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.