Proving Shakespeare – Webinar now live!

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Our recording of the rather heated webinar, ‘Proving Shakespeare’, which took place last Friday is now live. I am joined by Professor Stanley Wells C.B.E. and Dr Ros Barber. The webinar was sponsored by Cambridge University Press and marked the publication of Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy. There is plenty of all three in what you are about to hear…

To see the webinar, just click ‘play’ in the box below…

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • Jerry Ferraccio

    1) There is no proof Shakespeare was illiterate: even if you ignore the writing, he was an actor (hello, you have to be able to read a script). Now, I am well aware that reading and writing were taught as two separate skills in Shakespeare’s day, but calling him “illiterate” is just as fantasy-based as anything else.

    2) He wasn’t a commoner: he was the son of an alderman/bailiff from a successful market town.

    3) Oh, and said town? Produced one of the most successful London printers (Richard Field) and a Lord Mayor of London (Hugh Clopton). More willful hogwashery!

    4) The rest of your argument is mooted by the fact you don’t understand the difference between the Medieval Period ( from the end of the 5th century through to the start of the Early Modern period in 1485) and said Early Modern Period.

    5) Shakespeare paralleled his historic source material, and when he wrote of royalty “in trouble” he always set the play somewhere else than England. His plays weren’t that daring AT THE TIME. Your conclusions are . . .well . . . not well thought.

  • Jerry Ferraccio

    ZIng! Don’t bring fact into this, Tom: it makes one ever so cross!

  • SarahHawcock

    These 2 Stradfordians are so dismissive and ignornant of any view which doesn’t correspond with their own. “Why don’t you want it to be him?” There would be no problem with the man from Stratford being the author if they had decent evidence to prove what they claim which they clearly do not!

  • Greg Koch

    The failure here is in scientific study. You’re wrong to think the print matter of books – in its infancy, with “mewling and puking” publishers terrified by religious zealots and other censors, especially Elizabethan henchmen – could remotely serve as proof of anything. You must open your mind to scientific inquiry, and transport yourself back to Shakespearean times to understand anything about composing great poetic works: an illiterate commoner from a no-name place called “Stratford” (no one of considerable rank came from there) would never be allowed to voice poetic stories about royals and nobility as entertainment for crown and court over more than a decade. Think about the restrictions at the time on natural selection. Develop a feel for the inevitable, unethical medieval torture. The country bloke from Stratford would not even last five minutes in front of courtiers and foreign envoys at Elizabeth’s court. Much less a decade. It’s also unnatural to position an ignorant commoner of the Middle Ages into some major role as a great poet. Unless it’s financial? Akin to stuffing households in Stratford to the rafters with expensive estate goods purchased at Sotheby’s? To transform a small farm community into something of great cultural importance for the arts. There isn’t any need to pretend some scientific evidence for that motivation.

  • Seb

    These men are idiots. Really like children. Patronising, stubborn, arrogant and sentimental. They made utter fools of themselves. Ros Barber wiped the floor with them.

  • Ted Bacino

    You may want to check out the novel “The Shakespeare Conspiracy.”
    The web site is

  • Tom Reedy

    Jonson did not have the elevated bardolic opinion of Shakespeare as you do (or indeed as the majority of moderns do, both Strat and anti-Strat). Are you in awe of any of your friends or acquaintances? Can you predict what their reputation will be in 100 years? Neither could Jonson. Shakespeare had a reputation as an excellent poet and a popular playwright, but it was hardly of the “greatest writer in the universe” type. This type of bardolatry is the necessary condition for anti-Stratfordism to form, for only by transforming him into a literary god can the real man be separated from his work.

  • Bruce Leyland

    —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.—

    One can certainly interpret these lines as affectionate. But they’re not exactly respectful – they don’t suggest any awe. Even the “excellent Phantsie” seems like faint praise. Jonson is weighing his good qualities against he foibles. This can be “explained” by Jonson’s egotism. Jonson was quite capable of sober and appreciative reflection – as in his Epigrams. And of all the contemporaries of Shakespeare, Jonson is perhaps best-placed to fully appreciate his genius.

    So, I doubt that Jonson can really be thinking about the writer here. I think he’s talking about the front-man – whom he knowingly misrepresented (though again not without ambiguity) in the First Folio commendations – and this is more of the same though – in his sunset years – inching towards a fuller disclosure.

    P.S. Never blotting a line has often been cited by Stratfordians – as evidence that others saw him write, and by Doubters – that the plays arrived ready-made. I’m sure others must have noted that Hand D of Sir Thomas More – the only MS we have – is full of blots.

  • psi

    I think they are making fun of the fact that Southampton is, of course, instrumentally central to the whole appearance of the name “Shakespeare” as a literary phenomenon in 1593. Before that, no one had ever heard of him (Green’s Groatsworth being, as recent research is showing, about Edward Allyn, not Shakspere). I don’t think it literally means that the author thought Southampton didn’t know the real story of the authorship — only that by virtue of having Venus and Adonis dedicated to him, he became the historical linchpin of the ruse. Later in the play, Southampton’s broken engagement to Elizabeth Vere is satirized prominently. The author of the Parnassus plays was definitely on the inside loop – I think Southampton was too.

  • psi

    Yes Ed, very well put. Ms. Barber was an eloquent reminder of how little the Birthplace Trust has to offer the world when it comes to comprehending the Bard. It was clear from the first salvos that the Rev. Edmondson and others fired months ago in this discussion that, to them, Shakespeare was a possession, a commodity, that they feared losing. If that is what Shakespeare is, they can have him. The Oxfordians continue to expose the deeply mythic and autobiographical elements of the plays that make them living things, and this process cannot be stopped by the means the Birthplace Trust is employing to short circuit the discussion.

  • psi

    Right. Sure thing. What the Rev. Edmondson is defending has very little to do with Shakespeare, about whom he does not seem to know very much at all, and a great deal to do with defending a multimillion dollar tourist industry of whom he is the hired spokesman. You say that it is important that anyone who doubts the Stratford myth should be known as an “anti-Shakespearean” — and you are, of course, correct. Your position is indefensible if you do not begin with pejorative labels and continue to poison the public discourse with them. I have spent twenty years of scholarly research studying Shakespeare and have published multiple times in peer reviewed journals about various aspects of the plays and poems. Calling me (and doubters in general) an anti-Shakespearean is merely an eloquent illustration of the fact that you have no stronger argument. Good luck with that.

  • psi

    Dominic, I agree with you abut Gullio being a caricature of Southampton, but I don’t agree that the play does not lampoon Shakespeare – or, more accurately – those who believe in the fig leaf of the name on the title pages. When Gullio gushes on about “our fellow Shakespeare” and compares him to “that writer Metamorphoses,” this is a brilliant Saturday Night Live (or, if you will, Beyond the Fringe) send up of the Stratford Birthplace Trust’s sacred belief in what Americans since Herman Melville like to call “the divine William.” Your interpretation is singularly non-literary, but also required by your presuppositions. There is another way to read these plays, and it is a stronger and more nuanced way. The author was already laughing at your faith.

  • Tom Reedy

    Flag away.

  • Tom Reedy

    Think Mercutio.

  • calendar

    I have flagged this as inappropriate. I will make my own statements – thank you very much.

  • Tom Reedy

    What he meant to say was, “Once you exclude all the documentary evidence from his lifetime that supports Shakespeare as a writer (i.e. Revels accounts, stationers’ registrations, title pages, testimony from contemporaries, both printed and handwritten), THEN no documentary evidence supports the claim that Shakespeare was a writer.”

  • calendar

    “This greedy behaviour is entirely inconsistent with the character of an author who writes unfailingly generous work. If the writer were so unconcerned with the well-being of others, there would be clear evidence of this in the body of intensely human work he produced. But there there is none.”

    Indeed Bruce.

    “I am not covetous for gold, nor care I who doth feed upon my cost.” – Henry V

  • Bruce Leyland

    Let me assist… Jonson says of Shakespeare..

    … and gentle expressions, wherein he flowed with that facility that sometimeit was necessary he should be stopped.

  • Bruce Leyland

    I don’t think my judgement of Shakespeare is harsh. He was a man of his times – perhaps no more or less. He traded in grain (we know from his suit against Philip Rogers). We know his daughter Judith was certainly illiterate (Susannah possibly not – one signature from her old age) – this is pretty standard. But it’s not the same high standard that distinguishes Shakespeare’s work. My assessment of Shakespeare of Stratford is based on the very few known and unvarnished facts available – all mundane, and none of them edifying.

    It’s true I don’t believe he can be the author of the greatest works. I’m sorry to do a tit-for-tat. But it’s important for the debate to draw attention to your reverse-snobbery towards an aristocratic candidate – based on no evidence at all, or research on this candidate. Neville was an overwhelmingly highly-regarded statesman – a brilliant speaker, and writer. James I sought his help with writing. Immediately before Cuffe was hung, drawn, and quartered, with his last words, he had the presence of mind to attempt to exhonerate Neville from the Essex rebellion. Certainly, Neville had financial advantages unavailable to the Stratford man, but Elizabeth didn’t make him Ambassador to France because he was a rich kid. Neville is a worthy candidate for the writer of Shakespeare’s works. None of the evidence concerning Shakespeare’s life suggests that he is. None whatsoever.

  • Dominic Hughes

    I’ve seen Diana Price and it is clear that she knows as little about documentary evidence as you do. I know of no rational system of evidence in which documentary evidence is excluded or dismissed because 1.) one person subjectively chooses to treat it as ” not personal”; and/or 2.) it does not fall within the lifetime of the subject of the investigation. Perhaps you would like to explain why Ms. Price chooses to employ these filters on the evidence.

    As to the claim that ” the documentary evidence that exists from his lifetime does not support a claim that Shakespeare was a writer,” this assertion is factually incorrect. I would be more than happy to present the case, but I see that you are more satisfied by argument by appeal to authority.

  • Dominic Hughes

    Sorry, but you are missing the entire point of the ‘Parnassus’ plays, in that they concern the plight of the scholar who is unable to employ his learning and art to make a living in Elizabethan society. The Gullio episodes illustrate the problems in the patronage system, and depict the university wit Ingenioso [Thomas Nashe] prostituting himself to win the patronage of the Earl of Southampton, but losing out in the struggle for that patronage to a non-university-educated playwright for the common stage and a player — Mr. William Shakespeare. The dedications of V&A and Lucrece to Southampton are very simply explained by this scenario, and, in fact, it can be shown that Nashe parodied the dedication to V&A in a wicked send-up of Southampton, further corroborating the depiction of the Nashe and Shakespeare in ‘Parnassus’.

    As for Ben Jonson, I don’t see anything at all ambiguous about his testimony as to Shakespeare in ‘Timber’. It is very straightforward, and is actually corroborated by certain parts of the introductory materials to the First Folio.

  • Dominic Hughes

    I know exactly why an inventory was conducted, and I’ve actually read the Privy Council order as to who was alleged to be hoarding grain — the great “engrossers”. Have you read the Privy Council Order? If you had, you would realize that people like William Shakespeare were not the reason for the investigation. He is merely one name on an inventory of the whole town, and there is no indication that he was ever charged with, or accused of, hoarding grain.

    As for what would exceed the needs of the Shakespeare household, again you are mistaken. Here is William Manchester on English beer consumption:

    Under Henry VII and Henry VIII the per capita allowance was a gallon of beer a day- even for nuns and eight-year-old children. Sir John Fortescue observed that the English “drink no water, unless at certain
    times upon religious score, or by way of doing penance.”

    Taking Manchester’s figure of a gallon of beer each day and
    imagining an Elizabethan workman with a wife and two children, it
    seems that such an Elizabethan family would have drunk about 1500
    gallons of beer each year. Using William Harrison’s 1577 recipe as a guide, a quarter of malt would make about 200 gallons of what was presumably a pretty good beer. By that standard, the workman, would have needed 7.5 quarters of malt to handle his family’s desire for drink. Needless to say, 10 quarters is not all that much more than 7.5,
    especially when one considers that the someone who owned the second
    largest house in Stratford probably had a few hirelings, all getting their 4 or so pounds plus ‘meat and drink’. In addition, as Shakespeare’s father is not listed in the Stratford inventory, it is a good possibility that he and his wife were also living at New Place at the time. Contrary to your assertions, 10 quarters would not be an excessive amount for the Shakespeare household.

    As for me, the notion of charity toward Shakespeare has nothing to do with my argument, as I don’t believe that even if he had hoarded grain it would mean he couldn’t have been the author of the plays. In dire times people look after their families. I do find your willingness to slander Mr. Shakespeare to be puzzling, even to the point where you ignore what the evidence actually shows. Perhaps it is the result of your belief that he just can’t be the author of the greatest works of western literature. Instead, you would rather believe it was someone who was more like a feudal lord.

  • Bruce Leyland

    That Gullio is a caricature of Southampton is a very interesting possibility. It’s possible the author/s of Parnassus believe Southampton has been “gulled” by Shakespeare the actor (the apparent author of the poems). By the way, Southampton was the best friend of Sir Henry Neville – the man I believe wrote the works. If Neville is the author – the dedications of V&A and Lucrece to Southampton are very simply explained.

    Regardless, Gullio is a mad buffoon – and the object of a buffoon’s mad adoration is unarguably suspect. In this case, that’s Shakespeare – the actor – fellow of the lampooned Burbage and Kempe (who champion his lack of education). Judicio’s four lines only (you quote – brief in comparison to those on Spenser and the young Ben Jonson – “the bricklayer”) show that the author/s do admire Shakespeare the poet. But the brevity of this description (limited to poems only) suggests that the author/s may well be uncertain as to his authorship beyond the poems.

    Sir Henry Neville was also a friend of, and greatly admired by Ben Jonson – whose consistently ambiguous testimony to Shakespeare’s authorship is relied upon in Stratfordian authorship case. Jonson wrote Neville a glowing epigramme (109).

  • Bruce Leyland

    The reason that there was the need for an investigation of grain stores – was that there was a grain shortage, and there were hoarders who were profiteering. 86 cubic feet (a stack four feet square and five feet high) clearly exceeds the needs of a family of four. Based on the numbers you cite, Shakespeare’s small household had among the 20 largest grain stores in Stratford (i.e. the top 4%, based on 500 households in a town of 2000+ people). Shakespeare was a grain hoarder in a time of shortage. People like him were the reason for the investigation.

    I do think you are being very charitable to Shakespeare – perhaps because you believe he wrote the greatest works of western literature. And this is the point. This greedy behaviour is entirely inconsistent with the character of an author who writes unfailingly generous work. If the writer were so unconcerned with the well-being of others, there would be clear evidence of this in the body of intensely human work he produced. But there there is none. It is not the doubters who are anti-Shakespearean. Rather the works have gilded the biography of the Stratford man. And the biography of the Stratford man continues to diminish the works.

  • calendar

    ” the documentary evidence that exists does not support a claim that Shakespeare was hoarding grain or malt.”

    Similarly, the documentary evidence that exists form his lifetime does not support a claim that Shakespeare was a writer. See Price, Diana – The Unorthodox Biography of Shakespeare.

  • Dominic Hughes

    Mr.Leyland: For some reason, my reply to the accusation of grain hoarding are not showing up in reply to your post, so I will attempt to post it here.

    To claim that the record under discussion is a “list of hoarders” in which “Shakspere is named as having illegally held 10 quarters (80 bushels) of malt or corn during a shortage” is an absolute mis-characterization of the document. In fact, the record is an
    inventory of the amounts of grain held by all householders in Stratford and also all “straingers” living there.

    Halliwell-Phillips quoted the entire inventory in his book, ‘The Life of William Shakespeare’: the list begins with the ‘Woode Street Warde,’ and continues to
    Henley Street, Bridge Street, and Sheep Street before getting to the ‘Chapple Street Warde’ and Shakespeare: it ends with the ‘High Street Warde.’ Those who would indict Shakey for ‘hoarding’ should note that he was but one of over seventy townsmen who possessed stores of grain. Nor did he have an unusually large amount: in his own ward, there was another resident, ‘Jhon Rogers,’ with the same amount (ten quarters) and two other townsmen with larger stocks (“Mr. Thomas Dyxon xvij. quarters,” and “Mr. Aspinall about xj. Quarters”). Mr. Aspinall was the school teacher. In each ward there were at least two townsmen with ten or more quarters.

    None of these individuals, including Shakespeare, are accused of anything at all, much less hoarding. As I stated before, the documentary evidence that exists does not support a claim that Shakespeare was hoarding grain or malt.

  • Dominic Hughes

    Actually, Gullio is a thinly-veiled caricature of Southampton, and the lampoon is directed solely at him and his worship of Shakespeare’s “sweet” love poetry [Harvey: “”The younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeares Venus, and Adonis.”] Gullio [Southampton] is a stuffed shirt. Is the anonymous author of the play critical of Shakespeare and his failure to deal with graver subjects? Certainly. Is the anonymous author aware of Shakespeare’s talent? Sure is.

    Who loues not Adons loue, or Lucrece rape?
    His sweeter verse contaynes hart throbbing line,
    Could but a grauer subiect him content,
    Without loues foolish lazy languishment.

    Is there any doubt for the author of ‘Parnassus’ or the St. John’s College audience that William Shakespeare, the author of V&A, Lucrece, R&J, etc., is the fellow of Kempe and Burbage? None at all.

  • Bruce Leyland

    When buffoons worship a deity, it is always a tin god. Compare Mr Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (the audience knows she’s monster – Collins does not). Gullio (Gull/Gulielmus?) is a extreme buffoon who worships Shakespeare. Is this a poor (and unusual) comic choice, i.e. Gullio worships an acknowledged master? Or, is it a what we would expect as the comic choice? Gullio worships a stuffed shirt – about whom the Cambridge University audience has some doubt.

  • Bruce Leyland If you scroll down to 1598. This site refers the reader to (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records Office, Misc. Doc. I, 106). By the way, the 80 bushels he was hoarding is about 86 cubic feet or 2.4 cubic metres.

  • Dominic Hughes

    ‘Return to Parnassus’ does not lampoon William Shakespeare, although it does lampoon his fellow actors, most especially Kempe.

  • Dominic Hughes

    Shakespeare was not named as a grain hoarder in a time of famine. You are simply parroting what you have been told, but the documentary evidence that exists does not support such a claim

  • Artiephishel

    And, new pal, even if you did register, they did meet a question they didn’t like 😉

  • calendar

    You might take a look at Professor Sturrock’s new book, AKA Shakespeare. The eminent astrophysicist shows how, and allows reader to, calculate the probabilities that either Oxford, Shakspere, or an unknown third party were the author. The results are rather startling.

    You see, circumstantial evidence is cumulative. It adds up. When confronted with a massive amount of circumstantial evidence in a courtroom against their clients, defense attorneys will attempt to isolate each piece of evidence and note that each piece proves nothing. That strategy is dependent on a jury that is unable to perform the critical thinking tasks necessary to sum the evidence. The OJ trial jury is a perfect example of that tactic. One will note this same tactic used by Stratfordians consistently.

    Another title you should look at is Richard Roe’s Shakespeare Guide to Italy. The Stratfordians have been telling us for years that geographical errors in the canon are PROOF the author didn’t visit that country. Roe has destroyed their argument and exposed Stratfordian scholarship as very shoddy.

  • Valda Judd

    Bravo! A terrific webinair. We owe so much to the Rev. Paul Edmondson and Professor Stanley Wells for defending our beloved Bard. There is not a shadow of doubt that it was the man from Stratford, William Shakespeare, who wrote the plays, and I applaud Drs. Edmondson and Wells for arguing the point so eloquently and passionately. It is, indeed, important that the man from Stratford is recognized for writing the plays. It is, indeed, important that the doubters are seen as anti-Shakspeareans, and it is, indeed, important that we let the overwhelming factual evidence for Shakespeare ring out loud and true. Thank you Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for everything that you do!

  • Greg Koch

    Re the cover of the book cited at the beginning of the videonar: the depiction of a middle-aged commoner in the Late Middle Ages scratching out the plays looks positively silly. Did you forget textual analysts in the 1960’s and 1970’s proved that the plays were oral compositions. They were dictated to scribes. Two were identified.

  • Greg Koch

    It would be incorrect to call that a ‘webinar’, viz., where was the web Q&A? The opportunity to post questions on Twitter or elsewhere. Why wasn’t it advertised well in advance so Shakespeare lovers could participate? Ugh!

  • Ed Boswell

    I appreciate that Ros Barber stood up to the paid representatives of the Stratford Tourist Industry. Unusual in the respect that the Birthplace Trust usually has nothing but Stratfordians who parrot each other.

  • Bruce Leyland

    Well I loved that.

    I think it’s not quite true to say that Jonson didn’t comment on Shakespeare before his death. In 1598, Shakespeare was named as a grain hoarder in a time of famine. In the same year Shakespeare acted in Jonson’s Every Man IN his Humour. This experience seems to have made a profound impression on Jonson. The following year, Shakespeare did not act in the new play Every Man OUT of his Humour. In this work, Jonson satirises Shakespeare in the character of the buffoon Sogliardo who (like Shakespeare) is applying for a coat of arms. The wits describe Sogliardo as a swine without a head, without brain, wit, anything indeed, ramping to gentility. In the same 1599 play, Jonson is utterly contemptuous of the grain-hoarding Sordido – Sogliardo’s country brother – who rejoices in exploiting the poor.

    We could talk about the other explicit reference to Shakespeare in Return to Parnassus (1601 or 1602 – author unknown). Gullio (another grand buffoon) plagiarises the great poets- and his pin-up boy (literally – I’ll have his picture in my study) – is William Shakespeare.

    Do these these two published lampoonings of Shakespeare not constitute evidence of contemporary unease with Shakespeare?

    Thank you all for a very memorable discussion.

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