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.
“[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.
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).
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 indeed “the 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.)
And it wasn’t that Droeshout couldn’t draw. Consider the detail in this engraving from the 1630’s:
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:
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.
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!
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.
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?
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?
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!