How can you explain that there would have been so many people involved in keeping Campion’s authorship secret that it would have been impossible to maintain perfect silence?
The maintenance of secrecy may not have been as difficult as first appears. Detractors and adherents of group authorship theories have assumed that a very long list of people must have been privy to the author’s true identity. In fact the only ones who, of necessity, must have known the author’s true identity, were Campion himself, who was dead when his works were played or published, the Earl of Oxford, his son-in-law William Stanley, Earl of Derby, probably William Shakspere and perhaps selected members of the Catholic priesthood or underground who were personas non grata. A minimum of two, but probably three living persons were privy to the author’s real identity when the plays were enjoying their popularity. Other members of the cast of characters involved in any so called conspiracy would have had various reasons to believe the author was Shakspere himself , Oxford or Derby. Some of those interested in the works may have suspected Campion was the true author, but at that time, as now, conclusive evidence or proof would have been hard to come by. I suspect the original play manuscripts were very closely guarded by Oxford and Derby and were probably destroyed in the great fire of 1643 at Lathom House, the home of the Derby family.
How do you explain that Campion died many years before the plays were apparently written and first produced? Printed copies of many of his works, including what appear to be authorial changes, did not appear until up to forty years after his death.
It is an important and widely accepted fact that no standard and unimpeachable chronology of the Shakespeare canon exists. There are many mentions of dramatic works or source plays, often with similar names to those of the Shakespeare canon, that were circulating and being produced in England in the 1570s and 1580s. In those days before copyright, most literary works did not appear in print until many years after they were written or after the death of the author - Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnets being an example of this phenomenon. Ownership of manuscripts did not have the legal importance it does today. Because Campion had been exiled from his homeland as an enemy of the Crown, and later persecuted as a traitor, the government would not have permitted any of his works to be acknowledged or published during his lifetime or the reign of the Protestant monarchs.
I believe that both the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Derby, recognizing the great literary worth of Campion’s plays, and not being hostile to the Catholic themes and allusions, took it upon themselves to ensure that the plays would become known. It cannot be dismissed that the publication of the plays was an organized propaganda exercise by the English Catholics
to elicit sympathy for and reinforce loyalty to the old faith. The Earl of Derby was probably responsible for the majority of authorial changes in the folios, especially those in Hamlet, which he would have been able to make after his return from his noted visit to the Danish Court and the realization that the play contained factual inconsistencies. Many other topical and humourous lines and sections of the plays have always been attributed to collaborators rather than Shakespeare himself.
The sonnets were most likely the private property of the Earl of Oxford and were only circulated amongst his closest friends during his lifetime. After the Earl’s death, and on the occasion of his widow settling his property, they fell into the hands of a small time dealer in manuscripts who organized their publication in 1609.
Why would such a pious and holy man concern himself with writing love poetry and historical plays?
It is my belief that Campion never envisaged a life in the priesthood until his exile in Europe and the realization that without independent means or any hope of returning to his academic career in England he had no other course to follow. As was befitting his character, Campion, once he had committed himself to the life of a priest, was a shining example of the brotherhood and came to view his fate as the plan of God.
I believe the sonnets were written well before he was ordained in 1578. As for the plays it is common knowledge that the Jesuits pioneered the use of drama in education. Campion’s interest in teaching and learning was evident when he wrote a tract on the ideal student called De Homine Academico. Whether the plays were written as a personal homage to his country of birth, for instructing Catholic English students abroad, or for the dissemination of Catholic ideas back in England is impossible to say, but again a combination of reasons is most likely.