Why was “Shakespeare” Anonymous for so Long? Explanation, Anyone?

Titus Andronicus, 1594        (Anonymous)

Titus Andronicus, 1594

When the author “William Shakespeare” was just starting on his career as poet and playwright in the early 1590s, by tradition he was supposedly working as an actor learning lines and rehearsing and, of course, performing.  It’s a wonder he had time to eat, much less read the hundreds of books from which he would draw information and ideas for his writings!

In any case, in the early 1590’s he was apparently trying to make a name for himself; and sure enough, his two narrative poems (Venus and Adonis in 1593 and Lucrece in 1594) were instant bestsellers.  They both carried his name – not on the cover pages but inside, as printed signatures of the dedications to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton – and so, by the end of 1593, his name was made.


Why did “William Shakespeare” fail to appear anywhere on the early publications of his plays?  His name was prominent, so surely he could have insisted upon it; moreover, the publishers themselves would have been eager to use his name to promote sales.  I don’t think the Stratfordians have any convincing explanations.

My view is that Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, had already written the earlier versions of these plays by 1589.  Now, in the 1590s, he was unloading them.  And having attached his pen name “Shakespeare” to Southampton, speaking to him in language that a nobleman would use only to address a royal prince, he must have promised William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England, to keep his pen name off the printed copies of his plays.

Henry_VI_pt_3_quartoWhen Lord Burghley died in August 1598, the agreement abruptly ended. Now Oxford — helping to promote Southampton, from behind the scenes — faced the cunning Robert Cecil; and that fall he saw to it that twelve of his “Shakespeare” plays were listed in Palladis Tamia by Francis Meres.  In terms of the struggle to control the inevitable succession to the Queen, the gloves were off.  Now quartos of the plays began appearing under the Shakespeare name (which was often hyphenated as “Shake-speare”).  Before that, however, seven play publications up to 1598 had been issued without any name attached to them:

  Titus Andronicus (1594); 2 Henry the Sixth – “The First Part of the Contention…” (1594); 3 Henry the Sixth – “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York…” (1595); Richard the Third (1597); Romeo and Juliet Q1 (1597); Richard the Second (1597); 1 Henry the Fourth (1598)…

Why would young Will Shakspere of Stratford turn out these plays and have them published without his name on them?  Why, given his popularity as a poet from 1593 onward, would publishers keep his name off these plays?  Here, as they say, is another dog that failed to bark…

Richardthird 1597

romeo-and-juliet-1597 good

Richard II quarto 1597 no Shakespeare name


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