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


The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://hankwhittemore.com/2012/12/29/why-was-shakespeare-anonymous-for-so-long-explanation-anyone/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In the film “Anonymous”, William Cecil make a pact with Oxford to get him out of his prison in 1581, after betraying Elizabeth with Vavasour. The pact is: you (Oxford) have to go back to my daughter (Anne Cecil) and you will give her children, so many as she can bear.

    In fact, the film have some errors and fails and this is one of them. We all know that Anne Cecil bear Elizabeth in 1575 in Oxford’s absence. When he came back, he denied to be the father of the baby and named her a bastard (Elizabeth Vere and not Elizabeth DE Vere). This because Oxford heard in the Court gossips of Anne Cecil’s adultery and the earl started to believed because, I think, of his malicious cousin Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, that would be the inspiration to Iago in “Othello” and Camillo in “The Winter’s Tale” (but who were Ceasar and Polixenes, anyway?). Only to add, “The Winter’s Tale”, according to shakespearen critics, is inspired in “Pandosto” by Robert Greene, pusblished in 1588 (the year of Anne Cecil’s death), were the story of adultery is basically the same. Here’s a prove that Oxford was Robert Greene.

    Is, indeed, strange that William Shakespeare pusblished his “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece” under his name but never his plays, that were also very famous in that time. I ask myself if there was really a pact back to 1581, between Oxford, Cecil and the Queen, but the pact was not connect to Anne Cecil’s children. If we inquire, we will find many anonymous plays during the 80s, after Oxford’s liberation from the Tower of London (and Vavasour wasn’t liberated with him and such fact make me think there was really a pact). Was this secret pact the Oxford’s authorship on his plays and poems and his appearance in the Court? I think Elizabeth and Cecil swore liberation to Oxford from his prison but only if he stopped to wrote plays and poems and didn’t appeared more in the Court.

    So, Oxford started wrote plays under anonymous authorship and in the end of the 80s he started to use pseudonyms. This my theory…

    • Hi Francisco,
      as I’ve read through the last act of Othello -thanks to another passage, which I discussed with Hank-, I firmly believe that Iago is: Robert Cecil. The very last lines are in my view telling the real intentions of Oxford:

      “To you, lord governor,
      Remains the censure of this hellish villain;
      The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!”

      The censure: of Robert Cecil.
      The time: Southampton had spent in prison.
      The place: generally known, and Hank mentions it several times in The Monument, that it was the Tower: writing ‘the place’ everybody knew it was actually the Tower.
      The torture: which the participants of the Rebellion, and perhaps even Southampton had to suffer.

      So this is -under the surface- a list of Robert Cecil’s hideous sins, for which the punishment of Oxford’s pen is inevitable.

      But I’m curious, what Hank’s opinion on this is?

      • Happy New Year, Sandy and Whittemore 🙂 🙂 :)!!!

        Sandy, I have to remind you that in “Othello”, Iago and Caesar are very close friends of Othello. If Iago is Cecil, then Caesar would be Southampton, right?

        There is an oxfordian theory which say that Elizabeth Trentham, Oxford’s second and last wife, was corted by Southampton before she married. According to this theory, by Stephanoe Hopkins Hughes (I think), Henry de Vere, born in 1593, was Southampton’s and Trentham’s son and “Venus and Adonis” was published inspirated in the adultery to remind the young earl of his son (i.e Venus = Trentham; Adonis = Southampton: the flower = Henry de Vere). To Hughes, Oxford baptized Trentham’s bastarda with the name of the young earl with the same motive. And he wrote “Willobie his Avisa” and Sonnets 40, 41 and 42 inspired too in this affair. PS: Hughes denies the PT Theory, so to her Oxford and Southampton were platonic lovers or Oxford was in love with Southampton;

        I concord with this theory execpt that “Venus and Adonis” and Sonnets 40-42 were inspired in such affair, Oxford was in love with Southampton and Henry de Vere was Henry Wriothesley’s son and bastard.

        If Iago wasn’t Howard and yes Cecil, then would be Caesar Southampton and Oxford (Othello) get enraged with him? If we read “Willobie his Avisa”, we will see W.S (Oxford as William Shakespeare) encouraging H.W (Henry Wriothesley) to court A/Avisa (note the rhyme with the abbreviation of Elizabeth, “Eliza”), but Avisa doesn’t broke her marriage vows (she is married to a “poor” man = “poor” as synonym of “lame” Oxford).

        Did Robert Cecil told Oxford his son with Trentham was his own first-born’s (Southampton’s) bastard and he get enraged with both?

  2. Hiya,

    “The dog who failed to bark” – exactly.

    Is genius – Mozart or Picasso – likely to be silent until almost thirty ?

    • Well, that’s a good point. Another dog not barking is the lack of any paper trail, a trail of apprenticeship leading to semi-maturity and finally to (1) the poems with his name modestly inside the book, and (2) this outpouring of plays with no name attached till 1598 when Will is thirty-four. And yes, most of the other geniuses were never so shy…

      ‘Tis a wonder…

  3. Dear Francisco, that’s possible, but for me too much. I’d like to stick to those ideas which I see plausible from the Sonnets (mainly) and from the plays. And this is that Southampton was Oxford’s and the Queen’s son (my son one earl…), the Cecils the enemies – those, in our circles generally accepted facts. As I’m a simple-minded computer programmer, I can’t measure the weight of the allegations you mention. For me it’s complicated, and although I admire those how come up with them, I myself don’t have the power and the time to add something useful to it. I read them enthusiastically, but I don’t know what’s true and what’s false. To imitate Oxford: ‘I know what I know’ – but not more 🙂

    • Well, we can talk about all this in the new year …. and by the way, Happy New Year to all, and in particular to Sandy and Francisco…

      The concepts involving Othello are interesting and I had not thought of it. What it would require is a very late updating post 1601 rebellion. But if so, you have Iago (Cecil) luring Cassio (Southampton) into a situation where he is accused of committing a crime. Then you have Oxford, in Othello’s position, forced to kill everything he loves including himself…

      All this is just thinking out loud.

      The theory of Southampton as father of the 18the Earl of Oxford comes, I believe, from a gross misreading of Willobie his Avisa. See the book by DeLuna for a start. The “wooing” of Avisa, the Queen, is allegorical for Southampton attempting to get her to recognize him as heir and successor. There is good textual evidence that Oxford wrote Avisa, all of it, including the final verse by Ever or Never.

      The sonnets 40-42 fit into this framework, although there is much room for work on them. 41: “And when a woman woos, what woman’s son/ Will sourly leave her till he have prevailed?” First, the woman is the Queen and Southampton is this woman’s son. She has woo’d him in the sense that she has given him some reason, however much or slight, to believe she will eventually name him. Or she had done so in the past, because now he’s in prison.

      First it was Vavasour the dark lady. Then Amelia Bassano. Then Elizabeth Trentham. This is an Oxfordian trail; the Stratfordians have had others, of course. Lucy Negro, Mary Fitton, etc. The dark lady is the queen, and the attempt to use Avisa to influence thinking about the sonnets and even about Elizabeth Trentham is quite amazing. It shows, in my view, how one wrong road can lead the driver far astray. For me, it would seem to make PT seem quite mild by comparison:-)

      Thanks for all the good comments here!

      • HAPPY NEW YEAR, dear gents 🙂 I’m moved to be (a wee) part of such a great intellectual investigation. I wish you that the fight between Oxford and Cecil should remain the greatest tension in our world 🙂
        As to the dark ladies: I’m with you Hank in this, that’s why I wrote what I wrote.

      • Happy New Year, Whittemore and Sandy (again :P).

        Whittemore, it’s difficult to identified the Queen as Avisa. Avisa was a “maid of Diana” for ten years before her marriage and you can’t forget that the roman goddess was a nickname to Elizabeth I; but Trentham was a Maid of Honour of the Queen and her name was recorded as such in the 1580s. According to “Willobie his Avisa”, Avisa was born in the east of England and was 30 years old when she married; Trentham was born in northwest of London, in Staffordshire, but the Queen was born in London and Trentham was 30 years when she married Oxford in 1591 when Elizabeth was around 26 and 27 years old when there were gossips of a secret marriage between her and Dudley (1560/1561). Avisa lived in a vale where “The muses sing and Satyres plays”, a clear reference to theatres; but the Queen lived in castles and Trentham was more connected to people in The King’s Place. Avisa’s father was the mayor of a town and was not if noble blood like Trentham’s father (a “sheriff” of Stratffordshire); but Elizabeth’s father was the king Henry VIII, to whom she was very similar in mind (like the wrath and lust of both).

        It’s a little complicated to me to identified Avisa as the Queen…

  4. Yes, and let in the New Year Cassio govern the Island of Cyprus in peace, just like Southampton did on the Island of Wight 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: