References to Shake-speare

For centuries an enormous effort has been spent on investigating literature contemporary with Shake-speare to determine what his contemporaries had to say about him. They must have had something to say about him, yet, suggestively, the references that have been found are cryptic, never positively identifying any man. There is simply no reason for this if the author was Shakspur.

On the other hand, anti-Stratfordians have had a tendency to "throw out the baby with the bathwater" in that they have ignored the few known references to the person of Shake-speare made by his contemporaries, because they seem too vague, or they don't fit their candidates. These references are not as vague as they appear. They fit Will Derby better than any other candidate, including Shakspur.

The following sections discuss what are generally agreed to be the most likely references to the person of Shake-speare during the life of the man Shakspur. These are all references to Shake-speare proposed by orthodox Stratfordians.

Edmund Spenser 
Thomas Heywood 
John Davies of Hereford
Willobie His Avisa 
Francis Beaumont

Edmund Spenser

Two quotes from Spenser are discussed in this section, both of which have often been considered to reference Shake-speare.

Spenser's "Aetion"

Earlier, we read in the discussion of William Stanley's brother Ferdinando:
Spenser, the poet, personified Ferdindando as "Amyntas," and his Countess as "Amaryllis."

The poem in which Spenser personifies Ferdinando and his wife as Amyntas and Amaryllis is Colin Clout's Come Home Again, the relevant portion being:

There also is (ah no, he is not now)
But since I said he is, he is quite gone,
Amyntas quite is gone, and lies full low,
Hauing his Amaryllis left to mone.
Helpe, O ye shepheards helpe ye all in this,
Helpe Amaryllis this her losse to mourne:
Her losse is yours, your losse Amyntas is,
Amyntas floure of Shepheards pride forlorne:
He whilest he liued was the noblest swaine,
That euer piped in an oaten quill:
Both did he other, which could pipe, maintaine,
And eke could pipe himselfe with passing skill.
Immediately after these lines concerning Ferdinando, we read:
And here, though last not least is Aetion,
A gentler shepheard may nowhere be found:
Whose Muse, full of high thoughts invention,
Doth, like himselfe, heroically sound.
The lines in this poem concerning Ferdinando and his wife were added after Ferdinando's death ("Amyntas quite is gone and lies full lowe"), so William would have assumed the title of Earl of Derby and become the head of the house of Stanley, the Eagle's Nest. "Aetion" derives from the Greek "Aetos", meaning eagle [1]. So, immediately after the lines praising other Stanley family members, Spenser seems to refer to William Stanley (Aetion) as a poet (shepherd was the poetic term for the poets) full of invention—Donne's word as well. Additionally, Spenser claimed relationship to the Stanley family, and in Colin Clout's Come Home Again, he is writing about people he knows.
(The Spencer family relationship to the Stanleys is through Ferdinando's wife Alice Spencer. The Spencer's, who continue to exist in aristocratic circles today, for example the late Lady Diana, correspondingly claim kinship to Edmund Spenser.)

Some orthodox scholars of Shake-speare believe that the lines regarding Aetion refer to Shake-speare. I think they do, but not to Shakspur. It was the discovery of this reference that first sent Abel Lefranc, a professor of French literature who had become suspicious of the Stratfordian explanation, on the trail of Derby, and Lefranc became one of the first "Derbyites".

The Tears of the Muses

Spenser makes another reference that has been thought to refer to Shake-speare. This much discussed and disputed reference comes from Spenser's The Tears of the Muses, which Spenser dedicated to Alice (Spenser's "Amaryllis" in Colin Clout), William Stanley's sister-in-law. This collection of poems laments the recent fall from quality of theatrical production and poetic arts in general. The lines in question are:

All these, and all that els the Comick Stage
With seasoned wit and goodly pleasance graced,
By which mans life in his likest image
Was limned forth, are wholly now defaced;
And whose sweet wits which wont the like to frame,
Are now despizd, and made a laughing game.

And the man whom Nature selfe had made
To mock herselfe and Truth to imitate
With kindly counter under mimic shade,
Our pleasant Willy, Ah! is dead of late;
With whom all joy and jolly meriment
Is also deaded and in doleur drent.

In stead thereof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scornful Follie with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in rymes of shameles ribauldrie
Without regard, or due Decorum kept,
Each idle wit at will presumes to make,
And doth the Learneds taske upon him take.

But that same gentle spirit from whose pen
Large streams of honnie and sweete Nectar flowe,
Scorning the boldnes of such base-borne men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle Cell,
Than so himself to mockerie to sell.

While admittedly it is pleasant to enjoy the Spenser in itself, we are after the meaning here. As Sir George Greenwood put it:

If this is an allusion to Shakespeare, as Collier and others affirm, it furnishes an additional argument in support of the contention that Shakespeare and Shakspere are not identical.

Greenwood (not to be confused with Greenstreet, the first Derbyite) was "agnostic", in the sense that he did not propose an alternative to the man from Stratford-on-Avon and only pointed out how unlikely that case was. But we can pursue an obvious fit for the above lines of Spenser. We know that William Stanley had a tendency to seclude himself, and we know this even from the all too brief documentation of his life. In his travels, his chaperone and tutor—and he was also spying on William for the spymaster Walsingham—noted how William had wanted to spend time in a remote location. And in the time of the report of the Jesuit spy mentioned above, William and his wife were secluded in a remote cottage. It could well be such a retirement that Spenser refers to when he says that his subject did "rather choose to sit in idle Cell".

Spenser is clearly talking about a writer, and one who is a noble as contrasted to "base-borne men". And he refers to the writer not only as "Willie", but as "our Willie". This is a work dedicated to a family member of William's, a family to which Spenser believed he belonged. (And who or what is this "mimic shade" over "our Willy"? Perhaps the players William Stanley hangs out with, if not simply the actor Shakspur. [2])

But the lines of Spenser's quoted above contain even more information, information that pertains to the authorship discussion on a broader level. We note that Spenser is clearly inferring that popular writing is associated with base-borne men, and his subject would rather retire "Than so himself to mockerie to sell". While this may not have been the only reason that William Stanley used the nom-de-plume Shake-speare and had a front-man, I suspect it was the biggest one.

We also read that "Nature selfe had made" the author's abilities, and this will become a famous attribute of Shake-speare's, as in Ben Jonson's cryptic, almost certainly humorous, but largely obscure introductory material to the First Folio collection of the works of Shake-speare.

Thomas Heywood

The poet and playwright Thomas Heywood knew Will Derby. This makes the following quote from Heywood meaningful:
Melodious Shake-speare, whose enchanting quill
Commandeth mirth and passion, was but Will.

Here we have the hyphenated "Shake-speare" associated with the name Will, a name we know Will Derby used and one that we do not know William Shakspur used.

For more on Heywood and Stanley, see Handwriting and Sir Thomas More.

John Davies of Hereford

The following epigram is from Scourge of Folly (approximately 1611) by John Davies:

To our English Terence, Mr. Will: Shake-speare:
Some say good Will (which I in sport do sing)
Had'st thou not plaid some Kingly parts in sport,
Thou had'st bin a companion for a King;
And beene a King among the meaner sort.
Some others raile; but, raile as they think fit,
Thou hast no rayling, but a raigning Wit;
And honesty thou sow'st which they do reape;
So, to increase their
Stocke which they do keepe.

(The apparently odd italicization is Davies'.)

Here we have an intimate of the Derby household, in fact, Will Derby's writing instructor, speaking of Shake-speare and Will together. Note that not only is the "Shake-speare" hyphenated, but the "Will:" has a colon, just as Will Derby signed his name (see the image of his signature at the end of the home page). And there is a great deal more that can be said about this epigram.

The reference to "Terence" in this epigram has been taken in different ways. To the Stratfordians, Davies has correlated Terence and Shake-speare only because Terence was a great playwright. Anti-Stratfordians agree with that as far as it goes, but also look closer at the figure of Terence. They have concentrated on the accusations that Terence was not the writer of the plays attributed to him but was instead a front-man for a noble. If this "malicious and implausible charge" [1] was believed in Shake-speare's time, it might justify the anti-Stratfordians in suggesting that Davies knew that Shake-speare was a front-man, but that makes no sense: they claim (as I claim) that Shakspur was the front-man, Shake-speare the playwright. So even if Terence was a front-man, which is highly doubtful, Davies is not castigating "our English Terence" here, but rather praising his "raigning Wit". I claim that Davies knew who Shake-speare was, and knew he had a front-man.

Time to look still closer at Terence. He seems a good fit for correlating with Shake-speare in that he was criticized for not following classical models (in Terence's case, Greek), just as Ben Jonson criticized Shake-speare for not following what he considered his own more purely classical form. This would seem acceptable to Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians alike. But there is something more about Terence that seems to me to make the John Davies epigram clear: Terence had the services of a leading actor from the beginning of his career, just as, I believe, Will Derby had the services of the actor Shakspur from the time of the first Shakspeare plays, likely performed by Derby's father's or brother's companies.

The rest of the epigram may be briefly addressed and strongly favors the Derbyite interpretation. Davies is saying that Shake-speare played the part of a king ("in sport", not professionally), and this somehow affected his chance to become a King. To put it mildly, Shakspur was not likely to become King. But Will Derby, informally but dangerously playing the parts of Kings in plays, had a legitimate claim. This assumes, of course, that Derby acted in amateur theatricals. I have found no direct evidence of this, but we do know that Derby's wife, brother and sons all acted in such a way [2].Given this, and the fact that Derby himself was by far the one most theatrically inclined in the family, I think it safe to say he also acted, although perhaps not after he became earl. And note this:

In Private Devotions and Miscellanies of James, Seventh Earl of Derby, K. G., I find this piece of wisdom, written by William Stanley's son James, as to why he (James), did not wish to be referred to as the King of the Isle of Man:

It is not for a King to be subject, but to the King of Kings. Nor doth it please a King, that any of his Subjects should too much love that Name; were it but to act in a Play: Especially some families more than others.

Lucas (Shakespeare's Vital Secret) was the first to point out the meaning of "And beene a King among the meaner sort". This "meaner" is "lesser", and in particular meant at that time relationship through the female line. We saw earlier where Spenser referred to his relationship with Will Derby's sister-in-law as one "of which I meanest boast myself to be". This was precisely a usage of "mean" there as well. Derby's claim to the throne came through his mother.

Davie's epigram concludes with additional words that support the idea that (the still living) Shake-speare was not directly profiting from his works, that he "sow'st which they do reape". It has recently been pointed out to me [3] that Davies is making a word play on plant names, with "honesty" and "Stocke", the two words not italicized in the otherwise italicized last two lines. Honesty, or sweet honesty, was known then as now as "money plant". It is clear that Davies is saying that someone is profiting from Shake-speare's work: reaping the money plant that Shake-speare has sown. This at a time when Shakspur was at his most successful. All this in conjunction with the "Will:" of the dedication make this startling epigram a strong case for Will Derby as Shake-speare.

But there is even more with Davies.

In his book Microcosmos, Davies has this famous entry that appears to refer to Shake-speare (in the following, Davies's poem is on the right, Davies's own comments on the left):

W.S. R.B. Players, I love yee, and your Qualitie,
As ye are Men, that pass time not abus'd:
And some I love for painting, poesie,
saith, that paint-
ing is a dumb
Poesy, & Poe-
sy a speaking
And say fell Fortune cannot be excus'd
That hath for better uses you refus'd:
Wit, Courage, good shape, good partes, and all good,
As long as al these goods are no worse us'd,
Roscius was
said for his ex-
cellency in his
quality, to be
only worthie
to come on
the stage, and
for his hone-
sty to be more
worthy then to
come theron.
And though the stage doth staine pure gentle bloud,
Yet generous yee are in minde and moode.

About which the Shakespere Allusion Book says
".. here we find W. S. and R. B. [Shakespere and Richard Burbage] in company; and the text of both passages is sufficiently explicit to show whom Davies had in mind."
The interpolated explanation "[Shakespere and Richard Burbage]" is in the Shakespere Allusion Book. I agree that Davies is talking about Shake-speare, but I don't believe he is talking about Shakspur. Stanley's writing teacher is here referring to William Stanley ("W. S.") and the manager/lead actor of Derby's Men, Robert Browne ("R. B."). Davies entry is published in 1603, the year that Robert Browne died, having led Derby's Men from approximately 1598-1603. Any doubt about this is removed by the penultimate line:
And though the stage doth staine pure gentle bloud
Shakspur had no gentle blood, and Stanley did. That the stage stained gentle blood is the whole idea of why he is hidden, referred to, for example, as "W. S." and not by his name. If he was Shakspur, Davies would have simply used his name explicitly, and he would have never mentioned "gentle bloud".

Peace, do ye know what ye say? My lord a player?
Let us not meddle with such matters.

Sir Thomas More III,ii

And in his book The Civile Warres of Death and Fortune, published in 1605, Davies again glosses "some" with the same initials:

Stage plaiers Some followed her by acting all mens parts
These on a Stage she rais'd (in scorne) to fall:
and made them Mirrors, by their acting Arts,
Wherein men saw their faults, thogh ne'r so small:
W. S. R. B. Yet some she guerdond not, to their desarts;
But, othersome, were but ill-Action all:
Who while they acted ill, ill staid behinde,
(By custom of their maners) in their minde.

It is hard to imagine how, as the Riverside Shakespeare has it "Two years later he again links them in what appears to be their frustrated dramatic efforts", since Burbage and Shakspur were at the very height of their fortune. But Robert Browne had just "dyed very pore", and if William Stanley was writing the works of Shake-speare, he was certainly not getting his just deserts for it.

Willobie His Avisa

In 1594, an apparently harmless poem called Willobie His Avisa was published at Oxford. A dedication was written by "Hadrian Dorrell" who claimed to have found the poem in a room associated with one "Henry Willobie". Whether any of the names are real is unknown—there was a Henry Willoughbie at Oxford a few years earlier but there is no record of a Hadrian Dorrell. (Willoughbie was at St John's, Oxford, just as William Stanley was.)

The reason this otherwise unexceptional poem has gathered a lot of attention is that it contains the first ever literary reference to Shake-speare, where it mentions both Shake-speare and his poem The Rape of Lucrece in the line:

"and Shake-speare paints poore Lucrece rape".

Willobie his Avisa was popular, but it was suppressed, and the second edition contains an elaborate disclaimer stating that it had been written decades earlier and concerned imaginary characters, disclaimers that are generally assumed to have been the result of pressure. A closer look may reveal why this poem was suppressed.

The story of the poem is the unsuccessful attempt by five different suitors to woo one Avisa. The suitors are:

The final wooer, referred to in the poem as "H. W.", presumably Henry Willobie, hopes to get some help. He consults one W. S., who is referred to as "the old player", one who was previously unsuccessful in wooing Avisa. This has excited more than a little speculation, because W. S. are the initials of William Shake-speare and H. W. are the initials of Henry Wriothesly, the Earl of Southhampton, to whom "Shake-speare" had dedicated "Lucrece" and "Adonis" in this and the preceding year.

But few people have discussed the obvious fact that the initials W. S. do not apply to any of the early suitors in the play unless they belong to one of the suitors whose names are not supplied. The "old player" may well be the first suitor. And the problem then and now with that is that the first suitor is described as "noble". A problem then because it would be quite inappropriate for a commoner to so implicate an aristocrat in his poem, and a problem now because Shakspur was not of noble birth. But more to the point, W. S. would then seem to identify a noble with the initials W. S. Such as William Stanley. William Stanley had been at Oxford years earlier, and presumably been a player in the College theatricals (hence, "old player").

The book, published in 1594 was almost immediately suppressed. And it is in 1594 that William Stanley became something more than just another nobleman—with the untimely death of his brother, he was suddenly the sixth Earl of Derby.

Francis Beaumont

An interesting allusion to Shake-speare in Beaumont's first play was recently proposed [1]. While I agree that a previously unrecognized allusion may have been found, I disagree with the interpretation provided. In Beaumont's play, The Woman Hater the following extract is from a speech on social climbing at court:

you shall see many legges too; amongst the rest you shall behold one payre, the feete of which, were in times past socklesse, but are now through the change of time (that alters all thinges) very strangely become the legges of a Knight and a Courtier; another payre you shall see, that were heir apparent legs to a Glover, these legges hope shortly to be honourable; when they pass by they will bowe, and the mouth to these legges will seem to offer you some Courtship.

The author of this article comments as follows:

Such an allusion to the eldest son ('heire apparent') of a glover, the trade of Shakespeare's father, matched with the pun on 'socklesse', someone now wearing a comedian's soc, could only have pointed at Shakespeare as a King's Man and therefore in some respects a new courtier.

But this explanation is only possible if Shake-speare had four "legges". Clearly, Beaumont is describing two different people, and I think they are Shake-speare (that is, Will Derby) and Shakspur. The play in question was published in 1607 and generally dated 1606. In 1601, Shakspur had become a gentleman, acquiring the dubious coat of arms of his recently deceased father - he was "heir apparent... to a Glover". In 1601 also, Will Derby became a Knight of the Garter ("Knight"), and in 1603 a member of the Privy Council. In addition, details of the law suit that had long plagued Derby were largely settled in 1602, and confirmed by a private act of Parliament in 1607. I think the passage makes most sense if we view the first "payre of legges" as belonging to Will Derby, and the second as belonging to William Shakspur. Note Beaumont's use of "strangely" in reference to the first: Will Derby was indeed Lord Strange [2]. Like Shakspur, the son of a glover and now a gentleman, Derby, who a short time earlier had been cash-strapped and a confidant of the players, had indeed passed through a "change of time".

What is especially interesting in light of the authorship controversy is this juxtaposition of Derby and Shakspur, if those are in fact who Beaumont is referring to. I will pass by otherwise completely Beaumont's concluding ribald and contemptuous comment on Shakspur.


Notes on Edmund Spenser

Notes on John Davies of Hereford

Notes on Francis Beaumont