Christopher T. George
Organizer, RipperCon #JacktheRipper-#True Crime Conference
just held in Baltimore, April 7-8, 2018.
For information about RipperCon, go to http://rippercon.com/ RipperCon 2018 talks can now be heard at http://www.casebook.org/podcast/
For a man who never existed, or barely existed, there are at least four or five actual samples of William Shakespeare's signature. One was a legal document, as he witnessed a will (and later had to testify in court about the signing of the document). But this is secondary.
Twenty two years ago I travelled with my mother to England, and with Jonathan Goodman we went to Stratford. We saw the house they say was John Shakespeare's home (where William grew up). We saw the Stratford theater complex where they put on his plays. We saw his grave with the famous "cursed be he who moves my bones!" on it. But all this is secondary.
Sir Francis Bacon was a famous man too. He wrote "The New Atlantis". He made some welcome additions to the issue of scientific experimentation (and was later killed as a result - while examining the issue of refrigeration of food with snow in 1625 he caught cold, which developed into pneumonia, and died). But he was a court figure who rose to the post of Lord Chancellor of England - and was ruined by a corruption scandal. We are supposed to believe that he was too snobby to write plays and have his name associated with them, yet he was willing to destroy his career through sheer greed. Please explain that one to me?
Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford was a courtier too, and is being pushed as the author - the true author - of the plays. Most of Shakespeare's plays date after 1603 or so. De Vere was dead by then. We are supposed to believe that they were all written before he died and only popped up afterwards under Shakespeare's signature. This includes "The Tempest" which is based on an incident in 1609 when Sir Thomas Dale (the new Governor of the Jamestown Colony) was shipwrecked in Bermudas (and this is alluded to in the play). Dale and the people on board survived, repaired their ship, and reached Jamestown in 1610. Apparently De Vere must have been a psychic who guessed this would happen before 1600!!
Christopher Marlowe is not Shakespeare, but he was a brilliant if bitter dramatist too. Anyone who could create Dr. Faustus, Tamerlane, Edward II, and even the absurdly evil Jewish "Machiavellian" Barabas in "THE JEW OF MALTA" has some talent. If he did not he would be as famous today as John Lily (remember "EUPHEWS"), or Richard Greene (not the old television actor from "Robin Hood", but the jealous fellow who spoke about an upstart named "Shakesscene" in one diatribe in his journal). Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson form the pyramid of the Elizabethan theatrical world in that age, with lesser figures like Thomas Kyd, Thomas Middleton, Beaumont & Fletcher, John Webster, and John Ford helping them along. But Marlowe had a problem being Shakespeare - he was murdered in a suspicious tavern or whore house brawl in 1594, possibly tied to his being under suspicion of various religious opinions (he was an athiest), and being an agent of Elizabeth's leading minister for home security (her spymaster) Sir Francis Walshingham. Walshingham had manipulated Mary, Queen of Scots to showing her plans to kill and replace Elizabeth in the Babbington Plot of 1586 - thus ensuring her eventual trial and execution. He would have had no problem destroying Marlowe if there was a danger to him and his organization by the dramatist agent being a loose cannon. So if he were dead, why was Shakespeare supposed to be written by him? Because Marlowe was a university man - not a country bumpkin! Oh please!!
We have Ms Delia Bacon to thank for this idiocy about Master William. She was not a descendant of Sir Francis*, but she felt that he was more likely to have the requirements to be the genius behind the plays than the glovemaker's son. As it turned out this issue took route in the mind of the Minnesota Congressman Ignatius Donnelly. Donnelly was into a lot of crank ideas about Atlantis, about economics (he was, eventually, a Populist who supported bi-metalism), Pyramidology, and Bacon as Shakespeare (writing the book "The Great Cryptogram" (which reminds me of one of the less supported individuals for the title of "Jack the Ripper" - Dr. Charles Ludwig Dodgson of Oxford University - his secret messages of guilt are all in large cryptograms too). Donnelly tried to make up for his lack of polish and education by going to the Library of Congress while in Congress. That was commendable, but perhaps he should have hired a tutor instead.
There are still many who can't believe Shakespeare wrote his plays. One who recently revealled this on television (in a series on Shakespeare) was Sir Derek Jacobi, while discussing the play "Richard II". He did not say whom he thought really wrote the works, but he revealled his position.
Perhaps he also does not believe "I Claudius" and "Claudius the God" were written by Robert Graves" but by Claudius himself!!
I will agree that there are early plays and late plays by Shakespeare that were collaborations: The 3 HENRY VI plays and one or two of the early comedies appear that way. Of the later plays, Pericles and Henry VIII may be collaborations. We know he collaborated with John Fletcher (of Beaumont & Fletcher) on "THE TWO NOBLE KINSMAN" and a lost play called
"CARDENIO". His signature and writing are on a manuscript for a play called "SIR THOMAS MORE" where he did one scene only. I really can't see how much more proof one needs that he existed.
He also was really up to date when he retired in 1614. "CARDENIO" was based on a long internal story in a popular novel of the period that could be dramatized with no difficulties, although the novel it came from was a truly great one - it's author being Shakespeare's only real literary peer in his lifetime. That author was a poet, novelist, and dramatist too (although in his own country he was third as a dramatist after Lope de Vega and Calderon). It was from "DON QUIXOTE" by Miguel de Cervantes. I have read some of the smaller plays (called "Interludes" - they were curtain raisers) Cervantes wrote, and they are amusing (Signet put them out in a Classics volume 30 years ago). Cervantes was a crippled old man, struggling (and succeeding) in writing the second part of "QUIXOTE" in 1614, but I wish he had heard of "CARDENIO" and managed to take a small trip to England to see it and meet it's two authors. But there is nothing to show such a meeting between the two titans occurred. It would have been a truly historic moment. William Shakespeare lived and died under the Julian Calendar, and died April 23, 1616. Ironically, based on the Gregorian Calendar in use in Spain, Miguel de Cervantes died eleven days earlier than Master Will, but it too was April 23,1616. Ironic isn't it?
[*One of Bacon's grand nephews was famous in 17th Century Virginia - Nathaniel Bacon, who led the notorious "Bacon's Rebellion" that briefly seized the colony from the Royal Governor, Sir William Berkeley, in 1676-77. Bacon died of a sudden fever, and the rebellion collapsed, with Berkeley seizing control again, and then going on a rampage of executions of the secondary leaders. King Charles II was furious at Berkeley, stating, "That old fool has executed more men than I did for the murder of my father!" The King removed Berkeley, who died in England shortly after returning.]
I sometimes think the wackier Bacon/Marlowe/Elizabeth I/people who died too early or were born too late, etc. = Shakespeare suffer from the same fundamental problem as Sickert/Gull/Prince Eddy = Jack the Ripper.
The Shakespeare loons usually know Shakespeare's work backwards and forwards, and the work of whoever their pet theory is, but nothing else. They know nothing of Jonson, Webster, Marlowe (unless they think Marlowe is Shakespeare), or anyone, and they know nothing of Elizabethan history, or Jacobean, for that matter, or England in general, or anything about Shakespeare's sources, or about writing, or playwrighting.
A lot of crazy Ripper theories come from people who know all about the Ripper crimes, and all about the life of their pet suspect, but nothing about Victorians, about England, and British history, or the geography of the East End, and what they know of forensics generally comes from watching Criminal Minds and CSI. They may also know a little about abnormal psychology as it pertains to serial killers, but nothing about normal psychology. Sometimes people who happen to be psychopaths still do things for the same reasons other people do things, like staying in one night, because it's raining, not for any bizarre reason related to their psychopathy.
I thought there were six authenticated signatures plus one putative...but perhaps I'm out of date...I've got vague recollections, as a schoolboy, of attending a Shakespeare Exhibition at Brighton Museum in the 60's and I think there were at least a couple of original signatures present, plus reproductions of the other then known ones...I do remember being amazed that they were all spelled differently....
The different spellings probably weren't completely random. I'll bet when Shakespeare was a kid, he just spelled it the way his father did. When he moved to London, the accent there, as well as different local spelling conventions influenced him to change. When his plays were being published, he may have experimented with eye-catching spellings, and when he returned to Stratford, his family may have been using some other spelling, which he was happy to use, since it seems to have been his intention to put his theater days behind him.
The way my mother's maiden name was spelled got changed once when her family came to the US, and it changed again in her lifetime, when the family capitulated to the way Americans pronounced it the first time they saw it.
I couldn't comment specifically on Shakespeare's name spellings, but there's good evidence to suggest that consistent spellings of either names or even quite ordinary words weren't regarded as in the least important on a day-to-day basis, until after the Dr Johnson era!
You're quite right about local spelling (and of course pronunciation) varieties too - they're noted famously in Chaucer, (eggs), and hang about for ages...Indeed it is only in relatively recent years that the decline in local dialects and accents has really started to take hold...though some have been gone for longer than others - for example the broad Sussex accent is something I've only ever heard from a few old folk in my lifetime (mostly in my youth/teenage years) and it's all but dead and buried now. (there used to be/probably still are a "Copper" family living in Rottingdean who tried to preserve the old Sussex songs/poetry/accent/dialogue - but sadly the older speakers are now gone...
In other parts of the world, happily, traces at least, hang on...
I'm aware that spellings weren't consistent. I was addressing the reason. Shakespeare may not have pronounced his name the same his whole life.
People who are poor spellers tend to have some internal consistency, because they sound out words. Back when there was no far-reaching media to stabilize dialects, people probably changed the way they spoke if they moved. The way people in an area in a particular time spelled would be somewhat consistent, because they all sounded out words, but they all said them the same way. The reason you see "wind" (air currents) spelled "wind," "wynd," and "wend" from the same time period is that in three different areas, it was pronounced in distinct ways. People could communicate, because we rely on context for meaning-- if you've ever seen a children's cartoon where there's a character, usually an animal, who talks, but only approximates words, and yet, you can still understand what the character is saying (US example: the dog Blue), you see how context is more important than precise pronunciation.
I'm just saying there's a reason behind each spelling. They weren't pulled out of a hat. And you won't ever see "Shakespeare" spelled "ball peen hammer."