THE SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP QUESTION:
NEW RESEARCH AND DISCOVERIES
In 2005 Brenda James revealed that Henry Neville was the real author behind the pseudonym William Shakespeare. Whilst this may startle you, this is a genuine, well researched discovery. For centuries there have been doubts that the man from Stratford wrote the plays but the “Authorship Question” had never been satisfactorily answered. Since 2006 I have been researching in this area and have published two books about the discoveries I have made. See below for an introduction to the Authorship Question and Henry Neville.
My latest book is:
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTING
Henry Neville and
Shakespeare’s Secret Source
Banned by Elizabeth I, the political tract, Leicester’s Commonwealth, was an attack on Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the Queen’s favourite. His reputation has never recovered. Sexed up with scandal and murder, this dangerous document eluded all attempts to destroy it and was even read by courtiers, including the young Henry Neville, who made his own secret copy. In 2005 Brenda James revealed that Neville was the hidden writer behind the pseudonym ‘William Shakespeare’. Amongst the evidence she discovered in the Worsley collection of Neville papers were two hand written copies of Leicester’s Commonwealth. Dr. John Casson now reveals how these are connected with three other ‘Shakespeare’ manuscripts: the annotated Halle’s Chronicle, the Hand D section of Sir Thomas More and the Northumberland Manuscript. This book provides compelling evidence that Leicester’s Commonwealth was a source for ‘Shakespeare’. It spurred Neville to write plays and poems in which political commentary was concealed in popular entertainment.
Dr. Casson has also discovered two books in Oxford University Libraries that were annotated by Neville, one of which is a political document that was a source for the play Edward III. He also unveils a previously unrecognised early play by the bard, the hilarious historical comedy with hidden political aspects, Look About You.
Much Ado About Noting adds to the increasing volume of evidence that Henry Neville was indeed the author of the Shakespeare canon.
Dr. Dwight Peck, Expert on Leicester’s Commonwealth, writes, “John Casson’s well-supported arguments repay careful reading and support a reconsideration of questions of authorship, dating and authorial intent.”
Sir Derek Jacobi, on reading the book, wrote, “A welcome and intriguing addition to the quest for the true authorship: deeply researched and persuadingly presented. A fascinating picture of a man whose qualities, life and qualifications plead his case very tellingly: Henry Neville is, henceforth, a contender.”
Publisher: Dolman Scott
The book can be purchased from the publisher or from Amazon.
Gregory Thompson, theatre director reviewing the book states:
I find the material here fascinating. It raises many issues on the authorship question and the evidence presented here points in one direction. We are perhaps on the verge of a massive shift in our understanding of Shakespeare and his desire to make a political impact.
Henry Neville and the Authorship Question
Brenda James first identified Henry Neville as the author of the works of Shakespeare in 2005. For the sake of anyone who has not read her books I will summarise her discovery but I would encourage any reader to refer to her work for the fuller picture.
The Authorship Question
Doubts about whether William Shakspere from Stratford wrote the works attributed to him have been around since his own lifetime. These doubts can be summarised as follows:
- The works of Shakespeare contain evidence of wide reading, travel, ability in foreign languages. Shakspere never travelled outside England and left no books in his will.
- Despite being our greatest writer his daughter Judith was illiterate and unable to sign her name except by making a mark in 1611. Susanna (Hall) left just one signature dated 1647: 31 years after her father’s death. Neither daughter, despite living for many years after their father’s death, left any record of him. His parents were illiterate. None of his ancestors or descendants were writers or involved in the theatre, though his brother Edmund died “a player” (actor) in 1607.
- No letters written by this great writer have ever been found. Only one letter written to him has been discovered, it was never sent but found in the posthumous papers of the person who wrote it. The letter, written in 1598 by Robert Quiney, was a request for a loan (Michell, 2000, 48).
- Shakespeare shows intimate knowledge of the English and French royal courts, yet no courtier ever wrote about meeting him.
- When he died nothing whatsoever happened. When Francis Beaumont died he was buried in Westminster Abbey and Ben Jonson had a state funeral. Shakespeare’s first monument in Stratford (recorded in engravings of 1653 and 1709) shows a very different man with his hands on what is either a sack of grain or a cushion, with no quill or paper (see Michell, 2000, 89, 91).
Diana Price who has written the most scholarly book on the available evidence,(Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem, 2000), concluded the man from Stratford could not have been the writer. She was unable to suggest who was. In her book Diana Price writes:
“Over seventy historical records survive for Shakspere, but not one reveals his supposed primary professional occupation of writing. Indeed, the only evidence that proves Shakspere wrote anything is six shaky signatures. Shakspere’s documentary evidence further suggests that he was ill-suited to a literary career. He is a man of no recorded education. He appears to have been uncomfortable using a pen. His documentary trail is bookless, and his will has not a trace of literary sensibilities in composition or content.” (149)
“One can make a case for Shakspere as a shareholder, actor, moneylender, broker, entrepreneur, real estate investor or commodity trader, but one cannot make a case, based on the biographical evidence, for Shakspere as a writer.” (290)
“Playwriting paid far less than did Shakspere’s documented activities, yet we are told (by other biographers) that he wrote plays for money. As far as we know, nobody paid him to write anything. He was supposedly the leading light of “his” theatre company, but business records show that his primary roles with the acting company were that of financier and entrepreneur. Moreover, he was in Stratford, not London, during certain performance seasons and lucrative holiday assignments at court…”(291)
Scholars “accept the statistically impossible scenarios: That Shakspere left no personal records revealing his profession as a writer, or that if he left any, they have ALL been lost or destroyed.” (300)
“Shakspere’s documentary records are not those of a literary genius but those of a man of financial acumen and mediocre intellect. If all the Shakespeare plays had been published anonymously, nothing in William Shakspere’s documented biographical trails would remotely suggest that he wrote them. Shakspere of Stratford is not, in fact, a viable authorship candidate, and if he were discovered today as a new contender his candidacy would not be taken seriously.” (294)
The Authorship Question however fell into disrepute because the candidates suggested (Bacon, Oxford and others), whilst intriguing, were just not credible. Orthodox scholars dismiss the question as ridiculous, suggesting that it only emerged 200 years after Shakespeare’s death and that no-one questioned his authorship in his lifetime. This is not true: in 1597 and 1598 Joseph Hall published Satires (Virgidemarium) in which he cryptically referred to the author of Shakespeare’s works by the name “Labeo” which some interpret as pointing to Bacon. In 1598 John Marston also called Shakespeare “Labeo” (in both Metamorphosis of Pygmalion’s Image and Certain Satires book 1). Thus from the 16th Century the identity of Shakespeare has been questioned.
THE AUTHORSHIP TEST
Many candidates have been suggested for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. I suggest that these be tested against the following criteria:
- The person’s life span must be contemporary with that of William Shakespeare and the works written under that name. The facts of this person’s life and career must fit the generally accepted order and chronology of the plays and have considerable explanatory power to illuminate the motivation and meaning of the plays.
- There must be evidence of a friendship between this person and Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton.
- There must be evidence in a manuscript of a similarity between the person’s hand writing and the Hand D section of Sir Thomas More.
- There must be some writing, such as letters or other documents, that show evidence of shared vocabulary between the writer and Shakespeare.
- There must be evidence the person could read/write French, Spanish, Italian, Latin and Greek (to enable him to read known Shakespeare sources that were not translated into English).
- The person must have travelled and visited some of the places such as Venice, Vienna and Scotland which appear in the plays.
- The real surname of this candidate and members of their ancestral family should appear somewhere in the plays.
- The person must be a known supporter of the Earl of Essex and have connections with the 3rd Earl of Pembroke, William Herbert (to whom the First Folio was dedicated).
- The person must have had access to the Strachey letter, (a source for The Tempest).
- There must be at least one contemporary document that connects this person with the name William Shakespeare and lists or mentions a poem or plays by the bard.
The only candidate who passes all these tests is Henry Neville. There is now a new book available that examines the Authorship Question and each candidate, including Henry Neville by the historian
Professor William Rubinstein: WHO WROTE SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS?
published by Amberley (2012).
Another new book forensically demonstrates that the actual evidence shows William Shakspere from Stratford was not the writer of the works attributed to him. The Man who was Never Shakespeare is by A. J. Pointon (2011) published by Parapress
When Brenda James discovered Henry Neville she was not looking for him: indeed, unlike all the other candidates, Neville was not discovered because a researcher had identified a plausible candidate and then sought evidence to fit. James was examining the dedication to the 1609 edition of the Sonnets. Having hypothesised that it was in code she set out, through a logical process, to decode it and thus discovered the unexpected name Henry Neville. James had never heard of him but as she researched his life she found more and more evidence pointing to him having been the hidden poet behind the front man/pseudonym ‘William Shakespeare’. Why did he want to keep his identity secret? James discovered an interlocking series of reasons that made this secrecy essential.
- It was not socially acceptable for a man of his position to be identified as a playwright.
- The plays he was writing were political and at the time such writing could be punished by imprisonment and torture.
- Neville’s father and father-in-law were involved in secret diplomatic government business. Indeed Neville himself became ambassador to France in 1599.
- Crucially Neville was illegitimate and had this been discovered he could have lost one of the largest fortunes of the day: the Gresham inheritance. This last point explains the references to bastards in the plays, one of whom (in King John) is called Faulconbridge: a Neville family name.
Neville’s Life and Shakespeare’s works
As James researched Neville’s life she found it fitted what we might expect to find in the biography of the bard, like a glove. I will illustrate this with ten points:
- Italy: Neville visited Italy in 1581, including Padua and Venice, gaining special knowledge of that country which we find in Shakespeare’s plays.
- France: Neville was Ambassador to France 1599-1600, at a time when Shakespeare wrote Henry V, which includes scenes in France.
- Holinshed: Neville’s father-in-law, Henry Killigrew, was one of the editors of the 1587 edition of Holinshed, used as a major source by Shakespeare.
- Nevilles in the history plays: members of the family are disguised by being identified only by their titles (the Earls of Salisbury, Warwick, Westmoreland etc.), though the name ‘Nevil’ is mentioned 7 times in Henry VI part 2.
- Imprisonment: Neville was caught up in the Essex Rebellion and imprisoned in the Tower of London 1601-3. From this time a tragic darkness enters Shakespeare’s plays.
- Henry Wriothesley: Neville had known Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, since he was a boy and they were imprisoned together in the Tower. They were close friends. Southampton dedicated a document about Richard III to Neville (British Library, Additional MS 29307). Shakespeare dedicated poems to him. In 1613 John Chamberlain wrote that Wriothesley was Neville’s “great patron” (McClure, 1939, Vol 1, 401).
- Thomas Morley, composer, printed the song from As You like It, “It was a Lover and His Lass” in 1600. He married a maid of Neville’s step mother and lived at Billingbear, Neville’s house in Berkshire.
- James I was in Oxford when Neville was awarded his MA in 1605. On that occasion Matthew Gwynne presented his Tres Sibyllae, a Latin poem which referred to the prophecy that Banquo’s descendants would inherit an endless empire (a possible source for Macbeth, 1606). Neville had visited Glamis castle in 1583. James I visited Neville in 1608 when preoccupied with his own writing.
- The Strachey Letter was a source for The Tempest. A private manuscript, it was circulated within the Virginia Company, of which Neville was a member. Neville’s son married the daughter of the chief executive of the Virginia Company a few weeks before the publication of the Sonnets. In the dedication to the Sonnets the words “adventurers” and “setting forth” can be seen to refer to the launch of the new company.
- John Fletcher dedicated a play (A King and No King) to Neville before he co-wrote the last plays with Shakespeare.
- 1614: Neville was supported in Parliament by Sir William Herbert who was the cousin of Neville’s chief backer in the Privy Council, the 3rd Earl of Pembroke, William Herbert, to whom the First Folio was dedicated in 1623.
- Ben Jonson wrote a poem addressed to Neville and The Staple of News, a play about the First Folio, which hints that Neville was the author (James, 2008, 268). At the time the First Folio was printed Jonson was living at Gresham College, which was founded by Neville’s great uncle (James, 2005, 210). Two Acts of Parliament protected the interests of the Neville family in Gresham College as they were Gresham’s close relatives, and this may have enabled them to have Jonson appointed there.
- In 1628 Neville’s son-in-law Thomas Vicars republished a book written in Greek adding a reference to a “well-known poet who takes his name from shaking and spear”. He names other writers by their actual names. This suggests he knew that the name Shakespeare was a pseudonym.
You may compare the lives of William from Stratford and Henry Neville by accessing a timeline I have created at:
The first manuscript document to list plays and name William Shakespeare as a playwright was the Northumberland Manuscript which dates from 1596-7 and was owned by Henry Neville. I have revisited this document and examined the evidence it provides for Neville being the real Shakespeare: NorthumberlandMSNeville
One of the most important pieces of evidence linking William from Stratford with the plays written by the bard is the Hand D section of the manuscript Sir Thomas More. Previous scholars have shown that William’s handwriting in his six signatures has key similarities to Hand D. I am now able to show that this evidence is weak and that the evidence in examples of Neville’s handwriting is stronger. See my paper:
You can also read a major study of Neville’s letters in relation to Shakespeare’s plays at:
(Correction: In this paper I write that there are no letters from Neville between his imprisonment in the Tower, 1601 until after his release in 1603. I have since discovered there are extant letters from this period, addressed to Cecil, now at Hatfield House. They are indeed moving and contain significant material: see my paper belowReunions in Ephesus, on Neville’s psychology.)
Furthermore I have made a special study of rare words that Shakespeare only uses once and found these occur in Neville’s letters at the same time as the play was written, Neville often anticipating Shakespeare’s rarest vocabulary. See my paper:
I have written a psychological study of Neville showing how he fits what we would expect for the author of Shakespeare’s works, see Reunions in Ephesus:
Neville’s grandson was a writer. In 1668 he published The Isle of Pines under the pseudonym Henry Cornelius Van Sloetten. This satirical work has similarities to The Tempest. None of William Shakspeare’s Stratford descendants were writers.
My first book on the Neville authorship was:
ENTER PURSUED BY A BEAR
THE UNKNOWN PLAYS OF
by John Casson
Cover design by Kaspars Vilnitis
Foreword by Brenda James
published by Music for Strings, 2009; now available from Dolman Scott 2010.
Following Brenda James’ discovery of the true identity of the writer of Shakespeare’s works, Sir Henry Neville, Dr. John Casson has applied this to apocryphal works with startling results:
Neville’s first nom-de-plume (before he used the name Shakespeare)
Shakespeare-Neville’s first published poem: The Phaeton sonnet
Shakespeare-Neville’s first comedy: Mucedorus
Shakespeare-Neville’s first tragedies: Locrine and Arden of Faversham
Shakespeare-Neville’s first Falstaff: ten years before the Henry IV plays.
John also explores Thomas of Woodstock and A Yorkshire Tragedy, revealing the connections between them and Henry Neville’s life and letters. He reclaims the lost play Cardenio in the surviving text of Double Falshood, showing that this is a genuine work by Shakespeare-Neville and John Fletcher.
This is a thrilling read as revelation follows revelation: after 400 years we can now see Shakespeare-Neville’s artistic development before his early known works. John Casson, PhD, is an independent researcher, psychotherapist and playwright.
“Having read a deal of “Enter Pursued by a Bear” I consider it to be a work of first class research and scholarship, full of fascinating indicators all pointing away from the orthodox belief. Neville emerges as an original and attractive contender, his known life and experience seemingly echoed in the canon. I hope it’s a great success.” Sir Derek Jacobi
John Casson at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, where there are not only copies of the First Folio and Shakespeare’s 1609 Sonnets but also three volumes containing Henry Neville’s letters (Winwood, 1725) which he has been studying.
Photo by Arash Hesami
“A very impressive book. Extraordinary breadth of research and compelling arguments. A real literary forensic gem!”
Stuart Richman, actor
You can order the book through Amazon or from:
Dolman Scott www.dolmanscott.com
If you wish to contact me please e-mail me at:
drjohncasson(at)gmail.com (substituting the @ sign for (at).
James, B & Rubinstein, W.D. (2005) The Truth Will Out: Unmasking The Real Shakespeare, Harlow, Pearson Longman
James, B. (2008) Henry Neville and the Shakespeare Code, Bognor Regis, Music for Strings
McClure, N. E., (Ed.) (1939) The Letters of John Chamberlain, Two Volumes, Philadelphia, The American Philosophical Society
Michell, J. (2000) Who Wrote Shakespeare? London, Thames & Hudson
Price, D. (2000) Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem, Greenwood Publishing Group
Further research has been done by Dr. James Goding and Bruce Leyland and they publish their extraordinary discoveries on their website. They confirm Brenda James’ work on the cryptic dedication to the 1609 Shakespeare sonnets. See:
OTHER RESEARCH DISCOVERIES INCLUDE:
Six Jacobean plays in which drama is used as therapy, beginning with Shakespeare and Fletcher’s play “The Two Noble Kinsmen” in which a woman who has a psychotic breakdown is healed through the deliberate use of drama. I first published this in 2007 as
17th Century Theatre Therapy: Shakespeare, Fletcher, Massinger, Middleton and Ford: Five Jacobean Healing Dramas
in The Journal of the British Association of Dramatherapists, Volume 29, No 1, Spring
I subsequently found a sixth such play and published this in 2007
The Sun’s Darling: A Sixth Jacobean Healing Drama
in The Journal of the British Association of Dramatherapists, Volume 29, No 2, Autumn
This research has now been published as chapter 7
Seventeenth Century Theatre Therapy, Six Jacobean Plays in
Dramatherapy and Social Theatre, Necessary Dialogues,
edited by Sue Jennings,(2009) London, Routledge
I also discovered the first document suggesting dance as a therapy (1609): I wrote a paper with Dr. Bonnie Meekums, dance/movement therapist and we published it in 2008 as:
The Earliest Document of Dance Movement Therapy in Britain: John Lowin Roscio’s 1609 Brief Conclusions of Dancers and Dancing
in The Journal of the British Association of Dramatherapists, Volume 29, No 3, Winter.