Prof. Stanley Wells in chapter 7 argues that for any alternative nominee to succeed it must first be established that all evidence in support of William of Stratford must be disproven. Personally I don’t see that as a necessity since any strong contrary evidence in favor of a candidate may be enough. And all, or about all, of the evidence supportive of the Stratfordian theory has already been disproved or called into question.
As any reader of the basic anti-Stratfordian evidence would know, any allusion to ‘Shakespeare’ that refers to ‘the Author’, does not necessarily have anything to do with the actor/businessman from Stratford. If it did, then surely the Supreme Court justices would never have bothered with even a mock trial. Furthermore, anyone that did know the actor and who should have been in a position to know if he was also ‘the Author’ must also be shown to not have had any motivation to allow the suggestion that they were the same, if in fact he knew otherwise. Some of us anti-Stratfordians have no problem in seeing a motivation by Jonson, Heminges and Condell to allow a fib.
With these thoughts in mind the doubters would likely dismiss as evidence all of the allusions. They either do not refer to the Stratford actor, or the writer wasn’t in a position to know if he was the Author Shakespeare, or they had a motivation to not bother with the truth, and in the case Heminges and Condell there is the further complication that we don’t know that they did any more than sign their names to what Ben Jonson had written for them.
But I do have a few comments on some of the specific allusions in the book.
First is the allusion from 1599 by John Weever.
The Weever allusion is to his epigram beginning:
“Honey-tongued Shakespeare, when I saw thine issue”.
But he may have made a much more important epigram that came just after this one is his book. This epigram was addressed to Edward Alleyn, the great actor. It goes thus:
‘Rome had her Roscius and her Theater,
Her Terence, Platus, Ennius and Meander;
The first to Allen Phoebus did transfer,
The next Thames Swans receiv’d fore he coulde land her.
Of both more worthy we by Phoebus doome
Then t’ Allen Roscius yield, to London Rome’
We can interpret this as: Roscius was Rome’s famous actor, whose acting spirit in a sense was transferred to Edward Allen. Then before London could have famous playwright/poets like Rome, it needed Dramatic Theaters, which Phoebus Apollo transferred by placing some along the banks of the Thames. These were received by the Thames’ Swans, who represent the theater actors. This is not a reference to dying swans that sing. These are the swans written about in Orlando Furioso, books 34-5, that save from the river Lethe (oblivion) the names of the greatest poets and dramatists, carrying their names inscribed in a medal that hangs by a thread in their mouths to the temple of immortality. Bacon refers to this legend:
Translations of the Philosophical Works, Volume 1, (Page 307)
By Francis Bacon, James Spedding, Robert Leslie Ellis
If this link works here you can read it. (or just Google it)
This story is also referred to in the Returne from Parnassus:
“That Ariosto’s old swift paced man,
Whose name is Time, who never lins to run,
Loaden with bundles of decayed names,
The which in Lethe’s lake he doth intombe,
Save only those which swan-like scholars take,”
Though in their rendering of the myth it’s scholars that save great names for immortality. Now the Thames swans (the actors) carry away (by their speeches) the immortal words of the great poet playwrights. Since the swans always carried away another name than their own, the actors did likewise. This we believe is what Ben Jonson could have alluded to by calling the Stratford actor the ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’. He may also have used it as part of an ambiguous double meaning. Also, there are several ‘Avon’ rivers and since ‘Avon’ derives from Celtic ‘Abona’ then Jonson could also have been using it as a reference to the Thames itself, especially since some theaters like Shakespeare’s Globe were situated by it and because he mentions the Sweet Swan as on the banks of the Thames. He also specifically refers to his actor role “to heare thy Buskin tread, and shake a Stage”. Many poets of the time (and some Cambridge students) could have discerned this Furioso allusion as they would have read Harington’s translation of Ariosto.
Second, speaking of the Parnassus plays which are also mentioned for their allusion to Shakespeare, there’s an odd bit of phrasing on page 78 when speaking of the third play in the series. The book says “In a later episode, Burbage and Kemp audition recent undergraduates who aspire to a career in the theatre. Kemp, a true professional…”. A casual reader, new to this topic, may forget that these aren’t the real persons Burbage and Kemp who both knew Shakespeare. Prof. Shapiro in Contested Will was more careful when he described the same allusion but phrased it “actors impersonating Burbage and Kemp…”.
Third, is the allusion by Thomas Freeman in 1614 “To Master W. Shakespeare”. There’s been some Baconian analysis that Freeman likely believed that Bacon was Shakespeare when he wrote this. Early in his list of epigrams, Freeman said that “I write in covert and conceal their names”. In one enigmatic epigram he refers to a person as ‘Labeo’. He likely got this from the 1597-98 satires of Hall and Marston and their identification of ‘Labeo’ with Bacon, and as the author of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece.