Marie’s Musings

«This is dedicated to the one I love.»— The Shirelles

by Marie Delgado Travis

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

PART ONE: Shakespeare’s Dedication to Venus and Adonis

The 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere’s daughter, Elizabeth—later wife of William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, « the other W.S. » — was still engaged to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton at the time « the first heirs of Shakespeare’s invention, » his narrative poems Venus and Adonis andThe Rape of Lucrece— were published (1593 and 1594, respectively).

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and Elizabeth Vere, later Stanley, Countess of Derby
Source:, Wikimedia.
All Images for Educational
Purposes Only.

Both narrative poems were dedicated by « Shakespeare » to Wriothesley, an extended love knot between the two men and their houses.

I placed the author’s name in quotation marks in the above paragraph, because it makes perfect sense that Edward de Vere would write to and for the young man he thought was about to become his son-in-law. On the other hand, what dogberry would the man from Stratford-upon-Avon have in the fight?

Wriothesley, in any case, eventually wrioggled his way out of the engagement— if not for a pound of flesh, for the almost ruinous sum to him of five thousand pounds (over £1.1 million in 2021 currency, according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator).

We know the original amount Wriothesley paid from a November 1594 letter by the Jesuit, Henry Garnet. Reverend Garnet would provide his religious superiors abroad with news from the mission, which he and other priests—like the Jesuit poet Robert Southwell, with whom he ran a clandestine printing press— were undertaking to keep Catholicism alive in England, at great peril to their mortal lives.

Indeed, both Southwell and Garnet would in time be captured, tortured, « tried, » and savagely executed by Elizabethan authorities— Southwell in 1595, and Garnet in 1606. Among the charges against Garnet was not reporting his prior knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot against James I, a plot he neither participated in nor endorsed.

The priests’ use of Equivocation to protect Catholics who sheltered them is parodied by the drunken Porter in Macbeth:

Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven: O, come
in, equivocator.
— Act II, Scene 3 (Opensourceshakespeare,org)

But the porter first says, « IF a
man were porter of hell-gate. » In other words, God, not man, is the final arbitrator.

Material perhaps for another post, particularly since James would write a book on the occult [Daemonologie (1597)], said to have influenced Shakespeare’s Macbeth (first performed in 1606, the year of Father Garnet’s execution). For now, however, here is his November 1594 letter, in its relevant part:

The marriage of the Lady Vere to the new Earl of Derby is deferred by reason that he standeth in hazard to be unearled again, his brother’s wife being with child, until it is seen whether it be a boy or no. The young Earl of Southampton, refusing the Lady Vere, payeth 5ooo’l of present payment. Henry Foley, Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, Vol. IV at 49 (1878).

Now why would a priest be interested in such temporal matters?

To begin with, as a descendant of Mary (née Tudor) Brandon, daughter of King Henry VII of England, William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, held a prominent place in the line of succession to the throne— a dangerous position to be in, as his elder brother, Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby’s « wondrous strange » death [J. Stow’s Annales, 1631), possibly by poisoning, and their mother, Margaret (née Clifford) Stanley’s many years under house arrest would suggest.

In terms of the Reverend Garnet’s interest, some might say that much of « the world’s hopeful expectation, » was that Catholicism be restored to England, by the successor to its childless Protestant Queen— or at a minimum, that freedom of conscience in religious matters be respected.

William Stanley may or may not have shared those objectives. But his brother, Ferdinando’s posthumous child was indeed a girl, so under the principle of male primogeniture, William got to keep his coronet. After all, we wouldn’t want Lady Vere to marry just anyone.

William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby.
Source: William Stanley as Shakespeare
by John M. Rollett (2015)

As we can see, aristocratic marriages weren’t exactly love matches. They were treated almost like profit centers, and were the object of intense political maneuvering and intrigue.

One of Shakespeare’s so-called « Procreation Sonnets, » Number 3, summarized another creed of the upper class: be fruitful and multiply … and we’ll add, preferably with someone with pedigree, title, land, and a sizable wallet.

But if thou live remembered not to be, / Die single, and thine image dies with thee.

Source: Wikimedia

With this background in mind, does it make any sense that William Shakspeare from Stratford-upon-Avon was behind the vere personal Dedications to a young man as distinguished as the Earl of Southampton? No need to answer … simply a rhetorical question.

Let’s see what rich harvest Shake-Speare’s two Dedications to his then prospective son-in-law, Henry Wriothesley, yield. I’ll refer to the texts as originally published, but (neuer feare), a modern transcription follows at the vere end.

Recall word games like Boggle or Scrabble? The play’s the thing, here as well. While there are any number of possible word combinations in the passages below, knowing the players narrows the scope, and hopefully will provide thought-provoking perspectives.

TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE Henrie VVriothefley, Earle of Southampton, and Baron of Titchfield.

The obvious protagonist in the above passage is just whom it says it is:

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield

But rearrange the letters, and we find the following characters, and perhaps an occasional « hidden message. »

  • ihtrablevvysd = Lady Elizabeth Vere
  • trigablevvyd = Lady Bridget Vere
  • ernalvvsyud = Lady Susan Vere
  • oerihalvvsfpdc = Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • rheialvvsmpc = William Shacspeare (Shakespeare).

I originally thought Bridget had been the jilted bride. She was rejected, but by William Herbert, the future 3rd Earl of Pembroke, over the terms of the marriage settlement. Ah, Romeo, Romeo

The Dedication to Wriothesley continues:

Right Honourable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolisht lines to your Lordship,

Present again in this passage— and with slight variations, throughout the entire Dedication— are the following references:

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron Titchfield
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget, Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocksford (Oxford)
  • William Shakespeare

Now, if this were random, would it happen again and again?

nor how the uorlde vvill cenfure mee for choofing fo ftrong a proppe to fupport fo vveake a burthen

  • Henrie Wriotheslie, Earl of Southampton and Lord of Titchfield
  • Ladies Elisabeth, Bridget and Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • William Shakespeare

Note how the De Vere daughters are associated here with the word burden. I’ll explain. More than a poem, de Vere was giving away his eldest daughter— whom he took years to accept as his own, adding insult to injury.

And worse, if possible, the poem Venus and Adonis is all about rejection. So if the poem is, as I suggest, a proxy for Elizabeth—and by extension her sisters— the Freudian slips are everywhere.

Was it revenge for being «ungrateful » daughters, « sharper than a serpent’s tooth » (Lear Act I, Scene 4)?Or was the author warning Wriothesley? Or holding out for a better deal?

But I digress

onelye if your Honour feeme but pleafed, I account my selfe highly praifed, and uowe to take aduantage of all idle houres till I haue honoured you vvith fome graver labour.

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget and Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocksford (Oxford)
  • VVilliam Shacspeare (William Shakespeare)

Elizabeth and her marriageable sisters, continue to be diminished, in my view. Suggesting that there could be anything graver — even a radical political poem like Lucrece, is a bit like Shylock’s « O my ducats! O my daughter! »

But if thif first heire of my inuention proue deformed, I fhall be forie it had fo noble a god-father and neuer after care fo barren a land for feare it yeeld me ftill fo bad a harueft

  • Henry, Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget and Susan Vere
  • Edouard de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • VVilliam Shacspeare (William Shakespeare)

If we think on it, Elizabeth IS the « first heir of his invention »— in the fullest sense of human creation— de Vere’s firstborn. Yet now she and her sisters are associated with the word deformed. King Lear is Father of the Year compared to this author.

I would say it’s all unintentional, but it seems to happen vere frequently in this relatively short piece, reinforcing, among others, how even women of high station were treated as child-bearing commodities.

The thousand cuts are made all the more humiliating by the extended barren metaphor. It would be fruitless to say more, given all the hype in Shakespeare’s Sonnets about having children.

I leave it to your Honourable furuey, and your Honor to your hearts content, vvhich I vvifh may alvvaies anfvvere your owne wifh, and the vvorlds hopefull expectation. Your Honors in all dutie, William Shakefpeare.

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Susan, and Lady Bridyet [sic] de Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford) 
  • and last but not least … William Shakesfpeare (Shakespeare)

Strangely, the poet seems more preoccupied with Wriothesley’s happiness than with anything else, except his own poetry.

Wriothesley is invited to survey the goods, albeit it honorably. But the next poem dedicated to him will be about a rape, what is poor Southampton to think?

The writer means « check out my poem, » of course, but if the poem is a proxy for his daughter it’s, well … awkward.

In the long run, Wriothesley was Adonis to Elizabeth Vere’s Venus, and chose to go a-hunting instead … for another Elizabeth— Elizabeth Vernon, one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting.

Elizabeth (née Vernon) Wriothesley,
Countess of Southampton
Source: Wikipedia

Even when Lady Vernon became pregnant out-of-wedlock by Wriothesley, and the couple sentenced to Fleet Prison for marrying without the Queen’s approval, the two remained loyal to one another. Ung par tout, tout par ung, like Southampton’s family motto, « One for all, all for one. » That may ring a bell!

Southampton Coat of Arms

By contrast, when Edward de Vere impegnated his mistress, Anne Vavasour, SHE went to prison, while HE tried to escape. If memory serves, de Vere was captured at the docks, trying to board a ship. He was sent to the Tower of London to mull things over.Not a good look for someone whose motto is « Nothing is Truer than Truth. »

Having seen de Vere’s treatment of his wife, children and mistress, you can imagine my angst visualizing de Vere as the author of the Shakespeare canon— that is, until I began this blog.

De Vere was neither a model husband, father nor lover— at least with respect to his early relationships. But was the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, who spent most of his acting career away from his family, much better?

De Vere is guilty, perhaps, with an explanation. Like Wriothesley, de Vere had been the victim of an unconscionable Ward system, which placed wealthy minors who had lost their fathers under the total control of the State.

This gave the State authority to charge for the wards’ upkeep and education, while at the same time administering their lands and finances, or worse, selling their wardship to the highest bidder.

It was an odious system designed to enrich those in the inner circle of power, often leaving the ward debt-ridden by the time he reached the age of majority. For more information on the Ward system, see Bonner Miller Cutting’s vere worthy article, Evermore in Subjection .

De Vere endured the slings and arrows of the outrageous ward system as minor. But his woes were only compounded by his arranged marriage to Anne Cecil, daughter of William Cecil, Baron Burghley.

Lord Burghley, the Lord Treasurer, who in addition to being Elizabeth I’s closest advisor and spymaster, just happened to administer the ward system, which the young Earl must have felt dimmed his great expectations.

William Cecil, Lord Burghley Source: Wikipedia
Burghley House England
Quite the pile on a civil servant’s salary. IWilliam Cecil died in 1598, before his modest dream home was completed.
Source: Wikipedia

The Vere – Cecil marriage proved pretty much disastrous for all concerned. But look on the bright side … it provided endless material for a poet-playwright!

I remember reading that negotiations for Elizabeth Vere’s marriage to Henry Wriothesley began shortly after her mother, Anne’s death in 1588. Like Shakespeare’s Juliet, Elizabeth would have been a mere teenager at the time.

Marriage talks were almost certainly conducted by de Vere’s social-climbing father-in-law, Lord Burghley, whom Edward appears to have detested (except when he needed money)— and the bad feelings were mutual.

So much so, that Cecil literally took his grievances against his son-in-law to the grave … not his own, but his wife Mildred (née Cooke) Cecil’s and daughter, Anne’s joint tomb in Westminster Abbey.

The garrulous inscriptions by Burghley (to some reminiscent of Polonious’ « brief wit » in Hamlet) are quite remarkable. There are numerous plaques in Latin, but two are translated as follows:,

Lady Elizabeth Vere, daughter of the illustrious Edward, Earl of Oxford and of his wife Anne, daughter of Lord Burghley, born 2nd July 1575, now 14 years old; she grieves greatly, and not without cause, for the loss of her grandmother and mother, but is comforted because Her Most Serene Majesty Queen Elizabeth cherishes her as a lady of the bedchamber. Lady Bridget, second daughter of the aforesaid Earl of Oxford and of Anne, was born 6th April 1584 and though scarcely five years old when she laid her mother’s body in the sepulchre, yet not without tears did she acknowledge her mother, and also her grandmother, snatched away soon afterwards. But she is not left an orphan, having a father living, and a deeply affectionate grandfather as her most solicitous guardian. Lady Susannah, the third daughter, born 26th May 1587 is too young to know either her grandmother or mother, but now only knows her most affectionate grandfather, whose care it is that all these maids lack neither a kindly upbringing nor a fitting way of life. Source: Westminster Abbey.

Mildred and Anne’s tomb at Westminster Abbey, London. Among the effigies are Burghley’s granddaughters.

In other words, Edward de Vere didn’t provide his daughters with « deep affection … a kindly upbringing … or a fitting way of life. » Burghley did, and he wanted the world to know itforever.

By contrast, de Vere treats Henry Wriothesley almost too intimately in his Dedications— another indication that he was the William Shakespeare of the canon. It is inconceivable that the man from Stratford should address the Earl of Southampton— publicly— in such familiar terms.

While other inferences have been drawn, the tone of the Dedications may be thought of as fatherly. The writer pledges to support Wriothesley « in all duty, » and seems to urge the young man to choose happiness, perhaps because he, more than anyone, understands the Cecil family’s dysfunction. Recall the above metaphors— burden, bad harvest, barren, deformed.

And wherever we read «Titchfield» or « Ocsford,» within 10 words of « William » in the above exercises, William Cecil can’t be far behind. Psst … look behind the arras … the Queen’s spies are everywhere!

Perhaps the author was giving Henry, a warning, a save-face way out of his predicament, and Wriothesley was smart enough to read between the lines. For the man who wrote Venus and Adonis seemed to espouse freedom of the heart, no matter the consequences.

Well, in theory, anyway

Venus and Cupid lamenting the dead Adonis by Cornelius Holsteyn

Hopefully, that same grace of an  « out » was extended to his daughter,Elizabeth, so that when she and Henry finally went their separate ways, it was by mutual consent.

In any case, it didn’t take long for her to find another Earl. And one high in the line of succession, too! — A detail, I’m sure, not lost on her father and grandfather.

In fact—and I know it’s awfully cynical—but it occurred to me after first posting this, that one of the aims may have been to make Wriosthesley think HE was calling the marriage off, not she. That way, he’d have to pay the damages for breach of contract, not her family. The hefty amount Wriothesley paid would certainly go a long way towards her next dowry. Godfather, indeed! A-musing, ¿no? Well, it depends if you’re the party of the first part or the second part.

You can reread de Vere’s gracious last paragraphs to Wriothesley in the following modern transcription. Heck, I’d be gracious, too, if my family stood to gain over a million pounds! — In retrospect, every shilling Wriothesley paid was probably worth it.

Right Honorable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden, only if your honor seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idol hours till I have honored you with some graver labor. But if this first heir of my invention proved deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after care so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your Honorable survey, and your Honor to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation. Your Honor’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.

PART TWO: The Dedication to The Rape of Lucrece

And now the question becomes: Does the same pattern exist in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1594)? Presumably, it is the « graver labor » promised a year earlier in Venus and Adonis. The work is overtly more political than its predecessor, and must have been in the pipeline when promised to Wriothesley in the first Dedication.

While Wriothesley’s engagement to Lady Elizabeth Vere has cooled — she will be engaged to William Stanley by the end of 1594 and they’ll marry in January 1595– the man who signs the Dedication is, strangely, even more ardent towards Wriothesley than before. Whereas in the first Dedication, he pledged duty and wished Wriothesley happiness, he now professes duty and unending love.

My take is that he was vowing allegiance to Southampton, no longer as a father figure, but as a devoted « follower, » a political ally.

He may have been aware that Wriothesley and his « BFF », Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex were also questioning what would happen when the childless Queen Elizabeth I passed away. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves….

Let’s quickly go through this Dedication. A modern transcription may be found at the end.

TO THE RIGHT HONOVRABLE, HENRY VVriothefley, Earle of Southhampton, and Baron of Titchfield

We find the following names and titles displayed or « embedded » within the passage:

  • Henry Wrothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget, and Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • William Shacspeare (Shakespeare)

THE loue I dedicate to your Lordfhip is without end:wher-of this Pamphlet without beginning is but a fuperfluous Moity. 

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Lady, Elizabeth, Lady Bridget and Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • William Shacspeare (Shakespeare)

The engagement has ended, or just about to end, yet the writer’s love for the son-in-law-who-got-away is « without end, » a vere gracious touch.

That the Pamphlet has no beginning is punny, as the narrative poem begins in medias res, i.e., in the middle of the story.

The warrant I haue of your Honourable difpofition, not the worth of my vntutord Lines makes it affured of acceptance.

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Ladies Elisabeth, Lady Bridyet [sic], and Lady Susan Vere.
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocksford (Oxford)
  • William Shacpeare (Shakespeare)

VVhat I haue done is yours, what Ι haue to doe is yours, being part in all I haue, deuoted yours.

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget and Lady Susan Vere
  • Earl Edvvard de Vere
  • Note deuoted yours = Edvv. de Vere

VVere my worth greater, my duety would shew greater, meane time, as it is, it is bound to your Lordfhip; 

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, Baron, Lord
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget, Lady Susan de Vere
  • Earl Edward de Vere
  • Note the vere large VERE at the beginning of the passage

Again, while the engagement has been, or will soon be broken, the writer is still « bound » to him. He does have other daughters and there’s always a chance they can do business again. Sorry, couldn’t resist….

The poet speaks of his « worth » as a writer, and wishes it were greater to honor the dedicatee more. But let’s face it, the writer wishes his worth in every sense were greater, and with vere good cause.

In order to obtain the  « b » for Elizabeth and Bridget, btw, this last beautiful phrase must be repeated, further « binding » them together:

… it is bound to your Lordfhip; To whom I wifh long life ftill lengthned with all happineffe. Your Lordfhips in all duety, William Shakefpeare

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget, Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Oksford (Oxford)
  • William Shakespeare

There is a « finality » in the author’s wishes that Southampton enjoy a long life. It strikes me also that the emphasis on happiness is rather modern. Arranged marriages, it would seem, were more about « duty, » than happiness (think Juliet’s parents insistence that she marry Paris, when she had secretly married Romeo). That the man who wrote Shakespeare has been on all sides of these equations could only make him a better writer. Indeed, perhaps the world’s greatest writer.

And while the marriage between Wriothesly and Elizabeth Vere was not to be, it is true that « all Shakespeare has done »— in terms of his narrative poems—has been Wriothesley’s.

Shakespeare’s focus now turns now to playwriting, and reaching larger, more diverse audiences. The poet has proven his worth, that he is capable of writing literary works. Despite producing plays— or what Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, considered « riff raff » — Shakespeare’s reputation as a serious writer is secure in the eyes of the elite.

I have no doubt they know the identity of the writer. After all, the plays are frequently performed at court. And Queen Elizabeth’s favorite saying is, « I see everything, but say nothing. »

Neverthelesd, much is to be said about how the rest of de Vere’s (oops, Shakespeare’s) œuvre reflects Southampton’s interests. But we’ll muse on that, too … and Shakespeare’s « Dedication » to the elusive Mr. W. H. soon!

Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian
Source: Wikipedia

Modern Transcription

To the Right Honorable Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield.

The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end: whereof this pamphlet is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your Honorable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater. Meantime, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship, to whom I wish long life still lengthened with all happiness. 

Your Lordship’s in all duty, 

William Shakespeare

For an excellent biography of Edward de Vere, read:

Available at
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Marie’s Musings:

by Marie Delgado Travis

Pray, My Love, Remember. — Ophelia in Hamlet 4.5.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Over a series of recent posts (below), I’ve tried to show that—much against my Will— Edward de Vere’s name crops up everywhere I look. For example,

In the introductions to Shakespeares [sic] First Folio (1623), most notably the prefatory poem « To the Reader » by Ben Jonson (B.I.), where the name Vere / de Vere appears at least thirteen times:

Markings mine
All Images for Educational
Purposes Only.
  • figure – ure = Vere
  • thou here – uere = Vere
  • was for gentle – vvree = Vere
  • wherein – vvere = Vere
  • graver – ver = Vere
  • with nature – vvure = Vere
  • haue drawne = uere = Vere
  • well in braffe = vvere = Vere
  • would then surpaffe – vvudeure = de Vere
  • euer = Vere
  • writ in braffe – vvre = Vere
  • but since he cannot, Reader – uereder = de Vere
  • picture – ure = Vere

In an Epistle in a 1609 Quarto of Troilus and Cressida, which apparently was quickly suppressed. Now that you have the methodology—think Scrabble—I’ll abbreviate:

Source: British Library Board
  • A neuer = Vere
  • writer = Vere
  • euer reader newes = Edward de Vere
  • Eternall reader you = Edouard de Vere
  • haue heere = Vere
  • Eternal reader you haue here = Eternal Earl Edouard de Vere
  • a new play, neuer ftal’d with the Stage = Earl Edward de Vere
  • etc.

and this week, on the vere cover of SHAKES-SPEARES [sic] SONNETS, itself:

Source: Wikipedia

I hadn’t noticed before, but there— right in the middle, almost in plain sightis his name again:


Edvv. de Vere = Edw. de Vere

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, died five years before the publication of Shakes-Speares Sonnets (1609). So if de Vere were the author, someone must have helped bring the unpublished manuscript—previously circulated among friends, perhaps— to light.

But who? Well, in the same place— at the vere heart of the title page— we also find:


Ben Ion[s]on (Jonson)

I owe you an S but there are five in « Shakespeares Sonnets. » This is not necessarily because Ben Jonson co-wrote the Sonnets. Ben is best known as a playwright— although his poems To Celia and On My First Son demonstrate that he could at times be a formidable Rival Poet. Take, for example:

Drink to me only with thine eyes, And I will pledge with mine.

But most of Ben’s poems fail to reach those breathtaking heights, and methinks he had much too much ego to cede ownership of his best work to the Shakespeare brand.

He protesteth too much, for example, that Inigo Jones’ background scenery distracted from his masques. Ben didn’t like to be upstaged, and famously blamed the lack of success of his play Sejanus His Fall on the audience, rather than himself.

Besides, he had his own First Folio to fill, which he achieved with The Workes of Benjamin Jonson, published in London by Will Stansby in 1616.

What Ben did recognize, better than most, was the importance of preserving the works of art of his generation. (See the discussion regarding Accius and Pacuvius in a previous post below).

Keep in mind, however, that the man from Stratford-upon-Avon was very much alive in 1609, so presumably could have done his own editing. But in lieu of the author himself, Ben would have served as a talented editor for any book. And— in and out of favor with the authorities (something which, oddly enough, the man from Stratford never was … why is that?)— Ben could always use the extra gig.

But what would Heminges and Condell —or perhaps Jonson himself on their behalf— say under similar circumstances some fourteen years later, with the publication of Shakespeare’s First Folio?

It had bene a thing, we confeffe, worthie to haue bene wifhed, that the Author himfelfe had liu’d to haue fet forth, and ouerfeen his owne writings, But fince it hath bin ordain’d otherwife, and he by death departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, the office of their care, and paine, to haue collected & publifth’d them … (before) you were abus’d with diverfe ftolne, and furreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and ftealthes of iniurious impoftors[.]

As mentioned in the last post, the following anagram is present in the above passage:

the late author and Earl Edward de Vere

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
Source: Wikipedia

But we also find …

Ben wished that the Author himself had lived to have set forth and overseen his own writings


iniurious imposter = Ionson[,] imposter

« Set forth » is a term of art, meaning to print / publish. Editing a massive work like Shakespeare’s First Folio would mean heavy lifting at any price. This helps explain Jonson’s jest In Timber or Discoveries Made Upon Men and Matter:

I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakspeare [sic], that in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, « Would he had blotted a thousand »

Despite his « cares and pains, » Ben would not have been able to produce Shake-Speare’s Folio or Sonnets on his own. So who would have the means, interest and « will » to insure that Shakespeare’s work wouldn’t meet its way to dusty death? Logically, his own family, namely, his daughters (… and I don’t mean Susanna and Judith), and their spouses: William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby, who married Elizabeth de Vere—and whom I suggest in previous posts may have continued writing under the Shakespeare pseudonym after de Vere’s death; and Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke and 1st Earl of Montgomery, half of the Incomparable Paire cited in the First Folio, who married (first) Susan de Vere.

A third sister, Bridget de Vere had been engaged to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southamption, dedicatee of Shakespeare’s earlier narrative poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). When that arrangement fell through, she entered into an unhappy union with Francis Norris, the future Earl of Bedford, who struggled with mental illness, a subject which Shakespeare treated in a number of plays, most notably Lear. See The Troubled Nature of Francis Norris, Earl of Berkshire.

Portrait of Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke and 1st Earl of Montgomery, and his family, on the occasion of his son Philip’s engagement to Mary Villiers. Source: Wikimedia.

In another article worth reading, Bonner Miller Cutting of the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship explains how the lady in black in the above painting by Van Dyck of the Herbert family is actually a posthumous representation of his deceased wife Susan de Vere—mother of young Philip, whose engagement the painting commemorates— and not as currently believed, Herbert’s estranged second wife, Ann Clifford. See A Countess Transformed:
How Lady Susan Vere Became Lady Anne Clifford
,and note the resemblance between Susan and her daughter, Anne Sophia, also painted by Van Dyck (and with Edward de Vere’s portrait above, for that matter).

Despite legitimate « father issues, » Edward de Vere’s daughters may well have been honoring his literary legacy— if not for their own benefit, for that of their posterity.

Indeed, for someone forced by his hereditary position to conceal his authorship, Edward made it a point to embed his name in the Sonnets, so that, as Sonnet 76 states:

« … every word doth almost tell my name. »

edward de vere [the W is composed of two vv’s]

To check the hypothesis that Edward de Vere’s name would be present in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, I selected one of the 154 Sonnets in the collection, as a test case:

Source: Internet Shakespeare

Albeit a tiny sample, it is just for starters, and Sonnet 72 was an obvious choice, chiefly on the basis of two intriguing lines: 

« My name be buried where my body is »


« After my death, dear love, for get [forget] me quite »

Let’s examine each verse of Sonnet 72, keeping in mind de Vere’s title as Earl of Oxford, and his family motto, generally translates as « Nothing is truer than Truth. » The methodology is the same as above, merely rearranging letters to reveal hidden words or messages, which sometimes contradict what the text of the poem (or other form of writing) outwardly says (e.g. the poet’s « shame » turns out to be a false modestyhe knows his worth).

O least [lest] the world fhould  tafke [task] you to recite

edward de uere, earl of ocksford = Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

What merit liu’d in me

Earl Edward de Vere

that you fhould loue After my death,

true, truer, truth

edvvard de uere

edouard de vere

dear love, 

edvv. de vere

for get me quite,

true, truer

For you in me can nothing worthy proue, / Vnleffe you would devife fome vertuous lyt [light, as it rhymes with recite and quite, but usually translated as lie]

nothing is truer than truth

worthy, virtuous edward de vere

To doe more for me then mine own defert [desert], / And hang more praife [praise] vpon deceafed [deceased] I,

nothing is more true / truer than truth

hang or praise earl edward de vere

Then nigard [than niggard] truth would willingly impart / O leaft [lest] your true loue may feeme falce [seem false] in this,

nothing truer than truth

i am williamiam shacspeare

That you for loue fpeake well of me untrue,  

true, truer, truth



My name be buried where my body is, / And liue no more to fhame [shame] nor me nor you.

My name is edvv de uere

For I am fhamd by that which I bring forth, And so should you, to love things nothing worth.


i am william

i am nothing

i am edward de vere

nothing truer than truth

If that isn’t an autograph, I don’t know what is!

Since starting this blog, I have become aware of many, more sophisticated attempts to decipher Shakespeare’s works. The late Albert Bergstahler’s work, for instance, essentially proves that the Earl of Oxford not only embedded his name, he (or his creative team working closely with the printers of particular first editions) embedded his initials, E.O. or E.Ox. in Shake-Speares Sonnets— just as he signed many of his poems in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, edited by Richard Edwardes (1576-1606).

Burgstahler also found similar intricate patterns, which basically line up the letters of de Vere’s name to form his initials, in poems praising either De Vere or Shakespeare’s work, including Jonson’s « To the Reader » in the First Folio.

Below is a small sample of Burgstaher’s research, using a different Sonnet (82). But he went on to discover de Vere’s initials in all but two of Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets (98.7%)— and the two outliers he believed were fragmented poems. Burgstahler’s 2009 paper « Encrypted testimony of Ben Jonson and his contemporaries for who William Shakespeare really was » is available via the link below:


But I digress. Returning to Sonnet 72 above, the poet claims to feel « shamed » by what he has « brought forth. » But is the modesty real or feigned?

The difference between fhamed and famed is a silent letter, h, or at best, a sigh or « aspiration, » since they unfortunately depend on the judgment of others, over which one has no control. And being forced by one’s station to write under a mask, a nom de plume, only heightens the uncertainty that one’s merit will ultimately be recognized. Imagine the indignity of producing the greatest works in the English language, and having them attributed to someone who can barely sign his name.

It reminds me in a way of two very different takes by Shakespeare on posthumous fame. Antony, for example, says in his famous funeral oration in Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2:

The Evil That Men Do Lives After Them; / The Good is Oft Interred with their Bones.

Yet Harry / Hal, the future Henry V, performing « fair rites of tenderness » [emphasis mine] over the slain body of his arch rival, Hotspur, in Henry IV Part 1, Act IV Scene 5, presents a more gracious scenario:

Adieu, and take thy praise with thee to heaven! Thy ignominy sleep with thee in the grave, But be not remember’d in thy epitaph!

So which would it be for our poet? Fame or the shame of anonymity, of being erased? I’m afraid we all know the answer.

The deposed King Richard II faces a similar dilemma in Act IV, Scene I of his eponymous tragedy:

… alack the heavy day, 
That I have worn so many winters out, 
And know not now what name to call myself!

— But he eventually comes to a sober acceptance of his fate in Act V, Scene 5:

but whate’er I be, 
Nor I nor any man that but man is 
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased 
With being nothing.

Even the v in « Whatever » is contracted, erased: not « vere, » but a nostalgic sigh « ’ere » (e.g, Sonnet 73: « To love that well which thou must leave ere long. » If all is true, however, de Vere, never fully  « eased » or resigned himself to anonymity. The Shakespeare canon is strewn with breadcrumbs that lead to him again and again.

The only true shame may be that over time, de Vere’s merit, honor and fame were surreptitiously stolen by an imposter, the man from Stratford, who ironically never claimed to be anything other than a common player.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Marie’s Musings


by Marie Delgado Travis

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on


(Enter Bottom)

In previous Musings (below), I proposed, based on James Rollett’s excellent book

Available at
All Photos for Educational Purposes Only.

that the anagrams in Ben Jonson’s poems, together with Droeshout‘s “composite” portrait of Shakespeare (with one shoulder facing away from the viewer) in the First Folio, would suggest that there were actually two Shakespeares— one who passed away prior to the publication of the First Folio (1623)— Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford— and a younger playwright who took up the mantle— his son-in-law, William Stanley, Sixth Earl of Derby.

They no doubt worked with other writers (a theme I hope to explore at a later date), but they would have been— under this scenario—the lead writers or if you prefer, the chief editors or creative directors of the Shakespeare canon.

Yet playwriting was far from being considered an elevated art form during the English Reformation. It smacked too much of “Popery,” e.g., the medieval cycle plays, or often crossed the line into bawdy humor, or implied criticism of the powers that be.

As Hamlet “playfully” warns in Act 2, Scene 2:

Good my lord, will you see the players well bestow’d? … Let them be well us’d; for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time. After your death you were better have a bad epitaph than their ill report while you live.

The founder of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Thomas Bodley, famously dismissed plays as ”riff raff,” and his influence kept Shakespeare’s works off Bodleian library shelves, well beyond his death in 1613:

Catalogue (Year)Number of Shakespeare Quartos / Folios
Based on The Bodleian Library at Oxford by Falconer Madan (1919) at 32.

According to Bodleian librarian, Falconer Madan, the library actually discarded Shakespeare’s First and Second Folios, when they received the Third Folio (1664), a tragic Comedy of Errors, which cost them £3000–roughly half a million pounds in today’s currency—to only partially undo the mess (based on Madan 29).

An 1821 bequest by Shakespeare biographer Edmund Malone, however, greatly enhanced Oxford’s collection, with ”… some fifty early Quartos or Poems, including the only copy of the first edition of Shakespeare’s first publication, the Venus and Adonis of 1593” (32).

By Madan’s tenure in 1919, the Bodleian “possesse[d] 70 out of the 101 Quartos issued before 1700, and more than five thousand volumes of Shakespearean literature,” as well as ”a supposed signature of Shakespeare” (32, 54, emphasis mine).

Shakespeare, therefore, was hardly a ”prophet in his own land.” It is said that actor David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee at Stratford-upon-Avon in September 1769 was the turning point. But was Garrick (and are we) in love with the right guy?

Titania and Bottom by Johann Heinrich Füssli 1793-94. Source: Wikipedia.
Ticket to David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee (1769). Folger Library. Source: Wikipedia.

In any case, if playwriting was considered an “idle” pursuit during Shakespeare’s time and beyond, we can perhaps appreciate how incongruous it would have seemed for a nobleman to participate in the commercial theater as anything other than a generous patron.

Providing entertainment for an idle and frivolous court was one thing, but a noble might be called upon, let’s say, to serve as a Privy Councillor, or as a juror in a high stakes case, e.g., the trials of Mary, Queen of Scots or the 2nd Earl of Essex. He might be forced to stand trial himself on a mere supposition, or lead men into war, or perhaps ascend the throne, as the Wheel of Fortune and his pedigree and clout dictated.

Dabbling in comedy would hardly enhance a noble’s credibility with his people or respect and fear among foreign leaders (— although admittedly, recent world events have proven otherwise).

Rota Fortunae

Under such circumstances, William Shaxpere from Stratford-upon-Avon might well have played the role of his otherwise lackluster acting career— starring as a convenient “front man”— Shakeffpeare, at once “shaking a spear” and “shaking with fear,” because, frankly, he’s the one who would be hanged, drawn and quartered, if a play met a monarch’s “thumbs down” review.

Yet Shaxpere seems to have benefitted greatly from such a hypothetical arrangement— enough to earn a gentleman’s status on a rather shaky pedigree, and to become the second wealthiest man in Stratford-upon-Avon. 

George Vertue’s rendering of Shakespeare’s home, New Place, in Stratford-upon-Avon (1737).
Source: Wikipedia.

The fact that Ben Jonson refers to the “Sweet Swan of Avon,” isn’t as watertight a ”proof” of authorship as one might think. Avon derives from a Celtic word for  “river” (Welsh, afon), and there are several Avon “River”-Rivers in the British Isles, not just in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Read the capital letters in “Sweet Swan of Avon” in reverse order, and the compliment isn’t so sweet, after all. It’s vintage Jonson, and, with all due respect, reminiscent of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream— a play believed by many scholars to have been performed for the first time during William Stanley’s 1595 wedding to Elizabeth, Edward de Vere’s daughter. Hmm … small world!

Countess of Derby, Elizabeth Stanley (née Vere)
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing circa 1786 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910.

But turning again to anagrams in the First Folio of Mr. William Shakespeares [sic] Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, theater business partners, John Heminges and Henry Condell, address “The Great Variety of Readers,” as opposed to just “the Reader,” as Ben Jonson did in the same volume.

Source: Wikipedia
Photo by Marie Delgado Travis

The Duo’s ”variant” serves a variety of purposes. Besides leading into the world’s most adorable sales pitch, urging everyone, “from the most able, to him that can but spell,” to buy the First Folio, it would appear to be an homage “To the Great …”

oerav(vv, u)d – Edvvard de Vere, Edouard de Vere = Edward de Vere

Or more compactly:

vred = Edvv. de Vere = Edw. de Vere

Like Jonson’s ”To the Reader” and the patchwork Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare (see previous posts below), Heminges and Condell’s appeal to capitalism seems also to allude to a second author behind the Shakespeare mask, e.g.:

vreyd – dervy, derd(b)y = Derby

Lastly, when Heminges and Condell (— perhaps with Jonson, who may have written the clever piece for them) say they ”wish …

the Author himselfe had liv’d to have set forth, and overseen his owne writings,”

they may well be referring to:

theauthorldvn= the late author and Earl Edouard de Vere

But we needn’t limit ourselves to anagrams in Shakespeare’s First Folio. A 1609 Quarto of Troilus and Cressida begins with a curious “Epistle.”

Source: British Library Board.
Source: Folger Digital Images.

A neuer writer, to an euer reader. Newes.

aevrwd = Edward de Vere

Eternall reader, you haue heere

eternaldou(v) – Eternal Earl Edouard de Vere  

eraldyou(v) – earl ov dervy = Earl of Derby – I won’t insist too much, but it works phonetically.

a new play, neuer stal’d with the Stage,

aewlu(v)rd= Earl Edward de Vere

anelyrst = Earl Stanley

neuer clapper-clawd with the palmes of the vulger,

evrclawdsofv = Edvvard de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)

wialm = William

and yet passing full of

the palme comicall;

anyetsl = Stanley

for it is a birth of your braine, that neuer vnder-tooke any thing commicall, vainely:

forabryedl = Earl of Derby

iavvml = William

tsanedrly = Earl Stanley

forsauevdkcl = Edvvard / Edouard de Vere, Earl of Ocksford (Oxford)

Is the ”Newes” that the 1609 Troilus and Cressida is the “never-till-now writer’s” first published play? Keep in mind that the Earl of Oxford died in 1604, about five years earlier, and Derby is said to be ”penning plays for the common players” in June of 1599 (Calendar of State Papers-Domestic).

The Epistle at this point laments how critics consider plays “vain,” i.e., without redeeming moral, ethical, or even cultural value. By critics, the never writer presumably means Puritans, government officials, clergy, and citizens complaining of the noise and petty criminals (pickpockets, prostitutes) that large crowds tend to attract.

The prejudice towards plays is more than unfounded, he suggests, it’s irrational. If they were called anything else—“commodities” instead of comedies, or “pleas” instead of plays— those very critics would flock to see the performances, and their wits would be the better for it, he claims. But as is, the critics try to get plays “canceled,” as we say today, without taking the trouble to assess their value fairly.

Without mentioning Horace’s precept of Dulce et Utile directly, the never writer implies that the true creative process (“birth of the brain”), “never undertook anything comical, vainly.”

Much like Jonson in his ”To My Beloved …” poem in the First Folio, the never writer compares Shakespeare’s comedies to those of Terence or Plautus, and predicts that once the author (William Shakespeare) is gone, the plays will be missed and highly soughtafter.

The Epistle seems to have quickly met the censors’ cutting room floor, however. A second 1609 Quarto by the same publisher, G. Eld, omits the Epistle completely. Its new title page also seems to assert that Troilus and Cressida had never been “clapper-claw’d.”

The title page boasts, “As it was  acted by the Kings Maiefties feruants at the Globe.” But what the original Epistle actually said was that the play was never clapper-claw’d by the ‘vulger’[sic]” In other words, those who saw and enjoyed the play at The Globe weren’t vulgar. They were discerning, and appreciated the play’s worth.

Admittedly, « a new play neuer ftal’d by the Stage » is more difficult to explain. Perhaps there were revisions to the play between the time it first ran and the quarto, and / or its previous performances were limited. Or it was simply an oversight, which might mean that the 1609 William Shakespeare was not the one behind the Globe performances.

Source: Wikipedia

It should be noted that although the Folger lists the Quarto with the Epistle as 1b, it is logical to think of it as 1a, that is, that it came before the “censored” version.

Interestingly, the 1623 First Folio also omitted the Epistle, and even ”forgot” to put Troilus and Cressida, in its Table of Contents, which in my book, only calls attention to it.

To my mind, Troilus and Cressida may represent the passing of the baton between two William Shakespeares, one living, one deceased, and representing a “variety” of literary styles, as we hope to discuss at a future date.

Source: Wikipedia

ACT ONE, SCENE TWO: ”The Tempest”

Enter Actors Stage Right

The utility and morality of the plays— and players, for that matter— had long  been questioned in England.  The Vagabond Act of  1572, for example, provided that “all fencers, bearwards, common players of interludes, and minstrels (not belonging to any baron of this realm, or to any other honourable person of greater degree), wandering abroad without the license of two justices at the least, were subject to be grievously whipped and burned through the gristle of the right ear with a hot iron of the compass of an inch about.’” (“Theater ” Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911).

Such harsh measures (ouch!) were tempered— at least somewhat— by subsequent legislation— and the backing of theatrical companies by noble patrons, such as De Vere (Oxford’s Men) and the Stanleys (Derby’s Men), also offered a measure of protection. Still, the polemic continued to “rage” in sermons and pamphlets.

In “Action 1” of his  Playes confuted in five actions proving that they are not to be suffred in a Christian commonweale, &c.(1582)— a tongue-in-cheek response Thomas Lodge’s equally satirical 1579-80 A Reply to Stephen Gosson’s Schoole of Abuse [1579]— Gosson depicts the players’ attitude towards the harangues against their profession:

The abhominable practises of playes in London haue bene by godly preachers, both at Paules crosse and else where so zealously, so learnedly, so loudly cried out … that i may well say of them … we neuer heare them, because we euer heare them.

Despite the clapper-clawing, it was a hard and uncertain life for the players, much as it is today. Theaters were closed for long periods due to a series of plague outbreaks during the 1590’s and early 1600’s, so the actors toured the countryside to survive. In 1599, animosity on the part of London locals and city officials, if not an outright ban, led to the relocation of the Globe Theatre to the “liberties” of Southwark, across the Thames. A fire caused by the shooting of a “cannon” during a performance of Henry V, destroyed the theater in 1613. It was rebuilt a year later. 

The toughest blow, however, came when citing “lascivious Mirth and Levity,” theaters were ordered closed by the “Long Parliament.” The ban lasted essentially from the start of the First Civil War in 1642, until the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy under Charles II, eighteen “Long” years later (1660).

In a 1661 Bill of Complaint (Baxter lawsuit) against the unscrupulous heiress of a real-life “Shylock” who had taken advantage of them during their hour of need, the actors—many of whom had previously been King’s Men under Charles I— recalled conditions following a round of theater closures in 1648:

… united together and beinge for theire Loyalty to his late Majesty and adhereinge unto him in the late rebellion … totally prohibited from Actinge or performinge of any Comedies Tragedies or other Interludes in any the publique and other places where … formerly they had soe acted … by those who then had usurped the power and Government of this Kingdome by meanes whereof your Orators and the said other Deceased partners were brought to a very great extremity and Did undergoe very great Hardshipps beinge by that … totally Deprived of all meanes of Subsistance and for neare perishinge.Milhous and Hume. “New Light on English Acting Companies in 1646, 1648, and 1660.” The Review of English Studies, vol. 42, no. 168,” 496-97 (1991).

To survive, the actors took to performing secretly (”in private places,” Milhous 497), but in their own words were ”severall times suppressed imprisoned & barred from further acting,” and ”a great part of [their] apparrell furniture & other necessaryes being from time to time taken away.” (Mihous 498).

By the time theaters were allowed to reopen, not one of the players listed in the First Folio as having performed Shakespeare’s plays was still alive. The last man standing, John Lowin, died a year before the Restoration (1659).

Source: Wikipedia.
John Heminges and Henry Condell Memorial by C.J. Allen (1895-96).
St. Mary Aldenmanbury Churchyard, London. Source: Wikiwand.
Memorial plaque for Richard Burbage, his sons, and other Shakespearean era Actors, including Richard Tarlton, William Slye and Richard Cowley, St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch. Source:

Though not on the above list, another actor’s Bill of Complaint (Hall lawsuit) summed up the outlook for an aging actor:

… The complainant beinge very aged and by reason of some Deformity in his face and for other imperfections totally unfitt and unable to perform those actings in such graceful and Dellightful manner as was fitt and becomeinge such performances … was Discharged of that imployment…. (Milhous 505)

The defendants stipulated that the former actor, William Hall, had received ”the sum of Tenn shillings a week,” but argued that this

Allowance was voluntaryly and ffreely made merely out of the good will and benevolence of theis defendants … and not … by reason of any share the complainant had in those Actings or stock…. (Milhous 505).

We can understand that as new actors replaced old, they would not feel obligated to maintain their predecessors. They probably were barely scratching out a living for themselves and their families. Nevertheless, the above words would have been devastating for any actor to hear, particularly one who might have started his career as a boy actor, back during the reigns of Elizabeth I or James I.

As we see from the chart below, however, only a few of the actors listed in Shakespeare’s First Folio (Heminges, Taylor and Lowin) were known to have reached what is considered now “old age.”

Actor’s NameDate of Birth – Date of DeathAge
Samuel Crosse1568? –
before 1595
William Kemp1560-160343
Thomas Popeunknown – 1603
Augustine Phillipsunknown – 1605
William Sly1565 – 160843
George Bryan1586 – 161327
Alexander Cookeunknown – 1614
William Ostlerunknown – 1614
Robert Armin1563 – 1615 52
William Shakespeare1564 – 161652
Richard Burbage1567 – 161952
Richard Cowleyunknown – 1619
Nathan Field1587 – 162033
Samuel Gilburneunknown – 1623
William Ecclestoneunknown – 1623
Nicholas Tooley1583 – 162340
Robert Goughe c. 1580 – 162444
John Underwoodunknown – 1624
Henry Condell1576 – 162751
John Heminges1556 – 163074
John Ricec. 1593 – aft. 163037+
John Shankunknown – 1636
Richard Robinson1595 – 164853
Richard Benfieldunknown – 1649
Joseph Taylor1586? – 165266
John Lowin1576 – 165982
Based on Chambers, Halliday, Nunzeger, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Encyclopædia Britannica.

According to, the average life expectancy of a male in England from 1600 to 1650, was 43 years.

SummaryNumber of Actors
Died before the 1623 publication of the First Folio13
Died between 1623-245
Died from 1625-598

In his Last Will and Testament, the actor Nicholas (né Wilkinson) Tooley (d. 1623), forgave debts owed to him by fellow actors Ecclestone (d. 1623), Underwood (d. 1624), and Robinson (d. 1648). In another stunning act of brotherhood (“We few, we happy few”), Tooley also made bequests to Joseph Taylor and the surviving dependents of other actors. Nunzeger, Edwin. A Dictionary of Actors and of Other Persons Associated with the Public Representation of Plays in England before 1642, 374-76 (1929).

In 1651, proceeds from the publication of a previously lost Fletcher and Beaumont play (The Wild Goose Chase) were used to raise funds for Taylor and Lowin (Nunzeger 371) — all of which makes Heminges and Condell’s plea to “buy the book” the more poignant.

In their superb article, Milhous and Hume question the story that Lowin and Taylor were among the actors arrested during an illegal performance of Rollo, King of Normandy on January 1, 1649. They were unable to find the actors’ names on contemporaneous reports regarding the arrests, and they argue that the pair would surely have retired by then. But as a younger man, Lowin had apparently been known for his ability to memorize up to 2000 lines, and he may have retained some of that ability.

Some actors were able to transition to other professions. John Rice became a parish clerk, and some suggest, possibly a priest. George Bryan became a Groom of the Chamber for King James I.

Other actors had trades to fall back on and were members of supportive Guilds, or had been shareholders in the acting company, like Will Shaxpere, and perhaps invested wisely.

The fact, however, that colleagues felt the need to raise money for Lowin and Taylor, makes it at least plausible that they were invited to perform on that New Year’s Day. Perhaps in consideration of their age, they weren’t “transferred from the Bailey to Whitehall” after a couple of days, as other actors caught up in the raids that day were.

Where were their benefactors? The King’s Men’s chief patron, Charles I, would be publicly beheaded right there, in front of Whitehall, before the month was through (January 30, 1649).

The Execution of Charles I of England

And William and Elizabeth Stanley’s son, James, who had succeeded his father William (d. 1642), as the 7th Earl of Derby, was himself beheaded for supporting the Royalist cause in 1651.

James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby
by sir Anthony van Dyck

My Lord, you told me you would tell the rest, When weeping made you break the story off … — William Shakespeare, Richard II (5.2)

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Marie’s Musings:

THE BIG REVEAL (… but first, an Aside or Two!)

by Marie Delgado Travis

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

That every word doth almost tell my name…. — William Shakespeare Sonnet 76

Before ”The Big Reveal” on the Shakespeare Authorship Question, let me “double” back to the Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare in the First Folio, Mr. William Shakespeares [note the lack of apostrophe] Comedies, Histories & Tragedies (1623).

Available on

In recent posts, I discussed one of John M. Rollett’s theories in William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby (2015): that part of Shakespeare’s doublet in the First Folio portrait by Martin Droeshout is facing the wrong way!

Source: Wikipedia.
All images for Educational Purposes Only.

The lefthand side of the doublet (Shakespeare’s chest) faces forward in a traditional pose. But to our right, the view is of his back shoulder, with his arm moving away from us.

This reminded me of the motto of my alma mater, CCNY: Respice, Adspice, Prospice, which encourages us to learn from the Past, as we look at the Present, and towards the Future—plain enough, except that at least one of the figures, surprisingly the Present, seems to be blind. Upon further reflection, she has closed her eyes to “see,” as it were, with her inner eye. It is an allegory, a cryptogram, to be deciphered, in order to reveal its hidden meaning.

Seal of The City College of New York. Source: Wikipedia

There was also a seemingly “throwaway” reference in Ben Jonson’s tribute in the First Folio, ”To the Memory [emphasis mine] of My Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare,” comparing Shakespeare, among others, to two ancient Roman poets / playwrights,“Paccuuius, Accius….”

Sadly, only fragments of Pacuvius and Accius’ works survive, underscoring the urgency to preserve Shakespeare’s work, particularly while the actors, and fellow writers like Jonson, familiar with his work were still alive to vouch for the First Folio’s faithfulness to the “originall” [sic].

But I also recalled reading that among Pacuvius and Accius’ distinctions, was their age difference. One was elderly, the other young, and they met on only one occasion—a literary “changing of the guard” between them.

Rereading classical accounts of that meeting, I realized it was precisely the kind of story that a man in his humor like Ben Jonson, would have relished—and not without mustard. I’ll paraphrase:

Upon being introduced, the older poet-playwright, Pacuvius, complimented young Accius on his work. But he couldn’t resist adding, “… although it’s still a bit green.”

The younger poet admitted he had a lot to learn, but said that at least his work wasn’t “overripe,” i.e., old-fashioned, decaying. Humorously, as a result of this acerbic “review,” Accius is considered one of the first literary critics.

Roman Theater. Source: Wikipedia

These and other “musings” led to the realization that Droeshout’s “bizarre” (as it is often described) engraving is actually a composite of two poet-playwrights— one younger and “emerging”; the other, a “time-honored” master of his craft, but departing, or indeed, departed— yet both writing under the same commercially successful pseudonym, William Shake-Speare.

This thought settled (— at least for me) a host of mysteries, some trivial, others of major consequence, e.g., the lack of apostrophe on the title page of the First Folio, “Shakespeares,” implying more than one; why Jonson states that Droeshout had a “strife with nature,” and struggled “to out-doo the life”; the patchwork quality of the portrait; why the figure in the portrait seems to be wearing a mask and to have two right eyes. I used to think that it might be a pun on tbe word righteous (“right-eye-ous”) and that may be true, as well. We are being taught by Droeshout and Jonson that things need not be “mutually exclusive.”

Above all, it explains some of the stylistic differences in Shakespeare’s work, a subject I’ve “mused” a lot about and hope to elaborate on in a future post. The key, however, is that we’re dealing in two’s, as the anagram in Jonson’s poem “To the Reader” seems to confirm:

I am grateful to for the underlying graphic. Markings mine.

Does that give the lie to Rollett’s contention that the actors’ anagram spell “William Shakespeare es [is][William] Stanley,” as discussed so insistently in my previous posts? — Not at all, because the actors are simply asserting that “William Shakespeare IS [William] Stanley,” at the time of the publication of the First Folio (1623). They’re not claiming that he always WAS Shakespeare.

So who could this second (and possibly primary) author of the Shakespeare canon be? Note that I am not ready to call them “co-authors.” I believe that a younger poet—a fair youth, if you will— was literally “heir” to an older writer’s “invention.

Could it be William Shaxpere from Stratford-upon-Avon? He certainly fits the bill in some respects: his name and association with the Globe, the theater built in part to present Shakespeare’s plays. Or is that simply not enough? What, after all, is in a name?

Will Shaxpere, and a number of authorship candidates, will be the subject of future posts, as the Muse dictates. But let’s hear what Ben Jonson has to say for himself.

As was the case with the list of actors, Jonson’s prefatory poem, ”To the Reader” is a cryptogram, with apparent references to William Stanley’s title, ”Derby” / “Earl of Derby.”

Are cryptograms valid? Well, if they weren’t, I doubt Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham would have bothered to employ codebreakers like Thomas Phelippes and Sir Francis Bacon [who wrote about “ciphersin The Advancement of Learning (1605) and De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623), and is considered, among others, Father of the Scientific Method, as well as of the Binary Code].

With Bacon’s validation of cryptography in general, let’s quickly review our previous findings in Jonson’s poem:

Derby Anagrams

As we can see, the very first and last lines form a kind of ”frame” around Jonson’s poem: derbi = Derby. We’ll point out other Derby “sightings” as we move along. But does Jonson refer to a second author, and if so, whom?

Believe me, it gives me no joy to reveal whom else is ”hit” (“hid” /“hidden”) in the poem. The person is not, as we say in Spanish, santo de mi devoción, “Saint of my devotion,” and I’ll divulge why eventually.

Yet one of the biggest compliments given to Prince Harry in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One comes from a character, Vernon, who considers Harry an enemy. Vernon’s praise, therefore, carries far more weight and credibility than if one of Harry’s friends had uttered it.

De Vere Anagrams

His name in almost every word, indeed! Here is a line by line analysis:

This Figure, that thou here feeft put,

Figure – ure = Vere, if the ”e” is repeated. If not, there are other letters “e” in the same or nearby line. This is true whenever I reuse a letter.

Note, too, that the letters u, v and w (literally ”double u” or “vv”) are interchangeable, e.g, IVLIVS = Julius.

thou here – uere = Vere

It was for gentle Shakesfpeare cut;

was for gentle – vvree = Vere

Note that the figure is literally “cut”— in two— as he is half one person, half another.

Wherein the Grauer had a ftrife

Wherein – vvere = Vere

Grauer – ruer = Vere

Note, too, Jonson’s pun: the “engraver” as “graver,” the latter suggesting that someone has died (— otherwise Jonson wouldn’t need to ”call” a grave-digger).

with Nature, to out-doo the life :

with Nature – vvure = Vere

O,could he but hauedrawne his wit

havedrawne (written together in the poem, thereby “drawing” our attention) – avedrawe = Edward de Vere

This “mention” appears physically near the center or heart of the poem. It’s also the first of two instances in the poem (by my calculation), that both names appear together:

but havedrawne his – bedrei = derbie = Derby

As well in braffe, ashe hath hit

well in brasse – vvere = Vere

The word “hit” evokes how the engraver ”sculpsit,” i.e., strikes with his tools to achieve (“hit”) the model’s resemblance (— or “dissemblance,” as in “pretense” / “counterfeit”— a composite drawing, in this case).

The word “hit” is similar to “hid” (a hard “d” sounds much like the letter ”t”), and the word is curiously followed by “hisface” in the next linethe words “merged” together like the two playwrights.

That is, “He” [the engraver, but also the graver, who deals in Death] hath “hid” / “buried” his [the true Shakespeare’s / Shakespeares’] face.”

(In the case of more than one Shakespeare, the singular word, “face” would be a synecdoche, a literary figure in which a part represents the whole).

The words ”as he” are also written together, resulting in “ashe”: ”ash hath hid his face,” i.e., Death / Mourning (“Remember, man that thou art dust …”), but also Repentance / Penance (e.g., “sackcloth and ashes,” Ash Wednesday).

In addition, ashes are also used to Disguise (in 1 Kings 38, 41, for example, a prophet hides his identity by applying ashes to his eyes / face (e.g., in the Great Bible, Bishops, Geneva and King James Bibles of Shakespeare’s general timeframe. The Catholic Duoay Rheims used “dust,” and most modern translations refer to “bandages.”

Hisface; the Print would then furpaffe

would then furpaffe – vvudeurae = Edward de Vere

All, that was euer writ in braffe.

euer – ever = Vere

Incidentally, every (excuse the pun) Vere ”sighting” is usually positioned near a word with a “th” in it, which may represent the ”d” in ”de Vere” (similar sound), but I won’t insist on that too much, at this time.

But, fince he cannot, Reader, looke

But, since he cannot, Reader – ueereder = de Vere

bieereder = Derbie, Derbee = Derby

Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

Picture – ure = Vere

Reader … but his Booke – redrbibe = Derby

Derby is William Stanley’s title. Is de Vere’s title, Earl of Oxford / Oxenford, in Jonson’s poem as well? While there is no letter X in the poem, it can be transliterated based on sound, and in fact, spelling rules in tbe printing trade weren’t standardized until the mid-seventeenth century, well after the publication of the First Folio, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

”O Rare Ben Jonson”
Speaking of word play, Jonson’s epitaph at Westminster Abbey can also be read
”Orare” (Pray)
Photo: Wikipedia

The well-educated, well-read Jonson certainly knew how Oxford was spelled— he was even granted honorary degree by both Cambridge and Oxford Universities— but he would not have wanted his anagram to be “too” obvious. We find, therefore, the following anagrams of de Vere and Stanley’s titles:

Title Anagrams

It was for gentle Shakefpeare cut;

tasforelskc = earl of ocksfort = Earl of Oxford

O,could he but hauedrawne his wit

oldebaudri – earl ov derbie = Earl of Derby

But, fince he cannot, Reader, looke

(s)fceatrdlokearl of ocksford / earl of ocksenford = Earl of Oxford, Earl of Oxenford

bfieaordl – earl of derbie = Earl of Derby

In summary, ”LOOK” is the operative word. You’ll find Edward de Vere’s name within Jonson’s poem, “To the Reader,” but also in the title of his above-mentioned poem, ”To the Memory of My Beloved, the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare.”

ervdaw = Edward de Vere

oerfldask – earl of oksford = Earl of Oxford

“Edward de Vere” is present, too, in the epigraph at the beginning of this post:

That every word doth almost tell my name….

aevrwd = Edward de Vere

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76 (Published 1609)

But, oh dear, Derby may be lurking there, too!

Muses can be fickle that way….

In Jonson’s poem, “To the Reader,” however, the de Vere anagrams outnumber the Derby references 2:1, indicating that the former is the principal author. Born in 1550, de Vere was eleven years Derby’s senior (see Pacuvius and Accius above).

Blue = de Vere
Red = Derby

I purposely skipped a couple of interesting references, but will try to catch them next time. Hopefully, the point has been made: two anagrams would have been a coincidence, but so many is a calculated pattern.

Except where the two names overlap, the de Vere anagrams (in blue) tend to skew left, while Derby’s (in Lancaster red) generally skew to our right. This positioning is clever, if we visualize what happens once the book is shut, and Jonson’s poem and Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare “press” together.

The Derby anagrams (on the righthand side of the poem) would close directly over the forward facing (i.e., “alive” at the time of publication) portion of Shakespeare’s torso (the figure’s chest, lefthand side of portrait).


By contrast, the de Vere anagrams would cover most of the engraving, but in particular, that section of the body that moves away (departed / deceased).

And vero (in truth / truly), Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, whom some consider the true author of the Shakespeare canon, had passed away almost twenty years earlier, in 1604.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
Source: Wikipedia

De Vere was survived, among others, by his daughter Elizabeth Stanley (née Vere), Countess of Derby, and his son-in-law, William Stanley, Sixth Earl of Derby.

Elizabeth Stanley (née de Vere), Countess of Derby. Source: Wilipedia

The de Vere’s family motto, Vero Nihil Verius, is generally translated as “Nothing is Truer than Truth,” though that deserves its own philosophical discussion at another time.

The English Secretarie by Angel Day (1586), featuring the de Vere coat of arms.

Then this is all as true as it is strange: 
Nay, it is ten times true; for Truth is Truth 
To the End of Reckoning.

— William Shakespeare Isabella, Measure for Measure, 5.1

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Mo’ Musings soon!

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Marie’s Musings:


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by Marie Delgado Travis

In my previous post, I discussed— and hopefully added dimension to— John M. Rollett’s theory in William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby (2015), that the anagram formed by the actors’ names in the First Folio (1623) reveals the true author of the Shakespeare canon.

The first name, William Shakeffpeare [Shakespeare] is followed by nine actors whose last names end, “es [is William] Stenley [Stanley].”

Source: Wikipedia.
All Images for Educational Purposes Only.

Making an analogy to what Rollett described as the mismatched embroidery on Shakespeare’s doublet in the portrait by Martin Droeshout the Younger, also in the First Folio, I added that the remaining actors’ names are arranged in less obvious patterns, but provide Stanley’s title, “Sixth Earl of Derby.

Source: Wikipedia

Rather than repeat the entire exercise, I invite you to read the previous article below. It’s difficult to dismiss the actors’ “testimony.”

We’ll write more about William Stanley’s credentials in future posts, but there are two references to his ”penning plays for the common players” in the Calendar of State Papers – Domestic (30 June 1599), “clues” to be explored in due course.

Today, however, let’s return to Shakespeare’s strange aspect in the Droeshout Portrait, and the equally curious poem by “B.I.” [Ben Jonson], which faces it.


Puzzled critics have excused the portrait as the product of a young and inexperienced engraver. Born in 1601, Droeshout would have been about 22 years old at the time of the First Folio’s publication. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, however, states that Martin came from a family of respected engravers, goldsmiths, and painters, some of whom learned their trade in the Low Countries, before emigrating to England. Droeshout’s early work on the National Portrait Gallery’s website also demonstrates that he was quite accomplished.

I believe, therefore, that it was no “accident” that Shakespeare’s portrait in the First Folio is a bit, shall we say, ”le strange.” It was meant as parody, and indeed, a picto- or crypto-gram. After describing the picture in somewhat mocking terms, for instance, Ben Jonson concludes we shouldn’t even to look at it, which is precisely why we should examine it—and what he says about it—curiously.

Markings below mine.

Source: Wikipedia

I’ll let Mr. Jonson do most of the talking. Does he validate the anagram formed by the actors’ names in the First Folio? The answer would seem to be ”Yes,” e.g., in no particular order:


There may be others, especially if one considers a ”p” an upside down ”b” or ”d,” but as we say in Spanish, con un botón basta, ”a button is enough.”

Note that these examples are arranged from the center to the righthand side of Jonson’s poem. That’s perhaps because some rather interesting things are happening throughout the rest of the poem, beginning on the left.

I’ll start with perhaps the most interesting of all:

Now what do you suppose ”B. I.” (as in Two, Twice, Both) meant bi TWO and his silly couplets re Shakespeare’s doublet?

Hmmm …

To be continued ….

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Marie’s Musings:

WILL the REAL ”W.S.”


(Previously published as ”Enter Stage Right” and ”An Aside”).

by Marie Delgado Travis

Marie is an award-winning poet and writer, with Masters degrees in Literature, Fine Arts and Law. 

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[The] greatest matters are many times carried in the weakest ciphers.”— Sir Francis Bacon

In his 2015 book, William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby

… the late British scholar John M. Rollett called attention to a “revealing” acrostic in the list of “Principall Actors” in Shakespeare’s First Folio: Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies (1623).

The acrostic appears to reveal the identity of the real author of the Shakespeare canon— the true W.S.— and once seen, it can never be unseen.

Source: Wikipedia
All Images For Educational Purposes Only.

Let’s examine the list of actors and a few related considerations, step by step:

First, as Rollett noted, the actors’ names are not presented in order of ”rank.” Condell, for example, is almost an afterthought, although he should be featured near the top with his business partner, Hemmings.

At the ”head” of this shuffled arrangement of “Principall Actors” is “William Shakeffpeare,” a relatively minor actor, but presumably the author of the plays in the collection. But is he?

The two letters ”f” embedded in his name represent the letter ”s” (Shakes Speare, Shakespeare). But “ff” happens to be the abbreviation for ”folios following,” suggesting his relationship to the First Folio that “follows.” Folios are also “pages.” The double meaning of the word (leaves of a book, and servants / followers) invites us to look at what follows Shakeffpeare’s name on the list.

Shakeffpeare’s name, for example, is followed by nine actors, whose last names end in the following letter sequence:



(which might be read as ”is”)








That is, William Shakeffpeare (Shakespeare) = William Stanley, [Sixth Earl of Derby (1561-1642)]

2. Derby, you may recall, is pronounced Darby in England (e = a), and since the actors’ names were unlikely to end in ”a” or ”i,” minor letter substitutions were necessary.

Keep in mind that it isn’t just “anyone” making the above identification of Stanley as Shakespeare. It is—at least purportedly— the actors who performed Shakespeare’s works, living and dead. The actor / shareholder William “Shakspere”(as he seems to refer to himself in the perplexingly few and inconsistent examples of his handwriting that exist) had himself been dead seven years (1564-1616), by the time the First Folio was published (1623).

Source: Wikipedia

3. The first column of actors’ names ends with a decorative footer or ”trim” of three successive letters:




This triple ”e” design is almost mirrored at the foot of the second column, but a pesky letter ”n” gets in the way:





The result is still six letters ”e,” presumably for “Sixth Earl.But the intervening ”n” also forms nee / née from the French naitre (”to be born as”).

We are familiar with née to introduce a woman’s maiden name. But there is also a masculine form, né, e.g., writer-philosopher Voltaire (né François-Marie Arouet). Voltaire was his nom de plume (pen name), and if indeedthe pen is mightier than the sword,” it was also arguably his nom de guerre. Could ”Shakes Speare” have been a nom de plume / guerre, as well? We’ll consider that possibility in a future post.

Interestingly, the interloping letter ”n” is also present in the first column of the actors’ names, just not in the same vertical pattern we saw with “Stenley.” In fact, probably intentionally, it forms the shape of a ”knee.”




(né and née)

This insistence on ”birth name” suggests that the William Shakeffpeare on the first line is doing double duty. It subsumes the name of the actor Shakspere, but it also serves as a ”fictional” name for a hidden author, who perhaps is using the actor as a cover or “front man.” It was, after all, considered unseemly for a nobleman to write for commercial purposes, and playwrights and players were held as little more than vagrants and vagabonds.

Indeed, if we look closely at the strange portrait of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout in the First Folio, we can see a curious outline around his face. The figure seems to be wearing a mask, which along with a “harlequin” effect mentioned by Rollett, suggests we are dealing with “theater,” or if you will, a carefully orchestrated “Comedy of Errors,” complete with doubles / doppelgängers (W.S.)

Source: Wikipedia

And it wasn’t that Droeshout couldn’t draw. Consider the detail in this engraving from the 1630’s:

Source: Wikimedia

4. There are other parallels between the list of actors and Droeshout’s odd portrait of Shakespeare in the First Folio. Rollet refers to a 1911 article by an observant tailor, who noticed “gaps”in the pattern of embroidery on the doublet and that in fact, one side of Shakespeare’s doublet is facing the wrong way. It seems to represent the back shoulder of the garment, rather than the front / chest.

We’ll have more to say about this curious effect at a future time. For now, let’s say that, like the differences in patterns in the two columns of actors’ names, the two sides of the doublet make an “IN-comparable paire.”

5. The second or righthand column of actors’ names offer a number of references to Earl / Earle / Erle (remembering that spelling had yet to be standardized), e.g.,

SAmuEL GiLbuRnE = Earl, Earle, Erle

WiLLiAm OstLER = Earl, Erle

Coincidence? We shall see too many examples below to call it that.

6. And although others have discovered the last name of the dramatist Edward Dyer in the second column, why not the place, Derby, which is more on point, given the first column’s Stenley / Stanley?






DYERD = Derdy

“Stenley” is written vertically and straightforwardly, so as not to be missed. But the second column simply follows a different pattern, not unlike Shakespeare’s patchwork doublet, in which there are irregularities, and sometimes, back is front.

7. Note how William Stanley, Sixth Earl of Derby, signed his name:

Thanks to Michael Prescott for preserving this image which had ”disappeared” from Wikipedia.

Since b = d, why not b = d, particularly given the constrictions posed by the actors’ names?

8. But if you don’t believe your eyes, look again:



DERDY = Derby

A derdy trick indeed!

9. The ”f” in Eccleftone serves a second function, as well. The ”s” in Ecclestone, of course, but also the ”of” in Earl of Derby.

10. Continuing down the list,



give us both the ”of” and

YRBED = Derby (this time with a proper ”B”)

— not to mention the title ”LORD,”as Earls were customarily addressed.

William Stanley’s full Coat of Arms
Source: Wikipedia

11. Again, looking curiously at




we see a number of combinations of Earl, Earle and Erle, including the imperfectly perfect




12. Humorously, the word ”Erle” is not only an alternate Middle English spelling and homonym for the title Earl. ”Erle” also signifies ”Bee,” the sometimes missing “B” in Derby.

13. But there is another clue regarding the author’s true identity in the list of actors. Richard Burbage’s last name—famous because of his role as both a leading actor and theatrical empresario— is purposely misspelled “Burbadge.” That is, he is wearing a ”badge,” as followers of noblemen wore to indicate their allegiance. And to whom is Burbage professing allegiance? Certainly not to William Shakspere, a lesser actor than himself. The cryptogram provides the answer— to William Stanley, the Sixth Earl of Derby.

Study the list and you’ll see that the ”Slye” comedian Will Kempe is well-“Kempt” on the occasion of the Folio’s introduction, and there’s even a “Taylor” in the procession— one who really needs to mend Shakespeare’s doublet. Sorry, love puns!

Richard Burbage. Dulwich College.
Source: Wikipedia
Will Kempe.
Source: Wikipedia

14. Badges, incidentally, were usually ”heraldic” in nature. But who can forget the passion and import of the white and red roses in William Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part One? Shakespeare’s War of the Roses trilogy is intimately connected with the Stanley family history.

Stanley—as well as his father Henry, and older brother, Ferdinando—also had a long history of involvement with the theater. More than patron, William Stanley is described in a pair of intercepted letters in the Calendar of State Papers – Domestic (June 30, 1599) as “busy penning plays for the common players”— all aspects we’ll delve into soon.

Scene in the Temple Garden by Henry Payne (1908). Source: Wikimedia

15. Speaking of heraldry, note the similarities between William of Stratford’s coat of arms (upper) and William Stanley’s (lower). One would think a writer would display a bit more creativity. Or was he honoring Stanley, too?

Shakespeare Coat of Arms
Stanley Coat of Arms

In reviewing the validity of William Shakespeare’s 1596 application for his coat of arms about a century later (ca. 1700), he is referred to as an actor, not as a poet / playwright, which is strange, wouldn’t you say?

Folger Shakespeare Library
MS V.a. 350 p. 28

Someone also famously inserted a comma in his motto, changing it from Non Sanz Droict (“Not without Right”) to Non, Sanz Droict (“No, without Right”). Was a cheeky clerk at the College of Arms also trying to tell us something?


Are we having fun yet? Oh, we’re just getting started. I’ve yet to tell you the rest of the story. More Musings soon! In the meantime … just a thought!

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