Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shakespeare Evidence Review - Heminges and Condell

Heminges and Condell were fellow actors of Shakspere and their names are printed beneath two commendatory poems in the First Folio of the Shake-Speare plays. Heminges is thought to have given up acting in about 1613 and Condell stopping in about 1623.

Despite the subscription of their names to the First Folio epistles, it is most unlikely, as many Stratfordians agree (this according to N.B.Cockburn’s research) that Heminges and Condell, who were probably of little education, drafted either of the poems, especially the first one. The language is too polished for the actors and shows signs of classical learning. For example, the Epistle Dedicatory has close parallels with the Epistle Dedicatory to Pliny’s Natural History. Some conjecture is that either Edward Blount or Ben Jonson had drafted these Folio epistles, who had also written the main commendatory poem as well as the lines beneath the portrait of Shake-Speare. Edmund Malone cited parallels between the epistles and Jonson’s work. One is the rather odd expression of classical origin in the epistle to the Readers, “absolute in their numbers” meaning “perfect”, which Jonson used at least three times elsewhere. For instance, Pliny wrote “a book absolute in all its numbers”. Jonson even used this phrase when writing of Bacon who he cited as one “who hath filled up all the numbers”, meaning everything he wrote was absolutely perfect.

Further evidence of Jonson’s hand in the Epistles supposedly written by Heminges and Condell is found in the first paragraph of the epistle to the Great Variety of Readers. In Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair he has an Induction with articles of agreement between the spectator and the author. This says that “Every person here have his or their free-will of censure, the author having now departed with his right…and it shall be lawful for any man to judge his six-pen’orth, his twelve-pen’orth, so to his eighteen-pence, two shillings, half-a-crown, to the value of his place, provided his place get not above his wit…if he drop but sixpence at the door, and will censure a crown’s worth, it is thought there is no conscience or justice in that”. So, both this Jonson passage and the one in the First Folio seem to make the same point that the extent to which a spectator or reader is entitled to criticize depends on how much he has paid.

We can conclude then that Heminges and Condell are less likely to have drafted the poems ascribed to them than would Jonson. And that their names were merely subscribed to them to convince potential buyers that the texts of the plays were authentic. A similar ploy was used in the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio of 1647 where the dedicatory epistle is subscribed with the names of no fewer than 10 actors. It is hard to suppose that all 10 (if any) had a part in drafting the epistle.

Both poems treat Shake-Speare as the dead fellow of Heminges and Condell. But even if those two colleagues of his had actually drafted them, and knew the secret, they would still have had to pretend that Shake-Speare was their fellow actor Will Shakspere. The general public (in so far as they had heard of Shake-Speare) no doubt believed that, and Heminges and Condell would have had to play along with it in the interests of both Shakspere and of Bacon. Then not a word of either epistle need have been any different from what it was. To have disclosed the truth  would have been a betrayal of their dead fellow, whose name would have become a laughing stock, and of Bacon who was still alive and as anxious as ever to preserve his anonymity.

As to the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery that the First Folio is dedicated to, they were friends of Bacon and may or may not have been in on the secret. And even if they knew it, they would have realized that the Folio’s promoters either did not know or had to pretend not to.

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