A description of Shakespeare’s person

Who are the authors of Huckleberry Finn and Lord Jim? Well, Mark Twain and Joseph Conrad, of course. Or should we say that these works are by Samuel Clemens and Jósef Nalecz-Korzeniowski? After all, their neighbors and friends knew them by the latter names, not by the former ones.

Twain and Conrad are, however, the names that we find on the front pages of their books, and I suppose we will always call them so in every literary connection. Similarly, we will always call the author of Hamlet William Shakespeare and nothing else. This holds even if his friends and neighbors called him Shaxper, Shagsbeard, Rockstaff, Gotobed or whatever.

To us, who sometimes watch performances of Shakespeare’s plays, his private name is of no importance. There are other facts about him that we would appreciate so much more to be informed about. What kind of a man was he? What had he experienced before he wrote this play or that? What places did he like, what animals, plants, etc.? What did he do in his leisure time (except writing plays)? Many obscure details in the plays would probably become understandable if we had the answers to questions like these.

Previous research has clarified many obscure details already. We know for instance why the play Twelfth Night got a name that has nothing at all to do with its plot. Leslie Hotson has produced excellent evidence for his theory that the play was written for performance expressely on Twelfth Night, 1601. On that day a play was performed before the Queen and her guest, the Italian Virginio Orsino, Duke of Bracciano. As we know, Shakespeare named the lovesick duke in his play Orsino--apparently in order to amuse the royal guest. We, the late observers, are certainly amused to know about such piquant details.

Most certainly our understanding of other plays would profit from a little more knowledge about the author and about the creation of the plays. So why not try to toss off some new facts about Shakespeare? It would require a bit of research in English Renaissance history. But much background information can also be fished out right from the texts of the plays. A seemingly tedious method such as statistical analysis of Shakespeare’s vocabulary appears to elucidate quite a lot about the author. For this purpose we must look at words that he uses in passing, and ignore what is essential for the plot. Much can be revealed by the apparently accidental selection of e.g. a certain place name out of hundreds of possible ones.

We must not think that parish registers and contemporary comments (including memoirs) are the only sources of knowledge about an author who lived four centuries ago.

The few biographical facts about the Stratfordian Shakspere are rather unsatisfactory as an aid to understanding the plays. For instance, why should he make Juliet 13 years old, i.e. much younger than Romeo when his own bride was so much older than himself? That leaves the extremely low age of Juliet unexplained. The play characters and Shakspere have very few points in common, as far as the ordinary observer is able to recognize.

Therefore, we have every reason to try new methods to reveal something about Shakespeare’s characteristics, interests and environment. Let us set aside all the biographical data about Shakspere that we may know. A methodical analysis of the entire volume of Shakesperian texts will produce quantities of facts of another type about the author. With the aid of current scientific methods we are going to reconstruct his life in broad outline. At best, we will delineate the distinctive features of the man who wrote the plays. It is to be hoped that we can eventually produce a picture with more details and sharpness than the one the parish-register-biographers have succeded in making.


The geographical background

Let us begin with the provincial traits in the language of Shakespeare. Actually, it is teeming with such matter. I have found 146 words in Shakespeare’s vocabularay that are recorded in The English Dialect Dictionary by Joseph Wright. However, these words do not all belong to one and the same dialect. There are single words taken from almost all parts of England and Scotland. (See Dialect words.) A great majority belongs to the Northern Dialect ("Yorkish"), as noticed by W. Marschall in 1928. This dialect is spoken predominantly in the counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire (see Map 2 below). No less than 86 percent of Shakespeare’s dialect words are recorded as used in at least one of these counties and consequently belong to Yorkish. Another 11 percent are recorded as used somewhere north of the area of Yorkish, including Scotland. Only a few among the 146 words have been taken from Midland and Southern England dialects.


One of the conspicuous characteristics of Yorkish is the strain of Old Norse that we notice especially among the place-names:


Birkdale, Brant Fell, Hempholme, Mickleby, Ormskirk, Saltwick, Wax-

holme and many others. The Vikings dominated this part of England in the ninth century and they left their mark on the colloquial language as well. Even peers of the realm who had grown up in the area of Yorkish have been noted for their holding to the dialect in adult life. This applies e.g. to several of the Earls of Derby, who resided at Knowsley castle near Liverpool in Lancashire.

That Shakespeare used dialect words has been known for a long time. When C.T. Onions in 1911 published A Shakespeare Glossary, he noticed in his preface: "I have also made it a part of my plan to bring together evidence to show the relation of the poet’s vocabulary to that of the dialects of the midland area, and in particular the dialect of his own county, Warwickshire." Onions then goes on to enumerate 24 dialect words, of which he considers 13 to be used in Warwickshire, seven of them exclusively there. According to the Dialect Dictionary, however, only eight of the 24 words are known in Warwickshire and only one exclusively there. This unique word is honey-stalks (’clover flowers’). We may compare this with the fact that two of Shakespeare’s words are exclusive for Lancashire, misconster (’misinterpret’) and eysel (’vinegar’). (See Dialect words.)

One could choose an arbitrary county, and most probably there would be some two or three dialect words used by Shakespeare to establish that precisely this county was his.

But Shakespeare, the writer, was not a man of all counties. He retained throughout his literary production a remnant of the Northern Dialect. Under normal conditions this would indicate that he had grown up in one of the three counties where Yorkish was spoken--and still is.

So much for the region of his childhood. As for his later life, his travels would probably leave traces in his writings. Since there is an abundance of place-names in the plays, the selection of these names might have been influenced by the author’s own experience. In his written dialogue text Shakespeare mentions 185 localities (such as towns, mountains, rural castles, etc.) Among these there are 102 places situated in Great Britain and 83 on the Continent (including Africa and the Orient). The latter can be further divided into 23 in France, 23 in Italy, 23 in Greece (including Ionia) and 14 in other countries. It is remarkable that the places fall into clusters so that the distance from one place to the nearest is usually short. Only 17 percent of the places are located more than 60 miles from any other of them. (See Map 1 below.)

Near Calais in France we find a concentration of six places within a radius of only 15 miles. It was in this vicinity that the continental journeys of the Britons usually started and ended in those days. The pattern of places on the Continent that Shakespeare mentions in his plays seems to indicate that he had traveled through parts of France, Italy and Greece, starting from the traditional terminal in Pas de Calais. In Italy we notice a concentration of 14 places in the North. As it happens, Northern Italy was the region preferred before others by young English noblemen who wanted to achieve the highest refinement according to the standard of the day. If studies in Northern Italy could be supplemented with visits in Greece and Palestine, the cradles of culture and religion, one had the finishing touch. Beside 23 places in Greece, Shakespeare mentions seven places in the region of Egypt-Palestine-Syria, which implies that he may have extended his journeys even further.

Not only are all these places chosen along certain itineraries, as we will soon find, Shakespeare appears to possess quite an intimate knowledge of the same districts.

At the end of the third scene of the third act of Othello, Shakespeare has his African general deliver a graphic depiction of his emotions. The phenomenon that he chose as an expression of Othello’s vindictiveness was the cold current of brackish water that constantly plunges forward through the Bosporus. It is quite appropriate, the current is strikingly chilly and rapid, in some places up to five knots.

Never, Iago. Like the Pontic sea,

Whose icy current and compulsive course

Ne’er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on

To the Propontic and the Hellespont;

Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace,

Shall ne’er look back, ne’er ebb to humble love,

Till that a capable and wide revenge

Swallow them up.

(Here Pontic sea means the Black Sea, Propontic the Sea of Marmara and Hellespont the Dardanelles.) In order to strike at precisely this comparison among the multitude of possibilities, one has to have stood in fascination on the bank of the Bosporus. In those days the absence of ebb must have seemed somewhat miraculous in want of an explanation. To day, we know that there is a counter-current in the Bosporus, consisting of the heavier saltwater from the Aegean that passes below the cold brackish water from the Black Sea.

Or let us consider the references to Wittenberg as a place where Danish courtiers used to pursue their university studies. Knowledge about this state of things was hardly taken from books. The same applies to the drinking habits of the Danish King with a cannon shot after every toast. The writer ought to have been on the spot.

Shakespeare’s knowledge about Northern Italy is considerable. He mentions e.g. some "officers of night" in Venice (Othello, act I, end of scene 1):

Pray you, lead on. At every house I’ll call;

I may command at most.--Get weapons, ho!

And raise some special officers of night.

A night guard is not normally called "officers of night" in English, but in Venice the members of the night patrol were called precisely Signori di Notte.

Shakespeare also knew that foreigners had privilegies in Venice and that Padova was patronized by Venice. In The Taming of the Shrew he describes the famous painting by Correggio called Jupiter and Io:

We’ll show thee Io as she was a maid.

And how she was beguiled and surpris’d.

As lively painted as the deed was done.

In 1585-1600 the painting was on display in Milan, where it was the subject of general admiration. The earliest known reproduction of it, however, is a copperplate by Franz van den Steen, born in 1604.

Obviously Shakespeare knew that sails were made in Bergamo, about 100 miles from the coast. Says Vincentio to Tranio (The Taming of the Shrew, V,1):

Thy father! O villain! he is a sailmaker in Bergamo.

And what about Cassio, a Venetian, arriving in Cyprus on a ship called a Veronesa? That would mean that the ship was from Verona, a town situated 60 miles from Venice! But the fact is that galleys for Venetian shipowners were built in Verona at this time--and Shakespeare knew it! Sir Edward Sullivan is the one who has clarified these things. He considers that "Shakespeare had a distinct leaning to Italy as the setting or background of his dramatic pictures". Sir Edward also quotes Karl Elze saying that The Merchant of Venice shows "an inimitable and decidedly Italian atmosphere and fragrance which certainly can be more readily felt than explained and analyzed ... the play cannot possibly be excelled in this respect".

In brief, Shakespeare’s knowledge about certain places on the Continent was just the kind that is acquired in situ in the course of travels prepared by some reading at home.

Now let us turn to the 102 towns and countryside localities within Great Britain that Shakespeare mentions. (See Map 2 above.) Most of these are to be found in clusters, and about a third of them are situated within two long and narrow strips of land. These strips lie along the two principal roads of Roman and medieval England, one running from Dover to London and the other, the so called Watling Street, from London to Shrewsbury. Twelve other of the places are concentrated to a short strip of 35 miles containing London and Windsor Castle. Within a radius of less than a mile from the latter we find seven places mentioned by Shakespeare. He must have felt quite at home in Windsor. By contrast with Windsor, we find Stratford-upon-Avon not mentioned at all, nor any place within a radius of eight miles around it.

Besides towns and places that can be termed localities in accepted usage, the plays also contain names of buildings, streets, and other sites in London. I have found about 60 such sites, half of which are taken from the literary sources that Shakespeare used for composing his plays. The other half are sites that he introduced in the dialogue on his own initiative.

The literary, or should we say historical, places are heavily concentrated in the built up area of those days, roughly within 0.4 miles from St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is of course exactly what we should expect.

But among the sites that Shakespeare took from his own experience, all except two are situated farther away, many of them within a zone at a distance of 0.4-0.5 miles from St. Paul’s. Still more of them are spread out over the outer region up to two miles from the center.

This pattern indicates that during his residence in London, Shakespeare got especially well acquainted with the fringe area and the rural surroundings. Obviously he preferred these districts before patronizing inns and taverns in the City. In the fringe areas noblemen and other wealthy youths practiced sports and games of all sorts. They rode on horseback, practiced archery, played outdoor games, went on outings, etc. We will return to these leisure pursuits later.

Place-names and site-names are by no means the only words that provide pointers to the districts and localities where Shakespeare used to dwell and move. His vocabulary contains a large number of words that denote geographic and topographic objects. Among these are 40 words that bear reference to formations on the coast and the seashore. These 40 words occur altogether 332 times in the works of the poet. The most common word is shore (95 times). Next come the words sand, port and bay, which are mentioned about 30 times each. This should be compared with the seven words in Shakespeare’s vocabulary that denote objects from the world of rivers and creeks. These words occur only 34 times altogether with the word bridge at the top.

We may conclude that Shakespeare was much more interested in the seacoast than in the inland waters. This preference becomes apparent in his choice of species of fish for inclusion in the text. Out of 21 species that are common in the rivers of Central England Shakespeare mentions seven. Instead he includes in the text the names of 15 species of sea fish and five species of shellfish of the coastal waters. These animals of the sea are mentioned altogether 65 times as against only ten times for the lake and river fishes.

Next, let us scrutinize the varieties of trees in Shakespeare. He mentions about 40 percent of the species that are fairly common in Great Britain. The oak is his favourite (mentioned 36 times), but among the top six there are also cedar, cypress and plane tree. Every third time the name of a tree occurs in the text, it is a species not found in Central England. This, too, is an indication of the poet’s travels in Southern Europe.

In Shakespeare’s time the Continent could be reached by boat only. Just as we should expect, there is a lot of evidence proving that Shakespeare was very much at home on board ships of various kinds. His maritime terminology is impressive even when judged by an expert such as A.F. Falconer. It appears that Shakespeare uses no less than 30 different terms denoting ships and boats--mostly such that apply to vessels used on the open sea. A few examples: admiral (meaning flagship), argosy (a ship from Ragusa), cock, galley, gallias, long-boat, man-of-war, merchant, pinnace, pirate, trader, trafficker.

Falconer estimates the poet’s knowledge of professional seamanship as considerable. He also thinks that the marine scenes in Henry VI, Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra and Pericles could not have been written without personal experience of life at sea. Who, but one who has been saling, could know that it is possible to take down the top-mast when under sail? And who would know that this operation may be useful in a strong gale? Would a landlubber ever hit upon the idea to write cues about such things in a play? The following lines from The Tempest (I:1) must have delighted all the seamen in the audience. For all other theatergoers it was certainly mumbo jumbo, then as now.

Take in the top-sail!

- - -

Down with the top-mast; yare; yare; lower; lower;

Bring her to try with maincourse!

- - -

Lay her a-hol, a-hol: set her two courses;

Off to sea again, lay her off!

And who else than a man who has watched the customs on board a man-of-war would hit upon the idea of suggesting the longboat’s side to serve as a scaffold, as is done in the Second Part of King Henry VI (act IV, scene 1)?

Convey him hence, and on our longboat’s side

strike off his head.


The social background

In connection with the ships it may be of interest to look at the road vehicles that figure in Shakespeare’s works. These are strikingly few. I have found only car (15 times), chariot (10), coach (8), cart (3), waggon (3) and carriage (2). (The last word is mostly used to denote objects other than vehicles.) We notice the absence of words denoting carriage vehicles, such as dray and rack cart.

Instead the terms for horses are so much more abundant--and frequent. Shakespeare uses 26 different words for horses (altogether about 430 times). Most common is the word horse (c. 300), next come steed (36) and jade (29). From this we can draw the inference that the poet preferred to travel riding on horseback rather than by means of horse-drawn vehicles. This conclusion is corroborated by a number of terms belonging to riding, e.g. saddle, girth, saddlebow, spur, stirrup, and crupper. In four cases Shakespeare also mentions some individual horse by name.

To all appearances the dramatist was also an interested huntsman and dog fancier. Words denoting dogs are about as frequent as those for horses in the text. Shakespeare uses 43 different words for dogs and they occur about 350 times altogether. Dog, cur and hound are the commonest. Among the races we find greyhound at the top (13) followed by ten other. As many as 20 individual dogs are mentioned by name.

Cats are all but neglected. We find the word cat 41 times in the text, and that is about all. Among the domestic animals the sheep family is much better represented: lamb (53), sheep (44), ewe (15), and ram (14). Shakespeare was hardly a homey fellow with a cat in his lap. If anything, he was fond of the vast expanses where the English flocks of sheep roam grazing.

Sheep and lambs are mentioned 126 times as against 79 for cattle and 32 for domestic swine. Boar in the sense of ’wild boar’ is more frequent, like other wild animals hunted by the landed gentry, in all 23 kinds, mentioned 223 times (including boar). It is remarkable that Shakespeare never mentions the pig as a processor of garbage. This was certainly an important economic detail in most rural and many urban households at the time. For me, the pig that my parents reared in the twenties stands out as a memorable part of the rural setting of my childhood. Also the well-filled larder after the butcher’s visit in the fall has become a lasting memory for me. Just fancy that even the guts of the pig had proved useful as sausage skin! But our friend William apparently did not set foot in the sty, or in the larder. Seven times he mentions the word pig (or pigs), sometimes as roasted whole on a spit, sometimes as young of wild boar, and sometimes a human with certain characteristics. Barn-door fowl also were of great economic importance to most households in the small towns, but Shakespeare never mentions them as laying hens. He shows a marked contempt for hens’ eggs on the menu.

His entire attitude to domestic animals and game hint chiefly at a rural upper class context. It was a world in which pigs were roasted whole on the spit and wines of all sorts were drunk. For instance bordeaux, canary, claret, madeira, malmsey, red wine, sack and sherris--to mention just those brands that the poet happened to include in his dialogues. It was also a world where the men vaulted into the saddle for a ride with some of the hounds from the kennel. The purpose could be to inspect the family’s flocks of sheep, or it could be hunting wild boar, roe or deer. The word deer occurs 44 times in Shakespeare. He also mentions the words buck, doe, fawn, hart, hind, pricket, roe, sorel, stag and wat, all of them terms for cervids of various species, sex and age. These words occur altogether 70 times. Hardly surprising then that also the fox and the rabbit are abundantly represented (fox 36 times, vixen 1, hare 23, rabbit 3).

Incidentally, Shakespeare makes no secret of his social status nor of his first name. The latter is Will, as he assures in Sonnet No. 136: "for my name is Will". That he thinks of himself as a knight is evident from Sonnet No. 6 in The Passionate Pilgrim. This is written in the I-form and it is addressed to a "thou". It ends with the words "One knight loves both, and both in thee remain". The two persons referred to are the composer Dowland and the poet Spenser.

He does never mention his profession. Alas, he is a knight and should not have a profession. But he does make an unambiguous statement concerning the difference between dramatist and actor: "And let those that play your Clownes, speake no more than is set downe for them." (Hamlet III:2) The author also makes Hamlet admire the art that a certain actor has just displayed (II:2):

Is it not monstrous that this Player heere,

But in a Fixion, in a dreame of Passion.

Could force his soule so to his whole conceit,

That from her working, all his visage warm’d;

Teares in his eyes, distraction in’s Aspect.

A broken voyce, and his whole Function suiting

With Formes, to his Conceit? And all for nothing?

For an actor it is nothing special to pretend and to act feelings true to life. No actor would think it monstrous that he and his colleagues have a good command of their profession. Therefore, these lines are most certainly written by a non-actor. Clearly, we know that Shakespeare wrote a number of plays and poems, and being a knight, this must have been a hobby rather than a profession.





Shakespeare’s interests

That Shakespeare was interested in history is obvious. About half of his plays have a historical setting and many of his characters are historical persons. But apparently he had many other interests, one could even say that nothing human was alien to him. The great interest he took in sports and games has been well documented by Paul G. Brewster. It is of course connected with Shakespeare’s social background. The landed gentry (and peerage) had both the time and the means needed for such kinds of leisure pursuit as tennis, bowling and falconry. Shakespeare alludes to bowling 34 times, to tennis seven times, and frequently also to other sports and games.

Another of Shakespeare’s interests was music. More than a dozen musical instruments are mentioned in the plays and poems. We also find several other words belonging to the domain of music. Here and there in the plays, Shakespeare has inset small songs, probably intended to go to the tune of some known melody. Richmond Noble has written a book about these songs.

Alas, for all his expertise in entertainment, Shakespeare was not a bon vivant. His devotion to medicine and law surpasses by far his commitment to all kinds of leisure pursuit. I have found altogether 280 words denoting kinds of illness, cure and medicine in the plays and poems. (See Selected vocabulary.)This intimates that the author probably had studied medicine at university level. Many of the terms are too special for the colloquial dialogue of an ordinary English play. Carduus benedictus, Good-year, Hysterica passio, Neapolitan bone-ache, Pia mater and Tremor cordis are typical examples of such technical terms used by Shakespeare. This subject is dealt with thoroughly in a book by R.R. Simpson.

Law and jurisprudence stand out even more than medicine in Shakespeare’s works. These are teeming with legal expressions and allusions--also outside the scenes that deal with things juridical. An extensive literature has been produced about law and legal terms in Shakespeare’s works. The British jurist O.H. Phillips has supplied us with a survey of the sundry problems that are dealt with by the more than 300 books and articles that he enumerates in his own book. Suffice it here to touch upon Shakespeare’s expertise by mentioning a few examples of his legal words: attorneys-general, double voucher, enfranchisement, grand juror, heir-apparent, intergatory, letters-patents, quid for que and seal manual. There are altogether about 180 legal words of the type that belong to the technical language that is used by professional jurists.

Many lawyers who have written books or articles on Shakespeare assert that the poet must have received a certain degree of jurisprudential education. Others think that he could have got experience of things legal by working as a law clerk or as an attorney’s assistant. The social group that we have identified above distinguished itself by a marked interest in law and jurisprudence. Francis Bacon, Sir Philip Sidney and the Earls of Oxford, Rutland, Southampton and Pembroke were all members of Gray’s Inn. This was one of the four famous Inns of Court in London, where students were trained to become lawyers. Sir William Stanley enrolled himself as a member of Lincoln’s Inn at age 33 in connection with his inheritance of the position of Earl of Derby. But already as a one-year-old child he had been registered at Gray’s Inn by his father. It is therefore possible that he had studied there as a teenager and just wanted to complete his education later as an adult. It is obvious that the study of law was a prevalent ingredient of a nobleman’s education in the sixteenth century.

It stands to reason that any nobleman was also familiar with military life and things military. So was Shakespeare. Many of his plays include passages showing intimate knowledge of military circumstances. He is casual with words like basilisk, bilbo, burgonet, caliver, chamber and culverin (n.b. qua armourer’s terms). Much more information about Shakespeare’s military knowledge can be obtained from a book by Paul A. Jorgensen.


The creative period of Shakespeare

Beyond the plays, Shakespeare also wrote two poetical works of some length, a great number of sonnets and some minor poems of sundry types. So his last play, Henry VIII, must not necessarily constitute the end of his poetical production, and as a matter of fact, it was not the end. There exist two original epitaphs from the 1630’s in unmistakable Shakesperian style. These epitaphs are to be found on sepulchral monuments in two English churches. One of the monuments is in Chelsea Old Church in London near the northern bank of the Thames, between Battersea Bridge and Albert Bridge. (See Figure 1.) According to the inscription, the Knight of the Order of Bath, Sir Robert Stanley, who died in January 3 "Anno Domini 1632" (i.e. 1633), is buried under the monument. The Knight’s two juvenile children, named Fardinando and Henrite Maria are said to be buried under the same tomb. Sir Robert was second son of the 6th Earl of Derby, William Stanley (1561-1642). He would have been about 25 years old when he died.

On the front of the monument (above)there is engraved a versified eulogy on the deceased Knight (plus a little verse on the children). When I inspected the monument in July, 1982, it turned out that the text on the monument diverged from the version printed in The Stanley Papers, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 387. (There the fourth line reads: "Noe Heralds’ blazon, and no Poets’ verse".) Below follows the entire poem, carefully copied after the photograph that I took on my visit.

To say a STANLEY lyes here, that a lone

Were Epitaph enough noe brass noe stone

Noe glorious Tombe, noe monumentall Hearse,

Noe guilded Trophy or lamp labourd Verse

Can dignifie his Graue or sett it forth

Like the Immortal fame of his owne Worth

Then reader fixe not here but quitt this Roome

And flye to Abram’s bossome theres his Tombe

There rests his Soule & for his other parts

They are imbalm’d & lodg’d in good mens harts

A brauer monument of Stone or Lyme,

Noe Arte can rayse for this shall out last tyme

The other monument has the form of a sarcophagus with a canopy and is to be found in the church of Tong, a rural parish nine miles WNW of Wolverhampton. (See Figure 2.) In this stony coffin rest the remains of the Knight Thomas Stanley (uncle of the William just mentioned), his wife Margaret (who died 1596) and their son Edward (1562-1632). Sir Thomas had died already in 1576, but the sarcophagus with an effigy of Edward seems to have been made in 1632 or later. There are two panegyric poems placed one on either short side of the canopy. They run as follows (with all misprints meticulously reproduced according to my photograph from 1982):

Ask who lyes heare, bvt do not wheep

He is not dead; He dooth bvt sleep

This stony register, is for his bones

His Fame is more perpetvall then theise stones

And his owne goodnes wt him self being gon

Shall lyve when earthlie monament is non

Not monventall stone preserves ovr Fame

Nor sky aspyring piramids ovr name,

The memory of him for whom this stands

Shall ovtlyve marbl, and defacers hands

When all to tymes consvmption shall be geaven

Standly for whom this stands shall stand in heaven

These poems are also to be found in the relevant literature, i.e. in a book titled The House of Stanley, published in 1864. In this case the book version diverges from the engraved text on about 50 points, albeit minor ones. These poems have been ascribed to Shakespeare, and the literary style is unmistakably his own. Although the poems on the monument in Chelsea are just as much Shakespearian in style, they are not generally accepted as genuine.

It is obvious that the poems in the two churches cannot have been written by two different authors. The reason for this is that the similarities are so many and so conspicuous. In both cases the buried men are close relatives to the 6th Earl of Derby (William Stanley)--son, uncle and cousin. In both cases one of the buried persons died in 1632(-33). Both epitaphs are written in English on the same metre and with the same rhyme pattern. In both cases the author has used the same five rhetoric devices, derived from classical literature. These are anaphora (repetition of a word in successive clauses), apostrophe (addressing the reader), hyperbole (exaggeration), metaphor (figurative sense) and syllepsis (pun). We also notice the words monument (Chelsea) and monament (Tong). Neither epitaph contains any biographical information, not even any Christian name. Instead, the family name, Stanley, is included in both. Each epitaph also contains allusions to the very monument where it is engraved.

Thus the epitaph of the two children mentions the "talents" that contain the children’s portraits. The epitaph in Tong mentions the pyramids (we would say obelisks) that stand in the four corners of the canopy. The same personal spelling oddities are displayed in both epitaphs, e.g. tyme, lyve, lye (instead of time, live and lie), double l in the ending -al and owne instead of own. Both poems contain the concepts of "eternal", "outlive" and "fame". The theme is exactly the same in both cases: The fame and the memory of the deceased shall live much longer than sarcophagi and monuments.

In regard to choice of" words and general content, these poems remind very much of the following lines in sonnets by Shakespeare.

(55) Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

____ Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme

(81) Your name from hence immortal life shall have

____ Though I once gone, to all the world must die;

____ The earth can yield me but a common grave,

____ When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.

(101)To make him much outlive a gilded tomb

(107) And thou in this shalt find thy monument.

____ When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

There are also striking similarities between the epitaph poems and certain lines in Shakespeare’s dramatic works:

Chelsea poem: ______________Shakespeare:

noe brass, noe stone ...___________brass, nor stone, nor earth..

noe glorious tombe ...____________a glorious tomb

noe guilded trophy ...____________... than gilt his trophy

quitt this roome________________quit presently the chapel

Abram’s bossome theres his tombe__... sleep in Abraham’s bosom

lodg’d in good mens harts_________lodged in my heart

this shall out last tyme____________outlive the age

Incidentally, the Chelsea poem contains five words that are infrequent enough not to have been used by the poet Edmund Spenser (Shakespeare’s contemporary). But all the words except outlast occur in Shakespeare’s works one or several times. In other words, there is every possible indication that the two poems were written by the man who wrote Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, i.e. by the author we call William Shakespeare. It is also obvious that the poem in Chelsea Old Church must have been written in 1633 or later, when Sir Robert and his two small children had died. And since the poem in Tong Church is so closely related to the other one, it too must have been written by Shakespeare, probably also in 1633.


Two Shakespeares?

Our little literary experiment reveals that Shakespeare, except for his authorship, ought to have been a typical educated English nobleman. He ought to have grown up on a rural estate in northern England, probably near the coast. He was, or became, a knight and was called Will (given name in all likelihood William). Just as many other talented noblemen, he was given the opportunity to supplement his all-round education with visits to France, Italy and Greece. He probably studied law and medicine. He must have traveled along the main highways in England. In London he was especially well acquainted with the fringe area. Windsor Castle with surroundings were well-known to him. His poetic vein held good right into the 1630’s.

Our experiment has thus made the author William Shakespeare step forward from his own written texts. We have found that he is a person quite different from the traditional concept of Shakespeare, the son of a craftsman in Stratford-upon-Avon (who called himself Shakspere). This man was a confirmed town-dweller who never traveled abroad, as far as is known. Also, he had no connection to the Northern Dialect or to the counties where it was spoken. He died and was buried in 1616, a good 17 years before the two sepulchral monuments were erected.

The story is about two incompatible Shakespeares. By and by we shall see that the choice between these two is crucial for our understanding of some of Shakespeare’s plays including Hamlet.

One of these two Shakespeares is closely related to Prince Hamlet, as you can read in the essay Hamlet and Shakespeare.


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