Why Some Believe Shakespeare Wasn’t Shakespeare.
Ever since 1597, when Elizabethan satirist Joseph Hall published a series of pamphlets hinting that the author of Venus and Adonis shifted his writings “to another’s name,” people have questioned whether the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, known in legal documents as William “Shaxpere” or “Shagspere,” was the real author of the Shakespeare works, or whether this identification may be a matter of mistaken attribution. Numerous facts in the official story of the Stratford man lead many to ask: Was the name “Will Shake Spear” a pseudonym?
The Stratford man’s name was similar to the famed author’s, but not an exact match. In the 30 legal entries of the family name found in the Stratford Register of christenings, marriages and burials, only ONE reproduces the name as “Shakespeare,” and that's for the christening of Will's daughter Susanna, who 20 years later is married as Susanna “Shaxpere.”
Well after the fame of the author, Will's daughter Judith gave birth to a son in 1616, and in honor of her father named him “Shaxper” Quiney.
The locals of Stratford referred to Will only as a grain dealer, with contemporary documents mentioning his holdings of “grain,” “malt,” “corn and hay.” Not once in Stratford is he referred to as a writer, poet, actor or playwright.
His original memorial bust in Holy Trinity Church depicts
a man clutching what appears to be a sack of grain, even though
such memorials were meant to depict one’s occupation in life.
The church bust we find today is a revised version believed to be
from 1746, when pen and paper were added to it.
Similarly, the famous Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare in the
First Folio, an image which Mark Twain said resembles “a bladder,”
and of which the artist Gainsborough remarked, "I never saw a
Stupider face," does not seem to portray a writer. An examination
of most writers’ portraits of the period shows laurel wreaths, books,
and other literary insignias. It is more a comic caricature (with many
intentional errors in it).
The man’s grave inscription has also troubled many scholars:
GOOD FREND FOR JESUS SAKE FORBEARE,
TO DIGG THE DUST ENCLOASED HEARE!
BLESTE BE THE MAN THAT SPARES THESE STONES,
AND CURSED BE HE THAT MOVES MY BONES.
Did the greatest poet of the English language write such doggerel?
The Stratford man’s last will and testament also posesa problem. Despite itemizing every pot, pan, bed and sword, it mentions no plays, manuscripts, shares in the Globe theatre, or books.
Books were extremely rare and expensive. The Shakespeare works refer to and rely on more than 200 books, many not available in England, and some not yet translated from Greek, Latin, Spanish, Italian or French.
By comparison, scholars have found over 200 books belonging to playwright Ben Jonson and poet John Donne.
Shaksper bequeathed no books in his will, which was unusual for that time. By comparison, Sir Philip Sidney bequeathed all of his books to court poets Fulke Greville and Edward Dyer. His will also contains no mention of furniture to hold books, no bookcases or shelves, nor even a writing desk, paper, ink nor pen! It reveals a life with no literary or musical or artistic or cultural interests.
Another problem with the will is that the only line that ties this document to the London theatre scene is a gift of money for remembrance rings to fellow actors John Hemmings, Richard Burbage and Henry Condell. But upon close examination, it is clear that this line of text was inserted at a later date between two original lines of the will in another clerk’s handwriting. So the only tie between Shaxpere and his dearest friends in the theatre world was apparently an afterthought.
A more serious revelation in the will comes with the Stratford man’s signatures.
Not only did he never develop a distinctive signature, unlike other writers of
the day, but also each of his signatures is scribbled in a hand that appears never
to have held pen to paper! And each time he scratched his name, he spelled it
differently... within the SAME document!
This has led some scholars to speculate that he must have had some sort of
stroke before signing. But if that were the case, the clerk would have had
Shaksper seal rather than sign his will, a document that begins with the claim
that he is “in perfect health & memorie god be praysed." Besides, three other
poorly written signatures survive from legal documents dating from four years
One other thing about the scrawled signatures is that they reveal that the first
syllable of the family name was sounded with a short and not a long “a”.
It is not known whether Shaksper attended the local grammar school,
but it is clear he did not attend either of England’s two universities. It
is also clear from their signatures or marks that his parents and children
were illiterate. Did the greatest writer of the age never teach is own
daughters how to read his works?
More curious clues come with the first printings of the Shake-speare works. Out of the 48 individual quarto editions of the plays, 16 were published with no author’s name. If Shaksper had traveled to London to become a rich and famous writer, why then were so many of his texts, such as Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Richard III, first published anonymously? Of the 32 quartos that did credit the bard, 15 of them (or nearly HALF) hyphenated the name. However, in Stratford legal documents, the name was NEVER hyphenated. Hyphenations were relatively abnormal for real Elizabethans, but they were often used in pseudonyms and character names, especially when using a verb-object combination.
For the greatest writer who ever lived, we have remarkably few public records of his life. But an examination of what few documents remain reveals a man who was chastised by the locals for hoarding 80 bushels of malt corn in time of shortage, was cited as a London tax evader in 1591, 1599 and 1600, spent time in court suing debtors for unpaid loans, and had a writ of protection issued against him on behalf of one William Wayte, who feared that he “stood in danger of death or bodily hurt” from the apparent poet.
In searching for Shakespeare’s friends, there were three men with whom the great writer would have to have been familiar: Henry Wriothesly, earl of Southampton (dedicatee of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece), and brothers William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, and Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery (to whom the Shakespeare First Folio is dedicated). But no records show that a Will Shaxpere or Shakespeare ever even met any of these noblemen.
Looking at the letters written by England’s most prolific writer himself is perhaps most telling... because there are NONE! Not one letter has ever been found written by anyone named William Shaksper, or for that matter William Shake-speare. No writer ever dedicated a book to Shakespeare. No one ever mentions seeing Shakespeare performing on stage. No one ever mentions seeing Shakespeare out on the town or at the theatre. No evidence exists that either Queen Elizabeth or King James ever mentioned their favorite playwright by name. In his theatre diary, Philip Henslowe, who records payments made to 27 Elizabethan playwrights, never mentions the name of Shakespeare! Which is all very odd, unless of course, the name was a pseudonym.
The Shakespeare sonnets tell us that, despite the prediction that the works will surely live on, “I, once gone, to all the world must die,” and “My name [will] be buried where my body is.” If the poems will live on, why not the name of the poet? Unless of course, “William Shakespeare” was not his real name!
Shakespeare’s Famous Contemporaries who did not know he was the writer!
According to Ramon Jimenez’ article, Ten Eyewitnesses Who Saw Nothing, there were many men who knew the London literary and theatre scene, and who also knew the Stratford man, or were familiar with Stratford-upon-Avon, but none ever put the two together.
William Camden, mentor to Ben Jonson, published a book about English history & culture, “Remains of a Greater Work Concerning Britain” in 1605, which named Sh among a list of 11 poets “whom succeeding ages may justly admire.”
He was also the man who had approved a change to the coat of arms of John Shaksper in 1599.
But when he printed “Britannia” in 1607, describing English counties and towns and their notable residents, in the section on St-on-Avon, there is no mention of Sh. Neither did he mention the Stratford man’s death in his “Annals” of 1616.
Michael Drayton, who was born and lived in Warwickshire down the road from Stratford, wrote plays in London in the late 1590s. Like Camden, he wrote a book that included histories of English counties “Poly-Olbion” and described men of note. But he left out Shakespeare in the Warwickshire section. Even though Drayton himself was a patient of Dr John Hall, Will Shaksper’s son-in-law!
Dr John Hall, married to Will’s daughter Susanna Shaksper, recorded his patients’ treatments and personal attributes in his Latin diary. He described patient Michael Drayton as “an excellent poet.” He mentioned that another patient, Thomas Holyoke, complied a Latin-English dictionary. He mentioned that John Trap was pious and learned, “second to none.” He never mentioned knowing William Shake-speare!
Dr James Cooke, stationed in St-on-Avon as an army doctor in 1649, visited Will’s daughter Susanna Hall, wondering if her husband the doctor had left any books or papers after his death that Dr Cook might want to publish. She showed him two handwritten medical casebooks in Latin and accepted his offer to buy them. She apparently never mentioned unpublished play manuscripts or letters written by any other family member.
Shakespeare Doubters from the 16th Century:
The literary works of Shakespeare’s contemporaries subtly broach the topic that “Shakespeare” was a pseudonym:
In 1597, satirist Joseph Hall suggested that the author of Venus and Adonis shifted his writings “to another’s name.” In 1614, poet Richard Brathwaite, whose own pseudonym wasn’t discovered until 1818, wrote that the finest plays of the Elizabethan age were “shadowed in a borrowed name.” About whom could he be referring? The 1640 anonymous poem Wits Recreation warns “Shake-speare, we must be silent in thy praise.” Why must we be silent in speaking about Shake-speare?
In Thomas Vicar’s 1628 Manual of Rhetoric, to a list of outstanding English poets he suggests: “To these I believe should be added that famous poet who takes his name from “shaking” and “spear.” Well, if he “takes” a name, it was not a “given” name!
Katherine Chiljan, in her book Shakespeare Suppressed, has outlined at least 11 Elizabethan writers who refer to Shakespeare as a high-born man not given proper credit.
She also cites examples in contemporary works in which writers made fun of a country bumpkin posing as a famous writer!
There are other problems for the Stratford man to claim the title of writer - a claim that apparently neither he nor his family ever made during their lifetimes. He never left England, yet the plays are filled with specific details and little-known colloquialisms from Italy. And in 1589, writer Thomas Nashe notes that Hamlet has already been played onstage. The Stratford man was a mere 25 years old at the time, and could not have written his greatest work by then.
Other than a similar name, there is no evidence of a literary trail for a man named William Shaxpere (or Shakespeare). Diana Price, in her book Shake-speare’s Unorthodox Biography, has traced the literary trails of 24 authors of the period. In looking at Jonson, Massinger, Lyly, Middleton, Marlowe, Greene, Kyd, Peele, and others, she shows evidence of education, written correspondence, payments, relationships with patrons, extant original manuscripts, inscriptions, commendatory verses, ownership of books, being personally referred to as a writer, and notice at death as a writer. Most of the 24 authors appear on most of these lists. Shakespeare appears on NONE of them! When the Stratford man died in 1616, what happened in commemoration of the passing of Queen Elizabeth’s and King James’ favorite playwright was NOTHING! No ceremony, no procession, and no burial with other great writers at Westminster Abbey. Instead, he was buried at Holy Trinity Church under a stone that curses those who are tempted to dig up his bones.
For these, among many other reasons, some scholars believe that William Shaxpere of Stratford-upon-Avon was not our William Shake-speare!