Monthly Archives: January 2011

From The Times Literary Supplement: Review of New Book on Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Just an FYI folks.  Matthew
From The Times Literary Supplement
January 12, 2011

Don Paterson’s Shakespeare

Questions arise about what Paterson is hoping to accomplish in his Commentary on the Sonnets

Alastair Fowler

Shakespeare’s reputation makes his Sonnets hard to approach. Mountains of critical scholasticism loom: a dozen substantial commentaries, countless books and articles. To add to all that is a daunting challenge. But here is Don Paterson, successful poet, Queen’s Medallist, Forward Prize-winner, who has already written about sonnets. He’ll do a popular book on Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Poor man, what a commission. He knows it, and keeps apologizing (“let me be the first to say that I consider this theory to be garbage”; “that’s the best I can do”; “for all I know”). His solution is to play to his strength and offer a fiction. He’ll imagine someone teaching a Shakespeare class (“If this were a class I was teaching”), yet ostentatiously distance himself from the professional tutors, the “anoraks” and “cabbalists”. That way he can appropriate anorak opinions without getting ink-stained, advance theories and take them back.


From The Archives: Parts I and II of’s Interview With Matthew Cossolotto About The Shakespeare Authorship Question

Dear Friends:  I was doing some web surfing and I came across this two-part interview on  I had forgotten all about this but now that I see it again I think it’s worth sharing on the SOS Online News.  I’m pretty sure this interview took place before the SOS Online News was launched.  I think the interview bears repeating.  Sometimes it’s worth remembering that the authorship debate does receive considerable attention.  And not only from scholars intent on dismissing the topic — like James Shapiro in his book Contested Will.  So I thought I’d post portions of the interview here with links to the full Q&A.  I also wanted to take this opportunity to express my thanks again to Lee Jamieson at for doing the interview and recognizing that the Shakespeare Authorship Question deserves to be given serious consideration.   Enjoy!   Matthew

Part I:  Shakespeare and De Vere

An Interview with Matthew Cossolotto About The Shakespeare-De Vere Relationship

By , Guide

The Shakespeare authorship debate1 has been raging for years and the circumstantial evidence for one candidate is particularly compelling: Edward de Vere2, 17th Earl of Oxford.

In this two-part interview3 we ask Matthew Cossolotto, Shakespeare Oxford Society4 president (2005-2009), to defend the case for Edward de Vere by answering some common Stratfordian questions.

In the first installment we ask Cossolotto to consider the Shakespeare-De Vere relationship and ask how William Shakespeare5 from Stratford-upon-Avon6 fits into the De Vere story. There is documentary evidence that a man called William Shakespeare existed? How does this man fit into the authorship case for Edward de Vere?

Matthew Cossolotto: There’s no question that a native son of the town of Stratford-upon-Avon with a name similar to “William Shakespeare” did in fact exist. Nobody questions his existence. The issue is whether this “William of Stratford” – as I like to refer to him – was in fact William Shakespeare, the great poet and playwright.

As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out as to the exact role that this William of Stratford played in the Shakespeare story. More research is needed. There are several theories: he may have been go-between, a play broker, or a front man for the real author. Personally, I don’t think he ever played the traditional front man role as the public face of the writer during his lifetime. So you don’t believe the conventional story: that William Shakespeare left Stratford-upon-Avon to become a prominent actor on the London theater scene?

Matthew Cossolotto: No. There’s virtually no contemporaneous evidence that William of Stratford was an accomplished or prominent actor on the London stage7. Did he play a few bit parts in some plays? Perhaps. But that does not prove he was William Shakespeare, the great poet and dramatist. It simply suggests he might have been recruited to play a kind of stand in role – perhaps because his name was so similar to the famous Shakespeare name

In fact, the evidence suggests that William of Stratford spent most of his time in Stratford-upon-Avon and very little time in London. After his death in 1616, William of Stratford began to play what I think of as the “fall guy” role. As Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night:

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.

After his death, William of Stratford had greatness thrust upon him.

Partisans of the Stratford theory are fond of circular reasoning. “Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare” is a frequent refrain. But partisans of the Stratfordian theory deny even the possibility that “William Shakespeare” could have been a pseudonym. So they shut down the debate and close their minds instead of opening their minds – Maybe I’m naïve, but I always thought true scholarship required an open mind.


Part II: Was Shakespeare a Pseudonym for Edward De Vere?

An Interview with Matthew Cossolotto About The Case for Edward De Vere

By , Guide

Edward de Vere1, 17th Earl of Oxford, has emerged as the strongest candidate from the Shakespeare authorship debate2.

In the second part of our interview with Matthew Cossolotto, Shakespeare Oxford Society3 president (2005-2009), we discuss why Edward De Vere would have needed a pseudonym. Why did Edward De Vere need to write under a pseudonym? Why not simply use his real name?

Matthew Cossolotto: There were undoubtedly a host of reasons Edward de Vere did not publish his works under his real name. One likely reason is that he may well have been prevented from doing so by the powers that be at Court. In Sonnet 66, Shakespeare complained of “art made tongue-tie by authority.” That’s one theory.

De Vere may well have chosen to remain anonymous and employ a pseudonym because it gave him greater creative freedom and the ability to speak truth to power. If de Vere was revealing embarrassing or even scandalous facts about powerful figures at Court (Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burghley, the Earl of Leicester among others) he may well have concluded that discretion was the better part of valor and not put his name on his works. So potentially, it would have been dangerous for de Vere to put his name to the plays and poems we now attribute to William Shakespeare?

Matthew Cossolotto: Yes. Sometimes I think of de Vere as the “deep throat” of Elizabeth’s Court. Remember, there was no such thing a freedom of the press in those days. If de Vere’s writings could be construed as critical of the government or specific individuals, especially the Queen, he would not have lasted very long.

In addition, there was something of a social taboo that tended to discourage high-ranking noblemen – Edward de Vere was the 17th Earl of Oxford after all – from publishing works of drama and poetry under their own names. My feeling is that this was not a hard-and-fast sort of thing. I wouldn’t argue that this so-called “stigma of print” was the only reason the Earl of Oxford opted against publishing under his own name. I’d say it’s one of the factors that should be taken into account.


From The De Vere Society — Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence

Dear Friends:  Please forgive this belated posting of the announcement (and additional information) about the publication of the De Vere Society’s Dating Shakespeare’s Plays.  As you’ll see, this very informative volume was published in November 2010.  I only recently received a copy of the book and wanted to make sure readers of our Online News were also aware of this very useful publication.  The dating issue — especially as it relates to possible dates of composition of plays after the Earl of Oxford died in 1604 — is profoundly important in the Shakespeare authorship debate.

If anybody could produce hard evidence that just one Shakespeare play (or poem for that matter) was composed AFTER June 1604, the Earl of Oxford would be eliminated as an authorship candidate.  By “composed” I’m talking about written by Shakespeare himself and not posthumously revised by others.  Indeed, orthodox scholars often insist, without conclusive evidence, that several plays were composed by Shakespeare AFTER 1604.  And they often insist that this proves Oxford could not be the author.

But the De Vere Society’s excellent book reveals persuasively that the orthodox chronology is built on a shaky foundation of conjecture and surmise.  The fact is nobody really knows exactly when Shakespeare composed any of his works.  We know about such things a first publication, date of entry in the Stationers’ Register, or first reference to the works by others (for example, the list of 12 Shakespeare plays compiled by Francis Meres in 1598).  We also know about the publication dates of source materials used in many of the plays themselves.  But pin-pointing the actual dates of composition is virtually impossible.  I hope others will find the information below useful and that you’ll pick up a copy of this indispensable volume.

Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence
Edited by Kevin Gilvary

Published November 2010

After a long gestation period, the DVS is delighted finally to publish its research into the dating of Shakespeare’s plays.

This critical review of the evidence challenges the orthodox scholarly consensus about the order in which Shakespeare composed his plays and when they were written. It reveals surprising discrepancies in date comparisions. King John has been placed by scholars in every year of the decade up to 1598 and there are suggestions that Hamlet’s date of 1602 could be put back to 1589

In this authoritative book, evidence is reviewed methodically to produce a range of dates, supported by in-depth analysis of aids to dating such as language, historical allusion the testimony of title pages, as well as works by other authors including Palladis Tamia and the Stationers’ Register.

In considering Oxfordian dates, the intention is not to prove the Earl of Oxford was the author but to demonstrate the possibility of a range of earlier dates for each of the 36 plays in the First Folio, and four other plays which have been attributed to Shakespeare.

Kevin Gilvary has a BA and MA from the University of Southampton and is currently a research student at Brunel University. He has taught in Canada, South America, and Hampshire.

To order, please visit the DVS Publications page


Download as pdf

When did Shakespeare write his plays ?

There is, apparently, a scholarly consensus about the order and dates of Shakespeare’s plays. Yet, there is no contemporary evidence to date any play. Close comparison of the ‘scholarly consensus’ shows many surprising discrepancies, e.g., in the dating of King John (any year between 1588 and 1598), Love’s Labour’s Lost (some timee between 1589 and 1598) and Hamlet (1589-1602).

Dating Shakespeare’s Plays considers not only the evidence for dating every play but also every argument used in support of a preferred date. Each play is considered in its own chapter in relation to:

Publication data (Stationers’ Register, title pages, etc.)
Performance data (Revels’ Accounts, Henslowe’s Diary, etc.)
Dates of all sources (both probable and possible)
Allusions to the play (contemporary accounts, diaries, poems etc.)

Starting with the ‘orthodox dates’ proposed by E. K. Chambers in 1930, consideration is given to the dates suggested by major editors (including the editors of the Arden2 and Arden3 series, the Oxford Shakespeare and New Cambridge Shakespeare series).

The findings are necessarily inconclusive: it is only possible to establish the date range for each play. As scholar after scholar has said, the evidence to fix a precise date on any particular play is simply lacking.

This question is crucial to any biography of Shakespeare. After all, how can we assess his development unless we know fairly precisely when he wrote the works?

Rather surprisingly, we can’t date any play to any particular year. We can’t even date any play to any period shorter than five years. Here are a few examples:

Macbeth is normally assigned to the year 1606, the time of the trial of the Gunpowder plotters, due to the references to equivocation; yet equivocation was used in political trials as early as 1581. Apart from that, there is no references in the play or to the play which can give more precise date than 1587 (the publication of Holinshed’s Chronicles) and 1611 when it was described in performance.

Julius Caesar is normally dated to 1599 when it was apparently witnessed in performance but there is no evidence as to when the play was composed; we can only say it dates after 1579, since it was based on North’s Plutarch.

This volume considers all the evidence for each individual play in the following sequence:
a general introduction to the evidence available to help with dating
a consideration of the uses and limitations of Francis Meres’s observations in 1598
a consideration of the value of metrical and stylistic features

It then volume considers each play in the sequence presented in the First Folio (1623):
14 comedies
10 histories
12 tragedies

In addition, there are further chapters devoted to four plays often ascribed to Shakespeare.

The volume finishes with:
conclusions and inconclusions
appendix of eight tables
a thorough index
Total: 520 pages
31 illustrations

Boston Globe Obituary: Elliott Stone, 79, lover of art, including the art of conversation

It is my sad duty to post this obituary about a fellow Oxfordian and former member of the Shakespeare Oxford Society’s Board of Trustees.  I served with Elliott on the Board for a few years and was very fond of him.  He was a tireless, informed and well-respected advocate of the Earl of Oxford as the man behind the Shakespeare works.  Elliott’s energy, devotion, and strong and reasoned voice will be missed.  Here are a few graphs from and a link to the complete obituary that ran in the Boston Globe.   BTW … I learned something about Elliott in the obituary.  I had no idea he ran against Tip O’Neill for Congress.   With my deepest condolences to Elliott’s family … Matthew



Arguing without being argumentative, Elliott Stone brought the vibrancy of youth throughout his life to discussions of his passions in art and literature that he conceded some might find obsessive.

“I am deeply involved in promoting the case of Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, as the true author of the Shakespeare canon,’’ he wrote several years ago, adding that “my friends and relatives are all aware of my need to immerse myself in this topic and do their best to interest me in other topics.’’

They didn’t have to work too hard. For Mr. Stone, taking the Bard of Avon down a notch always took a back seat to showering generous attention on those around him.

“Dad looked at the interests of each child and grandchild specifically and individually — from football to tennis to elephants,’’ his daughter Leslie, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said at his memorial service last month. “He took the time to talk to people and took an interest in their interests.’’

READ MORE … click link below.

From the Catholic Herald: Shakespeare did write Lear; what is more, he was a Catholic

Interesting article.  I’ll post a few graphs below and the link to the full article.  Note the wording in the subtitle.  I don’t think anybody has suggested “that Shakespeare could not have written his own plays?”  If they are “his own plays” (a loaded way to put it) then “Shakespeare” must have written them.  The relevant question is, Who was Shakespeare?  Did the actual playwright and poet employ a pseudonym?  Ultimately, there’s no escaping the fact that Shakespeare (whoever he was) did write Shakespeare (the plays and poems of Shakespeare).  Anyway, I thought folks would want to see this article.  The author, Francis Phillips, asserts that Shakespeare — here she means specifically William of Stratford — was a Catholic and that the paucity of biographic information about the playwright William Shakespeare is attributable to the fact that he destroyed the evidence because of his adherence to the Old Faith.  The article is accompanied by what appears to be the so-called “Cobbe” portrait and the caption makes the claim that it is “believed to be authentic.”  By whom?   There’s virtually no evidence this is a portrait of William of Stratford.  This portrait is almost certainly a painting of Sir Thomas Overbury.   I’ll paste the one Overbury likeness I have available next to the Cobbe portrait.  This composite was created by the late Robert Brazil and posted to his Elizaforum listserv.  Many thanks to Robert for creating this composite. 

These two faces bear a striking resemblance.  On the left may well be a younger version of the face depicted on the right.  Same hair, hairline, ears, etc.  If you take a look at the painting in the article below you’ll see that the painting that’s claimed to be an “authentic” Shakespeare portrait seems pretty clearly to be the Cobbe, which is most likely a painting of Sir Thomas Overbury.  A question worth asking is whether the Overbury portrait was somehow used as a model for the famous, crudely drawn Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare that first appeared in the First Folio in 1623.  That’s a very long discussion for another time.  Anyway, take a look and see what you think.   Matthew

Shakespeare did write Lear; what is more, he was a CatholicSir Derek Jacobi is wrong to think that Shakespeare could not have written his own plays; the greatest poet and dramatist of all times was an Englishman and a Catholic

By Francis Phillips on Friday, 7 January 2011

The actor Sir Derek Jacobi is currently acting the part of King Lear to great critical acclaim at the Donmar Warehouse. I must get to see it before the production closes just to see if he gets my personal imprimatur or not. But there is one matter on which I cannot agree with Sir Derek: the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. Apparently the knighted thespian takes a benighted view on this one: that a semi-educated country boy from Stratford couldn’t possibly have written the works of genius attributed to him.

Indeed, Jacobi has publicly declared, “The only evidence of Shakespeare’s literary life was produced after he died and is open to dispute. Nothing, apart from some shaky signatures, puts a pen in his hand. Legend, hearsay and myth have created this writer.”

This is bilge and balderdash, stuff and nonsense. But rather than rehearse his arguments at second-hand, may I direct readers of this blog to an excellent book, Contested Will: Who wrote Shakespeare? by James Shapiro, a professor at Columbia University. Shapiro demolishes all the far-fetched and tendentious theories advocated by Jacobi and others – Sigmund Freud and Mark Twain among them – who are too intellectually contorted to see the obvious: that if you are a genius you don’t have to experience at first-hand everything you write about; you use your imagination. After all, Shakespeare did not have to commit murder to be able to write Macbeth; nor did he have to go mad in order to write King Lear.

Read More (and see the portrait)