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Hello Michael

Sorry to communicate like this, but I can't find your email address. Please be in touch as I'd like to republish your review in the next SOS Newsletter, which I edit.

Michael,

Thanks, interesting post.

I'm not going to pretend to know much beyond zero on this topic, but I do take issue with one of your arguments.

There would have been no "conspiracy" on the part of those falsely attributing works to Shakespeare--it would have been basic fraud. (Yes, if one or more people were involved in the same fraud, technically they are conspirators, but it would not have been a conspiracy in the same sense as at least not in the same sense as the rather elaborate conspiracy needed to hide Oxford's identity.)

From what I know, attributing lesser works to a famous artist used to be pretty common. One of my favorite composers is Haydn, and there were hundreds of works sold under his name that he didn't write. The reason was simple: if they said he wrote them, people would buy them.

So it's not hard to imagine that people would pull the same thing with Shakespeare's works.

SOS Newsletter = Save Our Shakespeare?!

I too know little beyond zero on this topic but I do find it interesting. At the risk of hearing a lot of groans, I want to provide reference to a play written about the young "Will" Shakespeare by (please don't roll your eyes now) Patience Worth/Pearl Curran. Whatever one thinks about the Patience Worth saga, the play "An Elizebethan Mask" if nothing else is interesing in that it is written in the style (I guess) of the Shakespeare plays, a style, in rhyming couplets, totally different from anything else Patience Worth wrote. Of course it is probably all fiction but who knows, Patience Worth supposedly lived in the 1600s so maybe she had heard a little old gossip. (She was reported to have been born 33 years after Shakespeare died.) Those of you who are expert in the works of Shakespeare might find it interesting to read or skim through this play by Patience Worth. I think it requires an expert to truly evaluate this work. There may be some agreement with what Michael has related here in his blog with the way Patience Worth portrays the young "Will" in her play.

Nice review, Michael -more food for thought.

I've been watching "The King and the Playwright", US academic James Shapiro’s three part documentary currently on British TV, exploring Shakespeare’s work under the patronage of James I. He shows how the Bard and his players were acting, and even wrote by Royal Appointment. While watching this, I wonder how on earth there can be any doubt about who WS was.

Of course, Ben Johnson was imprisoned for anti-Scottish jokes in Eastward Hoe, a satire he collaborated in (James I being a Scot). Perhaps not surprising there was a bit of bad blood between WS and BJ.

Hi Michael Egan - Thanks for your interest in my post. You can find my email address on the homepage of at my author site: www.michaelprescott.net . Just scroll down a little and the "contact" info will appear. (I prefer not to post my address too often because it only increases the amount of spam I receive.)

Matt, SOS is the Shakespeare Oxford Society. Conspiracy to commit fraud is still conspiracy (the thieving actors and/or auditors would have been part of the plot). And if the printers were routinely duplicitous, why did they single out Shakespeare for this treatment? Why did Shakespeare (or his acting company, or the writers who were cheated of proper credit) never complain? What can "On Poet Ape" possibly mean, if it is not an attack on a play broker and plagiarist?

Ben, most discussions of the plays' performances are conjecture. No one really knows when the plays were originally written or first performed. The records are scanty and confusing. Bios of Shakespeare - including Shapiro's - make large assumptions and guesses, which are then passed off as fact. For instance, Ben Jonson refers to Pericles as a "moldy tale," suggesting it was an old play, yet the standard dating places it quite late. (IMO it was originally an old court play - a moldy tale - which was revived and updated for public performance decades later. But this, too, is conjecture.)

Very interesting analysis of the two books, Michael. I do know more than zero about the conspiracies swirling around the name of William Shakespeare. After 20 years of research, I am convinced that "William Shakespeare" was the pen name of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.I have found much evidence that Oxford was Queen Elizabeth's favorite playwright; they had a love-child in 1573 who, to keep his royal blood secret, was raised as the 3rd Earl of Southampton. This beautiful love story can now be told. The movie "Anonymous" directed by Roland Emmerich dramatizes this relationship as it occurred during times of great peril and religious strife. The Shakespearean sonnets also reveal the emotional life of Edward de Vere, as explained in my book THE SECRET LOVE STORY IN SHAKESPEARE'S SONNETS [2008]. It's available at online bookstores and also in ebook form. Sincerely, Helen Heightsman Gordon, M.A., Ed.D., English professor emeritus and author of numerous articles and books.

Amos, thanks for the info on Patience Worth. I find that case fascinating and I have read some of her works. I was unaware of the Shakespeare-related play - I'll look for it. But if it's written in rhyming couplets, it's not in the style of Shakespeare's plays - he wrote in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter).

I find it hard to believe that no other "unauthorized edition" of plays from that period was ever issued, but I'll have to leave the rest of that argument to genuine scholars.

Shakespeare a mash-up? I like it!

Here's something I posted here (or possibly on another site) within the past year:

----------

Couldn't there have been a team of scriptwriters of Shakespeare’s plays? Has anyone argued for this?

Perhaps this is not much favored because it offends our image of the creative genius when it turns out after the fact that an editor has very substantially improved a famous author's works. Examples are Thomas Wolfe and Raymond Carver (very heavily modified by his editor Liss (I think the name is)).

Roger,

I agree. I think it's odd that Oxfordians insist that Oxford was *the* playwright when he may have been a team member, an occasional contributor, who knows. But Oxfordians have the natural and understandable desire to have one guy to focus on and admire.

Michael, thank you very much for this intriguing review. I admire your work very much. I think you offer clarity in your reporting on this issue of the Shakespeare authorship. May I take objection to your characterization of the quartos as comparable to supermarket paperbacks? Comparing the quartos to twentieth century paperbacks is a common analogy that suffers from anachronistic thinking. Considering the quartos in the same terms as modern paperbacks provides an inaccurate view of the value of the quartos and by extension an inaccurate view of the market for these quartos. While it is a difficult process to analyize the cost of goods in varied times and places, using value equivalents can be useful. In this example, a modern paperback is sold for about the cost of one-hours work by an unskilled worker or $7 to $10. A Shakespeare quarto was sold for about 8 shillings which was the weekly wage for a skilled worker, such as a joiner -- an equivalent cost today of hundreds of dollars. This is a vast difference in value. Comparing a quarto to modern paperbacks also gives the impression that the quartos were an important part of the contemporary meme, like a best selling novel or an enormously popular TV show in the twentieth century, but the limits of communication in the sixteenth century make any such comparison inaccurate. I don't know how to imagine the quartos as a cultural phenomenon, but I'm pretty sure they have nothing in common with paperback books. In my opinion, the whole issue of the Shakespeare authorship suffers greatly from our human inability to set aside our comprehension of the world as we experience it, in order to understand the world as it was in the past.

Thanks for the comment, Linda. I'm not sure you're right about the price of a quarto, however. Here's some info from an online source:

"About 800 copies would be printed for the first edition of a play. For a second edition, between 800 and as many as 1500 copies (if the first edition had sold out quickly) would be printed. The publisher’s profits were much higher with second and subsequent editions, for which he had no costs associated with the purchase, approval, and licensing of the manuscript. Very few plays were sold bound, although they might be put into a paper wrapper before they were stitched. A single, unbound play cost about 6 old pence."

http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/printedplays.html

By comparison, the First Folio, which everyone acknowledges was hugely expensive, cost one pound. According to Wikipededia:

"The First Folio's original price was 1 pound, the equivalent of about £95–£110 or US$190 to $220 in 2006."

So while the Folio did cost a couple of hundred dollars in today's money, the quartos were much cheaper. In those days there were 12 pence in a shilling, and 20 shillings in a pound, so the Folio cost forty times more than a quarto. This would put the price of a quarto at about $5 in modern terms, which is indeed roughly equivalent to a magazine or paperback.

I should add that your basic point about the limits of literacy in Elizabethan times is quite true. As the figures above indicate, even a bestselling play quarto wasn't expected to sell more than, say, three or four thousand copies, as compared with millions of copies for a bestselling book or popular magazine today.

Matt, there are lots of "group authorship" theories. As far as Oxford is concerned, it is often hypothesized that he collaborated with his son-in-law, the Earl of Derby. A foreign diplomat gossiped (in two separate letters) that Derby spent all his time penning plays for the common players.

More elaborate group authorship theories suggest a circle of literary lions who collaborated on the plays at the command of Queen Elizabeth, as part of an effort to foster nationalistic pride (by dramatizing notable events of British history).

But the distinctive voice heard throughout the canon suggests, to me, that a single author made the principal contribution, though doubtless there were revisions by other hands.

MP: "But the distinctive voice heard throughout the canon suggests, to me, that a single author made the principal contribution, though doubtless there were revisions by other hands."

Good point. But if that voice (Oxford, say) mostly contributed tone, then someone else (an anonymous script doctor or two) could have mostly devised the plots and much of the meaning of the plays.

I like seeing Shakespeare as an impresario or Hollywood producer type, buying scripts, hiring writers and script doctors, sticking in his own two cents, etc. It's such a shocking change from the conventional image. And it's even more democratic than the standard version in assigning most of the credit to some Mr. Anonymous (script doctor).

The First Folio stands as the first complete, or nearly complete, collection, but for years prior to its publication, plays attributed to Shakespeare had appeared in quarto versions.

Hi, Michael, regarding the cost of a quarto, I agree that reasonable people might come to different conclusions. I don't know where Wikipedia comes up with a pound in Elizabethan money being equivalent to $200 current American, but I understand that some historians consider the issue of equivalence to be the most useful in determining the cost of things in various times and cultures. Some historians base this equivalence on the cost of a loaf of bread which in Elizabethan times I understand to have cost a penny. If you accept that the cost of bread today is between $4-5, you might consider that a penny in Elizabethan times is the equivalent of $4 today. Even if a quarto cost only a shilling (a low-ball figure, from the information I have seen) an Elizabethan would have had to pay the price of twelve loaves of bread to purchase a quarto (or $48 -50 in current currency)-- much more than the cost of a paperback book. I think the value of goods is a very interesting topic in itself, but I do not insist that my understanding of the value of a quarto is correct. I only wish to offer the opinion that comparing Elizabethan quartos to modern paperbacks is an inaccurate simile. I believe the simile is inaccurate on more than one level as I indicated in my original post, and which you seem to support in your acknowledgement of the small print runs. I believe the simile is inaccurate, also, because the psychology of Elizabethan communication is not accessible to modern humans: i.e. we no longer understand the way a society functions when speed of communication is measured in weeks instead of seconds. For these and other reasons (literacy rates, for example) this comparison of quartos to paperbacks is common and emblematic of an anachronistic view of the Elizabethan world that hampers real understanding of the era and its art. This easy acceptance of an easy answer to a complex topic -- an answer riddled with unfounded and untested assumptions -- is also emblematic of the entire Shakespeare authorship question. I bring this opinion up in the context of your blog, because you write lucidly on the subject and I thought you might find my POV of interest. Thanks, again, for your work.

Hi Linda - Thanks for the additional thoughts. Here's some more info on the price issue:

"An unbound quarto play ... probably cost 5 or 6 old pence wholesale, 7 to 9 pence retail. The latter figure approximates to the average daily wage for a London journeyman of the 1580s; one penny then bought a one-pound loaf of bread. Peter Blayney has estimated that Shakespeare's First Folio ... probable sold whole, unbound for 10 shillings and retail, unbound for 15 shillings."

http://fds.oup.com/www.oup.com/pdf/13/9780198711681.pdf

If this is correct, then it does seem that quartos would be quite expensive, and out of reach of most people. Of course most people were illiterate anyway. As you say, it was a different world. There may not be any good modern analogy for the quartos, or for any printed matter from that era.

To me, the single fact that most starkly points up the psychological differences between the Elizabethans and ourselves is that people crossing London Bridge had to pass by the severed heads of convicts mounted on spikes on the bridge railing. Birds would be pecking out the eyes as the heads rotted in the sun. This was just part of everyday life for the people of the time. It was still very much a medieval world. Because Shakespeare, in some respects, seems very modern, it's easy to forget how how alien his culture was from our own.

Thanks again!

I love your blog! You will be in our prayers and thoughts! Nice and informative post on this topic thanks for sharing with us. Thank you!

Dear Michael
Thank you as always for your open-minded approach to these matters, occupying, as an increasing number do, on both/all sides of the fence(s), intriguing 'third positions' beyond the simple advocacy of one author claimant or another. I am an Oxfordian and do believe there is one very powerful mind behind the supreme elements in the plays, but also that there is indeed a complex tale we have not yet by any means unravelled, which involves the 6th Earl of Derby, as Peter Dickson thinks, and probably others of that circle also, who made the First Folio possible in a very unlikely sequence of events... I have only glanced at the quarto publication issue, but note the following: 1. WS or Shaksper/Shakespeare etc, apart from Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, only appears on the quartos after 1598, the year of Burghley's death and also the year Meres publishes Palladis Tamia; 2. after 1604 only Pericles and King Lear (Mr then first appears with the William Shakespeare) of authentic works are added on the as Shakespeares on the Stationers Register until Othello 1622, which was published, as Peter Dickson points out, under the sign of the Eagle and Child, Derby's insignia. No less than 18 plays are ONLY published first in the First Folio and added to the Stationers Register then. This suggests that the Troilus and Cressida preface allusion to the 'Grand Possessors' was not hyperbole.
I think, in addition to McCarthy and Feldman its worth drawing your attention on all this to Robert Brazil's alas posthumous work on Edward de Vere and the Shakespeare Printers:
http://oberonshakespearestudygroup.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/jefferson-foote-publishes-brazil.html

Thank you for your work!

Heward Wilkinson
http://hewardwilkinson.co.ukDear Michael
Thank you as always for your open-minded approach to these matters, occupying, as an increasing number do, on both/all sides of the fence(s), intriguing 'third positions' beyond the simple advocacy of one author claimant or another. I am an Oxfordian and do believe there is one very powerful mind behind the supreme elements in the plays, but also that there is indeed a complex tale we have not yet by any means unravelled, which involves the 6th Earl of Derby, as Peter Dickson thinks, and probably others of that circle also, who made the First Folio possible in a very unlikely sequence of events... I have only glanced at the quarto publication issue, but note the following: 1. WS or Shaksper/Shakespeare etc, apart from Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, only appears on the quartos after 1598, the year of Burghley's death and also the year Meres publishes Palladis Tamia; 2. after 1604 only Pericles and King Lear (Mr then first appears with the William Shakespeare) of authentic works are added on the as Shakespeares on the Stationers Register until Othello 1622, which was published, as Peter Dickson points out, under the sign of the Eagle and Child, Derby's insignia. No less than 18 plays are ONLY published first in the First Folio and added to the Stationers Register then. This suggests that the Troilus and Cressida preface allusion to the 'Grand Possessors' was not hyperbole.
I think, in addition to McCarthy and Feldman its worth drawing your attention on all this to Robert Brazil's alas posthumous work on Edward de Vere and the Shakespeare Printers:
http://oberonshakespearestudygroup.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/jefferson-foote-publishes-brazil.html

Thank you for your work!

Heward Wilkinson
http://hewardwilkinson.co.uk

My apologies for the duplication in posting due to some anomaly in the automated system.

Thanks, Heward. I'll take a look at Robert Brazil's work. I agree that whatever happened is a good deal more complex than we currently realize, and quite possibly we will never be able to untangle it all.

In Shakespeare's theatre, plays were not the property of the playwright, but of the company that put on the plays. Shakespeare could not have intervened (well, not officially) to object to pirated quartos, because they were not his. Only the company could have taken any action, which would have been limited, because there was no copyright law. It is difficult to imagine that Shakespeare, who was ruthless in collecting money that was owed to him, would not have sued if (1) he owned the rights to the plays, and (2) there was any legal basis on which he could have done so. These books are only another attempt at propping up the "Shakespeare was a front man for a committee/the Earl of Oxford/Elvis/" theory.

But since Shakespeare was a shareholder in the acting company, he could have intervened had he wanted to. And even if he had no legal recourse (debatable), he still could have publicly protested, as other authors did when their words were misappropriated.

So why didn't he? My guess is that Shakespeare didn't sue because he had agreed to the publication of the quartos. And he agreed to it because he had written - or rewritten - the plays.

But this means that the "bad quartos" (and some apocrypha) were really Shakespeare's versions of the plays. And since they are markedly different from the First Folio versions, it implies that there were (at least) two authors - one who wrote the original masterpieces, and another (Shakespeare) who vulgarized them for the public stage.

"Shakespeare was a front man for a committee/the Earl of Oxford/Elvis"

I hadn't heard of Elvis as a candidate, but it would make sense of Hamlet's soliloquy:

To be or not to be, that is the question.
Whether tis nobler to be nothing but a hound dog
Or to put on your blue suede shoes in the ghetto ...

That's from the bad quarto, natch.

Funny, Michael! Is that the quarto that also has:

...When he himself might his quietus make
With a big burger? who would Vegas bear,
To grunt and sweat on a weary stage,
But that the dread of driving all those trucks...

Good job, Ben!

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