Here is Chapter One, for those who might be interested.
THE IDEAL SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP CANDIDATE
It is possible to construct an “ideal” Shakespeare authorship candidate, one whose specialized knowledge, life experiences, habits of mind, and literary style are precisely tailored to match those evinced by the author of Shakespeare’s works. A key feature of the Ideal Candidate is that his specialized knowledge should be gained directly rather than at second- or third-hand whenever possible. In other words, he should be constructed based on the principle that “the simplest explanation for all the facts is preferable,” as first stated by the medieval philosopher William of Occam. For any given set of observations, Occam’s razor admonishes us not to add complexities and assumptions that are not required to explain those observations.
It can certainly be objected that this construction of an Ideal Candidate omits a crucial fact—that Shakespeare’s works were not published anonymously, and hence there is no need to construct an Ideal Candidate because the principle of simplicity dictates that the man whose name appears on the title pages, William Shakespeare, wrote the works, even though he is a very poor match to the literary slipper. However, Occam’s razor is not such a crude tool as that. It requires that all the facts be accounted for, and could equally be used to argue that William is the most likely author of many plays now assigned to the Shakespeare Apocrypha (which would be the simplest explanation for why his name appears on their title pages).
Occam’s razor is a valuable tool because it guides the selection of the most likely explanation among an infinite number of possible explanations for a given set of observations. It is particularly useful for evaluating Shakespeare authorship candidates because Elizabethan England holds hundreds, maybe even thousands of theoretically possible (however implausible) authors. Given the complexity of the arguments that could be, and have been, constructed to explain how any particular candidate could have written Shakespeare’s works, the chances of identifying any one man as the most likely Author would be vanishingly slim if no guiding principle for deciding between rival candidates were available.
Rather than devising complex scenarios to explain how Shakespeare might have acquired his impressive range of specialized knowledge, in the absence of any material evidence for such scenarios, Occam’s razor dictates that if the Author’s works reveal a definite knowledge of some obscure fact, it is most likely because he had a personal reason to be aware of that fact. A hypothetical scenario in which the Author overheard a stranger talking about some topic in the Mermaid Tavern (a marvelous Tavern of Universal Knowledge where Shakespeare soaked up great quantities of lore, according to the traditional authorship belief) is not as plausible as a documented scenario in which the Author learned about the topic at first hand.
To construct the Ideal Candidate, let’s begin with Shakespeare’s knowledge of four particular events in English history (Attributes 1 to 4), connecting the dots in as straight a line as possible. To explain the extended lampoon of the 1562 legal case Hales v. Petit in the gravediggers’ scene in Hamlet (Attribute 1), make Shakespeare a law student in London during the year the trial was held. (We could instead make him a lawyer or judge in 1562, but in that case he would most likely be too old to be the Author.) To make sense of his evocative reminiscence of the 1575 Kenilworth festivities in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, let’s have him belong to the august party who attended the Kenilworth festivities in person (Attribute 2). To explain how Shakespeare learned about the crown’s 1581 interrogation of Edmund Campion during which the Catholic martyr was denied paper and ink, and to explain the Author’s sympathy towards Campion as revealed in Twelfth Night, make Shakespeare a secret sympathizer to the Catholic cause, and make him privy to court gossip in 1581 (Attribute 3). Finally, to explain the Bard’s apparent knowledge of King James’ 1605 reception at Oxford University, in which three sibyls hailed King James as Banquo’s descendent (foreshadowing a similar scene in Macbeth), have Shakespeare attend the reception in person (Attribute 4).
Let’s turn next to Shakespeare’s knowledge of the English and French aristocracy. To explain why his works contain a series of definite or probable personal allusions to four of the leading luminaries of the Elizabethan court—Sir William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth herself, the Earl of Oxford, and Sir Christopher Hatton—referring to events from the 1560s, 1570s, and 1580s, have the Author be a high ranking member of the court during this period (Attributes 5 to 8).
For the simplest explanation of why the fictional King of Navarre’s three best friends in Love’s Labour’s Lost were named after real French noblemen—the Baron de Biron, the Marquis de Mayenne, and the Duc de Longueville—have Shakespeare himself visit the French court and become acquainted with members of the French aristocracy (Attribute 9).
To explain how Shakespeare knew the names of the Danish aristocratic families Rosenkrans and Gyldenstierne, and learned about the Danish court’s unique drinking ritual (Attribute 10), place Shakespeare at the English court during the visit of the Danish delegation of 1592, which included a Rosenkrans and a Gyldenstierne. For good measure, have him move in the same aristocratic circles as Peregrine Bertie (sent as an ambassador to Denmark in 1582 and 1585) and Thomas Bodley (sent as an ambassador to Denmark in 1585). Alternatively, we could cause our Ideal Candidate to visit Denmark himself—but this was an unusual travel destination even among Elizabethan aristocrats, and a trip to Denmark is not necessary given these other direct paths to knowledge about Danish aristocratic families and drinking customs.
Now consider Shakespeare’s knowledge of Italy’s geography and customs, language and literature, and dramatic conventions. To explain these findings, the simplest explanation by far is to postulate that Shakespeare spent time in Italy (Attribute 11), had a particular love for the Italian language and literature (Attribute 12), and personally attended Italian dramatic performances including commedia dell’arte plays (Attribute 13).
Turning to Shakespeare’s knowledge of various other specialized topics, Occam’s razor continues to serve as a helpful guide. The simplest explanation for the Author’s impressively detailed knowledge of aristocratic sports is that he was himself an aristocrat (Attribute 14). The easiest way to account for Shakespeare’s familiarity with the Catholic Mystery Play tradition is to make him a Catholic who was able to attend mystery play revivals during Queen Mary’s reign (1553—1558), when the mystery plays enjoyed a brief popular resurgence (Attribute 15). Another way is to have Shakespeare grow up in one of the few cities that carried on the Mystery Play tradition until they essentially vanished from England in 1579.
To explain why many actors feel intuitively certain that the Author had acting experience, let’s give Shakespeare opportunities to perform in dramatic spectacles (Attribute 16). To account for his knowledge of untranslated Greek and French works, have the Author study both languages (Attributes 17 and 18). His remarkable knowledge of the law is best explained by giving him many years of legal training and a lifelong interest in legal questions (Attribute 19). The Author’s detailed knowledge of the vernacular of the sea is most readily explained by sending him on multiple sea voyages (Attribute 20). Finally, Shakespeare’s apparent familiarity with the philosophical teachings of Giordano Bruno (not yet available in English translation) is most simply explained by postulating that Shakespeare met Bruno during his visit to England between 1583-85 (Attribute 21).
Turning to the personal revelations in Shakespeare’s sonnets, let’s suppose that Shakespeare claimed to be a very old man in the 1590s and early 1600s because he really was an old man, rather than a young man pretending to be old for literary purposes (Attribute 22). To explain why he claimed to be lame, give the Author a documented accident to one of his legs that caused lameness (Attribute 23). To explain why he claimed to have experienced a period of shame, exile, and disgrace, make him endure a period of official disgrace and exile from the court (Attribute 24). To justify his claim to have strayed from his marriage vows, have him be a married man who did take a mistress (Attribute 25). Also have him be a man who appreciated male beauty (Attribute 26), with the social rank necessary for him to urge the ‘Fair Youth’ (the Earl of Southampton) to marry and beget children “for love of me” (Attribute 27). Finally, place Shakespeare under a ceremonial canopy of state during some chronicled historical event to explain why he opened Sonnet 125 with the words, “Were’t ought to me I bore the canopy” (Attribute 28).
Because topical allusions in King Lear and Macbeth can be solidly dated to 1606, keep the Ideal Candidate alive until at least that year (Attribute 29). Beyond that, there is no firm evidence concerning Shakespeare’s year of death based on internal topical allusions, although several lines of argument suggest the Author might have died before the publication of Shake-speare’s Sonnets in 1609.
Now let’s consider Shakespeare’s literary characteristics, setting an exceptionally high poetic bar for our Ideal Candidate. There must be solid evidence that he was a major poetic talent (Attribute 30) capable of poetic innovation in a wide variety of genres (Attribute 31). Let’s establish that he definitely wrote in the four literary genres favored by Shakespeare: sonnets, songs, narrative poems, and blank verse plays (Attribute 32). As a young man, let’s cause him to formulate a grand plan to relate stories from English history in verse as a way of teaching the important lessons of history, as Shakespeare did in his history plays (Attribute 33). Have the Ideal Candidate revere Chaucer and consciously drew upon Chaucer’s works for poetic inspiration (Attribute 34). Let’s also make him well acquainted with Thomas Sackville’s early poetic works, whose strong influence on Shakespeare’s style—though readily established—has largely been overlooked by literary critics (Attribute 35). The writer John Lyly also exerted an important influence on Shakespeare’s comedic style, so let’s make the Ideal Candidate intimately familiar with Lyly’s style (Attribute 36).
To explain how Shakespeare might have read John Florio’s English translation of Montaigne’s Essays several years before their publication in 1603, in time to influence his portrayal of Hamlet in the ~1601 Hamlet, let’s go so far as to have John Florio translate a significant portion of the essays in the Author’s own house (Attribute 37).
Next, let’s turn to Shakespeare’s personal characteristics as revealed in his works. The Author displays an unusual respect for women’s intelligence and emotional complexity for a man of his time; this must be apparent in the Ideal Candidate’s writings and personal actions (Attribute 38). However, since Shakespeare also created some of literature’s most memorable female villains, let’s further require that the Ideal Candidate be capable of portraying a great female villain, as Shakespeare did so memorably with Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Queen Tamora in Titus Andronicus, and Queen Margaret in Henry VI Part III.
The Ideal Candidate must also have been witty, and capable of writing excellent comedies (Attribute 39). To explain why he wrote the infamously boring Salic law scene in Henry V, let’s give him a strong interest in the legal and historical arguments for queenship (Attribute 40). Shakespeare placed a high value on personal generosity and hospitality, as evident throughout his works; this should be reflected in the Ideal Candidate’s behavior both during his life and in his will (Attribute 41). Since his works reveal a deep love for music, let’s require historical documentation of his appreciation for music (Attribute 42). He should also be a man who was attracted to both magnificence and simplicity, as Shakespeare’s works reveal the Author to have been (Attribute 43). Even in the smallest points, such as Shakespeare’s well-known interest in birds (Attribute 44), his habit of closely observing nature and the seasons (Attribute 45), his unusual sympathy for the sufferings of animals (Attribute 46), and his distinctive habit of using imagery drawn from the sport of lawn bowling (Attribute 47), let’s insist that the Ideal Candidate’s writings display these features.
He should also display a more subtle and wary attitude towards war than was typical for Englishmen of the period, expressing concern for the dangers and hardships of battle (Attribute 48) as well as concern for soldiers’ lack of adequate pay (Attribute 49). Shakespeare’s plays are rife with concerns about the potential for kingly abuses; so too should be the writings of the Ideal Candidate (Attribute 50). Like Shakespeare, he should care that justice be even-handed, and that the great not abuse their power over the weak (Attribute 51). Just as Shakespeare was opposed to the practice of grain hoarding, concerned about flattering royal councilors, and both fascinated and disturbed by mob psychology, so should the ideal Author be (Attributes 52, 53, and 54). He should also share Shakespeare’s interest in how politicians win favor with the public (Attribute 55). To explain Shakespeare’s deep insights into the art and practice of politics, let’s give the Ideal Candidate many opportunities to hone his political skills as a statesman and privy councilor (Attribute 56).
Finally, let’s explain the existence of the 1562 play Julius Caesar, the 1562 play Romeus and Juliet, the 1579 play The Jew (an early version of The Merchant of Venice), a 1584 play about Timon of Athens, a 1584 precursor to The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and other supposedly too early versions of the canonical plays, by making the Ideal Candidate a plausible author of all these works (Attributes 57 and 58). To explain why Shakespeare’s canonical plays sometimes appeared in print as ‘bad quartos’ or otherwise mangled texts, and why several (The Taming of The Shrew, King John, and the Henry IV trilogy) appear to have been adapted for the public theatres by a lowbrow popularizer of the Bard’s works (Attributes 59 and 60), postulate the existence of a second playwright who sometimes adapted Shakespeare’s material to make it shorter and more accessible to general play audiences.
The Ideal Candidate constructed above might seem to be too perfect a fit to the Shakespearean glass slipper to possibly match any living Englishman of Shakespeare’s time. If such a man did exist, and if surviving documentary records were available to establish each of the authorial traits discussed above, one would reasonably expect him to have been put forward as a Shakespeare authorship candidate at some time during the last century and a half of debate. Yet, however implausible it might seem, Thomas Sackville is indeed this Ideal Candidate, as Chapters 2 to 42 establish, and his candidacy has indeed received no serious or sustained consideration up to now.