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Essay by Richard Baldwin Cook

Essay by Richard Baldwin Cook

William Shakespeare



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© Richard Baldwin Cook 2010
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Mellifluous Shake-speare, whose enchanting quill
Commanded mirth or passion, was but Will
Thomas Heywood, Hiearchie of the Blessed Angels, 1635

“. . . William Shaksper of Stratford on Avon, by reason of his ignorance, did not and could not write the plays attributed to him . . .”John Hawley Stotsenburg, An impartial study of the Shakspeare title, 1904

Since the eighteenth century1 , the Shakespeare authorship question has rattled around iconoclastic intellectual circles like bones in a tin can. Numbered among those who doubt that William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare are:2

Walt Whitman – “I am firm against Shaksper — I mean the Avon man, the actor.”
— With Walt Whitman in Camden, Traubel p. 136

Mark Twain – “So far as anybody actually knows and can prove, Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.”
– Is Shakespeare dead? From my autobiography, pp. 35

Sigmund Freud – “I no longer believe that William Shakespeare the actor from Stratford was the author of the works that have been ascribed to him,”
— Autobiographical Study, p. 130

Charles “Charlie” Chaplin – “In the work of the greatest geniuses, humble beginnings will reveal themselves somewhere, but one cannot trace the slightest sign of them in Shakespeare … I am not concerned with who wrote the works of Shakespeare … but I can hardly think it was the Stratford boy. Whoever wrote them had an aristocratic attitude.”
My Autobiography, p. 364

Orson Welles – “I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t, there are some awfully funny coincidences to explain away.”
— Persona Grata, Cecil Beaton and Kenneth Tynan, p. 98

They are all wrong. Sadly, completely, unquestionably – wrong. Curmudgeons are often wrong; they probably don’t mind being wrong. They are curmudgeons and are entitled to be wrong because their role on this orb is to hold and to express eccentric opinions.

Brilliant curmudgeons have their admirers. I admire them. But I am surprised to be told that I ought to look to Whitman or Twain or Freud or Charlie Chaplin as Elizabethan-Jacobean experts. Many who believe in the authority of these curmudgeons are evangels in this conviction. Wicca, No-Poet-Shakespeare, Methodism are all evangelical belief systems.

In the New Faith, we are to overlook that Twain might not have agreed with Freud on anything. Never mind, you drunked-up sinner. Believe in Twain! Believe also in Freud! They are scientists of literature, are they not, for they opined, did they not, to the same end about no-poet-Shakespeare?

Join in the Faith. Join, too, in the Practice. The practice of the faith-based anti-Strafordians is the insertion of a remark by Twain or Freud, when authentication by way of fact or document is most needed. This is a stratagem grounded in devotion rather than research. We called it proof-texting in West Virginia, where I grew up. It is not scholarship. It is not research. At fourteen years old, I knew I was not a scholar; I knew I was not conducting research, when I cited proofs from Biblical texts, conveniently packaged in a pamphlet, so as to unfold The Plan of Salvation.

Mark Anderson believes that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), is the true “Shakespeare.” He has summarized his position: “ ‘Shakespeare’ was a subterfuge that distanced the scandalous works from its primary subjects: the queen and her powerful inner circle of advisors. The ‘Shakespeare’ ruse enabled de Vere to write till the end of his days in 1604. However, the bargain was a Faustian one, depriving de Vere of the immortality due him for his literary accomplishments and foisting upon the world a monumental myth.”3

Mister Anderson knows that faith without works is dead, and he sustains his faith with his work, which is to invoke the occasional curmudgeon-expert to support his opinion that “Shakspere” wrote no play or poem. In his discussion of the poetic inscription on the grave of “Shakspere” (actually, he is identified on the monument as “William Shakespeare”) Anderson concluded it is a “piece of mock-Gothic doggerel” and then invokes Mark Twain. Our huckleberry curmudgeon cannot help with the “mock-Gothic” assessment but Twain did write that this poem is Shakespeare’s, and helpfully adds, “So far as any one knows and can prove, Shakespeare of Stratford wrote only one poem during his entire life.”4

Mark Twain is fun to read, but he is no historian. Mark Twain is famous for being fun to read; he is not famous as an historian. Twain ranks high as an iconic American novelist; he does not rank high for his Elizabethan-Jacobean scholarship. Twain’s lack of renown as an historian makes no difference to those who agree with and cite his opinion(s).5

Here is the text of the poem on the Stratford monument:


It’s my opinion that Shakespeare wrote these lines after he had died.

This opinion of mine might raise the skeptical eyebrow. Let me give my authority: Mark Twain, who said of Shakespeare and of his epitaph: “he was probably dead when he wrote it.”7 That’s enough for me. (It’s my further opinion that “probably” is an unwarranted redaction, inserted in Twain’s considered opinion by his earliest editor, S. Clements, who was of a different opinion, which we reject.)

Twain’s opinion that Shakespeare was dead when he wrote his one poem is not sufficient evidence to those biased, pesky scholars, who suspect that fact-based research, not faith-based opinion, is the first and the last defense against ignorance.

Who do scholars think wrote the epitaph on Shakespeare’s grave? Scholarship is divided. Samuel Schoenbaum points out that in the 1700s, there were reports that Shakespeare was responsible for the epitaph of a century earlier. Schoenbaum is not willing to go beyond the fact that the author of the epitaph is anonymous.9

Today, aided by books10 and websites,11 the anti-Stratfordian assertion that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare has become a question that answers itself. Yes. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare but Shakespeare was a pen name, a screen behind which a socially-connected-well-educated-person-who-wished-to-remain-unknown wrote the plays, and the sonnets, and the poetry.

The anti-Stratfordian proposition has a circularity about it: the works attributed to Shakespeare were not written by Shakespeare but by someone else, who called himself Shakespeare.

In a later article, I will look at the supposed Shakespeare biographical data, much of it anecdotal material, but which anti-Stratfordians insist points decisively away from the Stratford actor as the Bard. For the moment, we will look at the various spellings of the well-known surname, Shakespeare.

This exercise is required because of the anti-Stratfordian assumption that variable spelling is evidence of a pen name. Under this rule of orthography, invented for the occasion, one version of the surname arbitrarily stands for an actual person, whose background disqualifies him as a playwright or poet, while a slightly different spelling, also selected arbitrarily, is a pseudonym for a different person, whose background is better suited for the author of the Shakespeare corpus. Shaksper(e) versus Shakespeare is a simplistic face off, intended to bolster an obtuse argument, which otherwise cannot be bolstered at all.

The irrelevance of finding worlds in the spelling of a late-medieval English surname is demonstrated by the treatment of poor Nicholas Rowe, the first biographer of the Bard. Rowe (or his printer), in 1709, titled his book “Some Account of the Life, etc, of Mr. William Shakespear.” Instead of seeing this spelling as an indication of benign variability, those inclined against the Stratford man as playwright, see this as some kind of error on Rowe’s part. Mark Anderson gives Rowe’s title a “[sic]” but Anderson does not state why he thinks Rowe got the name so wrong.12

The name William Shakespeare is first attached to a published play in 1603, when the author of The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke is identified13 as William Shake-speare. As it hath beene diuerse times acted by his Highnesse seruants in the Cittie of London: as also in the two Vniversities of Cambridge and Oxford, and else-where.14

In 1604, the Hamlet play was printed again, at twice the 1603 size, and this time with the author identified15 as William Shakespeare. In this 1604 printing, the drama is described as “newly imprinted and enlarged to almost againe as it was, according to the true and perfect Coppie.”16 So, within twelve months of an earlier printing, Hamlet is again published, but under a differently spelled author’s name and at twice the length of the earlier printing.

If the entire Shakespeare corpus is evidence of a conspiratorial effort to conceal the identity of the actual author (Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford), we must believe that the Earl hurriedly added twice as much text to his play between the 1603 and the 1604 printings. But isn’t it more likely that the playwright was the person the printer said he was, William Shakespeare? Isn’t it more likely, as well, that this playwright sold the play to a playing company in which he owned a share, and that he claimed no further ownership in the published play? How and why the play was only partially printed in 1603 and then more fully re-printed a year later is anyone’s best guess. How and why the author’s name was spelled two different ways is no evidence of an attempt to hide the identity of the playwright, in the secret interest of Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere.17

It is pointless to claim to find a distinction between how Shakespeare might have spelled his own name and the way a printer in Tudor and Stuart times spelled the playwright’s name on a printed play. This criterion imposes later publishing conventions upon Elizabethan and Jacobean London. James Shapiro flatly states: “Spelling simply wasn’t uniform at that time.”18

Shapiro also points out that spelling decisions were the prevue of the printer19 and in the 1590s and into the 1600s, a play’s text became the property of the acting company that produced it.20 Those who find it implausible that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare because of the various spellings of the surname ought to answer James Shapiro.

What about Shake-speare? The use of a hyphen was a printing convention and may have been employed to avoid the breaking of the font, an expensive and time consuming risk that was encountered when k was to be followed by s, as in Shaks. The risk could be avoided either by adding an e between k and s or by use of a hyphen.21

In many instances at this time and place, the name of the author of a play might not appear on the title page at all. Shapiro points out that Titus Andronicus was published in 1594 with no mention on the title page of the author.22 This being so, how can Edward de Vere or anyone else have elected to publish under a pseudonym, whether Shakespeare or Shake-speare – when, in many documented instances, no one was identified in the printed copy as the author?

Variations in spelling can be seen as important only after an assumption is made. The assumption is that variable spelling means a pen name could have been adopted. But this assumption is contradicted by what is known about play writing in England at this time. In the case of Shakespeare, there is no historical evidence for the assumption. The often repeated rhetorical flourishes about differences in surname spelling are simply irrelevant to the question of authorship.

A compound surname invites a lot of orthographic variety – which is exactly what has been found. Shakspeyr is how the name is spelled in 1553 when our principal’s father is fined for not keeping clean the street in front of his house.23 So, we now know the family name, a decade before the birth of our poet, is Shakspeyr. But wait. “John Shakespeare” “glover” – the father again – was sued in 1556 for the sum of eight pounds.24 These two spellings . . . wait! Hudson reports the 1556 entry in the Stratford corporation books where the name is spelled Johannes Shakyspere.25

Shakspeyr . . . Shakespeare . . . Shakyspere . . . Any one of these documented surname spellings suggest themselves with as much pride of place as Shaksper/e, the name adopted by anti-Stratfordians, as the rube from Stratford who could not be the London Bard. The plain fact is: there are many spellings of the name, Shakespeare. On what basis is one surname spelling to be preferred and another deemed to be a pseudonym?

“Gulielmus Shaksper” was christened on April 26, 1664, with the event recorded in Latin.26 But in the century prior to the birth of the baby bard in 1564, half a dozen surname variations are found in use in Warwickshire, the shire which encompassed the towns of Warwick, Stratford, Snitterfield, among others. A document entitled “Register of the brothers and sisters of the guild of Saint Anne of Knolle” offers an assortment of surname spellings, from the year 1407 until the guild was disbanded in 1535.27 Following the usages found in the Register, we might decide to call our Warwickshire poet Shakspore (c. 1440) or Schakespere (c. 1464) or Schakespedre (1476) or Schakespeyre (1476) or Schakepere (1505) or Shakespere (1527), or Shakspere (1527).

The fact that Shaksper appears in a Latin notation in a parish baptismal record book in 1664 says nothing at all about how the baptized baby might have spelled his surname, or if at any point in his life, he greatly cared. Nor can this notation be used to suggest that a later variation, Shakespeare, crops up first in London as a pen name for a different person. In fact, Shakespeare is not a later variation, nor is it first found attached to literary or dramatic works published in London.

As noted above, even before the poet’s lifetime, the spelling Shakespeare is in use in Warwickshire. Here are other examples: on July 17, 1550, by recorded deed, land in Snitterfield is conveyed by Robert Arden, maternal grandfather of our poet, to Richard Shakespeare.28 A John Shakespeare is living in Warwick in 1578.29 A William Shakespeare drowned in the river Avon, near Warwick in 1579; a Thomas Shakespeare was chosen bailiff of Warwick in 1613 and 1627.30

Warwickshire variations to Shakespeare are not difficult to find either. In 1598, a corporation paper refer to the poet or to his father as Shaxsper, while in the same year, alderman Sturley writes of the son as Shaksper.31 Also in 1598, the Stratford corporation paid Mr. Shaxspere (either the poet or his father, it is believed) for a load of stone.32

On May 1, 1602, in Warwickshire, a conveyance of land was recorded whereby Gilbert Shakespeare, brother of the poet, received a deed for 107 acres of land “to the use of the within named William Shakespeare,” purchased from William and John Combe.33 There is an endorsement on this indenture which reads, “Combe to Shackspeare of the 4 yard land in Stratford fielde” which Halliwell suggested could be in the poet’s own handwriting.34 On March 5, 1610, Gilbart Shakesper signed his name as witness to a lease of property on Bridge Street, Stratford.35 On Feb 3, 1612, Gilbertus Shakspeare was buried, according to the Stratford register.36 These samplings are among many spelling variations, all of which point to inconsequential diversity. The same can be said for variations when they appear in print in London.

In London, the surname Shakespeare is found in association with the immigrant from Warwickshire. On the title page of a published copy (1599) of the play George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield, there appears a notation from the royal censor (“Master of Revels”) George Buc, who wished to find out who was the author of this play. On an unknown date, Buc wrote,

“Written by ………… a minister, who ac[ted] the pin{n}ers part in it himself. Teste W. Shakespea[re]37

Such a notation does not make Shakespeare the writer of plays, but it does mean he was known in London under his own name, and was sought out and reliably accepted as a witness by a government agent, whose job included keeping track of who wrote what. No records have surfaced which suggest that the royal censor associated anyone with Shakespeare’s works but William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.

On October 25, 1598, Richard Quiney (“Ric Quiney”), resident of Stratford-Upon-Avon, seeking a loan, wrote a cordial, pleading letter to “my loving good friend and Countryman, Mr. Wm. Shakespeare”38 who was then in London. The letter was discovered in Quiney’s papers,39 which accounts for a lack of response from Shakespeare; the letter probably was never sent. But Quiney’s appeal may have been acted on favorably by Shakespeare; on November 4, 1598, Stratford Alderman Abraham Sturley, wrote a lengthy letter to Quiney and informed him that “our countryman Mr. Wm. Shack. would procure us money.”40

In London, variations in the surname are also found. One of the more interesting ones is Shaxberd, which is how the author of Measure for Measure, The Comedy of Errors, and The Merchant of Venice is identified when 1604 Christmas season performances of these plays at Whitehall Palace were listed in the Revels Account.41

All of these documents indicate that in Stratford and in London, the surname, Shakespeare and its many spelling variations are found in the poet’s lifetime, with reference to the man who had come to London from Stratford and to the man who authored the plays of Shakespeare. There is every reason to believe these references are to the same person. No evidence exists, which suggest some spelling variation is meant as a pseudonym.

An inquiry into the authorship of the works of Shakespeare is an inquiry into history. This is an inquiry which anti-Stratfordians resolutely avoid, believing, apparently, that questions of authorship depend not upon facts but upon the marshalling of opinion.42 The known facts, which include a tabulation of the spelling variations of the name of the Bard, point to Shakespeare himself as the author. A different conclusion is reached only by substituting opinion for inquiry, which is a gambit that distorts the history.


1“Several suppose . . . that his name is akin to a myth, and that he wrote no plays at all!” Sir James Prior, Life of Edmund Malone, Editor of Shakespeare (1780-90), quoted in Shakespeare The Man and His Works, Moulton (Boston: Sibley and Company, 1904) p. 268. For a run through of the fraudulent attempts in the 1790s, and subsequently, to invent facts about the life of Shakespeare see Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro (Simon and Schuster, 2010 ) esp. pp. 10-13, 17-36, 64-67.
2These and additional doubters are collected at the website of the Shakespeare Author Coalition
3“Shakespeare” By Another Name, The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare, Mark Anderson (New York Gotham Books, 2005), p. xxxiii
4Is Shakespeare dead? From my autobiography, Mark Twain, (Harper & Brothers, 1909) p. 35; see Anderson, p. 369.
5In addition to Anderson, p. 369, see Who Were Shake-speare? by Neal Allen (San Diego: Silverado, 1998) p. xi., and the many Anti-Stratfordian websites, such as the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition (, the Shakespeare Oxford Society ( and the Shakespeare Fellowship (.
6William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life, Samuel Schoenbaum, (Oxford University Press, New York: 1975) p. 306
7Twain’s Is Shakespeare dead? p. 48
8Id. and note 49, p. 357
9Id., p. 25
10For titles, see previous notes, esp. 3, 4, 5.
11Among many websites, see;;; Wapedia – Wiki: Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship (1/7).
12Anderson, p. xxvi
13I have added bold to highlight the fact that there is no significant difference between Shakespeare and Shake-speare, since these variations, most likely, were printers’ decisions. See below.
14The tragicall historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, ed. F. H. Stratmann (Trubner 1869) p. v
15See note 12.
16Stratmann, p, v
17I am pained to pull down the posthumous attribution of Shakespeare’s work to Edward de Vere, a distant cousin of mine; see All of the Above I, Richard Baldwin Cook (Nativa, 2007, 2009) pp. 245, 295, 320, 326.
18Shapiro, p. 227
19Shapiro, p. 226
20Shapiro, p. 225 ff.
21Shapiro, p. 226
22Id. See also William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life, Samuel Schoenbaum (Oxford University Press, 1978) p. 188.
23The Works of Shakespeare, Henry N. Hudson, ed. (Boston: Estes and Lauriate Vol 6 1883) p. xxxii, note 8
24A Life of William Shakespeare, James Orchard Halliwell (London: John Russell Smith, 1848) p. 21
25Hudson, p. xxxiii, note 9
26An Impartial Study of the Shakespeare Title, John H. Stotsenburg (John P Morton, 1904) p. 151
27Id, p. xxix
28Id, p. xxx.
31Schoenbaum’s Compact Documentary Life, p. 237
33William Shakespeare, A Literary Biography, Karl Elze (trans. L. Dora Schmitz) (London: George Bell & Sons, 1888) p. 482
34Life, p. 282
35Schoenbaum, p. 27
36Id. pp. 27, 280
37“Sixteen play quartos certainly inscribed by Buc” and “Sir George Buc: The Man Who Knew Shakespeare” Alan H. Nelson Homepage,;
see also George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield (1599: STC 12212): Folger Shakespeare Library (under STC number); t-p reproduced in Mark Eccles, “Sir George Buc, Master of the Revels,” Thomas Lodge and Other Elizabethans , ed. Charles J. Sisson (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard UP, 1933), opp. p. 412
38Hudson, cxix
39Schoenbaum’s Compact Documentary Life, p. 238
40Hudson, cxix; see also Schoenbaum’s Compact Documentary Life, p. 239.
41Shapiro, p. 228
42The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition has published on its website a Declaration of Reasonable Doubt About the Identify of William Shakespeare. The Coalition is soliciting additional signatures. See If everyone in the world signed this Declaration, would we then know that William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon did not write the Works? Sure, if historical truth is determined by counting noses, centuries later.

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