Sunday, September 28, 2014

Basic Shakespeare Authorship Problems - Heminges Condel

An exciting new development in the authorship question has taken place thanks to researcher Alexander Waugh. It has to do with another place once known as ‘Avon’. I’ve only seen a portion of the rational theorizing from the discovery. So if you want to read the whole new argument, do what I’m doing and subscribe to Shakespeare scholar Ros Barber’s downloadable authorship evidence book, which can be found at:


Some Basic Shakespeare Authorship Problems 

Apart from that, I’ve had enough cause and will to toss out here what seem to me to be probably the most basic evidentiary conundrums that have sparked and maintained an interest in this authorship question. It appears that we still have to deal with continued suppression of this topic as just this year all my posts on another forum were deleted—along with the whole forum so that no one could discuss anything about Shakespeare anymore. Anyway, here now is a concise summary of said conundrums, which itself, is very much abridged from what others have written.

One of the great differences in opinion from ‘Pro’ and ‘Post’ Stratfordians concerns the genuineness of the primary evidence as it’s come down to us. Let’s look at this briefly.

First we ask - Are the claims made in the First Folio believable? For instance, above the famous Droeshout ‘portrait’ of Shakespeare we are told that the plays are being “Published according to the True Original Copies”. Then in the Epistle Dedicatorie we’re told that they (Heminges and Condel) have been “Guardians” of his “Orphanes”. And then in their “To the great Variety of Readers” we hear these theatre men and friends of the great author say that they “have scarce received from him a blot in his papers”. Yet, there is little or no doubt, beyond maybe a quibble of an interpretation, that none of this is true. It’s a fabrication. I don’t mean that in an anti-ethical sense, only that either for promotional purposes, or for political reasons, or maybe just for some kind of jest, that some kind of inventive presentation appears to have been used.

From Irvin Leigh Matus’ book Shakespeare in Fact he quotes Charlton Hinman, from 1961, who wrote “Some of the plays in the Folio apparently do reproduce Shakespeare’s own “foul papers”; but others are mere reprints of earlier quartos, and a number were set into type from combinations, part manuscript and part printed, of materials variously related to Shakespeare’s original papers…Some of the copy supplied to the Folio printers, on the other hand, must have been very different both from Shakespeare’s original text and from anything that can be thought to reflect accurately his final intentions or even his acquiescence—though notably inferior copy was commonly mended by copy of higher authority.”

Matus goes on to show that this lying was more the rule than the exception. The publisher of The Beaumont and Fletcher volume of plays likewise claimed that he was printing “even the perfect originals without the least mutilation” and we know that also was untrue. Most of you also likely already know this.

But now, secondly, let us move on to some disputed territory. The prevailing belief is that Heminges and Condell were the genuine authors of the passages attributed to them. For about 100 years now that belief has been disputed with evidence. And from what I’ve seen this contrary evidence hasn’t been addressed. Of course, I’m not familiar with all scholarship commentary on this question but I don’t see it addressed in checking Matus’ book, or Schoenbaum’s Shakespeare’s Lives, or Ian Wilson’s Shakespeare the Evidence or in the Arden Shakespeare versions I’ve checked. So if anyone can provide a source where it has been defended that would be most appreciated.

Here’s a brief summary of the evidence against Heminges and Condell’s authorship. And I’m taking these points from Katherine Chiljan’s Shakespeare Suppressed, 2011.

The counter argument to the standard one is that it was Ben Jonson who actually authored those parts in addition to those with his name or initials.

In the two Folio preface letters “there are direct parallels between three passages by Horace and Pliny”, and Heminges and Condell are unlikely to have been familiar enough with these classical authors, or to have read them at all, to quote these passages. The folio Dedication includes:

Country hands reach forth milk, cream, fruits, or what they have: and many Nations (we have heard) that had not gums & incense, obtained their requests with a leavened Cake. It was no fault to approach their Gods, by what means they could: And the most, though meanest, of things are made more precious, when they are dedicated to Temples.

Now compare to Horace’s Odes

Hold out your hands, palms turned to the sky, when the
New moon is up, my country-bred Phidyle;
Treat well the Lares [household gods]: bring incense, this year’s
Pure, empty hands touch altars as closely as
Those heaping dear-bought offerings. Simple gifts
Soothe angry household gods; the poor man’s
Salt that will spit in the fire and plain meal.

And next from Pliny’s Natural History:

Country people and many nations offer milk to their gods; and
They who have not incense obtain their requests with only meal
And salt; nor was it imputed to any as a fault to worship the gods in
Whatever way they could.

Now, there was an English translation of Pliny in 1601. However, one reviewer found that the author of the Epistle Dedicatorie “apparently drew upon the original text, and that with considerable skill.”

So it seems the burden of proof is on the those arguing for the standard model to show that Heminges and Condell were skilled at writing such promotional compositions, were familiar with some classical texts, and could read them in Latin.

On the other hand, that Ben Jonson had this capability is a given. Chiljan then shows, as have others before her, that the Folio letter “To the great Variety of Readers”, supposedly also by Hemines and Condell, “is a pastiche of phrases found in several of Jonson’s works that are too many for coincidence.”
Here are several from Jonson’s writings that I need to present in snippets since I don’t have the space for the whole extracts she used:
“To the reader”, “I departed with my right”, “the author”, “judge his sex-pen’worth, his twelve-pen’worth, so to his eighteen-pence, two shillings, half a crown”, “censure”, “arraign plays daily”, “are numbered”, “not weigh’d”, “how odd soever men’s brains, or wisdoms”, “canst but spell”, and there are others.

To conclude, the evidence suggests to many, that Heminges and Condell did not write the portions of the First Folio ascribed to them. It appears these too were written by Ben Jonson. This, therefore, also strongly suggests another serious fabrication in its publication. The evidence against the standard model has to stand until someone can provide stronger evidence to support it.

A third problem is with the Droeshout engraving. Among its many shortcomings I just want to mention what seems to me the most obvious. And that is the doublet that Droeshout drew. John M. Rollett, in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? was the latest to review this evidence. And the only point I will repeat is the quote from The Gentleman’s Tailor written back in 1911. This expert tailor said the doublet “is so strangely illustrated that the right-hand side of the forepart is obviously the left-hand side of the backpart; and so gives a harlequin appearance to the figure, which it is not unnatural to assume was intentional, and done with express object and purpose” (emphasis added).

In essence, he testifies that the design too was a fabrication, and most likely intentional. This is especially so since Droeshout is known to have the skill to make any such portrait of a human face, and clothing, to appear much more natural. It is so obvious, even to many non-experts with open minds, that its purpose and express object seems to be to call attention to itself that it is not genuine, nor meant to be taken as such, and so not meant to be a representation of the author. One would have to do some serious dancing around a very itchy feeling of cognitive dissonance to try and convince oneself that the engraving still looks acceptably authentic.

A fourth obvious irregularity is with the Stratford monument. Setting aside all the debate about its own genuineness, the one thing that is also blatantly obvious, and corroborates the eccentricities of these other obvious red-flag, attention-getting, design is the command and question on the monument plaque:
Stay Passenger, why goest thou by so fast,
Read if thou canst, whom envious death hath plast
Within this monument Shakspeare.”

How any Shakespeare enthusiast could read that and then just shrug and continue on, I just don’t get. I know it can be very difficult to question some things that seem like common knowledge. And I and probably all other doubters were often in that same predicament, so we can relate. Anyway, there was one Shakespearean scholar that did examine and contemplate these peculiarities. Puzzling Shakespeare by Leah Marcus, 1988, presents her brief foray into thinking the unthinkable. Prof. Roger Stritmatter, from the Oxfordian perspective, reviews her book here:
And the one quote I’ll repeat from his review is Marcus’ statement that The folio “makes high claims for “The AUTHOR” while simultaneously dispersing authorial identity; so that “Mr. William Shakespeare” becomes almost an abstraction, a generic category, while remaining an unstable composite.” To paraphrase, all in all, it appears in essence to be a total fabrication.

And yet, whether it be from thinking too precisely on th’ event, her scruples restrained her from any additional uncomfortable deductions or, for that matter, any such inductions from her examination of the corpus. Still, as I like to think, today’s a new day, and this generation of Shakespearians can tarry a little and read, if they can, a little further into the question of whom envious death hath placed in some Shake-speare monument. None of us appear to have the final answer to our questions so the mystery drives us on.


  1. Greetings, I'm interested in reprinting your essay in a forthcoming volume on the folio, containing a selection of some of the best Oxfordian and anti-Stratfordian commentary on it.

  2. I especially appreciate this: "How any Shakespeare enthusiast could read that and then just shrug and continue on, I just don’t get."