From Longlist to Shortlist

A Stratfordian Attack on the Mainstream Theory


Edward de Vere  Nicholas Breton  Aemelia Bassano-Lanier  Roger Manners  Fulke Greville  George Peele  Thomas Nashe  John Lyly  William Stanley  Edmund Spencer  Christopher Marlowe  Henry Constable  Richard Barnfield  Daniel Defoe  Edward Dyer  Henry Neville  Francis Bacon  Gabriel Harvey  John Webster  Thomas Lodge  Mary Herbert-Sidney  Michael Drayton  William Nugent  Edmund Campion  Thomas Kyd  Elizabeth Tudor  George Chapman  Thomas Dekker  John Florio  Robert Greene  Thomas Heywood  James Stuart  Abraham Fraunce  Samuel Daniel  Walter Raleigh  Thomas Watson  Ben Jonson


The Simplest of Theories

Progress in science depends on two basic procedures : duplication and falsification. Unable to duplicate its findings in independent research, Literature Studies has proved itself a failure on the first count (see The Art of Text Interpretation). And the Shakespeare authorship discussion indicates a failure on the second. Much in Shakespeare’s life seems to deny his authorship, and in consequence other names have been proposed. Quite a lot of names actually, and, as a result, the authorship discussion concerns a longlist of One-and-Only-Bards of epic proportions. And what should that indicate, if not the consistent omission of those obligate attempts to prove theories wrong before publication? Most theories indeed originate from research by zealous amateurs, and, in the wake of their ill advized publication, many an outstanding scholar is wasting valuable time on refuting them. To the inevitable result that

“we have had theory after theory proposed as the answer … and there is still no single explanation which satisfies everyone … The whole point about the puzzle is its ultimate insolubility.”

The quotation is perhaps not entirely to the point (being already misplaced before it ever went to press), but it does not seem out of context either. And for the situation it describes, science has invented Ockham’s Razor ; the blade to cut the number of competing theories to size :

if two theories explain the facts equally well, the simpler theory prevails.

The simplest of theories is the one that credits William Shakespeare from Stratford for the books on his name. In consequence the supporters of the respective rival theories may be somewhat reluctant to use this razor, as it seems to come down on scientific harakiri to many a contestant. Well, it doesn’t. Ockham’s Razor is not designed to judge theories on contents. It only makes a blind choice between two equally qualified applicants for a single vacancy. And because simplicity is no achievement in itself, a complicated theory, in order to prevail, only needs to explain the facts a little better than its simpler rivals.

Unfortunately, all competing theories have by now their dedicated supporters, who are entrenched in fixed opinions. When it comes to judging theories on quality, little is therefore to be expected from the impact the verdict is going to make on the losers. Which leaves only one approach open to break the deadlock : proving the majority of the competing theories fundamentally wrong.

To Wrong a Theory

The method is to work top down. And to have a go at the mainstream theory first. As mentioned, the man from Stratford has his weaknesses as a contestant. Those weaknesses, however, stem from lack of documented facts, and it is not done to exploit them as fatal flaws. Fundamentally wrong the mainstream theory can only be in its very foundation : and fundamental to this theory is the fact that Shakespeare was not just an actor within the Burbage company, but its regular playwright as well.

This theory therefore effectively states that Burbage’s regular playwright invented characters which he intended to play himself. And if he did, how hard can it be to identify them? A failure to do so would therefore eliminate Shakespeare at the instant from the contest. And initiate an unbiassed search for the real source of his plays.

According to Greene’s 1592 A Groat’s Worth of Wit Shakespeare was a Iohannis Factotem (technical assistant) who called himself an actor. Two years later he had reached a prominence within the company that enabled him to become a shareholder. And in 1598 Shakespeare had the lead in Ben Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour. From which either follows that Shakespeare was an exceptionally gifted actor, or that the sources are unreliable.

When and why Shakespeare joined the Burbage company is mere speculation, but if Greene has his facts right, he must have caught the theatre bug in 1587, at the age of twenty-three, when five theatre companies visited Stratford in quick succession. Having joined The Earl of Leicester’s Men that summer at their stay in Stratford, he would have had just a decade to rise through the ranks from backstage dogsbody to star actor.

An unlikely achievement. But, in all his sneering, Greene has no reason to lie about a rival playwright’s career. And when he describes Shakespeare as a would-be actor just two years before he gets the principal player’s privilege of a share in the company, the dogsbody may have deserved it on some other merit than on his acting skills alone. If so, the source of his 1598 lead in Every man in his Humour is suspect : the First Folio of Ben Jonson’s plays. A source that fails to name the actual part, but merely places Shakespeare’s name at the head of the list of principal actors. Jonson seems to have been a close friend, and his First Folio was published within a year after Shakespeare’s death. Therefore the possibility of a tribute cannot be ruled out.

In accordance, we are looking for characters who are designed for a performer of modest skills. And by an aspiring backstager who seized his opportunity to write a play in the autumn of 1588, when Burbage went temporarily out of business. Leaving his dogsbody unemployed for a couple of months, untill the late Earl of Leicester’s theatre company was ready to restart as The Lord Strange’s Men.

Titus Andronicus is the clumsiest piece of drama in the entire Shakespeare canon, and cannot be expected to be finetuned to the acting skills of anybody, let alone of its author. Yet it shows a remarkable sample of writing to the actor, as Young Lucius seems to have been intended for a boy player of different ages ; a small kid in some scenes, and a rather maturely acting teenager in others.

The part of Young Lucius is almost mute in scenes 3 ; 2 (two lines), 4 ; 3 (mute) and 5 ; 3 (four lines). While rather eloquent in 4 ; 1 and 4 ; 2 (25 & 13 lines), asides included. Of these scenes, 3 ; 2 is not in the original 1593 production as represented by the 1594 Quarto edition ; a joint venture by three companies in their struggle to survive the great plague ban.

The 1624 First Folio edition presents the play as performed in 1594 ; as only a revised copy explains why Burbage would have parted from the precious original manuscript. Which most likely went that very year to press as the new production’s merchandise. This revision gives young Lucius three scenes as a small boy, and two as a skilled performer. Thus dividing the character along the golden ratio into parts for boys of the respective ages of Hamnet and Edmund Shakespeare.

Because of young Lucius, the (new) play from the 1594 quarto edition seems to have been a revision. And because it makes no sense to revise a play when a sudden opportunity for performance presents itself, this revision dates back to the last regular production. Which obviously also was the first production, and the play in question can only have been revised because of initial rejection. 
Being by 1594 still a new play for London, Titus Andronicus had been produced during the plague ban. Which, after all, was during 1592 and 1593 never expected to keep the theatres closed for more than yet another month. 
Interestingly, the boy player whose debut in a speaking part the play was probably meant to be in 1588, celebrated his thirteenth birthday on, or close to, the first of May 1593. And he has thirteen lines in scene 4 ; 2, while 4 ; 1 has thirteen of the boy’s twenty-five lines in an uninterrupted sequence. Isn’t it curious ? 
His fourteenth line ends on ‘my youth’. This is line 9 of the thirteen-sequence, and that is pretty close to this section’s Golden Ratio. The next line that bears significance to the Golden Ratio is no. 21 : ‘If I were a man’ 
His twentieth line ‘My mother gave it me’ is the scene’s line 44 : with Mary Shakespeare’s date of birth estimated as ca. 1537, this line number comes rather close to her age when she gave birth to Edmund. 

This is mere conjecture and proves nothing. Yet, when it comes to the nature of Shakespeare’s alleged love for his boy players the scenario is not completely implausible.

In my reconstruction of R & J, the leading lady’s fourteen year old performer has, by means of a rather shocking scene, already been identified as the acting Romeo’s kid brother.

After Titus Andronicus came the Henry VI cycle. If Shakespeare made his stage debut in those three plays, then as a young nobleman. This because his contemporaries describe him as courteous and well mannered. And his lack of trained skills and stage experience would have restricted him to such a rôle if he was to reach professional standards. The part of King Henry himself now springs automatically to mind.

The first lines of the King in 2 Henry VI open with the initial capitals S. W. The king’s eulogy by Gloucester, immediality after his dying words in 3 Henry VI, reverses these opening initials : W. S. Rather surprisingly in fact, because in these two lines Gloucester expects a reversal of the proper order.

In Richard III, this same performer would be perfectly casted for the minor part of Richmond : underlining in his likeness to the late King the legitimacy of this last surviving heir to the Lancastrian claim to the throne : Henry of Richmond descended through his mother from an illigitimate half brother of Henry IV. Who had personally provided for the 1407 Act of Parliament that expelled this branch of his family from succession.

The cycle’s opening play should obviously predate the sequel, which seems to have been on stage somewhere in the years 1590 – 92. But oddly enough 1 King Henry VI is supposed to be the ‘new play of Harey vj’ that had its first of sixteen performances on 3 March 1592.  This places the production in time between 2 & 3 Henry VI and Richard III. Which is exactly where it should be, if a playwright would have taken the age of his favourite boy players into consideration.

 In which respect I Henry VI is yet another remarkable sample of writing to the actor : Queen Margaret is evidently designed for the same boy player as Joan La Pucelle. Which latter part is evidently most suited for a player who has grown too old to convince as a woman. And in 1 Henry VI it is very much the same for Margaret, who enters Shakespeare’s version of History as a prisoner of war. 
What a dramatic impact would this History in retrospect make, if, seconds after her defeat, the Scourge of England would re-enter the stage as the previous play’s She-wolf of France? Doubling Margaret with La Pucelle within a single play, however, is because of those few seconds downright impossible. Which suggests twin actors. Born ca. 1574 the Jeffes brothers were at the time of exactly the right age to have convinced as the spectre like Prophetes of Doom from Richard III (1593), as the Nemesis Queen from 3 Henry VI, and as the Beauty Queen who finds her way to rule Henry’s court as easily as La Pucelle charmed herself into the Dauphin’s. 
2 & 3 Henry VI  are in turn designed as a twin production (1591 – 92). And were actually staged by two separate companies, as to enable the audience throughout the season to see both parts in quick succession. As a leading part to be played by the same actor in both productions, Margaret increasingly dominates the stage, and grows in Part Two out of a boy player’s reach : and straight into the combined reach of a double act. 

1 Henry VI  covers the first three decades of the King’s life, and when he makes his first entrance at the opening of Act Three (1427), he is just five.  In consequence, it is a minor part, and can be performed by a rather young boy actor (27 lines, 10 as his longest uninterrupted sequence). Preferably one who looks much akin to the adult in the opening scene of Act Four (1431 – 1442). If an adult, that is. Shakespeare may still have had a boy player in mind, because, despite the King’s demanding speech of forty uninterrupted lines, the scene ends with Exeter regretting that ‘scepters are in children’s hands’.

Act Five opens and closes with the King’s third and fourth stage appearances. In 1438 and in 1444 respectively. Easier to play than his second appearance, these scenes definitely feature an adult Henry, because he is principally on stage to discuss candidates for his marriage.

Suggestive the evidence may be, but still far from conclusive. We therefore have to try a different approach. And to assume that a part tailored to Shakespeare’s own specifics is one that rules the play. And what would Romeo  & Juliet be without a Prince to set the points of destiny in a small, yet important part? This prince’s counterpart in the earlier Comedy of Errors is Duke Solinus, but a really fascinating version is the Lord in the induction of The Taming of the Shrew : the part is completely superfluous, but without him, there is no play to perform.

This suggests to look for parts in which the author has laid something of himself. And if we reverse the search options, we find a choice of characters who could have sat for the picture of a playwright :

  • Prologue in Romeo & Juliet ; obviously
  • Oberon in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream ; a poet with a keen interest in a lovely boy.
The Play is not exactly dated, but comes in any case a couple of years before the Sonnets were first mentioned to circulate amongst Shakespeare’s friends (1598). If the identification is correct, Oberon may have marked the early beginnings of the cycle. 

According to Trewin’s Pocket Companion to Shakespeare’s Plays designed for Burbage’s specialist on Welsh characters. On that base also to be identified as :

  • Owen Glendower in 1 Henry IV
  • Fluellen in Henry V

But in the latter play more likely to have been on stage to receive his applause as

  • “our bending author”

Impossible to double with Chorus, Fluellen is also out of Shakespeare’s character. Which leaves the identification as parson Evans on rather weak ground. Even when acknowledged as a perfect fit.

  • Orlando in As You Like It ; a poet, who finds himself infatuated by a lovely boy.
  • Cinna the Poet in Julius Caesar.
A slapstick character, and apart from his profession more in the line of newcomer Robert Armin. When doubled with another part, the performance would certainly benefit from a single actor for Cinna the poet and Cinna the conspirator. But doubling with Julius Caesar himself would be downright brilliant in its dramatic effect. And if the company’s regular playwright ever wrote a title role for an average player, he did so at this occasion.
  • Orsino in Twelfth-Night ; a poet, who finds himself infatuated by a lovely boy.

A master of deception, like Bacon, would have assigned these poets to his front man in order to make him look genuine. But in three cases the resemblance goes far beyond deception. And Orsino opens Twelfth-Night with an inside-out version of Sonnet 99 ; Fair Youth included. A link no audience could have appreciated for some ten years to come.

The last doubt that Burbage’s regular playwright wrote parts for his own use, is taken away with the opening scene of Hamlet :

Say, what is Horatio there?          Hor. : A peece of him.

This same Horatio ends his contribution to the play with a promise to tell his audience the complete tale of Hamlet. And Horatio, of course, refers to Horace ; a renowned poet.

I rest my case with the conclusion that already at this stage the Mainstream Theory has passed the test with flying colours.

The other contestants 

With the playwright firmly placed within the Burbage company, most contestants are now running for co-authorship at best. With the obligation of keeping in close touch with a theatre celebrity, this hypothetical co-worker’s involvement with Shakespeare’s plays would have soon been an open secret. The absolute silence of the contemporary sources on his existence is therefore tale-telling. If he was there, he must have been extremely anxious about discovery. Posthumous discovery even. He also must have been as cunning as Bacon to remain invisible. Who, incidentally, is one of only two plausible contestant : not many of them come with a compelling reason for remaining invisible at all costs. The playwright’s involvement in the Essex Rebellion (1601 ; see The Art of RVW 3) is one, but it does not apply untill the autumn of 1599. Bacon however, was devious by nature, and needed no reason for invisibility but the pleasure of showing off as a master of deception.

The other plausible co-author is Christopher Marlowe. Who is still in his own right a challenger for the title One & Only Bard. Officially declared dead in May 1593, Marlowe could in theory have continued his career under a false identity. As a player within the Burbage company even, because the shady Samuel Crosse cannot be ruled out as his alias. In particular not, because his name refers to two biblical persons who contributed more to the Scriptures after death than when still alive. And after he left the company, his place was taken by the equally shady Lawrence Fletcher (d. 1608), who seems to have been in Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

He therefore can take Shakespeare’s place in the falsification attempt as performed, without making much difference to the result. In his case only a careful comparison on stylistic details can decide on his claim to authorship. And in case he survives such a thorough falsification attempt, the only possible co-author is Francis Bacon. A matter of eliminating all candidates from the longlist, who had no need to know about the continuation of Marlowe’s career as a playwright in her majesty’s secret service. 

In short : if the falsification procedure has produced a reliable result, Francis Bacon is not just a possibility on co-authorship. He is the only possibility. And in both his character and political background he makes the perfect match to the hypothetical properties of such a co-author.

The Last of the Longlist

Nominated for the honourable title of The One & Only Bard are :

  • William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)
  • Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593 & 1608)

Nominated for the honourable title of The One & Only Bard’s Equal is :

  • Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626)

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