«Beyond Reasonable Doubt: New Evidence and Arguments since The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt Part 2: Major discoveries: First Folio and Stratford ...»
Beyond Reasonable Doubt:
New Evidence and Arguments since
The Declaration of Reasonable Doubt
Part 2: Major discoveries: First Folio and Stratford monument
With Professor Stanley Wells’ admission that all of the evidence for Shakspere as a writer is posthumous,
the case for him as Shakespeare rises or falls on the credibility of the First Folio and Stratford monument.
Could it be that the so-called “twin pillars” of the Stratfordian case are just slender reeds, easily snapped?
The First Folio In the Declaration we say that “The First Folio testimony does point to Shakspere as the author,” but then ask “should this be taken at face value?” and go on to point out several anomalies that call it into question.
We stand by all of it, and now offer these additional reasons to think the Folio front matter is questionable:
The first problem is the iconic image, supposedly of the author, on the title page. The Droeshout engraving is so odd in so many ways that orthodox scholars find it an embarrassment and are unable to account for it.
It has no neck, and the head is too big for the body, making it appear to be suspended on the ruff in mid-air.
The hair is longer on one side than the other. The great bulbous forehead is so large that it seems unnatural.
Some think it has two right eyes, one lower than the other, its nose is off center, and the mouth is too small.
Scholars blame the engraver, Martin Droeshout, but the publishers did not have to accept it and could have hired someone else for such an important project. The fact that they did not implies that they were satisfied.
At least one notable oddity was evidently quite deliberate. In 1911 a tailor published an article pointing out that the right side of the front of the doublet shown in the engraving is “obviously” the left side of the back.
He wrote that it was “not unnatural to assume it was intentional and done with express object and purpose.” In 2010, a detailed analysis of the pattern in the doublet concluded that the tailor had it exactly right.
The other oddities are subjective and could be due to bad drawing, but not the “Impossible Doublet.” The analysis of the doublet is objective, involving measuring and counting, and completely verifiable.
The engraver, working from some real garment, based the left front of the doublet on the left front of the garment, then turned the garment around and based the right front of the doublet on the left rear of the same garment. As a result, the most iconic image of the author turns out to have two left arms!
Rather than amateurish and incompetent, the engraving turns out to be a skillfully-executed enigma.
The analyst then points out other anomalies and writes that “although one or two peculiarities might be ascribed to carelessness, six or seven (some obvious) seem to point towards a deliberate agenda…” He found it difficult not to think that the man depicted was being gently and surreptitiously mocked, and that by featuring a “ridiculous caricature” of the Stratford man, the publishers were suggesting to the observant reader that the notion that Shakspere was the author Shakespeare was a deception.
(See the details in Chapter 10: “Shakespeare’s Impossible Doublet” in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?) Why give the man depicted two left arms? Not having a right arm, he must have written left-handed.
A tradition about left-handed writers dates to Artemidorus in the 2nd Century AD, who commented:
“Writing with the left hand is to make some secret circumvention, to cunny-catch, deceive, or defame any one.” The OED defines “cunny catch” as “to trick, cheat, dupe or gull.” If the portrait represents Shakspere of Stratford, then the “express object and purpose” that the tailor surmised in 1911 seems to have been to depict him as a deceiving, gulling, tricking, cheating defamer and not the real author.
Artemidorus was widely read and quoted at the time, including by William Camden and Ben Jonson.
On the page facing the Droeshout engraving is a ten-line poem about the engraving by Ben Jonson, addressed “To the Reader.” Jonson was known for his ambiguity, and this poem is a good example.
This Figure, that thou here seest put, It was for gentle Shakespeare cut;
Rather than a picture of Shakespeare, we see a “Figure” that was cut “for” him and then “put” there.
A frontispiece image in an author’s collected works should be of him, not some thing created for him.
According to the OED, there was one definition of “figure” then – “an imaginary form, a phantasm.”
A few lines later the poem reads:
It seems odd to speak of the engraver having “hit” his face. An alternative meaning of “hit” is “hid.” Chaucer once used it that way, as Jonson probably knew. Did he perhaps mean for others to read it that way and think that the engraving actually hid the author’s image, rather than being a likeness?
Jonson ends by saying “Reader, looke/ Not on his Picture, but his Booke.” Rather than affirming the authenticity of the engraving (its ostensible purpose), it undercuts its own message, telling the reader that the engraving should be ignored in favor of the plays, where the real author is to be found. Since we now know that the Droeshout engraving is blatantly bogus, this interpretation has strong support.
(For a visual analysis of the Impossible Doublet by actress Debbie Radcliffe, watch this online video.) If, in fact, the image and poem are cautions to the reader, it appears that there is much to be cautious about.
Nothing in the First Folio specifically states that Shakspere of Stratford was the author “Shakespeare,” nor does it contain any biographical information to confirm that he was. It would have been very easy to do so.
It does not even display the coat of arms that he and his father went to such trouble and expense to acquire.
That would have left no doubt about the identity of the author, and its omission can hardly be an oversight.
Nor does the Folio include a eulogy from any of the fellow writers with whom he supposedly collaborated.
At least they were consistent, since no putative collaborator wrote a tribute at the time when he died, either.
Ben Jonson was the only important writer to pen a tribute for the First Folio – this for the “Soul of the age!” Jonson’s own folio contained numerous tributes from fellow writers, far more than the four to Shakespeare.
The three others who wrote tributes to Shakespeare in the First Folio all seem to have been close to Jonson.
Ben Jonson and Shakespeare were rivals, and in his later writings Jonson is critical of Shakespeare’s plays.
It seems odd that Jonson was chosen to write the main eulogy rather than one of the putative collaborators, such as Heywood, Dekker, Middleton or Fletcher. The Folio ascribes all of the plays to Shakespeare alone.
If, in fact, the author collaborated with others, then we know that the Folio is misleading at least about that.
Stratfordians take at face value two introductory letters attributed to Shakspere’s fellow actor-shareholders John Heminge and Henry Condell (their names are printed beneath them, not “signed” as is often claimed).
According to the two letters, they collected, edited and published the thirty-six plays in the 900-page Folio, despite having no evident prior experience as writers or editors, in order to “keep the memory of so worthy a friend, & fellow alive, as was our SHAKESPEARE.” This is said to prove that Shakspere was the author.
In fact, Ben Jonson, not Heminge and Condell, wrote the two epistles, as George Steevens showed in 1770.
Steevens, a distinguished 18th-century Shakespeare editor, produced twelve pages of parallels between the epistles and writings of Jonson. He concluded that Jonson wrote both epistles, and Edmond Malone agreed.
Jonson, unlike Heminge and Condell, was qualified to write the front matter and edit the plays in the Folio,
Both letters contain falsehoods and contradictions. One says they were “without ambition… of self-profit,” while the other repeatedly tells the reader to “buy!” The second letter says that the plays were “maimed and deformed” but are now “cured and perfect” and “absolute in their numbers as [the author] conceived them.” It is well known that the plays are full of obvious errors, yet Ben Jonson has Heminge and Condell uttering promotional puffery for their supposed play editing skills, which discerning readers would know is not true.
“Maimed and deformed” contradicts the claim on the title page that the plays were “Published according to the True Originall Copies.” If Heminge and Condell were the editors, how did they miss the contradiction?
And how can something be both an original and a copy? The front matter is full of this kind of double-talk.
Both letters say that the dramatist did not have a chance to prepare the plays for publication before he died.
The dedication letter says the plays outlived their author, who had no chance to edit his writings. The letter “To the Great Variety of Readers” wishes “that the Author... had liv’d to have set forth... his own writings.” Shakspere allegedly retired in 1610, at age forty-six, giving him six years to edit the plays, if they were his.
(For more on this topic, see Chapter 11 on “The Ambiguous Ben Jonson” in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?) Jonson’s eulogy begins with a sixteen-line false start before bursting forth with his “Soul of the Age!” Those sixteen seemingly superfluous lines alert the reader that “silliest ignorance on these may light,” meaning his words may be misinterpreted by those of “silliest ignorance” who miss double meanings.
Jonson was a master of ambiguity. When he gives us such a warning, we should take him at his word.
Seen in context, Ben Jonson’s famous reference to the author as “Sweet Swan of Avon!” refers not to the Avon River in Stratford, as has long been assumed, but to a place along the banks of the Thames
where Elizabeth and James saw plays performed:
Sweet Swan of Avon! What a sight it were To see thee in our waters yet appeare, And make those flights upon the banks of Thames That so did take Eliza, and our James!
In 2014 an article by Alexander Waugh originally titled “The True Meaning of Ben Jonson’s Phrase:
‘Sweet Swan of Avon!’” shows that Hampton Court – the principal venue for court performances of plays under both Queen Elizabeth and King James – was well known in Ben Jonson’s day as “Avon.” The article cites references to it as “Avon” by John Leland (1543, 1545), Raphael Holinshed (1586), Henry Peacham (1612), Laurence Nowell (who transcribed one of Leland’s references) and historian William Camden, in both the Latin (1607) and the English (1610) editions of his Britannia. Jonson, a voracious reader, probably knew all of them, but we can safely assume that he read at least the two editions of William Camden’s Britannia, since Camden was his tutor, mentor and lifelong friend.
Again, in context, “Sweet Swan of Avon!” refers not to Stratford-upon-Avon but to Hampton Court, but Jonson evidently anticipated that those of “silliest ignorance” would assume it meant the former.
How ironic that those of silliest ignorance would include all modern Shakespeare scholars, until now.
The Stratford Monument
In the Declaration we point out that today’s Stratford monument does not look like the version in an early 17th century sketch, and that when the monument was “repaired” the effigy was “altered to depict a writer.” We also mention that some orthodox biographers describe the inscription on the monument as “enigmatic.” It never actually states that Shakspere was the author, and it never mentions poetry, plays, acting or theater.
Others have made these observations, but now another article by Alexander Waugh, also published in 2014, titled “’Thy Stratford Moniment’ – Revisted,” appears to be his second major breakthrough within the year.
!3 The article first observes that the distinctive “Cavalier moustache” now worn on the face of the bust can be confidently dated to the late 1640s or early 1650s. Documents show the monument was repaired, modified, beautified, repainted and in various ways tampered with on at least eight occasions between 1649 and 1861.
In light of this, it isn’t credible to think the effigy in today’s Stratford monument is the same as the original.
So the article first examines a sketch by antiquarian William Dugdale, showing how he depicted it in 1634, eleven years after it was first mentioned in the First Folio and before any of the documented modifications.
Dugdale was known for accuracy, yet he seems to have given the figure in the bust oddly ape-like features.
The head is too small. It has no neck. The shoulders are sloped, the arms elongated, the left hand claw-like.
As if providing confirmation of this, the pillars on either side appear to be capped with gaping apes’ heads, each about the same size as the head in the effigy, suggesting that perhaps he should be seen as a third ape!
This brings to mind Ben Jonson’s epigram “On Poet Ape,” first published in 1616, and thought to be about the actor from Stratford-upon-Avon. The article lists numerous parallels between the poem and monument.
The implication is that perhaps Ben Jonson designed the original monument based on his poet-ape concept.
The article then turns to the inscription – probably the same as the original. These seemingly simple
verses – two Latin lines above three English rhyming couplets – have defied analysis for 400 years:
Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem Terra tegit, populus maeret, Olympus habet Stay Passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read if thou canst, whom envious Death hath plast, With in this monument Shakspeare: with whome, Quick nature dide whose name doth deck this Tombe, Far more, then cost: Sieh all, that He hath writt, Leaves living art, but page, to serve his witt.