FM (NPR), Greensboro

WJTN Radio, Jamestown, NY

WKYCTV news, Cleveland

Lectures for general audiences

Barnes & Noble, Greensboro

Borders Books & Music, various northern Ohio locations

Cheshire Cheese Club of Cleveland 

Cleveland Public Library

College Club of Cleveland

Cosmos Club, D.C.

DACOR Newberry Lecture Series, D.C.

Delta Kappa Gamma, Cleveland

English-Speaking Union, Greensboro

Greensboro Public Library

Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cleveland

Judson Manor, Cleveland

Kiwanis Club of Starmount, NC

Lakewood Public Library, OH

North Carolina Shakespeare Festival

Rotary Clubs of Cleveland, OH; Rockville, MD ; Downey and Redondo Beach, CA

Rowfant Club, Cleveland

Shakespeare Authorship Roundtable, LA

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Stanley Wells reviews the paperback (“an Unorthodox and Non-definitive Biography) of the paperback on Blogging Shakespeare 8 May 2013. Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine. The author responds on her website.

At the April 26 Stratford-on-Avon launch of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, Ros Barber, author of The Marlowe Papers, debated the authorship question with Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson. She’s posted the transcript of the webinar. Here’s a short extract:

PE: Theorising Shakespeare’s authorship by Andrew Hadfield, the University of Sussex. That chapter really is incredibly helpful, I think, because it’s, its about helping us all to relax about that fact that we shouldn’t be worried about there being gaps in the records of people’s lives, or, that the kinds of records that we would most wish to see in someone’s life don’t in fact survive and aren’t there.

RB: I did have a problem with that chapter, I mean Andrew is someone I know rather well as my PhD supervisor, but he’d already been challenged on this point, I believe, when he put this in 60 Minutes, and challenged with the data of Diana Price, because it is actually unusual: the number of gaps, the amount of gap that there is, if you like, this man-shaped absence of data, is actually extraordinary, and I thought it was problematic for me in that chapter, that he – I would like to see an answer to Price, I haven’t yet seen an answer to Price’s data, showing that Shakespeare’s … the gap in Shakespeare evidence that actually shows he was a writer – because we have a huge amount of evidence about him, more than any other writer, but not related to writing, so -

PE: It’s how you approach evidence, isn’t it -

RB: Yes.

PE: – it’s what you decide to do with that evidence, and Diana Price has a different agenda, I think, there, with her telling history. Andrew Hadfield is right in saying we shouldn’t be worried about -

RB: Well, is he? Is he, is he? Because they are extraordinary gaps, they’re not usual gaps, they are exceptional gaps, and that hasn’t yet been answered, and I’d love to see an answer to that.

Barber highlights Shakespeare Beyond Doubt and Price’s paperback.


From The Guardian April 23, 2013:

“I receive hate mail for questioning the authorship of Shakespeare plays On William Shakespeare’s birthday, the establishment wants authorship questions to be put ‘beyond doubt’. Is it rattled?”

by William Leahy

Today marks William Shakespeare’s 449th birthday and celebrations are being planned to commemorate this special occasion. There is nothing new in the observation of Shakespeare’s birthday, but this year there is a difference, a problem perhaps of Stratford’s own making.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – the guardian of Shakespeare’s global image – will publish a book of some 20 academic essays that sets out to prove definitively that Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems attributed to him. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt marks a radical development in the Shakespeare Authorship Question, for it is the first time that the “establishment” has felt the need to acknowledge its existence and importance.

In the past, they have dismissed this question as only of interest to fantasists and, in one famous analogy, as comparable to Holocaust denial. They have portrayed those who suggest that Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon wrote the plays as either snobs, attention seekers or psychologically deranged. This is the first time that the subject is being taken seriously as “an intriguing cultural phenomenon”. Why are they so worried?

One reason is the publication in paperback of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography by American scholar, Diana Price, in which she analyses every piece of evidence in existence concerning Shakespeare and concludes that the case for Shakespeare writing all of the works attributed to him is quite weak. As with my own research, Price does not argue for an alternative author but rather shows how the case for Shakespeare is built on misreadings, mythologising and, often wilful deception.

Prof. Leahy’s article is a challenge to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy. Edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (Cambridge University Press, April 2013) . Previews have appeared in The Guardian UK. (Shakespeare scholars unite to see off claims of the ‘Bard deniers: As the academic debate gets personal, new book aims to prove William Shakespeare was the author of his own plays) and The Times (UK) “Academic book aims to place Shakespeare authorship beyond doubt” (picked up by The Australian (dead link).)


On Instapundit April 13, 2013: IN THE MAIL: From Diana Price, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem.

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In its June 2019 issue, the Atlantic published Elizabeth Winkler’s article describing the case for a relatively recent candidate for Shakespeare’s authorship: Emilia Bassano. Bassano was mistress to Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon; she was described in Simon Forman’s notes as ”somewhat brave in youth“ (an entry that A.L. Rowse misread as ”brown in youth“ and therefore prompted his nomination of Bassano as Shakespeare’s Dark Lady); she subsequently married Alphonso Lanier, a court musician. In the course of her article, Ms. Winkler favorably cited my research. The Atlantic recruited some reactions, mostly criticism from orthodox scholars but also constructive words from Sir Mark Rylance, an authorship skeptic. These responses were duly published (click here).

Ms. Winkler’s article was promptly attacked by Oliver Kamm at the Quillette blog and Dominic Green at The Spectator USA. Since Ms. Winkler cited my research explicitly, and since Mr. Kamm dismissed my research out-of-hand, I submitted a response to the editor at Atlantic. And I assumed that the usual courtesy would be extended: when an author’s work is explicitly cited and then criticized, the author has a right of response to defend his or her work.

Not in this case. I submitted my response to the Atlantic, which did not publish it. I subsequently submitted my response to Quillette, which did not publish it. It is possible that neither publication considered my response as meeting their editorial standards. Or it may be that orthodox gatekeepers influenced the editors’ decisions to not publish. We’ll never know. And yet, since I was criticized by name, I would have thought that at the least, the editors would have accepted my response, perhaps with qualifications or requests for changes, e.g., cut the length, revise this or that, and so on. (I would have considered forwarding my response to the SHAKSPER listserve moderated by Prof. Hardy Cook, but as a matter of policy, the authorship question is taboo on that forum.)

For the record, below is the response as I submitted it to Quillette:

”Was Shakespeare A Woman?“ A good question – or just plain nuts?

With the publication of her article in the June issue of the Atlantic (”Was Shakespeare A Woman?“), Elizabeth Winkler has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Well, good. The Shakespeare Authorship Question should be a legitimate question, and she opens the door for renewed skepticism. However, she’ll need a thick skin.

Oliver Kamm has hostile words for Ms. Winkler’s article. In his review (”Conspiracism at the Atlantic“), published at Quillette , he criticizes the Shakespeare Authorship Question in general, and the case for Emilia Bassano in particular. Ms. Winkler’s arguments concerning the case for Bassano are circumstantial yet provocative enough to merit further inquiry. Ms. Winkler cites my research on the authorship question with a link to my book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography; Mr. Kamm did not have anything good to say about my research, either. While I am not qualified to support or challenge Ms. Winkler’s case for Emilia Bassano, I am in a position to respond to the underlying question: is there a legitimate Shakespeare authorship question?

Mr. Kamm employs a word that itself betrays an inherent bias; he describes anti-Stratfordians as ”denialists.“ This is hardly a new accusation. In 2013, when Prof. Stanley Wells referred to me as someone who would deny the documentary evidence for Shakespeare’s life, I responded by stating that I do not deny any of the evidence; instead, I re-evaluate it. It is the re-evaluation of evidence that leads a skeptic to raise serious questions about the man from Stratford, the man who we all thought was a poet and playwright. Well's review can only be found using the Wayback Machine

I do not argue for or against any alternative candidate, including Emilia Bassano. The candidacies of Bassano, Bacon, Oxford, and many others are circumstantial cases competing against the case for Shakespeare. But I do argue that there is good reason to question the traditional biography of the man from Stratford. Shakespeare left behind no personal papers or other evidence that allow biographers to trace his professional literary career. For reference, I use the term ”personal literary paper trail“ to describe evidence that can support one simple statement: his vocation was writing.

After comparing the evidence for Shakespeare with that for two dozen of his contemporaries, I conclude that Shakespeare is the only alleged writer of any consequence from the time period who left behind no personal literary paper trails during his lifetime; it is a unique deficiency. Surprisingly, Prof Stanley Wells acknowledges that deficiency. However, he also asserts that this deficiency does not matter, since in his view, posthumous testimony is just as reliable as contemporaneous literary paper trails.

If Shakespeare was the dramatist the title-pages claim him to be, then he was, by definition, a writer, and there should be some evidence to support that professional activity. Yet out of 70+ documents left behind during his lifetime, none support his alleged literary activities. So his name could be on all those title-pages for another reason, and no conspiracy theory is necessary to explain why.

The Shakespeare that I find in the documentary evidence is a businessman, investor, and entrepreneur. His theatrical shareholding puts him in proximity to the plays attributed to Shakespeare. He is named prominently in the theatrical documentation for the Lord Chamberlain’s, later the King’s Men. However, shareholders named prominently in documentation for other acting companies were invariably the business agents who were men of means, with sufficient capital to act as financiers – trading in costumes, properties, and . . . playbooks. And if Shakespeare traded in playbooks, then we are closer to an explanation as to why his name appears on title-pages of works he did not write, such as the play A Yorkshire Tragedy and others in what’s been dubbed The Shakespeare Apocrypha.

As for Alan Nelson’s assertion that I cannot make a decent argument, I invite any interested reader to take a look at our debate, which has been up on my website ever since my book was first published in hardcover. In his book Contested Will, James Shapiro’s claims and challenges to the fundamentals of the authorship question are either unsupported assertions or are based on untested underlying assumptions. One such assumption concerns the 1623 First Folio front matter, which is the first testimony on record to identify the actor as the playwright. However, in order to take the cumulative testimony at face value, one must ignore questions about the authorship of some of that front matter, exaggerations and advertising hype, as well as ambiguities that suggest two sets of sign-posts, pointing in opposite directions. (The First Folio refers to the first collection of Shakespeare’s plays, published seven years after his death in Stratford).

I have no idea who wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare, but I would hope that the day will come when it will be a legitimate question. There is not much in the known life of Shakespeare that can illuminate the plays and poems, and an author whose life does provide a few keys that can unlock some of the mysteries and unanswered questions about the plays would be exciting.

As a postscript, Richard Paul Roe’s 2011 book, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy , is filled with discoveries of the playwright’s first-hand knowledge of Italy, In other words, Mr. Roe proves that the playwright, whoever he (or she) was, had sojourned in particular parts of Italy. Shakespeare of Stratford, as far as we know, never set foot out of England.

Shakespeare’s biography should be based on something more than just circumstantial evidence. It is unfortunate that Mr. Kamm (as well as Dominic Green at The Spectator USA ) have nothing but contempt for anyone who raises questions about a literary biography unsupported by a single personal literary paper trail.


Diana Price is the author of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of An Authorship Problem (paperback edition 2013). The book was first released in 2001 as no. 94 in Greenwood Press’s academic series, ”Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies,“ making it the first book on the subject to be published in a peer-reviewed series. The updated paperback edition was published in 2013. Mr. Kamm claims that ”Price is neither meticulous nor a scholar.“ Price’s research has passed peer-review in several journals. Full bibliography is at her website.

NOTE: In this review, I refer to the man from Stratford as “Shakspere” and to the dramatist as “Shakespeare”. And if you have already read the opening paragraphs in my Amazon review, please click here to resume reading where you left off.

Prof. Stanley Wells has published a short book online, downloadable in Kindle, titled Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare (Kindle Singles, 4 Feb. 2014). At 57 pages, with virtually free access, it is a short read, available to anyone interested in the subject.

There is an obvious irony in the appearance of this e-publication, not quite one year since the publication of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, edited by Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). The 2013 collection of essays by 20 specialists in various fields purported to put an end to the Shakespeare authorship question once and for all. That mission evidently fell short, or Wells would not feel any need to further defend the orthodox narrative.

I am one of many anti-Stratfordians who reviewed the 2013 collection of essays, posting my essay on my website, with slightly shorter versions on Amazon US and Amazon UK. I have to wonder whether Wells read any of the anti-Stratfordian criticism of the essays, as so many claims re-appear in his Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare. Since most of my objections concern claims that cannot be supported by the evidence, at least as I see it, I am concerned here with our disagreements over criteria and skepticism.

Wells’s pamphlet is a handy summary of unsupported claims for the orthodox narrative, and it reads plausibly enough for those with little interest in testing evidence. But he does not re-examine the evidence for Shakspere using the criteria routinely applied by most historians, critics, or biographers of other subjects. The unprecedented reliance on posthumous evidence to prove that Shakspere WAS Shakespeare is a subject on which the orthodox and I continue to disagree.

However, Wells does acknowledge that the first evidence in the historical record that identifies the playwright as the man from Stratford is posthumous; that evidence is, specifically, the Stratford monument and the 1623 First Folio testimony. As we agree on this point, it is appropriate for me to reiterate that Shakspere is the only alleged writer from the time period for whom one must rely on posthumous evidence to make the literary case, i.e., to support the statement that his profession was writing. As he pointed out in our exchange on BloggingShakespeare, Wells considers this distinction “irrelevant.”

Wells faults me for questioning the reliability of posthumous evidence: “Price irrationally casts doubt on posthumously derived evidence.” Most literary critics, biographers, and historians question the reliability of all evidence, including that which is posthumous. Such skepticism is not only rational, it is essentially just common sense.

Robert C. Williams makes the point: “A primary source is a document, image, or artifact that provides evidence about the past. It is an original document created contemporaneously with the event under discussion” (The Historian’s Toolbox: A Student’s Guide to the Theory and Craft of History, 2003, p.58). Paul Murray Kendall puts it this way: “What a man leaves behind him after he dies is a mess of paper: birth certificate, school grades, diary, letters, check stubs, laundry lists … This paper trail, extending from his entrance to his exit, is what the biographer tries to tread” (The Art of Biography, 1965, p. xiii).

Since I am concerned with the professional literary activities and interests of William Shakspere, I revisit all his paper trails to ask yet another question: does the evidence support the statement that Shakspere was a writer or does it have any bearing on his literary activities or development? If one is attempting to construct a ‘literary’ biography, then I submit that identifying ‘literary’ paper trails is an essential step. In my book and more fully on here my website ( “Criteria”), I cite more scholars who illustrate or enumerate various criteria and problems of reliability, including H.B. George, Richard D. Altick & John J. Fenstermaker, Harold Love, S.P. Cerasano, Harold Jenkins, Arthur Freeman, D. Nichol Smith, John Huntington, and William Ringler, among others . I doubt that Prof. Wells would describe these scholars as irrational.

Yet regarding the Shakespearean testimony in the First Folio, posthumous by seven years, Wells does not question the authorship of the two prefatory epistles printed over the names of the actors John Heminges and Henry Condell; he does not analyze the ambiguities and contradictory statements made throughout the Folio front matter; and he accepts at face value those statements that support the orthodox narrative. He overlooks the statements that imply or point to a gentleman of rank, so he never has to choose between two sets of signposts, or question the overall reliability of the front matter. And how much of the front matter is promotional in nature, aimed at encouraging sales (“whatever you do, Buy”)? Surely that sales pitch should alert the reader to be on the lookout for more signs of a promotional agenda or commercial considerations in the testimonials.

Similarly, Wells uncritically accepts literary allusions to the Shakespeare plays and poems as proof that Shakspere wrote Shakespeare, even when those allusions are impersonal literary commentary or confined to references to the written or performed word. Wells is of course following the orthodox biography as it has been handed down ever since the late eighteenth century. From the time of Edmund Malone, who was the first Shakespeare scholar to introduce serious scholastic rigor into his studies, the assumption of Shakespeare’s authorship has been accepted as fact, and few have stopped to question the absence of proof. If sheer repetition of a narrative constituted proof of that narrative, Prof. Wells’s pamphlet Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare would carry the day. But if he applied the criteria routinely applied by biographers of other subjects, by historians, and by literary critics, he would have to confront the problem that the orthodox literary biography of Shakespeare is founded on unproven assumptions.

[The foregoing is posted on Amazon US and Amazon UK.]

Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare : a point-by-point rebuttal

Wells categorizes all anti-Stratfordians as “deniers.” Yet, anti-Stratfordians come in many stripes. Not all anti-Stratfordian arguments have been, or remain, credible. Indeed, there have been some pretty outrageous anti-Stratfordian claims that make some of us cringe. But it is unfortunate that in leading off, Wells entitles his first chapter “The Growth of the Anti-Shakespearean Heresy.” Pejorative #1: “Anti-Shakespearean” makes it sound as though skeptics hate Shakespeare. Most anti-Stratfordians love the works of Shakespeare and describe themselves as “anti-Stratfordian” to distinguish the man from Stratford from the real author, whoever he/she was. Pejorative #2: “Heresy.” Wells is relegating the anti-Stratfordians in toto to the pre-determined category of “heretics.” What if anti-Stratfordian skepticism (a term I would prefer) turns out to be justified? Wells condemns his opponents before he has defended the first challenge. As one of the “deniers,” I have elsewhere pointed out that I don’t deny any evidence; I re-evaluate it. And he concludes that my own unorthodox biography is “destructive”; it has been my goal to reconstruct what can be known about the life of the man from Stratford, and to reconstruct that life from the available evidence.

Wells asserts that we know more about Christopher Marlowe than we do about Shakespeare. I would disagree, and it is relevant to point out why I disagree, since it involves the distinction between a general paper trail and a literary paper trail. Only a few parts of Marlowe’s biography are documented, including his sensational murder. But in general, his life is not particularly well-documented, and few of the paper trails he left behind are literary.

Marlowe left over twenty records of his presence at Cambridge University, largely recorded in the so-called buttery books (Boas, 13), but also in academic testimony (Ide, 58-59). The recommendation for his degree taking includes an inconclusive reference to state service, whatever that was (Boas, 22-23). So Marlowe is man of recorded education. We can make no comparable statement for Shakspere.

The circumstances of, and factional politics surrounding Marlowe’s death have been debated (by e.g., Charles Nicholl and Paul E. J. Hammer). Yet his murder sheds no light on his writing career, although the poet George Peele wrote a tribute to him (“unhappy in thy end / Marley the Muses darling, for thy verse”) a few weeks after the murder (Nicholl, 51-52). Even Marlowe’s arrest along with Thomas Watson, presumably the poet, is not evidence of his literary activities. One has to consider Robert Sidney’s letter to Lord Burghley, reporting Marlowe’s apprehension for counterfeiting, and Thomas Kyd’s undated letters to the Lord Keeper protesting that Marlowe’s manuscripts were “shuffled with some of mine … by some occasion or writing in one chamber two years since” to make decisions about those reports (with respect to Kyd’s letters, see especially J.A. Downie, whose analyses raise questions about the dates of composition of the two letters). But even accepting those records, Marlowe is one of the least documented of the alleged writers from the time period – in terms of literary paper trails.

Ironically, we know more about Shakspere’s professional activities than we do about Marlowe’s. The evidence that Shakspere left behind tells us that he was a theatrical shareholder, actor, money-lender, commodity trader, real estate investor, and so on. Regrettably, none of the evidence for Shakspere’s professional activities can be used to support the statement that he wrote for a living. And he is a man of no recorded education.

To put this into another perspective: Richard Burbage’s business affairs are well-documented, as are Shakspere’s. Nobody questions whether Burbage was an actor and businessman. Nobody questions whether Shakspere was an actor and businessman. But like Burbage, Shakspere left no evidence that would support the statement that he was a writer by profession.

Early on, in Chapter 1 (the Kindle download does not show page numbers), Wells claims that

we know as much as we have a right to expect about Shakspere’s public and professional career.

But that is one of the problems. We do not know as much as we have a right to expect about Shakspere’s professional career as an alleged writer, not when the quality of the evidence he left behind is compared to the quality of that for two dozen writers from the time period. The absence of any literary paper trails for Shakspere is a unique deficiency.

Wells dates the onset of authorship doubts to the mid-1800s. He claims:

Until the middle of the nineteenth century nobody doubted it.

That statement is inaccurate. We find Elizabethans speculating on or suggesting alternative authors. A character in one of the Parnassus plays guesses that a lesser poet named Samuel Daniel wrote Romeo and Juliet. Gabriel Harvey insinuates that the poet of Venus and Adonis was possibly Sir Edward Dyer. There are more, although such early expressions of confusion over Shakespeare’s authorship stopped short of explicit statements such as “I don’t think Shakspere of Stratford wrote Hamlet.” But they do show that confusion of attribution and authorship existed during Shakspere’s lifetime.

Nor did doubts about authorship originate with Joseph C. Hart and Delia Bacon. Wells might argue that they were the first to formalize the question, although both of them present fairly easy targets, and Wells spends some space ridiculing them. The strategy is not new. From a review, published in Shakespeare Quarterly, of two books defending orthodoxy: “One impressed by the learning and dialectic of a Sir George Greenwood may well feel perhaps that [Frank W. Wadsworth and R.C. Churchill], eager to write amusingly, have generally chosen to discuss the more patently absurd [anti-Stratfordian] claims and to disregard arguments less easily ridiculed” (Maxwell, 437).

Hart and Bacon also prompt Wells to bring up the snobbery issue. Miss Bacon, for example, could not reconcile Shakspere’s records, which lacked any documented access to the upper classes, with the aristocratic perspectives and past-times in the plays and poems. But pointing out a disconnect is not snobbery; it is the identification of a problem.

Wells claims:

Most recently, as if in despairing acknowledgement of the absurdity of the proliferation of contenders, sceptics have taken to saying that they have no idea who the author was, only it can’t have been Shakespeare.

Unlike many anti-Stratfordians, I do not argue for or against any alternative candidate. Wells implies in the above quote that my candidate-neutral position is a cop-out. It is not. For one thing, I do not think that presenting an alternative circumstantial case is the appropriate way to challenge the circumstantial case for the incumbent William Shakspere; that challenge should be made on its own merits. For another, as far as I am aware, the advocates for alternative candidates all present competing circumstantial cases of varying degrees of persuasion. None has discovered the smoking gun.

Wells claims:

The subject is well worthy of serious academic discussion as a social, psychological and intellectual phenomenon.

While some anti-Stratfordians are ideologically-driven, Wells implies that anyone who questions the authorship is somehow lacking mental or emotional stability. A social, psychological, or intellectual “phenomenon” deflects a discussion that should be focused on a critical analysis of the evidence, as well as on the criteria for that analysis.

Wells claims that in the film Anonymous, actor Mark Rylance

also takes the role of Richard III in the play that is performed on the eve of the Essex rebellion. (In fact, the play was Richard II, but where so much else is fiction how can we object to this additional distortion of the historical record?)

Wells corrects the record that it was Richard II, not Richard III, as the play performed during the Essex Rebellion, but few of his general readers would be aware that there has been debate on this subject as to whether the play performed in 1601 was even Shakespeare’s (see Blair Worden and Paul E. J. Hammer).

Wells references the earlier collection of essays:

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt (2013) … contains essays on various aspects of the authorship debate written by an international team of scholars.

In my review essay of this collection, I identified numerous leaps of faith and outright errors committed by this international team of scholars. Interested readers may take a look at my review.

Chapter 2

Wells claims:

There is nothing unusual about the fact that so little is known about William’s siblings; it just highlights how much, by comparison, we know about him.

With this statement, Wells sets up the reader to confuse or conflate quantity of evidence with quality of evidence. One thing that we know about Shakspere from the 70-plus records that survive is that his professional activities are well-documented. Unfortunately, his alleged career as a writer is not one of them.

Wells claims:

Stratford was not (as the deniers often claim) a backwater. A market town, which served the surrounding villages, it had a splendid church, a well-established grammar school, fine houses and townsmen who were well educated and wealthy. One of them was Richard Quiney.

Wells cites Richard Quiney’s ability to write in Latin. In this case, Wells is on solid ground. Some of Quiney’s correspondence survives, so we know he could read and write Latin. No comparable evidence survives for Shakspere. But the implication that one might extrapolate Quiney’s education and correspondence to represent the general milieu, perhaps the majority of townsmen in Stratford, is undermined by Charles Knight’s early observation that in the year that John was elected alderman (1565, the year after son William was born), only seven out of nineteen aldermen and burgesses could write their names (Knight, 15-17).

All of Wells’s speculation on what Shakspere would have learned at grammar school remains unsupported by any evidence. As I pointed out in my review of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, T.W. Baldwin is unable to cite one document to support the statement that Shakspere attended school, or expressed gratitude to a mentor, or attended university or one of the Inns of Court, or owned a book, or wrote a word of dialogue, a line of poetry, or even a letter concerning his business affairs. Shakspere remains a man of no recorded education. The best that can be said is that if Shakspere of Stratford wrote the plays, then he must have attended the Stratford Grammar School. His assumed education is therefore the result of circular reasoning. Nor does Wells explain how a theoretical grammar school education could have equipped a student with a knowledge of French, Italian, and Spanish, subjects not taught at provincial grammar schools.

Wells compares William’s hypothetical grammar school training with Ben Jonson’s. While there is no evidence of Jonson’s attendance at Westminster School, Jonson twice acknowledged his gratitude to his mentor, William Camden, who had taught at Westminster School:

Camden, most reverend head, to whom I owe
All that I am in arts, all that I know,
… … … … … … … . . … … .
What weight, and what authority in thy speech!
Man scarce can make that doubt, but thou canst teach

[epigram xiv]

Jonson’s dedication of Every Man in His Humour in his 1616 folio is addressed to Camden with comparably explicit gratitude, to “the instructor” for “the benefits confer’d upon my youth”. There is no comparable evidence for Shakspere.

Richard Field, a printer who was born and bred in Stratford, printed three of the Shakespeare poems, but that is not good evidence that Field and the dramatist were acquainted. Nobody knows how the Shakespeare poems were transmitted to the printing house.

Yet, Wells claims that

It is virtually certain that the two were lifelong friends.

But there is no evidence to support the statement. (Why the dramatist should name a headless corpse in Cymbeline after Field remains a matter of speculation.)

Wells finds generic biographical echoes in the plays (premarital sex, schooldays, etc., but nothing with any thematic heft. He accepts Andrew Gurr’s reading of Sonnet 145 as

a love poem which puns in its closing lines on the name Hathaway: ‘I hate’ from hate away she threw, And saved my life, saying ‘not you.’

It’s a guess, not only about “Hate away” punning on Hathaway, but also involving speculation on what Shakspere was doing during one of the undocumented Lost Years. Wells further speculates that during those Lost Years,

before long he was writing plays, sometimes (as was common) in collaboration with others.

“He was writing plays” is not fact. It is conjecture. There is no evidence that can prove that Shakspere ever composed a line of dialogue. For those who would look to title page attributions for that “proof,” it is important to point out that title-page attributions are not personal records. They are not even reliable as evidence of authorship (witness the title-pages for A Yorkshire Tragedy, The London Prodigal, or The Passionate Pilgrim). The authority of Shakespearean title-pages is further compromised as more “co-authors” are identified, e.g., Thomas Nashe, George Peele, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, etc. And in light of other cases of misattribution, it is possible that the name Shakespeare, however spelled, appears on title-pages for some other reason.

Chapter 3

Concerning the famous Upstart Crow / Shake-scene passage from Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit, Wells claims:

Of all the allusions to Shakespeare from his own time, this is the least complimentary, both professionally and personally. On the whole, people seem to have liked him.

The Upstart Crow passage is indeed uncomplimentary, but Wells’s second statement, that “people seem to have liked him” cannot be supported by any of the allusions. The allusions to “gentle” or “sweet” Shakespeare,” “good Will,” “friendly Shakespeare,” and “so dearly loved a neighbor,” to name some of the most quoted, are examples of impersonal literary commentary, not testimonials about the author. To paraphrase Harold Jenkins, the allusions to Shakespeare are of a purely literary character and necessitate no personal knowledge (11).

In response to complaints over the open letter containing the Upstart Crow passage, Henry Chettle subsequently published an apology. Wells repeats the claim that Chettle was apologizing to Shakspere:

significantly he goes on to say that ‘divers of worship [i.e., various eminent people; could he include the earl of Southampton, soon to become Shakespeare’s patron?] have reported his uprightness of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious [meaning urbane, polished] grace in writing that approves [bears witness to] his art.’ Obviously this refers to a writer (Shakespeare),

There is no evidence that the earl of Southampton was vouching for the insulted party (and an earl would not be referred to as your “worship”). But more importantly, Chettle’s apology is explicitly directed to two of the three playwrights addressed in Groatsworth, that is, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and George Peele. However, like most orthodox biographers, Wells claims that Chettle apologized instead to Shakspere. With that sleight-of-hand, biographers transform Shake-scene from being the subject of the open letter blasting the Upstart Crow, into being one of its three addressees, and therefore one of the “fellow Scholars” who spends his wits “making plays.” (Lukas Erne makes the case that George Peele is the intended recipient of the apology.)

Like most biographers, Wells claims personal interaction and even friendship between the poet Shakespeare and the earl of Southampton, basing his suggestion on the dedications of the two narrative poems to the earl:

The first dedication is relatively formal in tone, the second much warmer, suggesting that a real friendship may have developed.

Neither dedication to Southampton is useful in supporting the theory that the poet and the earl of Southampton developed a friendship or were even acquainted; both dedications are couched in impersonal or formulaic language. Further, the second dedication tells us that after his first try with Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare, whoever he was, was still writing that he had merely heard about, or been assured (“the warrant I have”) of Southampton’s presumably generous disposition.

Wells claims:

From now on Shakespeare was the resident playwright of the most important theatre company in the land.

This is another statement based on the assumption that Shakspere the actor was also the playwright. So far, Wells has produced no evidence that Shakspere wrote anything.

Wells claims:

The closeness of this relationship is clear from the fact that the printed texts of some of the plays he wrote for the company show that he had specific actors in mind for particular roles. In the first printed text of Much Ado About Nothing, for instance, [Will] Kemp’s name appears in speeches designed for the character Dogberry.

Nobody knows what the compositors (typesetters) were looking at when they set type for a play, including Much Ado. According to Andrew Gurr, “The naming of players in playscripts is a vexed question that depends heavily on what sort of manuscript is identified as the source for the printed text, and when the names were inserted in the manuscript” (72n; see also Werstine, 118).   “the source” could be an authorial manuscript, but it also could be a scribal transcript, edited copy, a reported text, the transcript of a shorthand report, a playhouse script, or some other descendent copy. However, since no ‘foul papers’ by Shakespeare or anyone else have ever been discovered, the arguments proposing that the dramatist’s ‘foul papers’ served as printer’s copy for this or that printed text are unsupported by any evidence.

Wells claims:

What all this means in relation to the authorship question is that the man who wrote the plays (no woman is recorded as having written for the public theatres in his time) was a thoroughgoing professional, familiar with, and deeply immersed in, the practices of the public theatres.

Wells builds on Shakspere’s documented career as an actor and theatrical shareholder, and then adds to that his assumptions about the authorial origin of certain speech prefixes, to claim that Shakspere was the dramatist, “a thoroughgoing professional, familiar with, and deeply immersed in, the practices of the public theatres.” It sounds good, but it is more than we know.

The cast lists that Wells quotes, from two Jonson plays of 1598 and 1603, were not printed until 1616, the year of Shakspere’s death. Not only do they not tell us what parts he played, they shed no light on his alleged writing activities. They also represent the first time in the surviving historical record that Jonson recorded the name “Shakespeare.”

Wells claims:

About half of Shakespeare’s were printed in his lifetime.

Shakespeare, the writer considered his work good enough to “outlive marble.” Shakspere, the businessman, had a sharp eye for any source of income. The Shakespearean publishing record therefore presents two obvious contradictions. (And it surely presents a problem for Lukas Erne’s recent theories about Shakspere’s supposedly active role in getting his plays into print as a deliberate career initiative.)

Chapter 4

All of the Shakespearean literary allusions are accepted into the literary biography of a man whose documentary remains cannot support the statement that he wrote anything. In accepting the literary allusions as personal testimony for Shakspere, Wells follows the orthodox tradition:

In 1594, when he was thirty years old, a minor writer called Henry Willoughby names Shakespeare as the author of The Rape of Lucrece, published in that year;

Actually, the allusion (in Willobie His Avisa) to Lucrece is not by Henry Willoughby; the allusion occurs in a prefatory poem subscribed with the pseudonymous “Contraria Contrariis: Vigilantius: Dormitanus” (Willoughby, 19-20). Henry Willoughby himself was almost certainly an innocent bystander in the publication of Willobie His Avisa ; the attribution to him is made in the preface on the dubious authority of “Hadrian Dorrell,” for whom no historical evidence exists (Willoughby, 19-20). All that aside, the naming of Shakespeare as the author of Lucrece is good evidence that “Vigilantius” had read The Rape of Lucrece ; it is not evidence that he recognized Shakspere as that poet. (Note: In the interest of saving a little space, I am not reproducing all the literary allusions; many, perhaps most are available online via search engines.)

Concerning the much-quoted allusions to Shakespeare in the 1598 publication of Palladis Tamia, Wells claims:

It looks as if [the author Francis] Meres had private knowledge, possibly that he knew Shakespeare personally. When he says ‘among his private friends ’ he may mean that Shakespeare is actually addressing sonnets to his intimates or simply that he is showing them sonnets which may or may not have been addressed to specific individuals.

Wells’s suggestion that Meres had inside personal knowledge of Shakespeare sonnets cannot hold up under scrutiny. While the statements sound plausible enough, not only is it speculation, it also fails to take into account the analyses by various scholars. Don Cameron Allen’s edition of Palladis Tamia remains an important reference point, and he is not alone when he considers the book “the work of a hack who had a contracted obligation to fulfill,” one who relied on literary critics such as George Puttenham and William Webbe for some of his information (Meres, vii). Another commentator likewise supposed that Meres’s “information about [the poets] must have come, not from his own direct knowledge, but from a reliable outside source” (Thomas, “Dating,” 188).

Richard Barnfield’s praise of Shakespeare’s poetry is another impersonal reference, necessitating no personal knowledge of the poet of Venus and Adonis. Similarly, although John Weever recognizes the name Shakespeare as both poet and playwright, his sonnet does not tell us whether Weever personally knew Shakspere; Weever’s biographer could not be sure (Honigmann, 21).

With respect to the three Parnassus plays (Cambridge student satires), Wells claims:

[the character] Gullio has spoken almost all of the second stanza of Venus and Adonis, exclaims ‘Sweet Master Shakespeare!’ (‘Master’ shows that he is aware that by this time Shakespeare has been granted a coat of arms and the status of gentleman that goes along with it.)

The entry in the Stationers Register (1600) for Much Ado About Nothing and Henry IV (2) names “master Shakespere,” and it is subsequent to the grant of the coat of arms to John Shakspere. I am surprised that Wells did not cite Tom Reedy’s recent attempt to invest that entry with ultimate attribution authority, as though it were the elusive literary paper trail that clinches the case. (My analysis of Mr. Reedy’s assertion is here.)

The “praise” that the character Gullio bestows on “sweet Master Shakespeare” is, in the opinion of the editor of the Parnassus plays, worthless praise from a fool (337). And while some critics consider Gullio a stock character rather than a satire of a real person, the scenes in which Gullio appears merit a closer look. My own analysis of the Parnassus plays, as they concern the Shakspere biography, takes up several pages in my book. And a close look at the scenes in which Shakespeare (however spelled) is mentioned can support an unorthodox narrative of Shakspere’s life. One cannot break the impasse by avoiding the ambiguities and contexts that should raise red flags.

The orthodox biographer rarely puts these sorts of allusions under the microscope, probably because such analyses raise too many awkward questions. However, anti-Stratfordians have been free to ask such questions, as did, for example, Sir George Greenwood; his analyses of the Parnassus scenes, especially the one with actors Burbage and Kemp (328-330),  remain Must Reads. Any critical reader of the Parnassus plays will also want to consult J.B. Leishman’s edition to get some ideas about how to decide which interpretation(s) might make sense. To present the Parnassus lines as obvious, or to be taken at face value, is a disservice to the Elizabethan and Jacobean satirists, who were conditioned to write between the lines, and to poke fun in ways that, if challenged, allowed them to defend their innocent intentions.

Wells claims that the pedant Gabriel Harvey’s annotations show that he knows “Shakespeare as both poet and dramatist.” But Harvey’s written annotation demonstrate his familiarity with the printed works of Shakespeare in both genres ; his comments could not by any stretch be used to show that he personally recognized the man from Stratford as the poet-dramatist.

Wells claims:

The second poem to be explicitly addressed to Shakespeare appears in a collection by the poet known as John Davies of Hereford (to distinguish him from another of the same name). Cryptic as epigrams of this period often were, it certainly names him as an actor, and in its title –‘ To our English Terence, Mr Will. Shakespeare’, compares him to the great Roman dramatist whose plays were often studied in schools. (Absurdly, some of the deniers say that this comparison with Terence, who apparently had a reputation as a plagiarist, shows that Shakespeare’s reputation was based on other men’s works.)

Wells is dismissive of anti-Stratfordians who point out that “Terence” was known not only as a dramatist but also as a front man. He grudgingly acknowledges that Terence “apparently had a reputation as a plagiarist.” Apparently? No, Terence’s reputation as a front for aristocratic playwrights (Scipio and Laelius) was well-known to those who lived in Shakespeare’s time; that reputation was in print in several editions of Roger Ascham’s The Scholemaster (1570, 1579, 1589) and also in the 1603 translation of Montaigne’s Essays. Identifying ambiguities in this epigram is a necessary step. A full analysis of Davies’s epigram to “Shake-speare,” as well as some of Davies’s other epigrams that precede and follow the one to Shake-speare, reveals many more ambiguities and competing interpretations. I disagree that identifying potential ambiguities is absurd.

Chapter 5

Few question the legal and documentary records that can be used to reconstruct Shakspere’s activities in the theater, whether as actor, company shareholder, or shareholder in the Globe and Blackfriars theaters. They may yield more information about Shakspere’s activities than previously thought, as I have argued elsewhere (Unorthodox, 102-8). However, there is one record that I still have questions about: the 1604 Revels accounts that Wells cites:

In the Christmas season of 1604 to 1605 he is explicitly named four times (under the spelling ‘Shaxberd’) as the author of the plays – including seven by him – acted at court before the king and his family.

Some readers will have heard of the notorious forger John Payne Collier. Collier’s friend and colleague, Peter Cunningham (1816-69), came under suspicion when he tried to sell the 1604-5 and 1611-12 Revels accounts to the British Museum in 1868. These accounts were at first pronounced forgeries, then pronounced genuine, then questioned again. A. E. Stamp’s The Disputed Revels Accounts (1930) continues to be quoted as the ultimate vindication of the disputed documents, but Samuel A. Tannenbaum’s analysis of their irregularities, e.g., Shakspere Forgeries (1928), leaves lingering doubts. In my view, the jury is still out. And the “Shaxberd” spelling should prompt more questions than it does.

Wells introduces the famous Heywood apology:

The Passionate Pilgrim was reprinted in 1612 with the addition of other poems by the prolific dramatist and poet Thomas Heywood, who, in another book, An Apology for Actors (published in the same year), complained of the ‘manifest injury’ done to him by including some of his poems in a book under another’s name, pointing out that this might give the impression that he had stolen them. And he says that the author – obviously Shakespeare – was ‘much offended’ with Jaggard, who had, ‘altogether unknown to him, presumed to make bold with his name’. Probably as a result, the original title page was cancelled and replaced by one that does not name Shakespeare.

It is not “obviously” Shakespeare who was the “much offended” party, although that claim has been repeated so often that it has solidified into “fact.” A “manifest injury” was inflicted when some of Heywood’s poems were passed off, by published William Jaggard, as by Shakespeare, named on the title page. It would seem that either Heywood or Shakespeare could have taken offense at the misattribution. But in this case, the victim of the “manifest injury” was not Shakespeare, but Heywood. Like his predecessors, Wells pays no attention to the semantics and literary conceits used by Heywood in his Apologie for Actors, in which he refers to himself three times as the “Author” before repeating the word in the famous passage that Wells quotes (Price, Unorthodox, 138-39). Wells further claims that “as a result, the original title page was cancelled and replaced by one that does not name Shakespeare.” Actually, if Colin Burrows has it right, and he makes some good observations (79n), it was the other way around: Shakespeare’s name was left off of the first title pages to come off the press and was re-instated in a press correction, for promotional purposes.

Wells opines that Shakspere may not have approved of the publication of plays such as A Yorkshire Tragedy or The London Prodigal, both attributed to Shakespeare on the title pages; these are two of the plays in the Shakespeare Apocrypha. But Wells’s unsupported assumption (that Shakspere wrote Shakespeare) should raise yet another red flag. Considering the plays and poems misattributed to Shakespeare (or to “W.S.”) during his lifetime, as well as the number of Shakespeare plays published in corrupt editions (the so-called “bad quartos”), the larger question is, or should be: “where was Shakespeare?”

Wells reports on the Shakespeare collaborations as though they obviously represented active hands-on partnerhships. Collaborations can certainly represent two or more authors actively working at the same time on various parts of a play, whether jointly writing scenes or revising each other’s drafts, for example. The Henslowe papers show payments in the same entry to playwrights collaborating and getting paid for their respective contributions to a play (Henslowe’s, 125, 126, 127, 129, etc.). But other scenarios are possible.

Scholars simply do not have the evidence to prove the nature of the Shakespearean collaborations, that is, whether active or passive. Some editors of collaborative plays such as Timon of Athens (with Thomas Middleton) or Two Noble Kinsmen (with John Fletcher) consider the possibility that one or the other playwright was picking up an abandoned or incomplete text, and contributing to, adding to, or revising a play independently of a second author (Jowett, Timon, 98-99; Potter, 32).

Chapter 6

Wells associates Shakspere’s son with Hamlet :

Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet (the name is a variant of Hamlet)

It may be pleasant to think that Shakspere named his son in anticipation of the title character of what was to become Shakespeare’s most famous play. However, Shakspere’s neighbors were Hamnet and Judith Sadler, and biographers reasonably suppose that the Shakspere twins were named after their neighbors. However, since Hamnet Sadler’s name is spelled “Hamlet” in a few Stratford documents, Wells’s supposition is not outrageous. But there are only two documentary records for son Hamnet, his christening in 1585 and his burial in 1596. Both are spelled “Hamnet” (Chambers, Facts, 2:3,4).

Wells claims:

So far as we know Shakespeare’s wealth came from his share in the profits of the acting company; and this supposition is supported by the fact that other members of the King’s Men also died wealthy men.

Wells cites Henry Condell and Augustine Phillipps as shareholders who likewise amassed a small fortune. But their wealth is documented in later years. However, I point out that:

While it is safe to conclude that Shakspere made money from theatrical investments, even his shareholding does not fully explain his financial history. He bought New Place in Stratford in 1597, three years after he became a shareholder in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, but two years before he became a shareholder in the Globe theatre. Obviously, Shakspere had other sources—major sources—of income. (Unorthodox, 101)

And in 1598, Shakspere invested in a commercial quantity of grain and was approached for financing by Stratford neighbors. Again, that is a year before the Globe was built.

Chapter 7

To begin with the posthumous evidence, specifically the Stratford monument, Wells claims:

it is surely patently obvious that whoever wrote them [the epitaph] wished to convey that a man called Shakespeare who lived in Stratford-upon-Avon was a supremely great writer. The deniers have to go through extraordinary contortions in their attempts to deny this.

Agreed: the monument conveys the impression that Shakspere was the writer. But there are more questions: What is its provenance? What does the epitaph tell us? Wells himself describes the epitaph as “cryptic.” Why doesn’t the epitaph contain explicit and coherent praise of a writer? More on this below.

In the final analysis, it all comes down to the 1623 First Folio about which Wells claims that

several references in the prefatory matter of the First Folio make it very clear that this is the Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.

True. But as I conclude in an article published in the Tennessee Law Review :

One of the critical passages from Heminges and Condell’s testimony is the claim that they are publishing the plays in the First Folio “Only to keep the memory of so worthy a Friend, & Fellow alive, as was our < Shakespeare, by humble offer of his plays.” This claim is made in no uncertain terms. Now, just who wrote this passage is an authorship question for another day, but in weighing this testimony, one would need to put the author on the stand to determine whether he was an impartial and trustworthy witness, if he was a pen for hire, if he had an agenda, if he contradicted himself, and so on. In other words, we would need to be satisfied that this testimony holds up under cross-examination. However, putting aside the complexities of this testimony, for the sake of argument, let us accept this statement at face value.

If we do, is this good evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford was the writer? I’d say yes. Is it personal evidence? I’d say yes. So, does it qualify as a personal literary paper trail for Shakespeare? That depends on the admissibility of posthumous evidence. I maintain that it is not admissible as contemporary testimony. But every modern biographer follows the lead of E.K. Chambers [Sources, 50], who asserts that this “prefatory matter … may be regarded as contemporary ” [emphasis added].

Why? Why should it be regarded as contemporary, when it is posthumous by seven years? (145-46)

Wells does not question the authorship of the two prefatory epistles, he does not identify and analyze the ambiguities and contradictory statements throughout the front matter, and he accepts at face value those statements that support the orthodox narrative. In other words, he overlooks the signposts in the Folio front matter that point to a well-born author, so he never has to choose between the two contradictory sets of signposts, much less question the reliability of the front matter. In the absence of contemporary evidence that could prove that Shakspere wrote for a living, the question about the reliability of the First Folio testimony is of great relevance.

Chapter 8

In “Some Arguments Aainst,” Wells states that

The argument is that the town [of Stratford] was an intellectual and cultural backwater which could not have fostered genius.

While there were educated men in Stratford, I doubt that Wells would characterize the market town as the intellectual and cultural capital of Warwickshire. Nevertheless, I do not say that Shakspere couldn’t have become the literary genius. I do say that if he did, he would have left some records behind to show how he did it. By leaving out that important question, Wells can again set up a misplaced argument about the intellectual snobbery of skeptics.

In his attempt to absolve the dramatist, whoever he was, of foreign travels to Italy, Wells claims that “we don’t know for certain that Shakespeare didn’t visit Italy.” There is no evidence that Shakspere did. Wells then denigrates the research of Richard Paul Roe (The Shakespeare Guide To Italy ), by pointing out that Romeo and Juliet is not, as Roe stated, Shakespeare’s first play. Probably not, although in 1845, Joseph Hunter proposed that it was (2:120-21). Yet that “howler” is enough for Wells to belittle Roe’s research. (Would Wells dismiss out of hand the 2012 Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare, because, in the introduction, Arthur F. Kinney states that ca. 1577-78, Philip Henslowe built the Curtain in Shoreditch?) More to the point, Roe’s research is not dependent on the generally accepted chronological order of writing. His areas of inquiry are the culture, geography, topography, and customs in early modern Italy. He identified Shakespearean dialogue that might exhibit firsthand familiarity with matters Italian. He then attempted to retrace the dramatist’s Italian travels, using the dialogue as his guide, to see if there were, in fact, real life prototypes, locations, travel routes, and so on.  

Wells criticizes Roe’s reconstruction of the travels in Two Gentlemen :

The author of The Two Gentlemen of Verona does not simply say that the journey is made by water, but makes it quite clear that it is a sea journey. Proteus says to Speed:

Go, go, be gone, to save your ship from wreck,
Which cannot perish, having thee aboard,
Being destined to a drier death on shore. (1.1.141– 3)

This in itself is enough to show that the playwright imagined a voyage by sea, not by canal, on which ships, shores and wrecks are to say the least uncommon.

Wells omits subsequent critical lines of text that Roe explores, including the dramatist’s clarifications of terms:

Panthino Launce, away, away, aboard! thy master is shipped and thou art to post after with oars. What’s the matter? why weepest thou, man? Away, ass! You’ll lose the tide, if you tarry any longer.

Launce It is no matter if the tied were lost; for it is the unkindest tied that ever any man tied.

Panthino What’s the unkindest tide?

Launce Why, he that’s tied here, Crab, my dog.

Panthino Tut, man, I mean thou’lt lose the flood, and, in losing the flood, lose thy voyage, and, in losing  thy voyage, lose thy master …  [emphasis added] (II.iii.33-45)

Panthino tries to get Launce to understand that by “tide” he means “flood.” Roe describes the canal and sixteenth century lock system that produced the “flood” that transported the boat out of the “mitre gates.”

Launce Lose the tide, and the voyage, and the master, and the service, and the tied! Why, man, if the river were dry, I am able to fill it with my tears; if the wind were down, I could drive the boat with my sighs. [emphasis added] (II.iii.50-54)

Roe cites Elizabethan and Jacobean travel reports, in which “river” is used interchangeably with “canal,” 150), and he documents the use of the inland canal system by large cargo-laden vessels and even warships, generally associated with ocean sailing (47, 48, 49, 58-59). Roe is able to reconstruct several other Shakespearean journeys, including those in Merchant of Venice and Winter’s Tale

Roe’s research is more meticulous than Wells indicates. Nevertheless, if Wells were determined to find fault with his research, he might have criticized Roe’s reliance on the quarto or Folio texts with respect to presumed authorial choices of spelling or capitalization (Roe, 146-47, 148, 184-85). None of the printed plays can be proven to be based on the author’s so-called “foul papers” (see Werstine, e.g. 44-50). Nevertheless, Roe’s research is not ultimately reliant on the printed idiosyncrasies. Wells might also have criticized Roe’s reliance on a modern Catalan dictionary for translations of the names Ariel and Caliban (as Ros Barber pointed out on the Shaksper listserve). Perhaps some anti-Stratfordians can dig around for sixteenth-century Catalan journals, maritime logs, correspondence, and so on, that might prove the case one way or the other. But it’s a minor point, especially compared to his major discoveries, including St. Gregory’s Well in Two Gentlemen and the Duke’s Oak in Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Roe’s research is ground-breaking, not the least because he read the Italian plays more closely than his predecessors. In a sense, his list of Italianate specifics comprised a sort of bucket list. I do not know how many more investigations he had in mind before his death in 2010, but based on his published book, his batting average is outstanding. It is regrettable that Wells does not appreciate Roe’s original research or share in the thrill of his discoveries.

Switching the subject to Shakespeare’s genius. If, as Wells claims, some anti-Stratfordians discount the notion of genius, I am not one of them. I do consider genius a factor in studying the Shakspere biography, but I am puzzled that Wells argues that

The achievements of such relatively untutored geniuses as a Robert Burns, a John Clare, a Charles Dickens, a Franz Schubert, a William Blake, an Emily Dickinson, a Charlotte Brontë, or a Mark Twain should be enough to disabuse anyone of such a notion.

Yes, and every one of these geniuses left behind some evidence that I call literary paper trails. Some of those “untutored” geniuses even left behind evidence, however scanty, of their education (e.g., Burns, Brontë, Dickinson, and Schubert). For none of these literary geniuses of humble beginnings must one rely on posthumous evidence to support their literary development or activities. So again, if Shakspere was another untutored genius, how did he do it? There is no evidence that can tell us how he did it.

Chapter 9

In his criticism of my paperback edition of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, Wells reproduced much of the relevant sections of his comments first posted on Blogging Shakespeare. He claims:

At other points she attempts to denigrate Shakespeare of Stratford’s literary reputation by proposing that his wife and daughters were illiterate.

The evidence we have (including Susanna’s single ill-formed signature and her inability to recognize her husband’s handwriting) supports the statements that wife and daughters were indeed functionally illiterate.

Wells claims:

Price writes of Stratford-upon-Avon as an educational backwater, while also quoting John Hall’s description of one of the Quineys – the family into which Judith Shakespeare married – as ‘a man of good wit, expert in tongues, and very learned’.

As we have seen, there is more evidence to support the statement that Richard Quiney could read and write in both English and Latin. But daughter Judith’s marriage to Thomas Quiney is not evidence of her literacy; obviously, literate in-laws do not automatically confer literacy on illiterate relatives, even spouses. (See also Charles Knight’s observation above).

Wells’s criticism that I “misleadingly [say] that there are ‘no commendatory verses to Shakespeare’, ignoring those printed in the First Folio, as well as the anonymous prose commendation in the 1609 edition of Troilus and Cressida, and that by Thomas Walkley in the 1622 quarto of Othello.” His criticism illustrates the problems that Wells and I have with criteria. The commendatory verses in the First Folio were published seven years after Shakspere died. The poems by Leonard Digges and Hugh Holland contain literary praise but no personal testimony about the author. Digges’s reference to the Stratford monument may or may not be at firsthand.

Jonson’s eulogy is far more complex. Like his two Folio epistles, Jonson’s eulogy is factually inconsistent, but it takes many pages to comprehensively explore his language and point out the contradictions. Suffice it to say here, by taking certain statements at face value and ignoring those containing contradictions, Wells can avoid choosing between two sets of signposts, the first pointing to Shakspere of Stratford, and second pointing to an unnamed gentleman.

There are two editions of Troilus, both printed in 1609. The preface in one issue of Troilus tells us nothing personal about the dramatist, and it claims that Troilus is “a new play, never staled with the stage, never clapper-clawed with the palms of the vulgar.” The title-page of the other issue contradicts that claim; it states that the play “was Acted by the Kings Majesty’s Servants at the Globe.” Far from confirming the traditional attribution, these conflicting statements simply raise more questions.

The 1622 epistle by Walkley, the publisher of Othello, tells us that the dramatist was dead, but offers no further details except to encourage potential customers to read the play. Neither the Troilus nor the Walker prefaces require personal knowledge of the author. They are impersonal literary commentary aimed at encouraging sales.

Wells refers to:

the monument in Holy Trinity Church, with its inscriptions eulogizing Shakespeare of Stratford as a writer.

The epitaph reads: “Stay Passenger, why goest thou by so fast? / Read if thou canst, whom envious Death hath plast [placed] / Within this monument Shakspeare: with whom / Quick nature died: whose name doth deck this tomb / Far more than cost: sith [since or see] all that he hath writ / Leaves living art, but page to serve his wit”. As I have argued above and in more detail in the book, the epitaph to Shakespeare does not constitute coherent praise for a writer. Some of the shortcomings are obvious, especially so when one compares the epitaph to those for

Edmund Spenser “with thee our English verse was rais’d on high”

Francis Beaumont “He that can write so well”

Michael Drayton “a Memorable Poet of his Age”

John Taylor “Here lies the Water Poet”

George Chapman “a Christian Philosopher and Homericall Poet”

(Pettigrew, 406, 407; LeNeve, 150).

Wells repeats his criticism from his BloggingShakespeare comments on William Basse’s (or John Donne’s?) elegy:

Still more importantly, Price downplays William Basse’s elegy on Shakespeare, which ranks him alongside Chaucer, Spenser and Beaumont. This poem could have been written any time after Shakespeare died, and, as I have said, it was circulated widely in manuscript – at least thirty -four copies are known – before and after it was published in 1633; and Price fails to note that one of the copies is entitled ‘On Willm Shakspear buried att Stratford-vpon-Avon, his Town of Nativity’.

So William Basse’s poem, and the fact that it has come down to us in so many versions, bears witness to Shakespeare’s popularity as a great writer worthy of comparison with England’s best. And the titles people gave to some versions of Basse’s poem make clear that this was the Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon; one of them, indeed, reads ‘On Willm Shakspear buried att Stratford-vpon-Avon, his Town of Nativity’. It is a clear identification by an unprejudiced early witness of Shakespeare the playwright as a Stratford man.

My response to that criticism stands:

I “downplay” this elegy for several reasons. Its authorship remains in question; it may have been written by John Donne, to whom it is attributed in Donne’s Poems of 1633. There is no evidence that either Basse or Donne knew Shakspere. And yes, the elegy does exist in numerous manuscript copies; the one allegedly in Basse’s handwriting is tentatively dated 1626 and shows one blot and correction in an otherwise clean copy– suggesting that it might be a transcript.

The poem itself contains no evidence that the author was personally acquainted with Shakspere. Whether by Donne or Basse, it is a posthumous and impersonal tribute, requiring familiarity with Shakespeare’s works, and, possibly, details on the funerary monument in Stratford. Wells and Taylor themselves cannot be certain which manuscript title (if any) represents the original (Textual, 163).

Wells seems to think that the Basse/Donne poem is convincing evidence that Shakspere wrote Shakespeare. The title ’On Willm Shakspear buried att Stratford-vpon-Avon, his Town of Nativity’ is prefixed to one of the manuscript copies of unknown provenance. The title could be derivative of the First Folio front matter, it could be reliant on the monument inscription, but it cannot prove that Shakspere wrote Shakespeare.

Wells is critical that I offer “a detailed discussion of William Dugdale’s sketch, made around 1634, of the Stratford monument”.

She accepts this monument as an effigy of the Stratford Shakespeare, but fails to take note of Dugdale’s statement that it portrays ‘william Shakespeare the famous poet’, even though she reproduces it in her book.”

The annotation in Dugdale’s notebook tells us very little, since it is impossible to know whether it represents Dugdale’s original description or is derivative of someone else’s. Interestingly, and also in 1634, a Lt. Hammond similarly described “A Neat Monument of that famous English Poet, Mr. William Shakespeere” (Chambers, Facts, 2:243). Perhaps one report was derivative of the other, or just as likely, both derived from the same source. For all we know, the Stratford vicar put up a make-shift sign in the chancel to make sure that visitors were made aware of what they were looking at.

Wells faults me for citing sonnets when it suits my unorthodox purpose, although he did not specify which ones he would challenge. The reason I cite certain sonnets is because they are difficult to reconcile with Shakspere’s documented activities.

Wells especially faults me for not dealing with Sonnet 136, which proves that the author’s name was Will (‘I was thy Will’ and “My name is Will”).’ Wells’s criticism of my selectivity must stand; I did not quote this sonnet. However, Stephen Booth’s critical edition of the Sonnets provides readers with various interpretations from which to choose. And when one juxtaposes Sonnet 136 and the lines about “My name is Will” with these lines from sonnet 72 [emphasis added]

My name be buried where my body is
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
For I am shamed by that which I bring forth
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.

one confronts a contradiction. “My name is Will” vs. “My name be buried where my body is.” The conflicting sentiments are difficult to reconcile with the orthodox narrative, but perhaps less difficult with an unorthodox one.

In closing, Wells argues with plausible-sounding statements that cannot withstand skeptical scrutiny, and too often, extended scrutiny exposes the weakness or invalidity of an assumption, the ambiguity of the actual text, and in some cases, an outright misreading of an allusion (such as the Chettle apology). It has been my intention in challenging the various claims made by Prof. Wells to demonstrate why questions remain about Shakespeare’s authorship.

Wells has not been able to produce one literary paper trail for Shakspere, left behind during Shakspere’s life. (Interestingly, he steered clear of the one “literary paper trail” proposed by scholars in 1923: that is, the Hand D portions of the Sir Thomas More manuscript. The identification of Hand D as Shakspere’s continues to gain momentum in orthodox circles as another “fact,” so I suppose it is a relief that Wells omitted it.)

In the absence of documentary evidence comparable to that left behind by two dozen other writers from the time period, the orthodox literary narrative for Shakspere collapses. If sheer repetition of a narrative constituted proof of that narrative, Prof. Wells’s pamphlet Why Shakespeare WAS Shakespeare would carry the day. But if he applied the criteria routinely applied by biographers of other subjects, by historians, and by literary critics, he would have to confront the problem that the orthodox literary biography of Shakespeare is founded on unproven assumptions, not facts.


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─────. The Shakespearian Playing Companies Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

Hammer, Paul E. J. “Shakespeare’s Richard II, the Play of 7 February 1601, and the Essex Rising.” in Shakespeare Quarterly 59:1 (spring 2008): 1-35.

─────.  “A Reckoning Reframed: The ‘Murder’ of Christopher Marlowe Revisited.” English Literary Renaissance. 26:2 (April 1996): 225–242.

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Honigmann, E.A.J. John Weever: A Biography of a Literary Associate of Shakespeare and Jonson, Together with a Photographic Facsimile of Weever’s ‘Epigrammes’ (1599) . Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987.

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Ide, Arata. “Christopher Marlowe, William Austen, and the Community of Corpus Christie College.” in Studies in Philology 104 (winter 2007): 56-81.

Jenkins, Harold. The Life and Work of Henry Chettle. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1934.

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Parnassus plays (see Leishman)

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─────. blogging shakespeare 8 May 2013. Now, his review can only be found using the Wayback Machine

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Annotated bibliographical entry in Warren Hope and Kim Holston’s The Shakespeare Controversy: An Analysis of the Authorship Theories. 2nd Edition. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2009.

“It is highly unusual, if not unique, to find only posthumous literary evidence remaining for an individual who supposedly lived by his pen.” There were many Shaksperes, so why pick the Stratford man? Shakspere was frequently absent from London so how important was he to the theater company? Examined is frequent use of the hyphenated name. “No other Elizabethan or Jacobean author appeared in hyphenated form with comparable frequency.” Ben Jonson didn’t write anything about Shakespeare or Shakspere during the latter’s lifetime, “a surprising omission for an author who wrote explicitly about most of his literary colleagues.” Price shows how Stratfordian biographers spin facts and allusions to make the author “good” and “gentle Will.” With liquid assets and business acumen, Shakspere is touted as seminally important in behind-the-scenes activities. Why, then, is there no real, literary, paper trail? Many Elizabethan writers are buried in Westminster Abbey. Shakspere isn’t one of them. Price argues that Shaksperes signatures are “not evidence of a literary career.” For her, the plays were intended to be read as literature. [Contrast with Irvin Matus’ view in “The Ghost of Shakespeare,” Harper’s, April 1999.] There is detailed analysis of Jonson’s contradictory allusions in dedications and plays. “Jonson’s two conceptions of Shakspere/Shakespeare are inherently incompatible, but his conflated testimony makes sense if he recognized Shakspere and Shakespeare as two different people. Jonson knew better than to comment explicitly in print on the professionally performed plays of an aristocrat.” As for Michael Drayton, poet and Warwickshire man treated by the Stratford man’s doctor son-in-law, “he concluded the poem [Elegies upon Sundry Occasions] by talking about aristocratic poets who had written for the stage, but whose names he would not reveal.” If the Sonnets of 1609 are dedicated to “OVR.EVER-LIVING.POET.,” he’d most certainly be dead. Price investigates the lack of Shakspere’s literary bequests and absence of books in his home. She argues that statistically the lack of any literary personal records for Shakspere is “a virtual impossibility.” No conspiracy was necessary. Think about the mores of the time. Aristocrats would not write for profit, nor would men of humble origin incriminate one who did write for the theater. Facts are needed despite genius, so where did Shakspere get those? Why were his daughters “functionally illiterate”? The author knew Italy and falconry and royal tennis and used his knowledge to create metaphors. The dating of The Tempest is examined. “Shakespeare” was an “entrepreneur and financier,” not a dramatist. There are thirty-one illustrations, including applications for John Shakspere’s coat of arms, letters with signatures of Elizabethan authors, Shakspere‘s signatures, the Holy Trinity Church monument, the Dugdale sketch, portrait engravings of various writers. Appendix: Chart of Literary Paper Trails, bibliography, index.

An earlier review by Warren Hope in The Elizabethan Review

"Once you have eliminated the impossible,” an ascetic Holmes instructed the fleshy Watson, "what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Holmes’s axiom could serve as the motto for Diana Price’s new book, Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography. Her subject is nothing less than the impossibility that William Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon was William Shakespeare, the poet and playwright. This subject makes her book unlike any book dealing with the Shakespeare authorship question that has appeared in years.

Most writers on this subject are concerned with either defending the traditional attribution of the plays and poems to William Shakspere of Stratford or with stripping Shakspere of his laurels and placing them on another’s head. Price takes a new approach or, rather, an approach that is so old that it now seems new, and makes it her own.

Price spends next to no time or space on who the poet and playwright actually was except to indicate the likelihood that he was “a gentleman of rank.” She instead tackles the question of who William Shakspere of Stratford actually was--a subject that has been too frequently ignored by Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians alike.

Stratfordians don’t deal at length with the subject because they inevitably run into facts that are contrary to their view of the author. Anti-Stratfordians don’t deal at length with the subject because they are less interested in what used to be called “the negative argument,” that is, the case against the Stratford citizen’s claims to authorship, than in making a case for their pet candidate for Shakespearean honors. The result is the neglect of a vital but virtually untouched field of study. Price works that field admirably and the harvest is abundant.

This abundance flows from Price’s method. She is restrained, reasonable, and patient. But she has the wit and imagination to not restrict herself to facts that are supported by physical or documentary evidence—although such facts play a prominent part in her book. She is perhaps at her best when she analyzes and interprets literary allusions to William Shakspere—Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit and Ben Jonson’s “On Poet-Ape,” are instances, the first so well-known to students of Shakespeare that its meaning often goes unfathomed and the second so little known that the light it throws on Will Shakspere’s life is rarely even considered.

Price’s lucid prose, graced with understatement, is the perfect vehicle for her re-examination of what can honestly be known of William Shakspere’s actual life based on all the available records and sources. The result is a coherent and credible portrait of a tight-fisted, hard-headed, vain, ignorant, clever, shrewd theatrical impresario who is clearly the antithesis of the author of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. As Price knows and shows, even Shakespeare felt compelled to ridicule Shakspere.

Like many good logicians, Price saves her most damning argument for the book’s end. She devotes an Appendix to what she calls a “Chart of Literary Paper Trails.” This chart — actually an essay reduced to a chart that is supplemented with extensive notes — answers the frequently heard but unexamined assumption that we know so little of Shakspere’s life as a writer because we know little or nothing of the lives of the writers of his time.

She examines the records of twenty-five writers, ranging from the firmly established Ben Jonson to the admittedly obscure John Webster, and organizes these records into ten categories. Of the twenty-five life records examined, only one results in a complete blank — the records of William Shakspere of Stratford. It is this vacuum of a writer’s life that Price deftly replaces with her coherent portrait of an avaricious, energetic man-of-the-theater from the provinces.

A thorough reading of this thoroughly readable book by anyone who is not prejudiced beyond reason on its subject will necessarily lead to the conviction that it is impossible that William Shakspere of Stratford-on-Avon wrote the plays and poems of William Shakespeare.

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This book is the most positive and balanced work ever done on a great and beautiful question: Who was William Shakespeare? Diana Price brings a disciplined and enlightened scholarship to the subject. She does not offer fanciful hypotheses. On the contrary, she reveals many of the known facts about William Shakespeare that have been previously ignored or interpreted to suit a theory. She then compares his documentary evidence to that for other writers of Shakespeare’s time. If you are sceptical, take a minute to read the appendix. If you want to know what we know about the actual William Shakespeare, this is a book to read and keep in your library as a reference. Absolutely fascinating and essential to understanding why there is an authorship question. I recommend it first, always, to anyone who asks me who Shakespeare was.

Mark Rylance Actor

Artistic Director, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre 1995-2005

Dear Jamie Andrews,

It has come to my attention that you replied to Alexander Waugh’s communication last week concerning the British Library’s announcement about the Sir Thomas More manuscript, specifically the Hand D Additions. I share Mr. Waugh’s concern that in its announcement about the digitization project, the British Library described the Hand D Additions as “Shakespeare’s only surviving literary manuscript.” As of today, 16 May 2016, those words are still on your web page https:/www.bl.uk/collection-items/shakespeares-handwriting-in-the-book-of-sir-thomas-more .

In your response to Mr. Waugh, you refer to Prof. John Jowett’s Arden edition of the play and also to the fact that “most collected works of Shakespeare published since 1951 have included Sir Thomas More : “This of course chimes with Diana Price’s acknowledgment of ‘received scholarship’ in this field in the article you referenced.” Rather, it would be accurate to say that my research challenges the “received scholarship.” And as I understand from Michael L. Hays, his article questioning other aspects of the paleographic case is forthcoming in Shakespeare Quarterly. Prof. Jowett himself elsewhere states that he is “fairly sure,” as distinct from positive, that Hand D is Shakespeare’s. May I add that while “most collected works of Shakespeare” have included the Additions to Sir Thomas More, it is also true that three leading editions in 1997 (Norton, Riverside, and Bevington) included Funeral Elegy “by W.S.”; the poem was subsequently dropped when Prof. Donald Foster’s claim was debunked.

As I am sure you know, the British Library’s announcement was picked up by media worldwide. Many, perhaps most media ran the identification of the Hand D Additions as Shakespeare’s without qualification, and most media ran the facsimile. It is unfortunate that the British Library’s prestigious reputation is sufficient to assure readers and listeners that Shakespeare did indeed leave behind a personal literary paper trail. Short of a corrected announcement, it is difficult for me to imagine how to counter the impression that the controversy over Hand D is now settled. Perhaps you have already considered other options.

I hope you will share this message with your Chairman, Baroness Blackstone. Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Diana Price

Website: http://www.shakespeare-authorship.com/

Hand D article in Journal of Early Modern Studies: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/bsfm-jems/article/view/7066

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