Tag Archives: Kevin Gilvary

The Shakespeare Chronology Recalibrated: Excellent Review by William S. Niederkorn of “Dating Shakespeare’s Plays” Published by the De Vere Society in the U.K.

Kudos to William Niederkorn for writing an excellent, insightful review of Dating Shakespeare’s Plays.  And kudos to editor Kevin Gilvary and the many other contributors to this landmark work.  I shouldn’t (and won’t) reprint the entire review here.  Several paragraphs follow.  To read the entire review, which was published in the April 2011 edition of The Brooklyn Rail,  please click on this link now or click on READ MORE at the bottom on this post.


As anybody who has delved into the Shakespeare authorship mystery in any detail knows all too well, the issue of the chronology of the plays is a major point of contention between the orthodox camp and skeptics of various stripes.  The traditional Stratfordian chronology has always struck doubters as more or less arbitrary, arranged to neatly fit into the lifespan and presumed career of the Stratfordian Candidate — one William of Stratford.  Dating Shakespeare’s Plays tackles this vexing issue with a great deal of skill and refreshing even-handedness.  As Niederkorn puts it in his review:  “[R]egardless of one’s position on the authorship question, Dating Shakespeare’s Plays is a most informative and useful book on a subject at the center of the Shakespeare labyrinth. It is not the last word, but rather an advantageous starting point.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Niederkorn’s review is highly recommended reading … as is Dating Shakespeare’s Plays itself.

Matthew Cossolotto

The Shakespeare Chronology Recalibrated

by William S. Niederkorn

Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence
edited by Kevin Gilvary
(Parapress, 2010)

Determining the chronology of Shakespeare’s plays has been both central and problematic since Shakespeare studies originated in the 18th century. Edmond Malone, whose work is regarded as the cornerstone of Shakespeare scholarship, made the first serious attempt. Malone’s initial Shakespeare achievement was his essay An Attempt to Ascertain the Order in which the Plays attributed to Shakespeare were written, included in the second edition of the Johnson-Steevens Shakespeare in 1778. This was “pioneering research,” as Peter Martin called it in his 1995 biography.

In 1875, Edward Dowden, in his Shakespeare: A Critical Study of his Mind and Art, divided Shakespeare’s career into four periods, based on what he deemed appropriate to the playwright’s age and mood, a division that Shakespeare academics still widely affirm. Dowden vastly expanded on Malone’s use of stylistic data, like frequency of rhyme, to support his chronology with statistics.

E. K. Chambers thoroughly reviewed the full scope of dating research in his William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems, published in 1930, and laid out a chronology derived largely from Malone and Dowden. Of the 36 plays in the First Folio, Chambers’s dating exactly matches Malone’s on 14 plays and deviates from it by only one year on eight more.

Then, in 1987, came William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. Though Wells and Taylor admitted, “The existing or ‘orthodox’ chronology for all Shakespeare’s plays is conjectural,” their dates match Dowden and Chambers exactly for 24 plays and differ on average by less than two years for the rest.

All of this is recounted in the introduction to Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence. This new book, apparently several years in the making, goes on to review other aspects of the inherited tradition, and then lays out, play by play, the evidence put forward by scholars who believe that the plays were written by William Shakespeare of Stratford, followed by the evidence put forward by scholars who believe they are by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

The book is a major comprehensive revision and re-envisioning of the Shakespeare chronology, but it does not set up a rigid chronology of its own. The new chronology is refreshingly diverse, like the world of Shakespeare authorship studies.

The main challenge to the Shakespeare orthodoxy for much of the past century has been Oxfordian, though Oxfordians, unlike Stratfordians, have made the effort inclusive and welcome into their conferences and journals advocates for Bacon, Marlowe, William Stanley, Edward Dyer, Mary Sidney, et al., including, of course, Stratfordians. As a result, a more open-minded approach to Shakespeare is developing outside the mainstream.


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

Malim reports on Globe conference

Conference – “Shakespeare: from Rowe to Shapiro”
The Globe/London: 28 November 2009
Reported by De Vere Society Secretary Richard Malim with assistance from Kevin Gilvary

Shakespeare’s Globe are to be applauded for organising a conference drawing together many academics who have published on the life of Shakespeare. Among those present were various Oxfordians, Dr. William Leahy, and Mark Rylance, who has done so much to bring the authorship question to the fore. The conference was not particularly well attended, with about 60 present including a number of students and there were eleven speakers.

The content of some of these papers was very mixed: some must be passed over in the silence of anonymity as even the academic applause was moderate. For example, one speaker contended that the eleven year old William Shakespeare might have been entranced by his un-evidenced sighting of the Queen at Kenilworth (some eleven miles from Stratford), and thus inspired — but I am left uninspired, and amazed that anything so remote from possibility may be thought to have some claim to scholastic recognition

Two speakers spoke at length on how current biographies affect the writing of historical novels – nothing to do with the history and development of Shakespeare’s biography, but interesting nonetheless to illustrate the cross-over between fact and fiction in Shakespeare biographies.

Graham Holderness confirmed that there two sources for the deer-poaching tradition, which makes it more likely that it is correct: whether it is relevant to the biography as it impinges on the Works was not explained. It is mainly used to explain why the young man left his native country for the uncertainty of city life. Rene Weis thought that more research should be devoted to Shakespeare’s descendants in the hope that evidence of Shakespeare’s library might yet be discovered.

Brian Cummings
On a more positive note, Brian Cummings emphasised that modern reconstructions or replacements such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and the Cottage Garden reflect the taste of the age of the redeveloper. Extrapolating that thesis to scholarship in regard to the canon, such endeavours may invite ridicule today. The Wallaces’ discovery of the Bellott-Mountjoy deposition was a desperate disappointment to them, but with the luxury of hindsight we Oxfordians can inquire what else they could have expected. When the quotation from Coleridge was put to him that he (Coleridge) preferred the internal evidence from the plays to the documentary research of Malone on his (Malone’s) play dating scheme, Professor Cummings answered that he preferred Coleridge’s approach.

Stanley Wells & Paul Edmondson
Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson launched an attack on the William-Shakespeare-autobiographical thesis for the sonnets. They made some good points particularly about the Dark Lady sonnets 127ff; noting that only three are actually addressed to a woman (139,141 and 145), although others reflect on her dark/black appearance and behaviour. These last group of sonnets smack also of exercise-like material rather than strict autobiography.

They were very effective when they denounced the desire of biographers to find William-Shakespeare-autobiographical references, i.e. the connections between “the lovely boy” and William Shakespeare: in doing so they kicked away the ladder whereby any connection between the irrelevant life and the canon can be invented – a valuable exercise for Oxfordians, who can demonstrate over and over again the biographical connections between Oxford and Southampton in their biographies as they reappear in the Sonnets’ references.

The highlight was the appearance of James Shapiro, whose talk was on the effect of Malone’s conversion of Shakespeare into an autobiographical writer.

Notes on Shapiro’s talk:
Almost nothing we know shines light on his (Shakespeare’s) personality. There are no personal essays and no diaries; we have to admit there is now any chance of further illumination of his inner life is irrevocably lost; and in Malone’s chronological listing there is nothing likewise to be learnt. The temptation for biographers is to line up the life with the works. The loss of his only son in 1596 cannot be said to have inspired the speeches of Constance in King John, as Malone suggests. Likewise there is no evidence that Ann Hathaway was unfaithful to William: Sonnet 93 (“…like a deceived husband”) does not properly connect with the bequest in the will of the second best bed; or that the jealous husband of Othello is a reflection of that surmise.

Furthermore there is no evidence of what William did during the “missing” years 1586-1590 – all that stuff about being a school-master, a lawyer’s clerk, a soldier etc. is unprovable rubbish. There is as a result a temptation for biographers to be ingenious (and here Shapiro confessed he had done it himself), to which they almost all succumb. Wordsworth’s opinion of the Sonnets : “With this key Shakespeare unlocked his heart”, and Coleridge’s view that the plays reflected Shakespeare’s psychological development in the canon are both valueless. The problem is that so much modern writing is autobiographical, modern biographers assume Shakespeare’s writings are the same.

Of course there must be some shards of his life in the works, but we do not know where or why they are included, and Shapiro has no confidence in even the ones suggested by Wells or Weiss. He would dispute Michael Wood’s assertion, that Prospero in The Tempest is an autobiographical portrait, and Greenblatt’s surmises about Shakespeare’s marriage. Both Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians are at fault when they seek to couple the life and the works and include in apparent topicalities.

These errors are not just an aberration, as the whole approach can be traced back to Malone and his original mistaken view. It diminishes the power of Shakespeare’s imagination: all his characters are within that imagination.

Shapiro’s approach represented a shift (which he actually denied in reply to a question) from what he wrote in his recent book, 1599 A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, when he wrote:

We know too little because we don’t know very much about what kind of friend or lover or person Shakespeare was . . . Even if we don’t know about his personality, we know a great deal about his career as a writer (more than enough to persuade a reasonable sceptic that he wrote the plays himself).

Now he has destroyed the personality nexus almost completely, diminishing what we (think we ) know about his career as a writer.

It was certainly gratifying that there were none of the usual snide anti-antiStratfordian comments or humour. It is just possible that there is a degree of academic acceptability on the horizon for Oxfordians. The more distinguished speakers were very much against any clear link between particular parts of, or incidents in, William Shakespeare’s life and the works.

By discarding what might have been the stronger argument for Stratfordians, and having to fall back on the chronology scheme as revised by Dowden and Chambers, and only subsequently qualified in minor ways, means this makes the De Vere Society’s dating project even more germane.

Soon William’s case therefore will patently be totally shattered: whether academia will recognize the true extent of the wreck is another matter. First the Oxford biographical connections to the works need to be taken on board, and the criticisms of the conference speakers’ attempts to do that for William will not work on the Oxford connections because of the sheer volume and exactitude of them; and secondly the topicalities. (These were totally ignored by the conference – of course, because there are none such, if the present chronology is used.) Finally the De Vere Society dating project will draw these strands together.

Perhaps the reality of the acceptance of Oxford as the author is an inch or two closer.


Altrocchi/Whittemore build the case

The first five volumes of a new series of books entitled BUILDING THE CASE FOR EDWARD DE VERE AS SHAKESPEARE, edited by Paul Hemenway Altrocchi and Hank Whittemore, has just (June 2009) become available online at: http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

The series – which attempts to preserve authorship research in book form for scholars, students and general readers – begins with work done in the early twentieth century leading to Shakespeare Identified by J. Thomas Looney in 1920 and continues up to the 1960’s, with more volumes envisioned in the near future.

Most of the early literature pointing to Edward de Vere as the author of the Shakespeare works appeared in obscure newsletters, magazines and now out-of-print books. Some of this initial research work is of elegant quality and only recently emerged from years of storage by two of England’s authorship groups, the De Vere Society and the Shakespearean Authorship Trust. When, in 2006, Professor William Leahy of Brunel University organized the first graduate degree program in the world on Shakespeare Authorship Studies, both societies permanently loaned their books and papers to the English Department of Brunel, located in Uxbridge, a suburb of London.

Through the courtesy of Kevin Gilvary, President of the De Vere Society, Charles Beauclerk and other members of the Board of Trustees of the Shakespeare Authorship Trust, and Dr. Leahy, the editors were able to peruse and copy this vitally important early Shakespeare authorship material. Thus these difficult-to-find articles and book excerpts now become readily available in the first five volumes of this book series entitled Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare.

Editor Paul Hemenway Altrocchi has a unique credential for this book series, being the longest-duration Oxfordian in the world-more than sixty years. Educated at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School, he trained in Neurology at the New York Neurological Institute of Columbia University, did research at the National Institute of Neurological Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, and was on the full-time faculty of Stanford Medical School before ending his career in private practice. Since retirement in 1998, he has spent most of his time researching the candidacy of Edward de Vere as Shakespeare, publishing twenty-three scholarly papers and a book entitled Most Greatly Lived, A Biographical Novel of Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, Whose Pen Name was William Shakespeare.

Editor Hank Whittemore is a professional author of ten books and hundreds of magazine articles, an actor and playwright, and an Oxfordian for a quarter of a century. He has written more than two dozen articles on the Shakespeare authorship question from an Oxfordian perspective. After ten years of research, in 2005 he published his major scholarly contribution entitled The Monument, an eight-hundred page opus analyzing every line and every word of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, providing powerful new evidence that Edward de Vere was William Shakespeare.

Volumes in the Series
After Unmasking the Fraudulent Pretender,
Search for the True Genius Begins

Fact Versus Fiction in the
Shakespeare Authorship Debate

Evidence Grows Rapidly in Favor of
Edward de Vere as Shakespeare

A Coerced Pen Name Forces the
Real Shakespeare into Anonymity

Four Hundred Years of Deceit are Enough.
Edward de Vere is Shakespeare

The books are available in both hardcover and paperback. On iUniverse the paperback volumes are priced at $6.00 while the hardcovers are $27.95. The books may also be ordered by phone from IUniverse at 800-288-4677 ext. 5024.

Information courtesy of Hank Whittemore. For more information, see Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog.