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Did the Stratford Man Really Write the Plays and Poems?

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By Michael J. Cummings...© 2003, 2005
Revised in 2011, 2012, and 2013
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Did William Shakespeare really write the plays and poems attributed to him? A vocal minority of Shakespeare readers maintains that he did not write them, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Among the candidates promoted as the "real Shakespeare" are the following:

.......Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a brilliant statesman, philosopher, essayist, and lord chancellor of England under James I.
.......Christopher Marlowe  (1564-1593), a playwright of the first rank.
.......Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).
.......Sir Henry Neville (1562-1615), a British diplomat. 

There are also sundry other candidates—.including William Stanley, the Sixth Earl of Derby (1561-1642), and Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1533-1603). But few scholars take seriously the claims of the supporters of Stanley and Elizabeth.

Perhaps the strongest evidence supporting Shakespeare as the author of Hamlet, Othello, Venus and Adonis, and other works attributed to him is that his name appears on the printed copies of the works. The first authorized collection of most of his works bears not only his name but also a reproduction of a painting of him.

During the twentieth century, Edward de Vere gained a following as the man who wrote the plays and sonnets. His supporters say he withheld his byline to keep his identity secret, allowing Shakespeare—an actor from Stratford, about ninety miles northwest of London—to take credit. Today, de Vere's supporters regard him as the real Shakespeare. In 2005, supporters of a another candidate entered the Shakespeare sweepstakes. Their man was Sir Henry Neville, a well-traveled diplomat who supposedly possessed the erudition and sophistication to stroke out the genius of the plays and sonnets. The whole authorship question has taken on the aura of an Hercule Poirot or Charlie Chan mystery—and sometimes a Jacques Clouseau caper—in which the anti-Shakespeare researchers and dilettantes (or anti-Stratfordians, as they have come to be known) serendipitously stumble across "telltale evidence" from time to time. (Twenty-two Shakespeare scholars, tired of the absurd claims of many of the anti-Stratfordians, have co-authored a book presenting what they believe is overwhelming evidence that Shakespeare wrote the plays and poems attributed to him. It is entitled Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy: Cambridge University Press, April, 2013).

Neville promoters William Rubinstein and Brenda James staked a claim for their candidate in a book entitled The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare, published in Harlow, England, in 2005. ("Truth will out" is a clause in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
2.2.22.) To their credit Rubinstein and James reject de Vere, Marlowe, Bacon, and others as the real Shakespeare. But they fail to cite any convincing evidence that Neville was a talented writer. In assessing the book, William D. Walsh, director of acquisitions at the Georgia State University Library, has written, 
Unfortunately for James and Rubinstein, there is no evidence that Neville wrote [Shakespeare's works]. Nor is there any evidence to support their claim that dramatist and poet Ben Jonson participated in a conspiracy to conceal Neville's identity as the author of the works collected in the First Folio. The book includes a rather acrid afterword by James bewailing the lack of "informed academic response" to the U.K. edition. Given the weakness of their arguments, that lack of response is hardly surprising.
Rubinstein, a professor of modern history at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, and James, a former lecturer in English at England's Portsmouth University, offer only circumstantial evidence and conjecture to support their claim. Another reviewer of the book says,
The dust jacket of the American edition claims that the book "will forever change the landscape of Shakespearean scholarship" and quotes a review from the Independent [a London newspaper] calling it "extraordinary" and "backed by a vast amount of startling evidence." As one starts reading, however, it becomes apparent that the promised "evidence" is nonexistent or very flimsy and that the book is filled with factual errors, distortions, and arguments that are incoherent almost to the point of parody. (Kathman, David. "Book Reviews." Shakespeare Quarterly. Summer 2007, pages 245-248.)
The arguments for Neville, de Vere, and others are all good fun—mingled here and there with a modicum of serious scholarship—but the arguments have been, up to now, unconvincing and, frankly, ludicrous. When one mounts a hobbyhorsein this case, the anti-Shakespeare warhorseand sallies forth, it is easier to tilt at windmills than to take on ironclad truth.

Supporters of de Vere contend that he refused to affix his byline to the plays and sonnets to avoid association of his family name with the sordid professions of stagecraft and writing. (In Elizabethan England, the public supposedly regarded playwrights and actors as reprobates and scapegraces; lords and ladies risked their reputations by hobnobbing with dramatists and actors.) However, de Vere did openly patronize an acting company, the Oxford’s men, and willingly signed his name to twenty-three of his own poems (few or none of which appear in important anthologies on British literature).

H.N. Gibson has concluded that the whole theory of a conspiracy—that a Marlowe or a de Vere had decided to hide behind the Shakespeare name—“is manifestly absurd.” 

    Since he [Shakespeare] was a member of the Company which produced the plays he would be a most unsuitable person to act as a “cover” for the true author. He would constantly find himself in embarrassing situations, such as being called upon to elucidate some obscure point or to rewrite part of a scene on the spot, and the recipient of other similar requests with which he would be totally unable to comply. If the “true author” had employed a cover at all, he would have selected for the purpose some minor man of letters who had no connection whatever with the practical side of the theatre—.Gibson, H.N. The Shakespeare Claimants. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1963 (Page 302).
A major problem for the de Vere supporters is that he was an arrogant, thoroughgoing egotist—a fact well established by historical accounts—.hardly the kind of person who would cede credit for a monumental body of masterpieces to someone else. That he would gild bumpkin Shakespeare as the architect of Antony’s funeral oration ("Friends, Romans and countrymen"—Julius Caesar, 3.2.52) ), Shylock’s interrogatory speech ("Hath not a Jew eyes?"The Merchant of Venice, 3.1.23), or Jaques’ philosophical monologue ("All the world’s a stage"—As You Like It, 2.7.147) is to assert that pride is humble and lions are meek. Supporters of de Vere, as well as supporters of Neville and other pretenders to Shakespeare’s throne, also maintain that Shakespeare was an unschooled rustic who lacked the sophistication and depth of knowledge to produce a great body of brilliant work. After all, Shakespeare grew up in a rural area away from centers of culture and learning and never stepped foot inside a university classroom. Some supporters of de Vere and other candidates for the title of the real Shakespeare even maintain that Shakespeare of Stratford never attended any school.

However, evidence indicates that Shakespeare did attend the King's New School in Stratford.
For one thing, he was entitled to a free education as the son of a prominent public official. (His father was an alderman and later high bailiff, a position similar to that of a modern mayor.) For another, his plays are replete with allusions and direct references to topics associated with a grammar-school education. At the King's New School, attended by boys aged seven to fourteen, the curriculum included Latin, classical history, religion, ethics, logic, rhetoric, public speaking, Roman poetry and drama, the natural sciences, and other subjects—all taught by well-trained teachers from Oxford University.

The Latin grammar that the teachers used was written by William Lily (1468-1522). In 1540, King Henry VIII decreed that it was to be the only Latin grammar to be used in England's schools. Shakespeare appears to have alluded to this book in Titus Andronicus:
DEMETRIUS:  What’s here? A scroll; and written round about?      
Let’s see:—
[Reads.] "Integer vitæ, scelerisque purus,           
Non eget Mauri jaculis, nec arcu."
CHIRON:   O! ’tis a verse in Horace; I know it well:     
I read it in the grammar long ago. (4.2.20-25)
Horace (65-8 BC ), a Roman lyric poet, was among the Latin authors whom students studied at England's grammar schools. Shakespeare also refers to him in Love's Labour's Lost (4.2.52).

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Among other classical Latin authors studied at grammar schools were the poet Ovid (43 BC-AD 17), the playwright Plautus (254-184 BC), the playwright Seneca (4 BC-AD 65), and the historian-biographer Plutarch (AD 46-120).

In As You Like It, Touchstone refers directly to Ovid: "I am here with thee and thy goats, as the most capricious poet, honest Ovid, was among the Goths" (3.3.5). In Love's Labour's Lost," Holofernes refers to Ovid by his Latin name, Ovidius Naso (4.2.58). The plot of Titus Andronicus is based in part on Thyestes and Troades, by Seneca and Metamorphoses by Ovid. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the bumbling tradesmen stage a play based on Ovid's tale of the mythological lovers, Pyramus and Thysbe. Coriolanus and other Roman plays are based in part on Plutarch's accounts of the lives of ancient Romans. The plot of The Comedy of Errors is based on The Menaechmus Twins, by Plautus and possibly, Amphitruo, by the same author.

Students attending the Stratford school and other state-sanctioned educational institutions used a hornbook, a page of text usually printed with the alphabet, letter combinations, number tables, and perhaps a religious quotation. The page was affixed to a board with a handle and covered with a transparent layer of horn to preserve it. In Love's Labour's Lost, the dialogue refers to this learning tool.
ARMADO:   [To HOLOFERNES.] Monsieur, are you not lettered?      
MOTH:  Yes, yes; he teaches boys the hornbook. (5.1.20-21)
Students also studied the New Testament of the Bible in Greek and Latin. Lily's Latin grammar quoted passages from St. Jerome's Vulgate Bible.

Because of the broadness and excellence of the education at the Stratford school, its students were extremely well versed in the liberal arts, perhaps more so than typical high-school graduates of today.

If Shakespeare was a bumpkin, he was probably a well-educated bumpkin. It is interesting to note that Ben Jonson, another great Elizabethan playwright, was considered one of the foremost intellects of his day even though he, too, lacked a university education.
Famous People Who Did Not Receive
a College Degree


Thousands of great men and women never received a college degree. Following are examples of people who, like Shakespeare, developed their genius without earning a degree from a college or university.

Alighieri, Dante: Author of one of the greatest books in world literature, The Divine Comedy.
Austen, Jane: Author of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and other masterpieces.
Bell, Alexander Graham: Inventor of the telephone.
Buddha: Founder of Buddhism.
Burns, Robert: Scotland's national poet.
Cervantes, Miguel: Author of one of the world's greatest novels, Don Quixote de la Mancha.
Cronkite, Walter: Longtime anchor of CBS News, who was once voted the most trusted man in America.
Dickens, Charles: Author of David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and A Christmas Carol.
Edison, Thomas: One of history's most productive and most renowned inventors.
Gates. Bill: Founder of Microsoft.
Melville, Herman: Author of one of the world's greatest novels, Moby Dick. He left school at age fifteen.
Mohammed: Founder of Islam. Accounts of his life indicate that he was illiterate.
Poe, Edgar Allan: Author of one of America's greatest poems, "The Raven." Poe was also one of the world's most influential short-story writers.
Twain, Mark (pen name of Samuel Clemens): Author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, which many critics consider one of the greatest American novels.
It is true, of course, as the anti-Stratfordians point out, that Shakespeare was a country boya raw, unsophisticated provincial when he arrived in London in the late 1580s or early 1590s. But would his rusticity have been a disadvantage? Hardly. His metaphors and observations from the countryside strengthened rather than weakened his writing. To wit:
 
Give me mine angle; we'll to the river: there,
My music playing far off, I will betray
Tawny-finn'd fishes; my bended hook shall pierce
Their slimy jaws; and, as I draw them up,
I'll think them every one an Antony,
And say 'Ah, ha! you're caught.' (Antony and Cleopatra, 2.5.14-19)

Doves will peck in safeguard of their brood. (Henry VI Part III, 2.2.20)

I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. (Hamlet.2.2.272)

Sweet are the uses of adversity, 
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous, 
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head. (As You Like It, 2.1.14-16)

The world is grown so bad
That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch. (Richard III, 1.3.74-75)
 
I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows,           
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows          
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,           
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine. (A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2.1.259-262) 
     

While living in Stratford, Shakespeare also gained a knowledge of people in all their varieties; for Stratford in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras was a market town, a crossroads of rural commerce.

Among the visitors to his town were suspicion and intrigue, which required his parentsboth reared as Roman Catholics in an age of Protestant crackdown on papiststo be on the watch at all times against tattletale representatives of the Crown. While his parents pretended to practice the queen’s religion, young William no doubt recorded their reactions on his tabula rasa, then later called them forth in plays featuring conspiracy and cabal. In sum, peopleand trees and rocks and cloudsgave Shakespeare an extraordinary education of a different kind. In this regard poet John Dryden (1631-1700) described Shakespeare as "naturally learned":
    Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature: the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and life. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can operate but upon small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find. His persons act and speak by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets a character is too often an individual; in those of Shakespeare it is commonly a species.—.Johnson, Samuel. Quoted in Ribner, Irving. William Shakespeare: An Introduction to His Life, Times and Theatre. Waltham, Mass.: Blaisdell, 1969 (Page 200).
While Shakespeare was developing this "natural talent," he had the opportunity to observe roving actors who performed every year at a Stratford guild hall. The actors in the "play within in a play" in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark may have been based on actors who visited Stratford. Thus, Shakespeare was not so isolated after all.

The Norton Shakespeare
offers this observation on Shakespeare’s origins and education: 
    The anti-Stratfordians, as those who deny Shakespeare's authorship are sometimes called, almost always propose as the real author someone who came from a higher social class and received a more prestigious education. Francis Bacon, the Earl of Oxford [de Vere], the Earl of Southampton, even Queen Elizabeth, have been advanced, among many others, as glamorous candidates for the role of clandestine playwright. Several famous people, including Mark Twain and Sigmund Freud, have espoused these theories, though very few scholars have joined them. Since Shakespeare was quite well known in his own time as the author of the plays that bear his name, there would need to have been an extraordinary conspiracy to conceal the identity of the real master who (the theory goes) disdained to appear in the vulgarity of print or on the public stage. Like many conspiracy theories, the extreme implausibility of this one only seems to increase the fervent conviction of its advocates.—Greenblatt, Stephen, General Editor, et al. The Norton Shakespeare, Based on the Oxford Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997 (Page 46).
As for the de Vere supporters, they still argue that the earl wrote all of the plays (by himself or in collaboration with others) before he died in 1604 even though the consensus of Shakespeare experts—relying mainly on records of publication dates and performances—concludes that more than a dozen plays (including Macbeth, King Lear, Timon of Athens, Pericles, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and Henry VIII) were  written between 1605 and 1613. True, the plays could have been written before de Vere died and published after his death (or, in the case of Christopher Marlowe—author of Tamburlaine the Great and TheTragical History of Dr. Faustus—after he died at age twenty-nine in a tavern brawl). But such a possibility offers no plausible evidence of why a masterpiece such as The Tempest, published in 1611, gathered dust for seven or more years before its first performance (probably at Whitehall on November 1, 1611, by the Kings Players). Nor does this possibility address the widely held view that Shakespeare used as sources for The Tempest certain works published after de Vere died, including The Wreck of the Sea Venture (1609), A Discovery of the Bermudas (1610), and A True Repertory of the Wracke and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates upon and from the Islands of the Bermudas (1610).

What about de Vere's poetry style, as exhibited in the poems that carry his byline? In 1991, students and teachers at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, conducted an interesting computer analysis of the writing styles of de Vere and other writers proposed as the real Shakespeare, then compared these styles to Shakespeare's. Among the findings was the following:

Oxford's poems have many more total relative clauses (TRCs) than Shakespeare's, and many fewer hyphenated compound words (HCWs) and feminine endings. Shakespeare wrote at the 11th-grade level (GRL), Oxford at the 7th. Even ignoring feminine endings tests as dubious, Oxford's poems fall outside Shakespeare's profile by four of the six tests.
Francis Meres Praises Shakespeare
In 1598 Book


In Paladis Tamia, author Francis Meres (1565-1647) lauded Shakespeare and his works. Meres, a clergyman and author, earned a bachelor's degree at Cambridge University and a master's degree at Oxford. In his book, Meres wrote:

As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Tragedy among the Latins, so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for Comedy witness his Gentlemen of Verona, his [Comedy of] Errors, his Love's Labour's Lost . . .his Midsummer Night's Dream, and his Merchant of Venice; for Tragedy his Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, King John, Titus Andronicus and his Romeo and Juliet. (Printed in London by P. Short)

Meres' acknowledgment of Shakespeare as the author of these works stands as additional testimony that Shakespeare wrote the plays attributed to him.
In the conclusion to their report on the computer analysis, the college analysts wrote,
Shakespeare fit within a fairly narrow, distinctive profile under our best tests. If his poems were written by a committee, it was a remarkably consistent committee. If they were written by any of the claimants we tested, it was a remarkably inconsistent claimant. If they were written by the Earl of Oxford, he must, after taking the name of Shakespeare, have undergone several stylistic changes of a type and magnitude unknown in Shakespeare's accepted works. And, for both feminine endings and open lines, he must have somehow found a way to carry on trends which are well known in Shakespeare's plays for almost a decade after his own death. These are not easy assumptions to make. We do not claim to have said the last word on this subject, nor to have solved the Shakespeare authorship mystery. But, if it strains credulity to suppose that Will Shakspere, the Stratford grain dealer, could have written Shakespeare's poems and plays, it also strains credulity to suppose that people like Oxford, with entirely different stylistic idiosyncrasies from Shakespeare, could have been the true authors of his poems and plays. (Ward Elliott and Robert Valenza. "Was the Earl of Oxford the True Shakespeare? A Computer-Aided Analysis." The Shakespeare Authorship Page, 2011. Access date: August 10, 2012. URL: <http://shakespeareauthorship.com/elval.html>
As for Francis Bacon (1561-1626)—the great philosopher, politician, scientist, lawyer, and writer in the court of Queen Elizabeth I—Bryan Magee writes the following in the Story of Philosophy (DK Publishing, 1998, page 74):
    He [Bacon] became a Member of Parliament at the age of 23, and eventually, in succession, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (like his father), Lord Chancellor, as well as becoming a baron and a viscount. At the age of 36 he published the collection of essays that has been his most popular book ever since. But throughout his adult life he was producing writings that were to have a historic influence on the direction taken by Western science and philosophy. Given that he had a public career so overcrowded with work and achievements, to suggest that in addition to all this he also wrote Shakespeare's plays is about as probable as that George Bernard Shaw's plays were written by Einstein.
In the twentieth century, a book by English schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney gave new life to the cause of de Vere as the real author of Shakespeare's works. After the book was published in 1920, a whole army of Looney supporters emerged to crown de Vere as the king of playwrights. The case for de Vere continues to receive widespread attention today. One supporter of the de Vere theory is the great Shakespearean actor Derek Jacobi. In an article in The Washington Times of April 25, 1997, he was quoted as saying, "I am highly suspicious of that gentleman from Stratford on Avon. I'm pretty convinced our playwright wasn't that fellow. This opinion is very unpopular with the good burghers of Stratford, I realize, but they also make their living on the legend of Shakespeare's local origins. I don't think it was him."

However, a large body of evidence in the form of hundreds of books and thousands of essays testifies that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear and the other great works. Moreover, authors in his own time praised him. Published works (including the First Folio of the plays)—carry the imprint of his byline. In one of his famous sonnets, Shakespeare refers to his first name as part of an extended pun, thereby obliquely identifying himself as the author of the sonnet. Below, on the left, is the text of that poem, Sonnet 135, which Shakespeare addressed to a woman, the so-called "Dark Lady" he focuses on most of the time in Sonnets 127-154. On the right are annotations:
 
Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy 'Will,' 'Will': (1) wish, inclination, desire; (2) Shakespeare's nickname
And 'Will' to boot, and 'Will' in overplus;  'Will': passion, carnality
More than enough am I that vex thee still, I bother you to point out that there's plenty of me to go around
To thy sweet will making addition thus.  I can fulfill your desire
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious, will: here, will can be taken as having a sexual connotation
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine? will: see note immediately above.
Shall will in others seem right gracious, will in others: the desires of others
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in 'Will,' add to thy 'Will' being rich in 'Will': rich with the attention I give you
One will of mine, to make thy large 'Will' more.
......Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;  don't refuse (kill) me, for I am kind
......Think all but one, and me in that one 'Will.'.

Apparently, beneath his outward appearance of normalcy, beneath his prosaic Stratford veneer, Shakespeare was a once-in-a-millennium mind at work, a genius with a capability far beyond the capability of all other geniuses, a man blessed by God. 

When one sorts everything out—when one measures one scholarly account against another, when one measures one version of history against another—he or she can arrive at only one conclusion: William Shakespeare, hawker and son of a glove-maker, did everything attributed to him. By divine gift, he could take quill in hand and make magic on paper.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)—one of the leading poets, playwrights, actors, and intellectuals in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras—well knew London and its people, including Shakespeare and other writers. In fact, he and Shakespeare conversed often in London's Mermaid Tavern and sometimes engaged in lively debates. In the 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, Jonson wrote a tribute to Shakespeare, saying, “He was not of an age, but for all time!” Jonson's tribute follows.

To the memory of my beloved,
The Author

Mr. William Shakespeare

And
what he hath left us
By Ben Jonson

To draw no envy [Shakespeare] on thy name,

Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame;
While I confesse thy writings to be such,
As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much.
'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these wayes
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise;
For seeliest Ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but eccho's right;
Or blinde Affection, which doth ne're advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;
Or crafty Malice, might pretend this praise,
And thine to ruine, where it seem'd to raise.
These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore,
Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more?
But thou art proofe against them, and indeed
Above th' ill fortune of them, or the need.
I, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age !
The applause ! delight ! the wonder of our Stage !
My Shakespeare, rise; I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye
A little further, to make thee a roome :
Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses ;
I meane with great, but disproportion'd Muses :
For, if I thought my judgement were of yeeres,
I should commit thee surely with thy peeres,
And tell, how farre thou dist our Lily out-shine,
Or sporting Kid or Marlowes mighty line.
And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke
For names; but call forth thund'ring Æschilus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Paccuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread,
And shake a stage : Or, when thy sockes were on,
Leave thee alone, for the comparison
Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britaine, thou hast one to showe,
To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time !
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When like Apollo he came forth to warme
Our eares, or like a Mercury to charme !
Nature her selfe was proud of his designes,
And joy'd to weare the dressing of his lines !
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit.
The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;
But antiquated, and deserted lye
As they were not of Natures family.
Yet must I not give Nature all: Thy Art,
My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part;
For though the Poets matter, Nature be,
His Art doth give the fashion. And, that he,
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses anvile : turne the same,
(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame;
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scorne,
For a good Poet's made, as well as borne.
And such wert thou. Looke how the fathers face
Lives in his issue, even so, the race
Of Shakespeares minde, and manners brightly shines
In his well toned, and true-filed lines :
In each of which, he seemes to shake a Lance,
As brandish't at the eyes of Ignorance.
Sweet swan of Avon! what a fight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appeare,
And make those flights upon the bankes of Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere
Advanc'd, and made a Constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Starre of Poets, and with rage,
Or influence, chide, or cheere the drooping Stage;
Which, since thy flight fro' hence, hath mourn'd like night,
And despaires day, but for thy Volumes light.

Although Jonson praised Shakespeare, he also criticized him. But in so doing, he revealed his intimate knowledge of Shakespeare as a friend, colleague, and drinking companion. Jonson wrote the following about Shakespeare in "De Shakespeare Nostrat" ("Of Our Countrymen, Shakespeare"):

I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand. Which they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their ignorance, who choose that circumstance to commend their friend by, wherein he most faulted. And to justifie mine owne candor, (for I lov'd the man, and doe honour his memory (on this side Idolatry) as much as any.) Hee was (indeed) honest, and of an open, and free nature: had an excellent Phantsie; brave notions, and gentle expressions: wherein hee flow'd with that facility, that sometime it was necessary he should be stop'd: Sufflaminandus erat; as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his owne power; would the rule of it had beene so too. Many times hee fell into those things, could not escape laughter: As when hee said in the person of Cæsar, one speaking to him; Cæsar thou dost me wrong. Hee replyed: Cæsar did never wrong, but with just cause: and such like; which were ridiculous. But hee redeemed his vices, with his vertues. There was ever more in him to be praysed, then to be pardoned.

It strains credulity to maintain that Shakespeare was a frauda mere uneducated swainwho could fool the likes of Jonson. (Notice that Jonson wrote that he honored the memory of Shakespeare "on this side of Idolatry.")

Also praising Shakespeare in the First Folio was Hugh Holland (1569-1633), a poet, scholar, and friend of the Duke of Buckingham (George Villiers, 1592-1628), a favorite of King James I. Here is Holland's tribute.

Upon the Lines and Life of the Famous
Scenicke Poet, Master William

S H A K E S P E A R E

By Hugh Holland

Those hands, which you so clapt, go now, and wring
You Britaines brave; for done are Shakespeares dayes :
His dayes are done, that made the dainty Playes,
Which made the Globe of heav'n and earth to ring.
Dry'de is that veine, dry'd is the Thespian Spring,
Turn'd all to teares, and Phoebus clouds his rayes :
That corp's, that coffin now besticke those bayes,
Which crown'd him Poet first, then Poets King.
If Tragedies might any Prologue have,
All those he made, would scarse make a one to this :
Where Fame, now that he gone is to the grave
(Deaths publique tyring-house) the Nuncius is,
For though his line of life went soone about,
The life yet of his lines shall never out.

A third writer who mentioned Shakespeare's authorship was Leonard Digges (1588-1635), a poet and translator. He wrote a notation inside the cover of a book of poetry that James Mabbe gave to Will Baker. Mabbe, Baker, and Digges had become friends when they attended Oxford University. The book, entitled Rimas, was by Lope de Vega (1562-1635), one of Spain's greatest poets. In his notation, Digges compares the Spanish author with Shakespeare:
Will Baker: Knowinge
that Mr Mab was to
sende you this Booke
of sonets, wch with Spaniards
here is accounted of their
Lope de Vega as in Englande
we sholde of . . . Will
Shakespeare [,] I colde not
but insert thus much to
you, that if you like
him not, you muste neuer
neuer reade Spanishe Poet
The Lope de Vega book with the inscription is in the possession of Oxford University's Balliol College. Digges also wrote the following tribute to Shakespeare in the First Folio.

To the Memorie
of the deceased Author Maister

W. S. Shakespeare

By Leonard Digges


Shake-speare, at length thy pious fellowes give

The world thy Workes: thy Workes, by which, out-live

Thy Tombe, thy name must when that stone is rent,

And Time dissolves thy Stratford Moniment,

Here we alive shall view thee still. This Booke,

When Brasse and Marble fade, shall make thee looke

Fresh to all Ages : when Posteritie

Shall loath what's new, thinke all is prodegie

That is not Shake-speares; ev'ry Line, each Verse

Here shall revive, redeeme thee from thy Herse.

Nor Fire, nor cankring Age, as Naso said,

Of his, thy wit-fraught Booke shall once invade.

Nor shall I e're beleeve, or thinke thee dead.

(Though mist) untill our bankrout Stage be sped

(Imposible) with some new straine t'out-do

Passions of Juliet, and her Romeo ;

Or till I heare a Scene more nobly take,

Then when thy half-Sword parlying Romans spake.

Till these, till any of thy Volumes rest
with more fire, more feeling be exprest,
Be sure, our Shake-speare, thou canst never dye,

But crown'd with Lawrell, live eternally.

Digges's friend Mabbe wrote the following tribute, also published in the First Folio.
WEE wondred (Shake-speare) that thou went'st so soone
From the Worlds-Stage, to the Graves-Tyring-roome.

Wee thought thee dead, but this thy printed worth,

Tels thy Spectators, that thou went'st but forth

To enter with applause. An Actors Art,

Can dye, and live, to acte a second part.

That's but an Exit of Mortalitie;

This, a Re-entrance to a Plaudite.

Indeed, Shakespeare did not die. He lived on in words—his words, not those of de Vere or anyone else.