The Mask, the Monument, the Antiquarian & the Antipodean SF

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”

George Vertue, c.1737.

Writing an, “about me” page or biog is daunting. Attached to my blog, I inevitably feel that I have to somehow justify why I would have the knowledge or know-how to interest you. The other question that it confronts me with is, why blog? And then, why WordPress? The simple answer is that I’ve been told to. Along with, ” If you want to write you must read a lot, and write every day.” As well as the idea that when you blog you put yourself on the line. You have to push yourself to be clear in your thoughts and focus on communicating your ideas. Because WordPress was the buzzword at writer’s festivals, I chose this platform. I think it was a good choice as we who blog here are a part of a writer-reader community. I think it’s paid off. Why?

I’ve just had my first short story published in the Anitpodean SF – issue 206. My story is Regene-eration and, yes, there is a theatrical element to it. If you are interested in reading it – GO AWAY NOW!!!!! Because I’m going to write about the inspiration behind it before my thoughts trail off.

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

We write about what we know, what we think we know or what we can imagine. In my case I had recently read Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s, The True Face of William Shakespeare and was inspired.  I read the coffee table version of her thesis that used forensics, professional criminology techniques, old fashioned reading and archival research to find the true likeness of William Shakespeare and in the process test the authenticity of the Darmstadt Death Mask. What is the Darmstadt Death mask? Why, it’s an authentic plaster cast of the face of the man from Stratford, complete with an inscription date of its execution, 1616, and with the down turned moustache and gaunter face of the first sketch-picture of the Stratford monument by antiquarian William Dugdale! So we are told. Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s thesis is an impressive case study.

Her extraordinary research techniques are fun and fascinating, if not convincing. (I can’t have faith in the results of a study that seriously considers images painted with the subjective eye of another human being as being true and precise testimonies of the appearance of their sitter. One of the first pitfalls I was warned against in studying life drawing is that we who draw/paint portraits will err with our judgement primordially making our sitter look a little like ourselves.) Where I admire Hammershimidt-Hummel’s work is in her archival research. The Darmstadt Death Mask turned up in the 19th Century with the claim that it was Shakespeare’s Death Mask but its provenance was incomplete. How did it come to be in Germany?

Hummel tells us that it first appeared in 1842 in an auction catalogue for the possessions of Count Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt, former Canon at the Cathedral in Mainz. It was displayed in the British Museum in 1864 as Shakespeare’s Death Mask, despite the lack of explanation of how it came to be in Germany. Hammerschmidt-Hummel came across the following quote in her archival searches:

“After his return from Vienna, he (Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt) went to Strasbourg and Nancy to improve himself, stayed there until March 1775, and then set off on his Journey to London.” (1)

So he went to London. She presents no evidence for his having purchased the mask and indeed whose mask it may have been. Many men died in England in 1616. It could be anyone’s death mask. Where is the evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford had a plaster death mask made?

When I read The True Face of William Shakespeare, I got sooooooo excited. You see I had gone through the Walpole Society’s compilation and publication of the 18th Century English antiquarian, George Vertue’s (1684-1756) Notebooks, and read this:

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”(2)

Vertue I [v.106, BM 586],The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930)

And then he repeats this in a different notebook:

“. . . to Stratford on Avon – W(m) Shakespear Poet his monument in the Church his bust got a cast of it in plaister”

Vertue [v.47 BM 30] (3)

Vertue furnishes us with two mysteries here.

The First Mystery

Could Kesselstatt’s mask be the plaster cast John Anstis made from a monument to Shakespeare residing in a room adjacent to the Church in Stratford? The Charnel House perhaps? George Vertue’s notes are intriguing. He was compiling information about all the painters, limner’s and engravers who were active in England to his day. Like many early antiquarians, he gathered a lot of information that he never edited into a history. His Notebooks were not kept for the use of anyone outside of himself. They are lists of art and in whose household he had seen them or where one of his antiquarian buddies had. Entries are not dated nor in chronological order and he seems to have filled some of them simultaneously.

Just before Vertue’s death, Horace Walpole (1717-1797) purchased his Notebooks and compiled the first history of artists working in England. Walpole, a connoisseur in his own right, edited the Notebooks and presented the history from his own understanding.Could he have also purchased the plaster cast? The plaster cast is not listed in the auction catalogue for the sale of Vertue’s books. He may have sold it privately before his death. Walpole being a connoisseur with a taste for the macabre would have been a candidate to purchase it.

Walpole is credited with writing the first English Gothic novel, The Castle of Ortranto (1764). Shakespearean scholar, Samuel Schoenbaum, in his Shakespeare’s Lives(4) reports his more macabre interest in Shakespeare. Apparently in 1769, Walpole offered a challenge to anyone who could furnish him with the skull of Shakespeare.  When it was presented to him in 1794, he declined to pay. If we entertain the idea that Walpole purchased the mask along with the Notebooks in the 1750s, he may have offered the challenge so that he could validate the authenticity of the mask. By the time he was offered the skull, he may have already on-sold the mask and therefore had no need of its authentication. Why would he sell the mask you may ask? In building his dream manor, Strawberry Hill, he was conscious always of his available funds.

Walpole is remembered today as a letter writer as well as an art historian and connoisseur. His letters are an important source of information for his times. He wrote them with his eye on posterity. He is said to have asked them all back and edited them and so they survive in a form that he would have approved for print. Did he mention the mask or Kesselstatt in any of his letters for 1775-6? Not that I could pick up. Would he have wanted posterity to know of such a deal if he did?

Thus the mystery of the provenance remains. But then there is the other mystery. George Vertue makes reference to there being TWO monuments in the 1730s – one in the Chancel and one in the room beside it! Are these the two he meant. . .?

File:Dugdale sketch 1634 Detail.jpg

A thumbnail sketch, from life, of the monument before by William Dugdale (1636). Notice the sack of grain?wool?agriculture! See the differences in the top of the monuments.

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since about the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford


(1) Hammerschmidt-Hummel, Hildegard, The True Face of William Shakespeare, Chaucer Press, London, 2006, p.117.

(2)George Vertue, “Notebooks”, The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930), XX (1931–1932), XXII (1933–1934), XXIV (1935–1936), XXVI (1937–1938), XXIV (1947; Index), XXX (1951–1952; Index).

(3) ibid.

(4)Schoenbaum references Argosy and C.C.Langton, A Warwickshire Man, How Shakespeare’s Skull was Stolen and Found, (1879) in:

Schoenbaum, Samuel, Shakespeare’s Lives, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991.

photo credits

The cover of Antipodean SF issue 206 features the cover art  – Who wins? (credit – Photovision, Pixabay)

1636 thumbnail sketch by Dugdale (1605-1686) of the Stratford Monument, from Wikimedia Commons

Stratford Monument as we know it:

Image from page 183 of “Shakespeare’s England” (1895)

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images /Foter / No known copyright restrictions

W.S., the Also Wrotes (or Edits)

Who was W.S.? Was he really mocking Shakespeare in his pamphlet, Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to buy wit? Did he know Shakespeare to be an illiterate from the country? Did he actually teach Shakespeare how to write comedies? For SAQ enthusiasts getting access to EEBO is worth it just to read this pamphlet. It holds a number of works attributed to W.S. from the late 16th Century and early 17th Century. Not all of them appear to be from the same author. It’s their content that has to be considered when trying to group them as having passed through the editorial or authorial hands of W.S..

What has puzzled me about the Elizabethan writer Edward Oxenford, Earl of Oxford, is that he was lauded as being the best for writing comedies by his contemporary Francis Meres, but none of his comedies is said to have survived. Meres mentions many poets, but the best of each age he places first.

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford, aka Edward de Vere

“The best Poets for Comedy among the Greeks are these, Menander, Aristophanes . . . and among the Latines, Plautus, Terence, . . . so the best for Comedy amongst us bee, Edward Earle of Oxforde, . . .”

Francis Meres Palladis Tamia (1598)(1)

I love this quote as by listing first the Ancient Greek comic writers then the Latin, followed by the English, it puts them on a par. Meres also relates the styles of the first among each age. Plautus and Terence deferred themselves to Menander, as in Shakespeare’s time, Shakespeare greatness was compared to Plautus and Terence. In their comedies of mixed identities and convoluted storylines each of these playwrights passed on a Chinese whisper that informed their plots. Oops!. . .  I said Shakespeare and not Oxford. But was Shakespeare, Oxford? I don’t hold the proof for that but I think I have an argument that Oxford was W.S.(Musario).

Musario was the beloved of the Muses, the comic impresario of 1590’s London. He was London’s greatest wit, a well read scholar of the upper classes. According to the W.S. pamphlet, he taught Tom Long, the country bumpkin, how to write comedy. If we take Francis Mere’s 1598 word for it, a simple socratic deduction would conclude that Musario had to be the Earl of Oxford.

But this is just one pointer. It’s unsatisfying. The argument needs more. I went over my past searches for lost plays by Oxford.

The first pamphlet I came across was The Complaint, which made me suspect erroneously, that Edward Oxenford(e) had written it. I came to this incorrect conclusion based on the biographical references in the prefatory epistle.  In my mind, he is most likely to have been its editor. Soon afterward I discovered EEBO and started searching for works by W.S.. Since then it has been a waiting game as more and more early modern lit is scanned and made available. Following is a list of works that I consider that Oxford either wrote or prepared for print, based on those searches. For some, Oxford’s authorship has already been debated and rejected or held. The criteria for my search has not taken into consideration the style of writing but the content and the possibility, however remote, that Oxford had a hand in them. They are all credited as the work of W.S.. Dates of publication are purely based on my searches and are the earliest that I have found. A date of publication is not a date of authorship, particularly in Elizabethan times.

1574 – A Newe Balade or Songe of the Lambes Feast and Another out of Goodwill (By W.S. Veritatis)

1581- A Compendious or Briefe Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints (aka The Complaint by W.S. Gentleman, at one time attributed to William Shakespeare, now shown to be by Sir Thomas Smith)

1595 – The Lamentable Tragedie of Locrine . . Newly set foorth, overseene and corrected, by W.S. (A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works) – An edited piece by W.S.?

1602 – The True Chronicle Historie of the Whole Life and Death of Thomas Lord Cromwell As it has Sundry Times publikely acted by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his servants. Written by W.S..(A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works)

1607 – To the Faithful Christians – A religious pamphlet/diagram, dense with biblical references signed, “Christes unworthy minister, that desireth your edification. W.S.”

1607 – The Puritaine or the Widow of Watling- Streete Acted by the Children of Paules, written by W.S..(A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works)

1612 – A Funerall Elergye in memory of the late virtuous Maister William Peter of Whipton neere Excester – thought also to have been written by Shakespeare at some time.

1634 – Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit, the Prefatory Epistle is signed by W.S..

Of the earliest of the works above, in signing W.S. Veritatis on A Newe Balade or Song, W.S. provides us with a surname that is a play on Oxford’s family name, Vere. In the Complaint he furnishes us with particulars of his personal life and situation in 1581 that match the Earl’s. He also forces us to consider that he may have been an editor of others’ works. Oxfordian scholar, Nina Green, argues convincingly that The Widow of Watling Streete, was written much earlier than 1607, in the 1570s. (2) She offers, “a matrix of topical references in the play” to argue that it may have been written by Oxford.

Is this enough to require an academic investigation into the possibility that the Earl was W.S.? And if the Earl was W.S., a writer and editor and also Musario, could he also have been responsible for the finished works of Shakespeare? It is a bit of a leap – Oxford as W.S. to W.S. as Shakespeare. However, five of the seven titles signed W.S. above have been considered as the works of William Shakespeare.

Oops! I’m assuming that you’ve already heard that Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays and poems is disputable – along with his image.

(1) Quoted from the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship: ·

(2) Edward de Vere Newsletter, no.4., De Vere Press, June 1989,February 2001.

W.S. Gentleman – Elizabethan Editor

Who was W.S. – MusarioVeritatis – Gentleman?

“TO THE MOST VER-tuous and learned Lady, my most dear and soveraigne Princesse ELIZABETH, by the Grace of GOD, Queene of England, Fraunce, and Ireland: Derfendresse of the Fayth.&c.,

. . . And although this be of itselfe so clear and manyfest that it cannot bee denied, yet could not I forbeare (most renowned sovereigne) being as it were, inforced, my your Maiesties late & singular clemency, in pardoninge certayne my undutiful misdemeanour, but seeke to acknowledge your gracious goodnesse and bounty towardes me, by exhibiting unto you this small and simple present . . .”

W.S. Gentleman, 1581. (1)

Thus saieth the prefatory epistle of one of the foremost sources of information on the social conditions of Tudor England, A Compendious or Brief Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints, of Divers of our Country Men in these Our Dayes. The Complaint, as it is often referred to, was before its time, about two hundred years. It is the first economic pamphlet written in English espousing the idea that, “economic forces and individual self-interest would, if freed and encouraged, contribute automatically to national prosperity and common well-being.” (2) It recognises the possibilities of free-trade as a viable economic system to distribute wealth and marry unlimited wants with limited resources. It does not go as far as advocating for the total removal of industry protection or government regulation but was making suggestions that could easily offend the Tudor monarchy and its advisers. The idea of free trade driven by self-interest as an economic model, would come into its own in the West in the mid 18th Century when Vincent de Gournay coined the term laissez faire, after reading Francois Quesnay’s writing on long debated Chinese views on government intervention. These views were expanded on by Adam Smith later that century.

The Complaint comprises three consecutive dialogues between a Doctor (representing scholars/clerics), husbandman (farmer), knight (landed class/aristocracy), a capper (artificer/tradesman) and a merchant. They all have grievances about the economy. The central concern is the great dearth (inflation) in spite of a lack of scarcity of crops; also the desolation of counties due to enclosures; urban drift, unemployment and riots; and the division of religion setting people against each other. Their grievances are aired. The reasons for their complaints are examined and solutions are suggested. Enclosures and the chase for greater lucre has led to more fields being used for particular crops rather than a variety of agriculture; the price of food is increased; the Capper can’t afford to pay his apprentices because they want too much; imports have risen and so has their cost; merchants are forced into debt to stay in business; and the knight is struggling under inflation as he is on a fixed income and isn’t able to raise his rents due to laws preventing this.

The Complaint went through many print runs. It is an important piece of writing. In the form in which it was originally printed in 1581, it was reprinted in 1751, 1808, 1813 and 1876. People wanted to know who wrote it. It’s recognized author has gone through many name changes. In 1751 William Shakespeare was said to have written it. In the early 19th Century, this attribution was challenged and a search for the true owner of the initials W.S. was made. William Stafford was found to have been proposed by Anthony a Wood (1632-1695). The attribution was convincing. Stafford was indeed granted clemency by the Queen for his Catholicism. Reprints of The Complaint were then made that included the original title page amended to include William Stafford’s full name. In 1876, The Complaint was reprinted for Furnivall’s, New Shakspere Society. It was shown that W.S. could not have been William Stafford as in 1581, Stafford was still a hidden Catholic. Furnivall searched the Domestic State Papers and found no notice of William Stafford in any plot against the Queen until 1587.

In 1893 it appeared in a longer, slightly different form, The Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm of England. Essentially these two pamphlets are the same. The Discourse, however, is the proof that the work was composed far earlier than when it was first printed in 1581. It has been determined via textual references that The Discourse was written in August-September, 1549. These references include the mention of the Enclosure Commissions of 1548; the imposition of a tax on cloth that occurred in 1549; the August 6, 1549, ban on ‘stage plays, interludes, May games (and) revels’ ; and comments on the importation of counterfeit coinage, the scandalous carriage of old currency out of the country and the valuation of the angel at 30 groats.(3) The Complaint was found to be an edited version that brings the Discourse up to date with the results of the enactment of at least one of the recommendations of The Discourse i.e., the debasement of the currency had been reversed, yet inflation persisted.(4) It also addresses the Queen, whereas the earlier Discourse addresses the King.

Sir Thomas Smith (1512-1577)

Sir Thomas Smith (1512-1577)

Did the writer sit on the pamphlet for three decades and then decide to edit it for print? Did someone else edit it?. The Complaint attempts to change the relevant currency values that were applicable to English currency from when it was written to when it was printed 32 years later and fails. The Discourse cites the devaluation (debasement) of English currency for being a cause of the current inflation. By 1581, Elizabeth I had revalued her currency so the updated Complaint omits the dialogue regarding this and includes instead current thought based on the 1568/74 french economic work by Jean Bodin, La Reponse de Maistre Jean Bodin, where he blamed the influx of gold from the New World as the reason for inflation. By comparison to the rest of the pamphlet, this explanation is glossed over and not massaged from different angles as other points are.(5) Other variances occur with differences in the turn of phrases. The Compliant differs with curious additions and omissions from the originals, signature, conversational style

An example of an omission from the merchants speech in the first dialogue occurs when the merchant praises his father-in-law’s charitable works, stating, “And the custom of this city, how it was redeemed by my father-in-law of late.” W.S. drops this altogether for no apparent reason in the Complaint. Elsewhere in the first dialogue, W.S. makes a long addition to the Doctor’s speech on learning which appears in the following quote in italics:

“May we not through cosmography see the situation, temperature, and qualities of every country in the world? Yes, better and with less travail than if we might fly over them ourselves. For that that many others have learned through their travails and dangers they have left to us to be learned with ease and pleasure. Can we not also through the science of astronomy know the course of the planets above and their conjunctions and aspects as certainly as we were among them? Yes, surely that wee may: for tell mee, how came all the learned men heare to fore to the exact and perfit knowledge thereof? Came they not to it by conference and making of circumstances?(yes in deede), so that out of their writings we learned it.”

W.S. it seems felt very strongly about learning through the sharing of information, the reading and testing of that knowledge. This addition reads like a concurrence more than an afterthought.

Could W.S. have been the editor of a work by someone else?

If the writer and the editor were two different people, who were they? We know that the Discourse was controversial. Five scribal copies of it have survived.(6) A note on the Albany MS version of the Discourse informs us that it was knocked back from publication. In its original form it was regarded as too controversial for print. Who would write such a thing? The writer of the Discourse (as opposed to the editor of the Complaint) has this to say of himself:

“. . . albeit I am not of the King’s Council to whom the consideration and reformation of the same does chiefly belong, yet knowing myself to be a member of the same Commonweal and called to be one of the Common House where such things ought to be treated of, I cannot reckon myself a mere stranger to this matter; no more than a man that were in a ship which were in danger of a wreck might say that, because he is not percase the master or pilot of the same, the danger thereof did pertain nothing to him.”(7)

On the scribal copy owned by William Lambarde, that bares his name, there is a handwritten note that W.S. was not the author but it was most likely Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577), Secretary of State during the reign of Edward IV or John Hales (1516?26?-1572), Clerk of the Hanaper. When the full Discourse was printed in 1893, its 19th century editor, E. Lamond, supported John Hales, as the author. Dewar deftly argues against Hales and for Smith.(8) To quote her:

” ‘The Authorship’ where these arguments are developed fully and a contrast is drawn between the Discourse and the known views of John Hales, e.g., his dislike of the civil law, his approval of active lay participation in Church affairs, his discouragement of the manufacture of cloth within the realm, his totally different explanation of the inflationary phenomena of the time, and above all his adherence to the traditional, ‘commonwealth’ view that the troubles of society arose solely from the greed of men for private profit which should be restrained by law.”

(Dewar p. xxiii, footnote 41)

Fundamentally, Hales strongly held belief that the dearth was a product of greed, conflicts with the Discourses progressive view that self-interest coupled with economic forces could help alleviate economic stress. She sees in Lamond’s argument for Hales a lack of understanding of the facts of Smith’s life. She asserts Smith on the ground that the conversational style of the dialogue reflects his other works and the content itself is echoed in his other writings, in particular his dislike of the debasement of the currency. Today, Smith’s authorship is often asserted in library records for this work.

If Sir Thomas Smith was the writer, who then could be the editor?

From the prefatory epistle and its omissions and additions e.g., a religious slagging that was inserted into the Complaint that does not appear in the Discourse we may confer certain attributes to the editor.

  1. W.S. was a Gentleman, i.e., he was upper class
  2. W.S. was given a royal pardon in 1581
  3. W.S. had sway with the Queen and/or her advisors to receive this pardon
  4. W.S. had access to the highly sensitive writings of Sir Thomas Smith, making him either a scribe, a student or a close family member/friend
  5. W.S. wasn’t an economist
  6. W.S. had a high regard for learning and scholarly pastimes
  7. W.S. had a penchant for tweaking phrases
  8. W.S. had a strong need to publically disparage the Pope and by association Catholicism at the time of printing.

Dewar proposed  Sir Thomas Smith’s nephew and future heir, William Smith. William Smith on inheriting his uncle’s properties could be thought of as a gentleman. In 1580 he was summoned back from Ireland where he was trying to restore his Uncle’s properties in Ardes. That this activity would have invited the occasion that he would be in need of the Queen’s clemency is questionable. How much sway he had with the Queen or her advisers would have rested with his uncle if indeed his activities in Ireland required a royal pardon. After his uncle’s death in 1577, he inherited his uncle’s estate. His personal notebooks bare witness to his copying from his uncle’s writings in 1580. After seeing his notebooks, Dewar paints him to be quite dull-witted. She ascribes to him all that she sees that is clumsy in the text – the tweaking of phrases and the bad maths. She can’t imagine that he had the capacity to read the Frenchman, Bodin’s work and then update the Discourse with it. William Smith, did sign his name Wm. Smythe, Wm. Sm., and W.S.. He is not known to have had anything else printed. Nor does she mention him in relation to any Catholic plots that would require vindication and an affirmation of a dislike of the Pope, like in the case of William Stafford. William Smith, is not a perfect fit.

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere (1550-1604)

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere (1550-1604)

W.S. says of himself with phrases amended from Sir Thomas Smith:

” . . . albeit I am not one to whome the consideration and reformation of the same doth especially belong; yet knowing my selfe to bee a Member of the same Common weale, and not to further it by all the ways that possibly I may, I cannot recken and account my selfe a mere straunger to this matter; no more than a man that were in a shippe, which being in daunger of wracke, might say, that because he is not the Maister or Pylate of the same, the daunger thereof doth pertayne nothing at all to him.”(9)

Is there a better candidate?

In consideration of the authorship of the songs by W.S. Veritatis could the Earl of Oxford, Edward Oxenford (aka Edward de Vere) have used the initials W.S. again to edit the Complaint? The Earl was definitely a Gentleman by class. He was given a royal pardon in 1581 after having been thrown into prison. He had committed two misdemeanours: impregnating one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting; and being embroiled in a Catholic scandal. In renouncing Catholicism, the name-calling towards the end of the Complaint, is a public exorcising.(10) He had some sway with the Queen in his lifetime in that he was at one time one of her favourites and that his father-in-law was William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s closest adviser. Did he have access to Sir Thomas Smith writings? Sir Thomas Smith was his tutor. An economist he is not known for being, but he was fluent in French, was a patron of writers and had a variety of scholarly books dedicated to him. As for playing with phrases, he wrote a poem or two.

Mary Dewar believed that Sir Thomas Smith himself did the updating of the pamphlet in 1576, when he was said to have revisited the writings of his younger days. She believed William Smith then prepared it for print. She disliked the frenetic tweaking of phrases. In her opinion it is clumsy and obscures the meaning somewhat. I must disagree, as I found myself turning to the Complaint more often than the Discourse when I needed greater clarity in comparing the two versions.

Was Edward Oxenford, W.S. Gentleman?

Was W.S. Gentleman the editor of this pamphlet, the lyricist W.S. Veritatis, the pamphleteer W.S. of Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit or Bought Wit is Best, the playwright W.S. responsible for The Puritan Widow or The Widow of Watling St, The History of Thomas Lord Cromwell and the Tragedy of Locrine?


(1) Gentleman, W.S., A Compendious or Brief Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints, of divers of our Country Men in these Our Dayes, Thomas Marshe, 1581.

(2) Hughes, E., The Authorship of the Discourse of the Commonweal Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, XXI, 1937, p.168.

(3)Dewar, Mary, A Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm attributed to Sir Thomas Smith, Folger Shakespeare Library, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1969, p.XIX.

(4) The Devaluation of the currency, or debasement, occurred when coins were minted with a greater alloy content and were not valued as highly overseas. The value of English currency fell.

(5)The Lambarde MS, held by University College, London ; Yelverton MS (BM Add MS48047 ff174-227); Bodleian MS (Add. C. 273); Hatfield MS; Albany (Phillipps)MS held by State University of NY. (Dewar)

(6) Dewar argues that the writer himself amended this section. I disagree in that it doesn’t display his indepth explanatory style.

(7)Dewar, Mary, A Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm attributed to Sir Thomas Smith, Folger Shakespeare Library, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1969, p.11.

(8) Dewar, Mary,The Authorship of the ‘Discourse of the Commonweal’The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1966), pp. 388-400.

(9) Furnivall, F.J. (ed.), William Stafford’s Compendious or Brief Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints of Divers of our Countrymen in these Our Dayes, New Shakspere Society, Series VI, No. 3, 1876, p.15.

(10) W.S. refers to the Pope through the Doctor’s speech in the third dialogue as, “that whore of Babylon.” ibid. p. 98.

An Interview with Rambler

If the 17th Earl of Oxford was the creative force of the works of Shakespeare, how is it that no one let the cat out of the bag? Ok, he was an aristocrat and writing was beneath him – he couldn’t disparage his own reputation. But he didn’t live in isolation and certainly having his works publicly performed invited commentary. Where is it?

Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to buy Wit, is only the surface of commentary on the Earl, his relationship with other writers and William of Stratford. What lies beneath is a watery wonderland of allusions and in-jokes waiting to be explored. Rambler does just this on Quake-speare Shorterly blog. His blog is an eye-opener.

Plays of the time are full of insider jokes and references that he fastidiously unpacks in his posts. His blog demonstrates how well playwrights of the time knew each other, worked within each other’s circle of influence, and responded to Oxford/Shakespeare.

1. How did you first come to doubt that William of Stratford wrote the works?

I wasn’t interested in Shakespeare until my curiosity was aroused by reading a paragraph in a non-literary newsletter about J.T. Looney’s book. (“Shakespeare” Identified as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.)

2. Did you discover allusions to Oxford in the Elizabethan drama first, or did you have an idea that Oxford was the one and go looking for him?

Reading about Vere (as I prefer to call him) in Looney was my first exposure to early modern literature. So after reading Looney I was already intrigued. Only later, after I’d read an Oxfordian book by H.H. Holland, did the identification of Vere in certain Shakespeare plays set me on my present path.

The Earl of Oxford, clasping the hand of his lately deceased wife? By Nicholas Hilliard, with the kind permission of theVictoria and Albert Museum

Shakespeare/Vere aka “Unknown Man clasping a Hand” By Nicholas Hilliard, with the kind permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.(1)

3. What is the most painfully, obvious allusion to Oxford that has been overlooked by mainstream scholars?

In the world of literary allusion, nothing is obvious.To put it another way, with circumstantial evidence there’s no such thing as ‘too much’. My approach entails an accumulation of allusions, such that the sheer weight of numbers becomes as close to irrefutable as possible in this kind of investigation.

For example, one of the most powerful discrete observations was made in Holland’s book, Shakespeare Through Oxford Glasses, published in 1923. While studying, Romeo and Juliet, he noted certain lines which seemed to him to bear on Vere’s genealogy. Here’s a transcript from pages 71-2 of his book:

Turning to the Oxford allusions, we will first consider Romeo’s remark in Act 1, Scene 4: “For I am proverbed with a grandsire phrase. I’ll be a candleholder and look on.” It is admitted that this may be taken for a very ordinary remark to be used in the play. So far as the play is concerned, it presumably means that as the proverb – which is as old as the time of his grandparents – has it, he will be a candle-holder and look on. This is quite a natural thing to say, assuming that there were such a proverb in existence, and there is no reason to question it. When, however, a lookout is kept for personal allusions, there are points in the remark which are noticeable. If it is not a presumption to say so, it does appear a clumsy way of expressing the meaning, to say he is proverbed with a phrase; and if this clumsiness is admitted, and it is consequently accepted as not the real meaning, then it appears that Romeo had some family motto, or something of that nature, to which he is punningly alluding. There is nothing, however, in his name to cause such a remark. Now turn to the Earl of Oxford. His grandmother’s name was Elizabeth Trussell. “Trussell” is an old way of spelling, “trestle”. [OED: “16-17 trussell”, under the entry for “trestle”] and an old meaning for the word trestle is a stand or frame for candles or tapers burning in religious worship [OED:”Obs.”]. It can, therefore, be literally said that through his grandmother, the Earl was a candle-holder. In his grandmother’s name of Trussell, he is, in fact, proverbed with a grandsire phrase, and consequently he will be a candle-holder and look on. If it is merely a coincidence it is a most extraordinary one.

Quite some time – several years, probably – after reading Holland, I saw a remark by Gabriel Harvey: “I cannot stand nosing of candlesticks, or euphuing of similies, ala Savoica,” which seemed to refer somehow to Vere and his relationship with Lyly at the Savoy. I wondered whether the “candleholder” (Vere/Shakespeare) and the “candlesticks” (Harvey) might not be a kind of related literary argot for Vere, a marker for someone not to be named outright. I was faced with the daunting task of exploring large areas of early modern prose and poetry and drama in order to confirm or explode my suspicions. Naturally there are considerable areas that I’ve not touched, because the field is so vast. Nevertheless, there are very, very strong indications that the word, “candlelight” is an allusion to Vere. So there seems to be a constellation incorporating candleholder-candlestick-candlelight. As more ground was covered in my investigation, it emerged that contemporary writers expanded the circumference of this marker group to include other concepts associated with light when they wanted to allude to Vere.

So Holland’s claim that Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet was alluding to Vere by means of the word, candleholder, was compelling but not conclusive, and of course has been dismissed by orthodox scholars, because you can’t prove a one-off. So far I’ve seen about a half-dozen uses of the word, candlelight, by several different authors, which seem to indicate Vere. You can either interpret this as sheer coincidence or as deliberate strategy by Vere’s contemporaries. That’s the way it is with circumstantial (textual) evidence and inductive reasoning: you take your choice. The candle/light constellation isn’t the only one I’ve discovered.

4. Do you have a favourite allusion?

See question 3. I also have a favourite type of allusion. As we know, the orthodox, i.e., Stratfordian chronology of Shakespeare’s plays is sacrosanct, broadly speaking. Hamlet, 1599-1602. Twelfth Night, 1601-2. No real wiggle room. It’s particularly gratifying to uncover allusions to Shakespeare plays in works by other writers at a time when Shakespeare’s plays had, according to the scholarly consensus, yet to be written.

For example, the character of Dowsecer in George Chapman’s, A Humorous Day’s Mirth. This successful play was written in 1597 and published in 1599. There is one scene which is clearly derived from Hamlet; in fact much of Dowsecer’s manner and personality shadows that of Hamlet. Millar Maclure, preeminent Chapman critic in his day, wrote in his 1966 literary biography of Chapman that, “Premonitions of Hamlet abound in this scene”. A less challenging explanation than that some mysterious psychic powers were bestowed on Chapman is that Hamlet was already in the domain of Shakespeare’s fellow writers.

Another instance relates to Twelfth Night. In his 1599 play, Every Man Out of His Humour, Ben Jonson supplied a remarkably accurate precis of the plot of Twelfth Night, a play which, we are confidently told, wouldn’t be composed for another two years. Still, the presence of more, yet more, psychic phenomena amongst Shakespeare’s contemporaries has made some critics nervous – as it should. The late Anne Barton, one of the most respected critics of recent times in 1981 called Jonson’s summary an, “alarmingly prescient account of Twelfth Night, a play Shakespeare had not written”. Three years later she wrote her literary biography entitled, Ben Jonson, Dramatist, by which time she had somehow suppressed her anxiety. She substituted for the phrase, “alarmingly prescient account of Twelfth Night,” the more quaint, though almost equally fantastic, “wistful anticipation of Twelfth Night“. Trepidation alleviated by a sprinkling of magic dust.

5. In his day, Shakespeare was not the most popularly patronised playwright. In light of the allusions, on the whole, how do you think other playwrights/poets saw him?

Every other writer perceived Shakespeare differently, and their views must have changed over time. So there is no, “on the whole.” A repeated theme seems to imagine Vere as an ass-genius, idiot-savant, wise fool. As a man who squandered his birthright, and violated the traditions that accompanied it. When they discuss him at all, other writers see Shaxper(2) as an ambitious parvenu in London, an aspiring man-about-town, someone whom Vere had taken under his wing but who ultimately disappointed the earl.

6.“Exit pursued by a bear,” – what does it mean?

It means that he exits and a bear is chasing him. Or it might allude to the Earl of Leicester, whose family emblem was a bear and ragged staff. Or it might be a metaphor for something else entirely. That’s what I mean by an accumulation of evidence. If the same or a similar stage direction or text were found elsewhere, it might give you some indication of what the direction in Winter’s Tale means. As things stand, the Winter’s Tale phrase remains a singleton, a one-off, with no precedent and no subsequent (which is a noun I just invented). There are no referents available for corroboration, so any interpretation remains guesswork.

Thank you, Rambler, for your detailed responses throwing light on Vere and his peers and allowing me to interview you for my blog.

Image Credit

(1) Nicholas Hillard’s Unknown Man clasping a Hand, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

(2) One of the many variations of the name used by the family of the countryman from Stratford who went to London and donned the mantle, William Shakespeare. (Crafty Theatre)


W.S. Veritatis – Elizabethan Lyricist

Who was this W.S. who mocked the countryman who came to London to make commerce with comedy? Who was he, who claimed to be the greatest wit in London? Who was this pamphleteer behind, Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit? Whose were the plays printed besides Shakespeare’s in the 3rd and 4th Folios? Who else’s plays were published in quarto editions bearing William Shakespeare’s name during the Stratford man’s lifetime?

Looking for works published with the initials, W.S. from the middle of the 16th Century until the publication of the Third Folio in 1664(1) I hoped to find an answer. Above the earliest instance of his initials, that I found, was a couple of songs by W.S.: A New Balade or Songe of the Lamb’s Feast and ANother out of Goodwill. They were published together in a pamphlet in Cologne in 1574. At the bottom of ANother out of Goodwill, W.S. signed the pamphlet  “PER W.S. VERITATIS”. The songs are printed with dense side references expressed with archaic Biblical abbreviations e.g., Math.22.a., Esa.2a.25b., and 2Tess.1.a.2.b..

Questions arise: why was the pamphlet printed in English and in Cologne; for whom was it intended; why does a song need textual notes; how are the biblical abbreviations to be deciphered; and who was W.S. Veritatis? With the kind permission of EEBO, I present this vernacular translation of the first of the two songs.

A New Ballad or Song of the Lamb’s Feast (1574)

I heard one say:

Come now away

Make no delay:

Alack, why stand ye then?

All is doubtless

 in readiness

There wants but Gesse,

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest in very deed (refrain)

That’s found a Guest in the Marriage-weed. (refrain)

Continue reading

WS- Pamphleteer, Playwright, Poet…Persona Incognitus

Scaramouche, Scaramouche! But who is Mufario, and why does he hide his face behind a mask?

Musario, Musario! But who is Mufario, and why does he hide his face behind a mask?



“Musario, Musario! But who is Musario? And why does he hide his face behind a mask? You don’t know? Well, I’ll tell you . . . ” – misquoted from Scaramouche, MGM, 1952.



In my recent post, 3.What Authorship Question: Shakespeare? Who? Homer? I toyed with the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were written by several hands. Why? His universal view of women changes between the genres of his plays, and does so in a stratified way i.e., his comedies show a greater understanding than his histories.

Group Theory is not a new concept in terms of the discussion of the Bard’s immortal plays. It dates back to at least Delia Bacon’s, The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, 1857. Despite the vaccuous, vapid logic of people who haven’t actually read her manifesto, and who will tell you otherwise, she was not a Baconian but a Groupist. She proposed a group of writers working together with the aim of bringing enlightenment to their audiences using that great educator of the soul, storytelling. Her group included Walter Raleigh, Francis Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford, among others.

The idea that more than one hand created the works, is popular today also among orthodox Shakespearean scholars who concede collaboration. A book that I have found very persuasive on the topic is John Mitchell’s, Who Wrote Shakespeare? (1996). In it he goes through the candidates, popular to his day, and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of their cases beginning with William of Stratford. If he had to choose a single candidate, he leans towards Bacon because he sees in the workings of Bacon, “(a) subtle, devious mind and (a) practical idealistic purpose.” (1). However, a single author doesn’t satisfy him and he at one point proposes a group headed by Oxford (2), that included the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland, Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe, and of course, Bacon was an integral member .

The problem with Group Theory is talk. If such a Group existed and were sworn to secrecy, wouldn’t someone let the cat out of the bag? And what of the theatre shareholder who bore their label, William Shakespeare, wouldn’t he talk? Where is the evidence of this talk? Can it all be restricted to euphemistic and oblique references in plays whose meaning has now exited, pursued by a bear?

Well, it’s not all obscure. Sonnet 81 is the author’s paeanful dirge to his unacknowledged authorship. I am not the first, nor the last, to proclaim its importance to the SAQ. It’s the alpha and the omega of why William Shakspere was not the author, William Shakespeare. However, it isn’t the only published slight.

Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit, by the anonymous pamphleteer, W.S., is very telling. The pamphlet is a parody of Theophrastus’ ancient parody on human character, Characters. Tom Long is a countryman who comes from the town of Gotham(3) where the citizens have the reputation of being witless. He has been sent to London by the aldermen because the town has been prevailed upon to stage a comedy or masque for the entertainment of its lord. The problem is that there is no one in the town with the wit to write it, so they have sent Tom off to procure wit by the horse-load. Unfortunately, Tom can’t read. If he is to learn wit, it has to be spoken to him. He hears tell of a marvellously witty scholar, Musario, who he presently encounters.

Musario proceeds to satirise all different kinds of scholars that he sees in society. Because life is a School of Repentance, his witty scholars are just people who have had to learn wisdom from their experiences. His advice to these people is that rather than suffer the consequences of experience, buying their wit would be preferable. Conversely, he also promotes the idea that by their suffering and repentence they have paid for their wit, or wisdom if you like.

Musario has a broader understanding of wit than we commonly use today. For Musario wit is wisdom, experience, understanding, and the ability to laugh at our own foibles. Thus he associates having wit with the capability to write comedies.

Musario is presented, and then presents himself, as a doyen of wit. The point of view of the author quickly moves from a god’s eye perspective to Musario’s perspective. Tom Long is presented as a country bumpkin. Coming from a place of no wit, he stays in London at least another five years after which time he has Musario’s words of wisdom published. Why? “So by mingling wit and mirth together, he might please those that desire to be merry.”

John Dee Seal

John Dee’s alchemical seal

The question to be asked of the pamphlet is whether Musario had in mind certain people who he was satirising? One of the scholars, Mr Phantastes bears a great resemblance to the polymath, John Dee. Musario describes a humoursome man with too many professions to spend his estate on, who cannot focus on one. He dabbles in alchemy to the point that he changes his own form until he looks, “a page of Saturn … melancholy black, looking so pale and wan.” Is he having a bit of fun at specific wits of London? Were they contributors of Shakespeare’s canon?

To tackle this question the first thing that has to be determined is when the pamphlet was written as opposed to when it was published. Musario tells us that it was first published 5 years after he wrote it. The copy that I have read was published in 1634. Nowhere on the front cover does it state whether it is a first or subsequent printing. By this reckoning the latest it could have been written is 1629. But when is the earliest? To ascertain this we may look at the names Musario gives his Wits. One of them is Pierce Pennilesse the Ploughman. Pierce Penniless first appeared in print in a pamphlet by Tom Nashe in 1592. It was an incredibly successful pamphlet of the early 1590’s going into three print runs and being translated into French.  It stands to reason that Bought Wit is Best was first published after Pierce Penniless, His Supplication to the Divell but soon enough in memory for the reference to have meaning.

 A probable date of composition for Bought Wit is Best is in the 1590s. Shakespeare’s greatest period of writing in London. Shakespeare, like Tom Long, was from the country and came to London to do commerce in wit. But if Tom Long is supposed to be Shakespeare, why is it that he can’t read? Mufario couldn’t mean William Shakespeare? Was he of the opinion that it pained Shakespeare to write, too?

Who was Musario anyway? Was Musario a construct of the author W.S., or was he W.S.? Who is Tom Long supposed to be? Is Gotham really the historic town in Lancashire? Is London meant to be London?

Who was the pamphleteer, playwright, poet and lyricist, W.S.? In the 1600s the publishers of the third and fourth folios knew him to be William Shakespeare. They published three of W.S.’s plays in the Third (1663) and Fourth (1685) Folios of the Collected Works of William Shakespeare: The History of Thomas Lord Cromwell, The Puritan Widow and The Tragedy of Locrine. All of these plays had been printed in quarto editions during the lifetime of William of Stratford with the initials, W.S.. According to Wikipedia, The Puritan Widow has now been reattributed to Thomas Middleton on stylistic comparison; the Tragedy of Locrine is still of unknown authorship, but it’s stiff verse excludes it from Shakespeare’s hand although he may have edited it; and the penmanship of The History of Thomas, Lord Cromwell, has also eluded scholars and baffled them with the strange way the first half of the play is more polished than the second.

For scholars, the three plays in question just don’t live up to their expectations of Shakespeare. But what of his juvenilia? Did he not cut his teeth somewhere? Was he born with a full set of teeth? Why were these plays excluded from the first and second Folios? Was there an induction process whereby only the best plays were included? These plays by W.S. were added to the canon alongside 4 others. Of the seven, only Pericles, Prince of Tyre has been acknowledged a genuine Shakespeare original. However, even Pericles is said to have been a collaborative effort.

Interestingly enough, when reading through the Wits satirised by W.S., a few bring to mind characters in Shakespeare’s plays.  Antonio from the Merchant of Venice can be though as having bought his wit thus:

There is a third way of buying wit, and that is by suretyship, when some young man or any other (being of a good nature, and so more easily deceived) is willing to pleasure his friend, and to stand between him and harm by being bound for him and by setting his hand and seal to it, makes so fair a hand, that in short time his friend shrinks away and he is left to the mercy of the creditor… (4)

Shakespeare’s fascination with the cuckholded husband also runs through a few of the characters as a consequence of their actions. Is this enough to pin the Shakespeare name on the pamphlet? Would he lampoon himself as being from the country, unable to read, unable to write comedy, and from a society whose greatest foible was its propensity to go to court over petty concerns eg a trespassing goose?

W.S. holds Tom Long apart from Musario. In fact, Musario’s wits are almost all Londoners. Be they men or women, they are from the merchant class or above. They are educated and have money to spend. He doesn’t understand the countryman’s concerns and can only poke fun at his antics involving lawyers in the city.

From Musario’s judgements we can infer certain things about him. He is a man-about-London-Town, a scholar and a wit. He has knowledge enough of English folklore, Old Testament stories and Greek mythology but not the confidence to quote in Greek, though he bandies about his Latin. He hints at his once having been wealthy when he talks of prodigal youth waxing philosophically. His advice to women on choosing a husband brand him an aristocrat. In marriage to choose money over birth/social rank is folly. As is choosing money over wit. In fact his advice is best kept by those with money and/or rank. In this pamphlet he presupposes that living in the country, in an agricultural profession precludes having wit.

The exhibited knowledge in this pamphlet overlaps with that of Shakespeare the writer down to Ben Jonson’s claim that his Latin was better than his Greek. But why would he lampoon countrymen, his own? And if he did, why doesn’t the satire encompass the various issues of countrymen and their character stock types? For Musario, countrymen are litigious, petty, uneducated “Goodmen Clodpoles” who in coming to the city can best hope for local preferment on their return having gained city wit.

We aren’t told whether Tom Long learns enough wit from Mufario to write his own comedies. From the little factual information that has come down to us about William of Stratford, the evidence of his life resonates with Tom Long and the Goodmen “Halfpenny” and “Clodpole” of Bought Wit is Best: a litigious nature, an extended stay in London, a return home a success, an interest in civic advancement (the attainment of the coat of arms for his father) a delving into the production of comedies, and a questionable education (the only evidence of his handwriting are the near illegible signatures and the story that it pained him to write.)

Was Tom Long meant for William Shakspere of Stratford? Are the Wits satirised in the pamphlet Shakespeare’s collaborators? Who was W.S.?

Further Reading

For references to the greatest poets in the Elizabethan Age, that omit Shakespeare and pre-date the publication of the first folio see:

On Pierce Penniless


  • Mitchell, John, Who Wrote Shakespeare, Thames and Hudson, London, 1996, Chapter IX: A Last Look Round, 259.
  • ibid, p.244.
  • During the reign of King John the citizens of Gotham did not want the upkeep of a new highway by their town so they feigned madness to dissuade the powers that were from building the King’s road through there. The legend of the madness of their citizens stuck.
  • S., W, Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit or Bought Wit is Best, E.A. for Francis Smith, London,1634. From EEBO.

Photo Credit

John Dee’s seal

Photo credit: Arenamontanus / Foter / CC BY

Theatre Review: Love and Information

Love and Information by Caryl Churchill; A Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre Company Production. Directed by Kip Williams.

I had the pleasure of attending the Australian Premiere season of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information at the Wharf Theatre last night. Being at the Wharf, I never questioned that the production would be an entertaining one. In fact, when the subject of Australian theatre-going came up at soccer practice, I found myself promoting the lively culture we have and variety of the local pickings. I was selling our local scene to a seasoned London and European theatre-goer. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I may have been adding a little bit of spice. Would the production measure up in delivery? Would the play connect, seem real? It was written by Caryl Churchill.

I can’t remember having seen another play by Caryl Churchill since I studied Cloud Nine at Uni, too many years ago. As a sheltered 18 year old, Cloud Nine had shocked me. I couldn’t connect to it. It was too arty. By the measure of my limited life experience, it was too contrived. Why Churchill now? I’ve since experienced the rain. And besides, can this sort of spin be resisted:

A child cannot feel pain. A man has a secret. A woman wants an affair. A scientist dissects a brain. Someone tells the police. Another puts an elephant on the stairs.

In a series of tantalising vignettes, over 100 vibrant characters search for meaning in their lives. Through sex, death, feeling, thinking, taxidermy and karaoke they discover each other. . . ?

Not realising how much science is referred to in the play, I attended with my fellow soccer-mum who also happens to be a geneticist and sci-fi enthusiast. When the ins and outs of genetic research were described in minutiae, I was looking beside me and not towards the stage. How accurate was all of the information and if it wasn’t, would it matter to her? Apparently, it’s accurate. Not only this, it’s entertaining. If you were a geneticist, in how much detail would you describe what you did to the bloke you just met at a party?

Many stories are told through the sparkling performances of an ensemble cast of 8: Marco Chiappi, Harry Greenwood, Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman, Anthony Taufa, Ursula Yovich and Alison Whyte.  The fragmentary nature of the writing draws the audience into Churchill’s message with many different emotional hooks. The cast show off their versatility and the way they gel on stage is exactly what’s called for to make this dense offering of scenes fresh. The scenes are short and pithy, sometimes too short. In some instances the brevity of the scenes didn’t quite get their message through. At other points, it was hard to tell if earlier stories were being expanded on by different performers or similar tales were being told with a slightly skewed take from the original, later in the progression.  I found that I just wanted that little bit more in the story-telling or a slower delivery to be able to properly absorb these quick-as-a-flash scenes. Other times, they delivered a poignant punch.

The Production Design by David Fleischer is dynamic, literally.The stark, white stage is anything but bare or static. The cast are carefully choreographed in their movement of a dozen or so knee-high, rectangular prisms that help define the setting whether they are on a train, in the museum, on the moon, or in a living room. Needless to say, the scene changes underpinned by the music of the Sweats, were engaging. The overwhelming whiteness of the setting seems a reflection on white noise that is superfluous information. The stark-white was also was crucial to the creation of visual messages that were wordless and strong e.g., the Astronaut’s walk through the unknown, through space, through the informationless void.

Apollo 16 (Archive: NASA, Marshall, 4/16/72)

I really enjoyed the play.The beauty in the playwriting is that it’s not preachy but builds its meaning through the shifting grains of a kaleidoscope. Caryl Churchill’s message is relevant and told in such a way that you come to the realisation gradually through a bombardment of scenes that function like the bombardment of information she sees around us. Important information – emotional sharing and truth in society-are trivialized and almost lost in the assault on our attention.

Do words share love? Be attentive or the words you most want to hear will be lost in the stream.

We left the theatre, two very satisfied soccer-mums.

Love and Information is playing at the Wharf Theatre until 15 August, 2015. Tickets can be purchased at, ph: 9250 1777. It’s a good night out.

Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / Foter / CC BY-NC

3. What Authorship Question: Shakespeare? Who? Homer?

Stylometry: using maths to interpret English! No, this is not science fiction. Sacrilege? They’re doing it to Shakespeare. It’s been done to his works for a while. It’s being taken seriously. No, this is not horror. Pythagoras reduced music to numbers you might say, but I would contend that Pythagoras rose numbers to art.

So, what’s my issue? Even before statistics became involved the works of Shakespeare were being questioned as the product of one mind, one pen. These different minds were recognized for their differences in style of writing.

“Oh, this bit isn’t by Shakespeare, it’s too droll.”

“Droll? It’s doggerel!”

“He only helped out with that bit and that bit.”

Computers can only prognosticate when data and calculations are given to them. So how do the Stylometricians discern which part is by Shakespeare and which parts are there for the ride? It’s subjective.

“Only the best bits are by the Bard!”

“He was a genius after all.”

I have a problem with that too. Over the course of your writing career, your style will change. You will experiment with different voices as you are exposed to them. You will change your voice depending on the form of writing you are communicating with e.g., letter writing, poetry, playwriting, short story or novel writing. With practice you will hone your own style and you will improve. So if the completed works of Shakespeare are actually complete, then his juvenilia must be represented.

How do stylometricians choose their standard, “true” extract with which to compare all other sections of his works? How do they discern between his evolving style and that of the works of other playwrights with whom he is said to have collaborated? Can an entire play be chosen as a touchstone? Is there a certain world-view or mindset that runs through his works that underpins them as the work of one writer? I think there is.

Here’s an hypothetical experiment. Like all experiments it has limiting parameters. Imagine that Shakespeare wrote only plays. Imagine that you have only read his comedies. How would you sum up his women? Witty, intelligent, feisty and living within the framework of their patriarchal society. Portia (Merchant of Venice) and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing) are brighter than the men around them but they subject themselves to the social mores of patriarchy. Shakespeare could then be said to believe that women were men’s equal in intelligence and wit but perhaps not interested in assuming the authoritarian role of men in society. Just to look at the comedies it could be said that for Shakespeare, women’s chief concerns were falling in love and getting married.

Now imagine that your Shakespeare-loving friend had read none of his plays outside of the English Histories. Your friend could be forgiven for understanding Shakespeare to have had a much shallower understanding of women. The women of the English History plays are presented two-dimensionally as prizes and ornaments e.g., Katherine (Henry V); foils, Lady Anne (Richard III) and Blanch (King John); and adjititors e.g., Constance and Elinor (King John). His women rarely portray more than one emotion or have more than one drive. In the case of Anne, in Richard III, her transition from hate to love is a showcase of Richard’s ability to persuade, but forces any actress attempting the role to scour her personal emotion memory for the triggers to making the transformation real. Your friend may say that Shakespeare just didn’t understand nor value women. Had he been able to, wouldn’t he have done something more with Eleanor of Acquitaine (King John) and Joan of Arc (Henry VI part 1)? He treats the first as a shrew and the second as a fighting machine.Place Saint-Augustin (Portrait)

Now your other friend has read nothing but his tragedies. Now s/he would be the silent one in the interrogation. The first observation would be that, generally speaking, Shakespeare doesn’t take us on emotional journeys and soul-searching with his female characters. In fact, at best he offers us their crisis e.g., Ophelia (Hamlet) and leaves us to question. Whereas, Hamlet, reveals to us every inch of his labyrinthine emotional landscape. Lady Macbeth goes from Femme Fatale to psychologically unhinged without a spoken process. But then there is Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) and Cordelia (King Lear) who are more well-rounded, more self-aware. For a female to read the tragedies, she has to treat the lead as an every-person because Shakespeare of the tragedies rarely sees women as persons.15_Verona.jpg

There are of course exceptions to all of these sweeping generalisations. It is these exceptions that I would look closely at to find a different mind or different form of theatre being presented e.g., The Taming of the Shrew, Kate is outwitted by Petruchio but the shallow rendering of the characters begs to question whether this play was written as an English attempt at Commedia Dell’arte.

To compare The Taming of the Shrew with Twelfth Night is a real eye-opener. How differently they deal with female identity and human relationships! Here he tackles sexual identity and personhood head on. Could the same writer have written Joan de Pucelle?

My argument over the last two posts has been that an author exposes his/herself by her/his mind-set. For Homer, the problem lies in the humanity he treats his soldiers with, in his almost personal account of the Trojan War, in The Iliad, as compared with the almost, nonchalance he treats the sailors with in The Odyssey. In Dr Who we have an interesting collaborative environment that follows the world view prescribed by a shepherding producer. Interestingly enough, when the previous shepherd, Russell T. Davies, was replaced with the current, Steven Moffat, his replacement was from within the flock. However the stories changed in atmosphere and preoccupation. For Shakespeare, I argue that there is a different mindset that characterises most of the comedies from most of the histories, particularly the English Histories, and perhaps the tragedies have a third or fourth mind in tow. The crux of my arguement is that Stylometry isn’t able to detect a different mindset nor the nuances of a developing mind expressed in finished works on paper. Could more than one person have written the plays of Shakespeare? How were they created if collaboratively? And if they were created in a group environment, how is it that no one spilt the beans?

Photo Credits

Joan de Pucelle (Joan of Arc)

Photo credit: Djof / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA


Photo credit: Tomato Geezer / Foter / CC BY-ND

2. What Authorship Question: Dr Who? Homer? Shakespeare?

Can stylometry pick the difference between Dr Who, ala Team Davies vs Dr Who ala  Team Moffat?

Spolier Alert: 2005 –The End of the World; Dalek; The Parting of the Ways

2006 – The Impossible Planet; The Satan Pit

2007 – Last of the Time Lords

2008 – Journey’s End

2010 – Vincent and the Doctor

2013 – The Time of the Doctor

Stylometry is the recognition and quantification of patterns of building techniques in the creation of art. The frequency of use of a technique, or groups of them, is thought to be unique to an artist. Armed with the resulting statistics authorship of pseudonymous works or disputed authorship is able to be clarified. In theory at least.

If we take writing for an example, what a stylometric study can focus on is the frequency of use of a particular word over its synonyms; the frequency of coupled words; a favouring of a particular phrase; or the use of archaic or obscure words over more common ones. Apparently the author leaves his/her unique signature in their technique. The same principles are used in music and the plastic arts. But what about TV?

Stylometry threats, slide, Deceiving Authorship Detection talk, 28C3, Berlin, Germany.jpg


Dr Who has been screening on and off TV for over 50 years. In that time there have been 13 Doctors (including the one with no number). If a sample of screenplays were to be picked up for any season over those years there would be a recurrence of words that could be used for a stylometric analysis. This recurrence has a ratio, an operand, in the larger canon of Dr Who screenplays. Because TV is a visual storyteller, I would also employ other operands: visual elements and props. My computer program would search for an enigmatic alien, a sonic screwdriver, the Tardis, an earthling companion, villanous Daleks and Cybermen.

DR.Who. Sand Sculpture.NikonD300s. DSC_1867-1874

Dr Who sand sculpture, featuring from left to right: The 11th Doctor (Matt Smith); Daleks; the Tardis; Cybermen; and the Angels from the terrifying “Blink” episode.

As separate operands I would have themes. My program would: chase time travel throughout British history and the development of the British consciousness; feature an earth coveted by ferocious aliens; return to the alienation/separateness of the well-meaning, travelling Time Lord; have a sense of wonder at the unknown possibilities of the Universe; and espouse the power of the mind for pacifism over physical aggression.

On paper there appears to be a homogeneity of storytelling elements. A stylometric computer program could be forgiven for not being able to recognize what the fans do, it’s changed a lot over the years. A die-hard Whovian for the early episodes may serve you an earful of deficiencies: the new ones move too fast; there’s too much lovey-dovey going on; too much soap-opera with the families of the companions; there are consequences to the adventure that weren’t dealt with before – do they really need to be dealt with??

You may want to fob it off as old-fogey talk complaining about anything new, but then again fans of the 2005 reboot will tell you the 21st century Doctor has undergone a transformation bigger than a few regenerations. A die-hard Whovian will tell you that something changed when creative supervision passed from Russell T. Davies to Steven Moffat. Not that one approach is better than the other, but that they’re different.

The Tardis in the background

The Tardis (disguised spaceship) in the background

The Davies’ episodes tend to be darker. The Moffat ones, more optimistic. I see an underlying thread that binds the Davies episodes that is missing from the Moffat. That thread is Christianity, specifically Davies’ excursions into turning upside-down and inside-out the basic trappings of Christianity, its Jesus story. He questions the need for the story when it’s message, love-acceptance-pacifism, can exist without it. Again and again the belief that God is male, that Jesus is a man, that the creator of an entire race can be the omnipotent creator of all things, races, universes, is questioned. Religious inspired imagery is worked into the futuristic storylines. E.g., In the episode, The End of the World (2005), the Ninth Doctor takes his new companion Rose Tyler to the year 5 Billion where they will watch the explosion of our Sun. The Sun, the source of all earthly life, is coming to an end. To its end of days. To its Apocalypse. The only place to survive from the explosion is on a space station. It’s shape, a gothic-proportioned cross.

In the Dalek episode of the same season, Rose is most obviously set up to assume a divine role, not like the Virgin Mary, but akin to the triune godhead. The imprisoned Dalek is a souless, metallic robot, born to sin, from sin, and is predestined for mass genocide. It maintains within it a spark of life but no higher faculties. The camera focuses in on Rose’s hand as she approaches it. We see her fingers, stretched out to touch it. It’s a very famous sort of stretch, Michelangelo painted its prototype in his masterpiece, the Creation of Adam. After God touched the earthen Adam, after He had given him His image, He gave him life. When Rose touches the metal skin of the Dalek, she passes to it her DNA and gives it sentient life.

The Davies team are not through with Rose yet. In the final episode of the season, The Parting of the Ways, Rose assumes the role of Messiah, Holy Spirit and God. After the Daleks invade a Game Station where Rose and the Doctor have been trapped, Rose is tricked into the Tardis by the Doctor in order to save her life. He believes that he will die. She is returned to her own time and told via hologram to have a good life. Instead, Rose opens the heart of the Tardis and allows its power to permeate her being. She becomes both omniscient and omnipotent. Travelling back through her experiences with the Doctor, she leaves cryptic warnings for him everywhere. She doesn’t do this physically but using the power of the vortex within her. Her words, her Logoi, are imprinted on the environment they shared. In the same way God is the Word (Logos) and by his word all things are possible. It echos Psalm 19:2-4

“Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world…”

While this consuming power rages within her she has the ability to destroy the Daleks and raise the worthy dead. This consuming fire, so reminiscent of the Holy Spirit, will destroy her meager human self as she cannot contain it. Pure of heart, like Jesus, she has come as a Messiah and is a willing sacrifice for the greater good. The Doctor by kissing her, draws the vortex/spirit within himself, saving her life but losing one of his own.

The role of Messiah is alluded to visually and thematically in the third season’s, Last of the Time Lords (2007).The Doctor, being left powerless under the Master’s control is humiliated and impotent. It takes the faith of the world in him, stirred up by his companion Martha Jones, to resurrect his verve and ability to overcome the machinations of the Master. When the Doctor realizes the power of this faith, he levitates towards the Master, assuming the pose of Jesus. After the Master is shot, the Doctor cradles him and urges him to regenerate, to save himself. This kind of love and forgiveness is beyond the understanding of the Master, who allows himself to die, to spite the Doctor. The Doctor who was twice the capacity to love and forgive is Christ-like. The faith of humanity in the Doctor empowers the god/Doctor. Human belief makes him vital and viable. Without human belief the god doesn’t exist.

Davies’ team work the idea that Satan, and via association God, are entities that our belief has created and maintain in a couple of very clever episodes written by Matt Jones, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit (2006). A planet orbits around a Black Hole without being sucked in. It’s an anomaly. How? Why? If nothing can exist in or escape from a Black Hole, something very powerful, yet unseen, is at play. Chained down a seemingly bottomless shaft, Satan awaits a body that his soul can possess so that he can be freed. While his soul is in the chained body of the beast, the planet encircles the Black Hole. Once he possesses the free body of a humanoid, he can leave the planet severing its orbit, allowing it to be pulled into non-existence. You see, while people believe in the existence of Satan he cannot be sucked into the nothingness of the Black Hole and so the planet was locked in impossible orbit.

Between Moffat and Davies there is another great difference. There is a darkness over Davies’ Doctor, in his view of the Dr’s personal life but also as a reflection of his world. This is best illustrated when comparing, Moffat’s (2010) Vincent and the Doctor episode written by Richard Curtis, with Journey’s End (2008) written by Davies. In Vincent and the Doctor, the Dr and his companions go back in time and meet Vincent Van Gogh. The encounter touches the Doctor’s companion Amy Pond as much as Amy pond touches the artist. When they return to present time, we hope that Van Gogh’s fate has been changed. That he doesn’t commit suicide. But he has. Is the episode depressing? A little, but it is also uplifting. Moffat’s team deliver a sad ending with a silver lining.

Journey’s End, on the other hand, proposes a “happily ever after” ending for Rose, the Doctor’s true love, that is ulcerous at worst. Rose must be irrevocably returned to her alternative-reality universe or the fabric of the cosmos will collapse. She may no longer participate in the adventures she has enjoyed with her Time Lord boyfriend. To compensate, the Doctor banishes with her, his human self that was accidentally begotten in the Tardis. The Human Doctor has all of the Doctor’s memories, intellect, values and emotion attachments. We must now look at the Human Doctor as the Son. He is best described in the words of the Apostles Creed:

“I believe in… one Lord Jesus Christ (New Doctor)

the only begotten Son of God (Time Lord Doctor)

begotten of the Father before all ages.

Light of Light, true God of true God,

begotten not created, of one essence with the Father…

For us (Rose) and our (her) salvation he came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit (Heart of the Tardis) and the Virgin Mary (companion Donna Noble facilitated the process) and became Human…”

The Human Doctor lacks his “father’s” immortality and ability to time travel. Rose is confused. Now they can grow old together and play house but without the Tardis, without the quest, is this Human Doctor the same person? Has he been emasculated? Can so much knowledge, verve, experience, be satisfactorily contained in a human existence?The Time Doctor returns to his universe, bereft of all companions, alone.

Darkness is expected before the regeneration of Doctors but not so in the transition from the 11th incarnation to the 12th. Under the watchful eye of Moffat, the 11th Doctor is allowed to age. He spends three hundred years in a place called Christmas, a beloved member of the town. He is on duty of course, safeguarding a wound in the fabric of the cosmos, however, he is not alone.

Could Stylometry really tell apart, episodes under Davies’ team from those of Moffat’s? I doubt it.

With heartfelt appreciation, I dedicate this post to my favourite Whovian, Stella Tarakson.

Photo Credits


Photo credit: gruntzooki / Foter / CC BY-SA

Dr Who Series Sand Sculpture

Photo credit: bobchin1941 / Foter / CC BY-ND

Tardis and Time Traveller

Photo credit: guzzphoto / Foter / CC BY-ND