Peter Farey ( 25.04.1938 – 02.02.2020)


My friend Peter Farey died early last year. This obituary was first published in the members’ newsletter of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust. I am reposting it here as an accessible tribute to a man whose loss I will always deeply feel.


Bearded man at laptopPeter Farey, the leading Marlovian researcher, has died aged 81. A cautious and diligent scholar, he was twice winner of the Annual Calvin & Rose G. Hoffman Prize for a distinguished article on Christopher Marlowe (2007, 2012).  He was founder member of the International Marlowe Shakespeare Society (IMSS).

Peter’s love of Shakespeare came directly from theatre. His stepfather was assistant director at the Old Vic, and as a boy, Peter saw (for sixpence a seat) many fine productions, including Richard Burton playing both Othello and Iago on alternate nights. Peter himself began acting as a scholarship boy at Dulwich College (founded in 1619 by Edward Alleyn) and after leaving was in the first ever production of what would become the National Youth Theatre, alongside then unknowns, Simon Ward and Derek Jacobi.

After seeing Tyrone Guthrie’s Tamburlaine the Great, with Donald Wolfit as Tamburlaine, and learning that the first actor to play the part was the founder of his school, he also became “hooked” on Marlowe. As it happened, on joining the school he had been allocated to “Marlowe” house, and “whilst I acted in Shakespeare, I played rugger and cricket for Marlowe, ran for Marlowe, boxed for Marlowe, sang for Marlowe, and even acted for him, in the House Drama Competition.”

After school, Peter did National Service in the Royal Fusiliers, the Intelligence Corps, and Brixmis (officially based behind the Iron Curtain). After demob he joined BOAC, later to become British Airways, and stayed with them until taking early retirement in 1989. While at BA he specialised in management training and development, which taught him the techniques of clear thinking, problem solving and decision making that subsequently served him well as a researcher. He also gained an MA.

Peter Farey’s work first reached a wide audience in Shakespeare: New Evidence (1997) by A.D. Wraight. Knowing he had been in military intelligence, Wraight asked Peter to decode some encrypted letters she had found in Lambeth Palace archives. Peter’s son Rob was actually the one to crack the code, but subsequently Peter made a number of fascinating discoveries in the archives related to a man named Le Doux, then believed to be a possible posthumous identity for Marlowe. Shakespeare: New Evidence originally began as joint project, in which the first and third parts were written by Wraight and the second part (based on his archival research) by Peter. However, Wraight was unhappy with Peter’s criticisms about her suggested re-ordering of the Sonnets on which her argument in Part 1 depended, and he stepped away from the project. When the book was published in 1997, Peter did not receive a co-author credit. His work, though barely a word had been changed, was presented as Wraight’s.

Peter Farey’s importance to Marlovian studies is impossible to overstate, yet he published no book on the subject. As a diligent researcher who was always keen to refine his arguments, and correct them if they turned out to be mistaken, Peter preferred to present his research in online articles, both on his website and on Carlo Dinota’s blog, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, where they can still be found. As his health began to fail, he compiled all the articles he considered still relevant into the manuscript for a book, updating them where appropriate. There are plans for this book to be published posthumously. Though he became less active as his health deteriorated, he remained a supportive correspondent to other Marlovian researchers. His final work, completed in summer 2019, was an entry for the Hoffman Prize.

Peter’s curiosity – a questioning rather than a dogmatic or didactic outlook – was the cornerstone of his scholarship. His approach, which involved remaining flexible enough to change one’s mind in the face of contradictory evidence, influenced many Marlovians. Peter positively sought to test his ideas with those who opposed them. He never allowed emotion to cloud reason when engaging in debate, and as a result, won friends and admirers on all sides of the authorship question. In the early days of online debate, he was an active member of humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare, where many Stratfordian/anti-Stratfordian exchanges took place. In later years, he participated in similar (always considerate) arguments on the Oxfraudian Facebook group. He became friendly with Tom Reedy, with whom he was often in polite conflict in the Talk section of the Wikipedia page for the Shakespeare Authorship Question, and when Reedy visited the UK, they arranged a joint research trip to Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

So well-respected was he with the Stratfordian campaigners of the Oxfraud group that, on hearing of his death, they published their own tribute to him. As a testament to Peter’s brilliance in crossing divides and maintaining friendly discourse at all times – something to which we might all aspire – it seems fitting to give his opponents the last word:

“Peter Robert Farey was the leading proponent of the Marlovian authorship theory. His passing on Feb 2, 2020, at the age of 81, stilled one of the most interesting voices of Shakespeare authorship doubters. We of the Oxfraud group are saddened by his loss. Peter stood out from other advocates of alternative authorship candidates. He wrote numerous essays about Marlowe and the early modern era, many of which are on his website ( He was awarded the Hoffman Prize in 2007 and 2012, for “distinguished publication on Christopher Marlowe.” He was a member of the Oxfraud facebook group, and frequently discussed his theories with us. In comparison with other anti-Stratfordians, Peter was careful about evidence and arguments based on it. He was able to maintain a respectful discussion, and though he did not change any minds, he earned the respect and friendship of many who disagreed with him. The intellectual power of the anti-Strats is greatly diminished by his loss. He will be missed.”

A Curiosity in the Bodleian First Folio Shakespeare

A Curiosity in the Bodleian First Folio Shakespeare


One of the finest results of the 400th anniversary of the death of a certain man from Stratford has been the increased availability of digitised original texts connected to Shakespeare.  The Folger’s Shakespeare Documented project is a treasure trove, though in many cases one should take the write-ups with a pinch of salt.  It is quite a stretch, for example, to claim that a report from 1633-43 that the name “Shakespear” was carved into the panels of tavern alongside those of other famous people of the day is ‘a unique record of Shakespeare, at the peak of his career, gathering with friends and colleagues at the Tabard inn in Southwark’. Unless someone can furnish us with evidence the people in question did their own carving, it sounds more like the landlord paying homage to some local celebrities and trying to increase the cachet of his hostelry by association. But I digress.

As a scholar whose specialist subject is the authorship question, my eye tends to fall on those offerings that orthodox scholars miss: items that so strongly resist fitting in with the traditional story that they will be passed by as nonsensical or unimportant. This week, a fresh oddity was brought to my attention, and if you’re at all interested in the idea that Christopher Marlowe might have authored the Shakespeare canon (the premise of my first novel), I think you’ll like it too.(1)  You will find it opposite the title page of the newly digitised Bodleian First Folio.  Follow that link, flip forward two pages, and see it for yourself.

A new First Folio find

The usual page containing Ben Jonson’s 10-line poem facing the Droeshout engraving, and telling the reader seeking the author to ‘looke/Not on his Picture, but his Booke’, has been removed. On the blank page that remains, someone has written a replacement 10-line poem that reads as follows.

An Active Swain to make a Leap was seen
which sham’d his Fellow Shepherds on the Green,
And growing Vain, he would Essay once more,
But left the Fame, which he had gained before;
Oft did he try, at length was forc’d to yeild
He st[r]ove in Vain, – he had himself Excell’d:
So Nature once in her Essays of Wit,
In Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap
But over-straining in the great Effort,
in Dryden, and the rest, has since fell Short.

[I have tried to reproduce it as the author intended, including those words and phrases in italics; I have left the spelling of ‘yeild’ alone, though it is wrong to modern eyes. I think it fair to assume from the context that ‘strove’ rather than ‘stove’ was intended.]

I imagine the title of this poem might have been instructive, but it has been removed. Presumably it was offensive to someone; perhaps the same person who wrote ‘Honest [Will? Shake]peare’under the portrait, or the person who copied back in, by hand, the poem that should have been on this facing page. We are fortunate the poem itself survived.

The Dryden reference helps date the poem: John Dryden was made Poet Laureate in 1668. The Bodleian First Folio is a rarity for not having been re-bound since it was first donated to the library in 1623.  The library ‘appears to have sold it at some point in the late 1660s, perhaps having replaced it with the new, improved, edition, the Third Folio, with its additional plays, which was published in 1663/4.’  So it seems likely that ‘An Active Swain’ was written into the Bodleian First Folio not long after this: during Dryden’s dominance: 1668-1700. The anonymous author need only be one or two generations removed from Shakespeare’s generation: in a position to have had information directly from their father or grandfather.

Like many of the anomalous writings connected to the Shakespeare canon, this poem is written in such a way that its meaning is deliberately veiled. To someone convinced of the traditional narrative, it will look like nonsense (essential for preservation: not worth destroying, though the title clearly was). But if you look at the words through a particular lens, you may get a little more clarity. I am choosing to look at it through a Marlowe-shaped lens because there seem to be some strong points of connection with that theory.

Shakespeare and another poet

This is a poem about the author known as Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s name is mentioned in the 8th line, and the poem has been deliberately placed opposite the Droeshout engraving, replacing Ben Jonson’s instructions about how to approach the First Folio. It speaks of a separate poet, an ‘active swain’, later referred to as a shepherd. Swain or shepherd was a common pastoral term for poet. Christopher Marlowe was referred to as a shepherd in As You Like It when Rosalind quoted a line from Marlowe’s Hero and Leander:

Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
Whoever loved, who loved not at first sight?

But the term does not identify an individual. So the poem begins by saying there was ‘an active poet’. The poet cannot be equated with Shakespeare because line 8 makes it clear they are separate: that Nature, ‘in Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap.’  What is this ‘leap’? We’ll come back to that, through a Marlowe-shaped lens.

This poet made a ‘leap’.

Lines 1 and 2 tell us:

An Active Swain to make a Leap was seen
which sham’d his Fellow Shepherds on the Green

The poet made a leap which shamed his fellow poets (who are on ‘the green’ because this is what pastoral poets do, of course, sit about on the grass). What kind of leap could that be? With Marlowe, take your pick.

  • An artistic leap. Only in his twenties, he took blank verse drama to a level it had never been before.  The two-part Tamburlaine was a huge hit, as was Doctor Faustus. Jonson refers to ‘Marlowe’s mighty line’ in the preface of the First Folio. Most orthodox scholars accept that Marlowe was a genius who paved the way for Shakespeare. Swinburne said

    ‘He first, and he alone, guided Shakespeare into the right way of work… Before him there was neither genuine blank verse, nor genuine tragedy in our language. After his arrival, the way was prepared; the paths were made straight, for Shakespeare.’

  • A social leap. A cobbler’s son, he won scholarships to grammar school and university, gaining an MA (then the highest qualification) and by so doing, officially gaining the social status of Gentleman. The most powerful men in the land (the Privy Council) wrote to Cambridge University in his support, saying he had ‘done her Majesty good service … in matters touching the benefit of his country’. He became ‘very well known’ to high ranking noblemen Lord Strange (5th Earl of Derby) and Henry Percy, the 9th Earl of Northumberland. He dedicated a work to Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke; new research (in press) consolidates his connection to her social circle. He was also part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s circle of free-thinkers and Raleigh wrote a response to Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to his Love. (And there’s that Marlowe/shepherd connection again).

Both artistically and socially, Marlowe outstripped his peers, putting them to ‘shame’ as the poem describes. According to the poem, this ‘leap’ led to the poet ‘growing Vain’. Gabriel Harvey’s ‘Gorgon’ poem, written in 1593 and mentioning ‘thy Tamburlaine’, contains a contemporary accusation of Marlowe’s vanity:

He that nor feared God, nor dreaded Div’ll,
Nor ought admired, but his wondrous selfe:
Like Junos gawdy Bird*, that prowdly stares
On glittring fan of his triumphant taile

* peacock

This poet ‘left the fame’.

Lines 3 and 4 tell us:

And growing Vain, he would Essay once more,
But left the Fame, which he had gained before;

These are very interesting lines, don’t you think?  Can you tell me of a famous poet (for the poem is explicit: he had ‘Fame’) – who ‘left the Fame, which he had gained before?’  Generally when poets become famous, they stay famous during their lifetimes. These lines are a fine fit for the Marlowe theory, which includes the reluctant abandonment of fame. The theory goes that he was forced to fake his death (which occurred while he was effectively ‘on bail’, having been arrested ten days earlier) to escape being executed for atheism, then considered treason.  A faked death of this kind would not be technically difficult, given Marlowe’s high-placed connections and his work for the Elizabethan secret service. Roy Kendall, biography of Marlowe’s nemesis, Richard Baines, has noted ‘deaths in the murky world of espionage can often be “blinds” for disapearances, and vice versa’. But a faked death would be emotionally very difficult indeed for a successful and vain young man, who ‘would Essay once more’ (‘would’ = ‘would like to’; best fit for the verb form of ‘Essay’ from the OED: try/accomplish).(2)

There was a struggle and the poet lost.

Lines 5 and 6 tell us:

Oft did he try, at length was forc’d to yeild
He st[r]ove in Vain, – he had himself Excell’d:

The poem doesn’t tell us what he tried ‘oft’.  One wonders if there is a link here with the previous verb, ‘essay’, which means both try and accomplish, and is linked (through its noun form) to writing. All we know is that no matter how much he tried, he tried in vain, and was ‘forced to yield’.  To whom or what?  And what does this have to do with Shakespeare’s First Folio, in which the poem is so deliberately written? If we read the reference as Marlowe’s struggle to be ‘resurrected’ or at least have his works attributed to his own name, the words directly opposite the poem: ‘Mr William SHAKESPEARES Comedies Histories & Tragedies‘ are the record of his defeat.  And why?  Because ‘he had himself Excell’d‘.

The poet excelled himself.

The first argument against Marlowe authoring the Shakespeare canon is “wasn’t he dead?”; the second is “Marlowe’s works aren’t as good as Shakespeare’s”.  But this is to compare the works of a (brilliant but inexperienced) twenty-something (everything in the Marlowe canon was written by the time he was 29) with a writer allowed to reach his prime. Doctor Faustus and Edward II are accomplished plays but Lear, Othello, and Hamlet came twenty years later; twenty years extra reading, life experience, writing practice, and ‘striving’.  If you look at the combined Marlowe-Shakespeare canon in the order in which it was written, the transition is actually pretty smooth.  The early Shakespeare plays (e.g. the Henry VI trilogy, The Taming of the Shrew) were often attributed all or in part to Marlowe until the 1920s; Titus Andronicus (c.1594) is incredibly Marlovian. Late Marlowe and early Shakespeare segue one into the other without a hiccup.

‘He had himself Excell’d’ is clearly important: it is the only phrase in the poem that the author has emphasised by writing it in italics. The solitary dash clearly indicates that ‘excelling himself’ is the cause of the poet’s failure (to achieve what he was trying to achieve). Under what circumstances could a poet’s excellence lead to their failure? If Marlowe was the central author of the Shakespeare canon this line makes perfect sense. Having excelled himself, Marlowe could not be attributed with the surpassing genius of the Shakespeare canon.

The poet’s ‘lucky leap’ is ‘in Shakespear’.

Lines 7 and 8 tell us:

So Nature once in her Essays of Wit,
In Shakespear took the Shepherd’s Lucky Leap

We start with ‘So’: this is a solution to the problem that the poet couldn’t succeed at his striving (to be credited with his own works?) because ‘he had himself excell’d‘. The noun form of ‘essays’ in the 17th century most commonly meant ‘trials’ – so a modern translation of the phrase in line 7 could be ‘trials of wit’.(3) But since the modern meaning of the noun ‘essay’ was in use at this time, there may  also be an intended hint of ‘witty writing’.  It is the poet who has been trying, striving, and essaying, and perhaps here it is the poet’s ‘Nature’ that is implicated. ‘Nature‘ is being credited for something whose mechanism we do not understand.  You might think of it as something like the poetic muse, that mysterious creative force. But how to explain the next line?

‘Shakespear’ contains the poet’s ‘lucky leap’ – that leap, we remember, that set him apart from his ‘fellow [poets]’, put them to shame, and made him vain. But how might we account for that interesting adjective ‘lucky’?  So many other two-syllable adjectives might have been chosen to make the metre, and one might fairly ask how the poet’s ‘leap’ – the excellence that apparently led to failure, despite all his striving – could be described as ‘lucky’.  Again, Marlowe theory to the rescue. It would be fair to say that someone slated for a grisly execution (hanging, drawing and quartering being standard for treason) and whose secret service colleagues helped them escape into exile might said to be ‘lucky’ to be alive, even though they had lost control of their writings.  Under the Marlowe theory, Marlowe’s ‘lucky leap’ – the blessed escape which allowed him to continue writing and developing as a writer, and all the wisdom that such an experience would bring  – ends up ‘in Shakespear’ – in this book of plays that appear under the Shakespeare name.

The poem explains why ‘Shakespeare’ is unsurpassed.

Lines 9 and 10 tell us:

But over-straining in the great Effort,
in Dryden, and the rest, has since fell Short.

It is Nature, we remember, who has over-strained in this effort: the effort presumably being the same one referred to with the words ‘try’ and ‘st[r]ove’.  And the final lines explain that no writer since has come close to the brilliance we find in the canon called Shakespeare. The poet’s striving to overcome his circumstances (the circumstances that involved leaving his fame behind) led to him excelling himself with a genius (contained ‘In [the works of] Shakespear[e]’) that has never been surpassed or even equalled. Not at the time this poem was written, and not since.

‘Nature’ is shorthand. The excellence of Shakespeare, through the Marlowe-shaped lens, is due to the shaping force of an extraordinary experience on an already extraordinary creative mind. The genius found ‘In Shakespear’ is not equalled because the author’s experience of suffering has not been equalled.  It was suffering that brought wisdom, as suffering often does, giving this singular author a broad perspective, and profound human understanding.

Points to ponder

Consider Shakespeare’s obsession with name, with exile, with mistaken identity, with resurrection.

Consider some of the otherwise inexplicable lines of the Sonnets: ‘as victors of my silence cannot boast‘ (Shakespeare’s silence?) or ‘my name be buried where my body is‘ (though the name ‘Shakespeare’ was plastered across the top of every other page in the 1609 sonnets and on numerous title pages too).

Consider what Stephen Greenblatt perceived through his wide and deep reading of the Shakespeare canon:

‘Again and again in his plays, an unforeseen catastrophe … suddenly turns what had seemed like happy progress,  prosperity, smooth sailing into disaster, terror, and loss.   The loss is obviously and immediately material, but it is also, and more crushingly, a loss of identity. To wind up on an unknown shore, without one’s friends, habitual  associates, familiar network — this catastrophe is often epitomized by the deliberate alteration or disappearance of the name and, with it, the alteration or disappearance  of social status.’  (4)                   

Consider this quote from our former Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes:

‘The way to really develop as a writer is to make yourself a political outcast, so that you have to live in secret. This is how Marlowe developed into Shakespeare.’ (5)

Consider Hamlet’s dying words to his only friend:

‘O good Horatio, what a wounded name
(Things standing thus unknown) shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.’

Consider the torn out corner where the title of this poem would have been.

The rest is silence.


An Active Swain in situ Bodleian First Folio

(1) Many thanks to Gary Allen for bringing it to my attention.

(2) The poem uses ‘essay’ twice: once as verb and once as a noun. There is no verb form of ‘essay’ connected to writing. If we assume the poem was written in the mid 17th century, the OED offers 4a: To attempt; to try to do, effect, accomplish, or make (anything difficult) and a variation of 1a: Also to practice (an art etc.) by way of trial but this form would usually be transitive i.e. have an object – you would essay something. The verb in the poem has no object, but poets will often bend grammar to their own devices, so the practicing of an art may also be implied, perhaps as a secondary layer of meaning.

(3) Though ‘essay’ as a written composition had come into use by 1597 (Francis Bacon, following Montaigne’s 1580 Essais), the noun form of essay in this poem seems likely to accord with OED Essay (n) 1a: a trial or test, although it could be 5a: attempt.  However, if it was ‘attempt’, one would need to change ‘of’ to ‘at’ to make grammatical sense (attempts at wit). Therefore ‘trials of wit’ is the best fit.

(4) Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World (2004), p.85.

(5) Ted Hughes, Letters of Ted Hughes (2007), ed. Christopher Reid, p.120.

Guilpin’s Fuscus: Sir John Davies

Guilpin’s Fuscus: Sir John Davies


“Man is known by the company he keeps.”

A great deal of my recent research on Christopher Marlowe has involved looking at the wider social networks of which he was a part. This can get pretty obscure by most people’s standards, but since so many amateur sleuths looking into the Shakespeare authorship question seek information with a straight forward Google search rather than mining Early English Books Online and other paid-for sources, it seems sensible to blog about an article or two I’ve had published recently.

Fuscus in Guilpin’s Skialethia (1598)

Fuscus Guilpin Skialethia Sir John DaviesFor Shakespeare authorship questioners, minor characters in obscure texts can take on a great importance, and whole theories are sometimes constructed around a single (sometimes very wobbly) interpretation.  When I was looking into the identity of someone nicknamed ‘Fuscus’ in Everard Guilpin’s Skialetheia (1598), I found various assertions that Fuscus was Marlowe, or Thomas Nashe, to add John Payne Collier’s 1868 guess that Fuscus was John Marston.

Not so, my friends.  Combining clues from the several different epigrams in which Fuscus is mentioned with the work of P.J.Finkelpearl and J.R.Brink on a certain scandalous happening at the Inns of Court at Candlemas 1598, it is now clear beyond any doubt that ‘Fuscus’ is the poet and lawyer Sir John Davies, he who had his Epigrams published side by side with Marlowe’s translation of Ovid’s Elegies. The article is here behind a paywall until December 2017, but after that you’ll be able to download a copy from the publications section of my staff page at Goldsmiths or my profile on  If your need is urgent, you can always get in touch and I’ll send you a copy.

Rosalind Barber, ‘Sir John Davies as Guilpin’s Fuscus’, Notes and Queries (2015) 62 (4):553-554.

Why the ‘new Shakespeare portrait’ is NOT Shakespeare


shakespeare nonsenseA great deal of fuss has been made about a supposed ‘newly discovered portrait of Shakespeare’ found on the title page engraving of sixteenth century botany book.  The editor of UK lifestyle magazine Country Life, in which the discovery was announced, declared it “The Literary Discovery of the Century”.  The story was dutifully picked up by BBC News Online and such is the clout of the BBC that by yesterday all major news outlets were excitedly repeating the story, leading it to trend across social media.  The botanist who made the discovery quickly morphed into a ‘historian’ and NBC news even multiplied him into ‘historians’ to add a little weight to the theory. 

Read more

Was Marlowe Faustus? Talk at Marlowe 450, Canterbury.


Wednesday 12th March 2013, 6pm

Ahead of Fourth Monkey’s production of Doctor Faustus at The Marlowe Theatre at 8pm, a talk on the extent to which Marlowe’s life and work are inter-related.

We do not know exactly when Doctor Faustus was written, but Robert Greene’s 1588 allusion to Marlowe associates him, very early in his career, with a famous magician.  Faustus is the protagonist with whom Marlowe is most often conflated: the scholar A.L.Rowse said ‘Faustus is Marlowe’.  Is this simply a case of reading the author’s life backwards through the lens of his public atheism and subsequent sticky end? Were elements of Marlowe biography written in to the play after his death?  Did those who knew him personally think of him as Faustus?  This talk explores evidence that illuminates Marlowe’s relationship with his most famous protagonist.


For full details, and to book tickets, go here:

33 Shakespeare Characters Wrongly Believed To Be Dead


The very belated second half round up of 2013 may have to wait.  2014 has begun with a flurry of activity around the release of the US paperback, including my first articles for the Huffington Post.  The first, 7 Brilliant Writers Who Were Overshadowed by a Contemporary was quite a hit, with over 900 social media shares to date, and the usual flurry of comments from people who would have written it differently.  This week, a post dearer to my heart: the question of whether Christopher Marlowe might have faked his death.  I mention in that article about Shakespeare’s obsession with false death and resurrection:  thirty-three characters in eighteen Shakespeare plays are wrongly thought dead for anything from a few seconds to almost the whole of the action, and seven of those deaths are deliberately faked.  I thought I’d put the full list up here for anyone who is interested.

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SAT Conference 2013


Much Ado About ItalyThe Shakespearean Authorship Trust’s annual conference is a one day event aimed at a general audience.  Just as last year, this year’s event at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London was a sell-out. Although many of the attendees are involved in researching the authorship question there are also those who are simply lovers of Shakespeare who come out of curiosity.  The SAT supports no individual candidate to the authorship and all are welcome, including those who favour William Shakespeare of Stratford as chief author.   A friendly, collegial atmosphere is encouraged.

It was, therefore, slightly ‘off-message’ to open with an entertaining but combative presentation from Alexander Waugh,[1] whose article in the Spectator has recently inflamed such ire.  An attendee who declared himself a ‘sceptical Stratfordian’ later said he had attended the SAT conference several times and it was the first time he had felt unwelcome; this was regrettable.  Despite the tone of Alexander’s talk, which will do nothing to soften the general air of mudslinging that unfortunately surrounds this topic, he raised some excellent points about the sloppiness of Stratfordian scholarship on the subject of Shakespeare and Italy.   Based on his chapter in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt?, it was a challenging beginning to one of the strongest conferences for years.

Following Alexander Waugh, Hank Whittemore gave a talk on the work of the late Richard Paul Roe, whose landmark book The Shakespeare Guide To Italy was the inspiration behind the theme of the 2013 conference.  A full transcript of Hank’s talk can be found, in three parts, on his blog.   Roe’s work has been an inspiration to all lovers of Shakespeare who have read it, and non-Stratfordians in particular, as it puts paid to the numerous orthodox assertions that insist Shakespeare was utterly ignorant on the subject of Italy.  Hank knew Dick Roe personally, and accompanied his talk with numerous photographs both of the man and of his Italian research trips, some kindly provided by Roe’s daughter Hilary.

Next, Kevin Gilvary shed light on the relationship between various Shakespeare works and four categories of literary works: Roman comedy, Italian novellas, Commedia Erudita and Commedia dell Arte.  Details included how the much cited ‘sailmaker from Bergamo’ in Taming of the Shrew is not only an accurate topographical reference but a literary one: traditionally the servant in Italian comedies comes from Bergamo.  Most significantly, he identified for the first time Italian literary sources for The Tempest, always considered Shakespeare’s chief ‘sourceless’ play.  All three of the morning’s talks were filmed and will be available for viewing on the Shakespearean Authorship Trust’s website.

After lunch, we were treated to talk on Italian costumes and fashion from costume and stage designer Jenny Tiramani.  She focused on the (relatively few) references to Italian and French dress in Shakespeare’s works, and on the challenges and choices that must be faced in designing costumes for his Italian plays.

Julia Cleave of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust then presented the work of the late Roger Prior on the Bassano Fresco, and its relationship to Othello.  Prior’s work was published in 2008 in an extremely obscure (and hard to source) Italian journal, but it provides compelling evidence that the author of Othello visited Bassano, and indeed, sourced the protagonist’s name from the town, whose main square contained two apothecary shops, one owned by a man called ‘Otello’ and one, operating under the sign of a Moor’s head, known as ‘The Moor’.  Like Jenny Tiramani’s presentation, this presentation wasn’t filmed due to copyrighted images, but an article on the Bassano Fresco which contains much of the information in Julia’s presentation can be found here.

My own presentation, ‘A New Approach to the Authorship Question’ was a plea to end the name-calling and antagonism that bedevils the authorship debate and approach it calmly and rationally on the evidence alone.  Stratfordians are no more liars and fools (as I have seen them called on internet forums) than non-Stratfordians are snobs and conspiracy theorists: each side believes they are either defending, or seeking, The Truth.  This led into an introduction to Shakespeare: The Evidence, a new authorship question resource which is sponsored by the SAT.   A technical glitch means a film of this presentation is not available, but details of the project are here.

After tea and the traditional SAT cake, we had brief (5 minute) presentations on the Italian connections of a number of key authorship candidates. This was followed by the Q&A/Forum which tackled a number of audience questions, including co-authorship and stylometry.  A film of the Q&A is also available on the SAT website.

All in all, one of the most stimulating conferences yet, and a great tribute to the work of the late Richard Paul Roe and the late Professor Roger Prior .  See some of the talks, and the Q&A, on the Shakesperean Authorship Trust’s website.

[1] Alexander Waugh is aligned with the US-based Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, who are decidedly anti-Stratfordian and combative in approach.  The UK-based Shakespearean Authorship Trust, by contrast, is non-Stratfordian (as opposed to anti-) and welcomes Stratfordians too, being inclusive of all authorship candidates (including the man generally attributed with the works).

Shakespeare: The Evidence


On Tuesday 26th November 2013, I’ll be releasing the first chunk of Shakespeare: The Evidence, the first book on the Shakespeare authorship question to gather together all the evidence, arguments and counter-arguments for and against Shakespeare’s authorship.  It will be in the form of a (searchable, hyperlinked) e-book, available in all e-book formats, and published in instalments via the Leanpub platform (motto: Publish Early, Publish Often).

It will build month on month to become a comprehensive compendium of all the relevant evidence and arguments used by both sides, allowing those already involved in the debate to better understand and answer their opponents, to tell weak arguments from strong ones, and to have a huge amount of complex information at their fingertips.  It will be both searchable and hyperlinked, with (at the current count) five appendices supplying source texts.    I hope it will be of interest not just those already involved in the Question, but of those who would like to understand better exactly why Shakespeare’s authorship of the works attributed to him has been challenged openly for over 150 years.

This project is generously supported by the Shakespearean Authorship Trust, and 50% of all royalties will be donated to them.

Cheltenham Literature Festival with Charles Nicholl


Friday 4th October 2013

Cheltenham Literature Festival

The Studio, Imperial Square


In celebration of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2013, we welcome Ros Barber to share her prizewinning verse novel The Marlowe Papers. Joining her is historian and author of The Reckoning Charles Nicholl, to discuss the treachery, conspiracies and real-life intrigue surrounding literary figures such as playwright Christopher Marlowe.




For details and to book tickets:

Review: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt


Shakespeare Beyond Doubt ?If the distinguished contributors to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt hope their book will place the traditional author of Shakespeare’s canon where the title claims and settle the Shakespeare authorship question for once and for all, they are likely to be disappointed. In the hands of twenty-one eminent Shakespeare scholars, the case for William Shakespeare of Stratford sounds plausible enough, and will reassure the already convinced as well as those who would like to be. But anyone versed in the primary material of the authorship question will emerge essentially unsatisfied. Although a well-written, accessible and interesting read, it is riddled with the common misunderstandings that characterise this ‘dialogue of the deaf’ and contains factual errors that suggest certain contributors haven’t done their homework. Nevertheless it is full of fascinating information for initiate and expert alike, and (with the exception of Paul Edmondson’s final chapter), reasonable in tone.

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