THE SHAKESPEARE IDENTITY PROBLEM

CHAPTER 3: SIGNATURES (Part 5)

 

Since writing chapter 3, I have found this book:

English Literary Autographs 1550 - 1650: Edited by Dr. W.W.Greg,(1925).

Part I Dramatists
This part has 30 plates of writing by dramatists who wrote for the public theatre. Not all 30 are professional writers however: Henslowe, the theatre manager, the Master of the Revels, and one or two actors are included. And for some known dramatists there was no record then found of their writing which could be included. But George Peele, John Lyly, John Marston, Thomas Lodge, Thomas Nashe, Thomas Heywood, Benjamin Jonson and William Stanley, Earl of Derby, are included.

Part II Poets
This part has 30 plates devoted to poets, including all who wrote plays other than for the popular stage. These include Arthur Golding, George Gascoigne, Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Mary Herbert Countess of Pembroke, ffulke Greville Lord Brooke, Edward Lord Herbert, George Herbert, and Thomas Churchyard.

Part III Prose Writers
This part includes Gabriel Harvey, Sir Walter Ralegh, and Francis Bacon.

In his "Preface and Postscript" Dr. Greg says .."intensive study of...writing is now recognized as essential to the effective study of the text."

William Shaksper of Stratford on Avon is not included in this work. Dr. Greg neatly avoids including Shaxper's six available signatures as follows:

"Of course, it will be understood that of many writers I should have liked to include no autograph was available, beyond, in some cases, a bare signature, which I had decided was of no use for my purposes."

Had Dr. Greg included the six signatures of Shaxper of Stratford on Avon the difference would have been plain for all to see. Shaxper's are almost illegible illiterate scrawl, but all the writings included in Dr. Greg's book are elegant, experienced skilful handwritings. There are different styles: some being faster writers with simpler letter formation, others are closer to copperplate, and still others more flowery and ornate. But there can be no doubt about any of them. They can all write, as would have to have been the case for any Elizabethan dramatist, poet, or prose author.

You should, if at all possible, get to see a copy of this important book. Unfortunately it will not be easy. Some university libraries have it. But you will probably find it in the Rare Books Collection, and only available to post-graduate scholars by special permission. Some libraries may have photocopied the entire volume, and even access to that may be limited. But I assure you it is well worth every effort on your part to examine the contents of this record of Elizabethan writers' handwriting and signatures.

Web space limitations prevent me from including some of them here, but I have chosen just one, that of Ben Jonson. The reason is that he came from a somewhat similar background as a commoner to that of William Shaxper, although a little more educated within his family. He was the posthumous son of a minister of Scots descent, and stepson of a master bricklayer. He did not, so far as is known, attend a university. But he was clever enough for his step-father to have afforded to pay for him to attend a private school in St. Martin's Lane. Jonson was then sent to Westminster school, at the expense, it is said, of William Camden, who became head of that famous school. After this Jonson had to begin his working life in the building construction business, but escaped from that into military service in the Low Countries where the forces were commanded by Sir Francis Vere. Jonson married at about this time. By age 25 he was back in London and had established himself as an actor (a bad one, it's said) and a playwright. He called his wife "a shrew, but honest", and had several children by her but for about 5 years lived away from her thanks to Lord Albany, whose library books Jonson studied intensively and made himself into a scholar.

Jonson lived from 1572 to 1637. Here's the ending of what he wrote to the Queen introducing his The Masque of Queenes. As Elizabeth died in 1603 this must have been written when he was 31 or younger.

ben

When you look at Jonson's writing you can see at once that this shows he was well experienced with pen and ink, and a writer with some care and speed. Yet his total literary production was probably about the same, possibly somewhat less, than that of the enigmatic, elusive, unknown person who was William Shakespeare.

If you are not prepared to accept my (experienced) word for it that, based on his known signatures, William Shaxper of Stratford on Avon could never have been a writer in the days of pen and ink, then you should somehow gain access to Dr. Greg's valuable book which contains excellent third party evidence leading without doubt to the same conclusion.

 


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