The Need for a Pseudonym
The most puzzling questions facing Anti-Stratfordians are why the real Shakespeare needed a pseudonym and why his secret was so well guarded during the Tudor and Jacobean reigns. Proponents of various members of the nobility have tried to explain the need for anonymity by asserting that it was beneath the dignity of the nobility for them to be involved in the theatre. The royal courtiers would also have been in peril for their lives if their names had been given to politically inflammatory dramatic works, and they could not have risked exposure for fear of deathly retribution.. This defense has never rung true, for many of the royal courtiers openly owned or patronized theatre companies and groups of players. If the works of Shakespeare were obviously subversive, they could never have been produced on the stage in his time, and William of Stratford and his fellow thespians would have been strongly persecuted in connection with their activities in bringing such plays to the stage. When the Globe was involved with the seemingly intemperate production of Richard II before the Essex Rebellion, the players got off with what appears to be only a token slap on the wrist. Many members of the nobility had poems published in their names, most of the sonnets attributed to Shakespeare are so personal in nature they could hardly be regarded as incendiary works.
The supporters of the various earls and knights cite a litany of other authors who have written under a pseudonym, but fail to acknowledge that even though that has been the case there has never been any real mystery or question as to the identities of the persons behind the pseudonyms. We all know that Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, George Eliot was in fact Mary Ann Evans and Charles Dodgson wrote Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. There must have been a uniquely compelling reason for the real author’s identity never to have been disclosed.
At the time there did exist a group of people in Elizabethan England who took pseudonyms as a matter of course - a practice which was openly acknowledged and chronicled. Researcher Carol Curt Enos in her thesis Shakespeare and the Catholic Religion has identified a connection between the theatre world and the Catholic underground, stating how priests shared surnames with actors and playwrights. Campion himself has been quoted referring to the practice whereby the priests honoured their forebears by taking pseudonyms which often contained Christian or surnames of grandparents, distant relations and sometimes family friends or patrons. In Campion’s family tree there are many generations and branches with the name William and the Shakspere family of Stratford could well have been longstanding acquaintances. It has been suggested by many modern scholars that Campion would have spent time with John Shakspere and his son William in Lancashire in 1580.
Alternatively, the name Shakespeare may have been chosen for Campion by his friend and patron the Earl of Oxford when he and his son-in-law organized for the plays to be produced, aided by the theatre entrepreneur with the similar name William Shakspere As a matter of curiosity the Earl’s prowess at the joust and a family coat of arms depicting a lion holding a broken spear reveal him as a ‘shaker of spears’- one of the reasons he himself is often proposed as the author. ‘William Shakespeare’ may well have already been Campion’s pseudonym as a priest, or chosen by the Earl of Oxford.
The fact that Edmund Campion was a Catholic put to death as a traitor to the throne explains the compelling need for a pseudonym and the reason for those in the know to make a concerted effort to keep the authorship hidden during the Tudor and Jacobean reign. Works by a Catholic traitor would never have been allowed in the public domain by a Protestant government intent on the country remaining Protestant at all costs. Therefore, a need for secrecy was more necessary in this case than in that of any other purported author of the works.
His Personal Qualities
As I have already outlined in the section on Edmund Campion, here was a man who greatly impressed all he met, from college students to royalty, both in England and on the continent. He was lauded for his beauty, his bearing, his wit and his intellect. Campion was said to have possessed a beautiful gaiety, a fiery energy, a most chivalrous gentleness and a natural ease of disposition .. Such descriptions do conjure up Caroline Spurgeon’s Christ-like figure whose wonderful idealism, mercy and passion shines forth from the collected works of Shakespeare.
His Education, Knowledge and Experience
I have already stated Edmund Campion’s many learned accomplishments . There can be no doubt that a man who rose so high at Oxford University, who was the outstanding English master of Rhetoric and who authored poems and plays in Latin would have had the intellectual ability to write the canon. Campion was born a commoner in the city of London and grew to early adulthood an observer of all the vicissitudes of humanity on display in the capital of Tudor England. He was also privileged to have the patronage of the Earl of Leicester and had many opportunities to observe the ways and manners of the Queen and the English aristocracy at the courts of Rycote and Woodstock.
Campion’s travels in Britain and abroad were extensive, involving many journeys by sea and land including pilgrimages on foot between the north of France and Rome. He would have been very familiar with the Italian cities and settings described in the plays. In his life as a Jesuit priest , Campion was not confined to the monastery and would have had access to the many layers of European society from the very poor to archbishops and emperors. A great gift for Rhetoric and knowledge of speech patterns and dialects was used by Shakespeare to bring his diversity of characters to life through their words. Campion had the knowledge, the education and the experience to accomplish this very difficult feat.
In line with accepted practice in historical research, I will examine primary sources that contain mention of the poet William Shakespeare by his peers, in order to assess whether they disclose any pertinent clues concerning his identity.
Edmund Spenser’s Teares of the Muses (1590)
But that same gentle spirit from whose pen
Large streams of honnie and sweete Nectar flowe
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himself to mockerie to sell
And he, the man whom Nature self had made
To mock her self, and truth to imitate,
With kindly countered under mimic shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late
With whom all joy and jolly merriment
is also dead, and in color drent
In this poem Spenser appears to be saying that a great and gentle-natured poet, dead at the time the Teares of the Muses was written, did not choose to live like most other men but rather was sitting in a cell i.e. a room in a monastery, refusing to become the object of scorn and to sell himself like others had done.
Thomas Edwardes’ L’Envoy to Narcissus (1594)
Eke in purple roabes distained
Amid’st the Center of this clime
I have heard saie doth remaine
One whose power floweth far
That should have bene of our rime
The only object and the star
Well could his bewitching pen,
Done the muses objects to us
Although he differs much from men
Tilting under Frieries,
Yet his golden art might woo us
To have honored him with baies.
Here Thomas Edwardes reinforces Spenser’s image by telling of a poet who should have been considered the best of all the contemporary poets, who wore purple robes (the puce coloured robes of the Jesuits perhaps?) and was “distained”. This poet is said again to differ from other men, the reason being that he lived in a “friery” i.e. a monastery, yet his poetry was so brilliant he should have been greatly honoured.
Richard Barnfield’s A Remembrance of Some English Poets (1598)
And Shakespeare thou, whose hony-flowing Vaine,
(Pleasing the World) thy Praises doth obtaine.
Whose Venus, and whose Lucrece (sweete, and chaste)
Thy Name in fames immortall Booke haue plac’t
Liue euer you, at least in Fame lieu euer:
Well may the Bodye dye, but Fame dies Neuer
In this poem the poet Shakespeare is actually named and appears to be dead at the time Barnefield’s poem is printed. It is stated that the name of Shakespeare will live on forever due to the quality of his verse.
William Barksted’s Mirrha Mother of Adonis (1607)
But stay my Muse in thine owne confines keepe
& wage not warre with so deere lov’d a neighbor
But having sung thy day song, rest &sleepe
preserve thy small fame and his greater favor:
His song was worthie merit (Shakspeare hee)
sung the fair blossome, thou the withered tree
Laurell is due to him, his art and wit
hath purchast it, Cypres thy brow will fit.
Again this poem seems to speak of Shakespeare as if he were dead and repeats the theme of his meritorious verse, far superior to that of others, and worthy of fine accolades.
Note: The dates on which poems were first printed and found themselves in public circulation in Elizabethan times were often quite a deal later than the dates the poems were actually written. Therefore if Spenser’s poem had been written in the 1580’s the dead Shakespeare could not have been William of Stratford, the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon or indeed any other known contender. Only Edmund Campion had died before this date.
Many Stratfordians have asserted that the use of past tense to refer to those still living was common in poems of the time . They explain Spenser’s reference to Willy’s being dead of late as meaning that he had stopped writing. Leaving the question of past and present tense aside, the Stratfordians have no explanation for why two poems refer to Shakespeare as a monk or friar.
Robert Greene’s Groats-worth of Wit:
Although not referring to him by name, the dramatist Robert Greene is accepted to have made a notorious reference to Shakespeare in his final literary work. In a warning letter to other playwrights that concludes his Groats-worth he writes:
Yes, trust them not: for there is an upstart crow, beautified with
our feathers, that with his tiger’s heart wrapped in a player’s hide
supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the
best of you; and, being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his
own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country. O, that I might
entreat your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses,
and let those apes imitate your past excellence, and never more
acquaint them with your past inventions.
The standard interpretation of this paragraph is that Greene was accusing Shakespeare of being a plagiarist, an accusation also made by Ben Jonson in his epigrams which allude to a’ poet- ape’. For some reason Stratfordians do not regard Greene’s mention as a serious blow to their position, claiming the lines prove Shakspere actually did write plays. Anti-Stratfordians, however view Greene’s mention as clear evidence that Shakspere was not the original author of the canon. Hildegard Hammerschmidt- Hummel is more interested in another quote from Greene’s tract that has the ‘upstart crow’ being “an absolute Interpreter to the puppets”, (puppets meaning priests) which like John Speed’s History identifies Shakespeare as a Catholic mouthpiece.  This idea is elaborated later in this section.
Ben Jonson’s Equivocation:
William Shakspere’s sometime drinking mate and fellow playwright, Ben Jonson, seems very ambivalent about his friend’s true merit. In his famous introduction to the First Folio he sings Shakespeare’s praises as the man for all time, the beloved author, but he thinly disguises his derision for the ‘poet- ape’ elsewhere. In the Folio introduction there is his puzzling observation that Shakespeare had small Latin and less Greek while comparing him to the great classical writers of History. What are we to make of this schizophrenic attitude other than to conclude that he was indeed talking about two people i.e. the great poet Edmund Campion alias Shakespeare and his cover the actor from Stratford, William Shakspere. Although it seemed his intention to allow the public to assume he was talking about one and the same person in the Folio, Jonson cannot restrain his ironical tone and succeeded thereby to produce the most hotly discussed document in the authorship debate.
Robert Southwell’s Dedication:
A book of Southwell’s poems including St. Peter’s Complaint is dedicated to ‘his worthy cosen Mr.W.S.’ Researchers have been able to discover that Robert Southwell was distantly related by marriage to William from Stratford. It also makes sense to consider that Southwell may have wished to honour his most worthy cousin and fellow Jesuit, Edmund Campion, but knew he could only be referred to by his pseudonym.
John Speed’s ‘mouthpiece’:
Scholars have been puzzled by a reference to Shakespeare in a book The History of Britaine first published in 1587 and written by the Puritan historian John Speed. Although Shakespeare is not explicitly named, he is generally assumed to be the person described in this book as ‘Person’s mouthpiece” owing to the mention of Oldcastle.. The actual passage beginning with a reference to Persons is as follows:
And his authority, taken from the stage players, is more befitting the pen
of his slanderous report than the credit of the judicious, being only grounded
from this papist and his poet, of like conscience for lies, the one ever
feigning and the other ever falsifying the truth.......that N.D. (believed to
be the pseudonym of Persons), author of the three conversions, hath
made Ouldcastle a Ruffien, a Robber and a Rebell, and his authoritie taken
from the stage-players....
This allusion by a Puritan historian gives weight to the recent scholarship concerning
a pro-Catholic interpretation of the plays, with Speed seeming to regard the plays as vehicles for a Catholic revision of History. I strongly believe that there would have only been one person who could have been mentioned so closely with Persons in 1587, when William Shakspere was only 23 years old, one person who worked in direct association with him to spread the Catholic message in England, and that was Edmund Campion.
These will be mentioned in the sections on the sonnets and plays.