1. Groatsworth of Wit

I had hoped not to have to comment on university wit playwright Greene's famous reference in his Groatsworth of Wit. But we'd better look at it now as it seems pertinent. Here is the smallest extract to convey the sense from this long piece of prose:

Base-minded men all three of you, if by my misery you not be warned for unto none of you (like me) sought those burrs to clean: those puppets (I mean) that spake from our mouths, those anticks garnished in our colors. Is it not strange, that I, to whom they all have been beholden: is it not like that you, to whom they all have been beholden, shall (were ye in that case as I am now) be both at once of them forsaken? Yes trust them not: for there is an upstart crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his 'tiger's heart wrapped in a player's hide' supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute "Johannes Factotum", is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.

It's generally agreed that this is a reference to Shakespeare, and Stratfordians regard it as evidence that Shaxper was Shakespeare. But is it? Greene is a very clever, if unstable playwright. He's saying none of us (playwrights) (and it's usually said the other three are Marlowe, Nash and Peele: Note 1), sought those burrs to clean. The burrs are actors. He calls them puppets speaking from the mouths of playwrights, and antics decorated in the playwrights' colours. That's what he thinks of actors.

He goes on to say is it not strange that you and I to whom the actors all have been beholden are suddenly forsaken by them. Now he tells us the actors have ceased to do business with this group of playwrights.

'Trust them not for there is an upstart crow beautified with our feathers..' The them = the actors, not to be trusted. The upstart crow is an actor. The derogatory designations for actors by playwrights included apes, and crows. So there is an upstart actor clothing himself in the beautiful plumage of the playwrights. This important phrase means an actor is holding himself out to be a playwright.

There is a line in the play Henry 6th part 3 (act 1, scene 4, line 137) which reads:

O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide

This play is generally ascribed to Shakespeare. This trilogy is also considered to be one of Shakespeare's earliest efforts. But would you want to start your career as a dramatist by writing 3 five act plays about a rather long and dreary reign of a king who acceded to the throne when 6 months old, was incompetent and simple minded as a ruler, but as a person was quite scholarly, founding King's College Cambridge, and Eton? Either the dramatist had a compelling reason to tackle this project - perhaps a particular interest in the baronial struggle between the Yorkists and Lancastrians - or he may have collaborated with others - possibly including Greene - in its creation.

This phrase about the tiger's heart and player's hide, reminiscent of the play, re-worded to fit what Greene has to say here, is further convincing evidence that he's talking about a player pretending to be a playwright - and a very good playwright at that, a tiger of a playwright. The phrase cleverly points to the playwright Shakespeare, assuming Shakespeare had a hand in Henry 6th part 3. To clinch the matter in case there's any doubt, Greene continues

supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you.

We have to be careful here because most if not all the casual sayings used day to day now are quite different from those of the Elizabethans. For example, as a schoolboy my Shakespeare notes said about the phrase "hoist with his own petard" that the petard was a small engine of war filled with gunpowder, used to blow open a door etc. and that therefore the phrase meant be blown up by your own explosive device. It was many years later that I found out this old phrase had been colloquialized and by Shakespeare's day meant to blow a f--t so monstrous as to practically lift yourself off the ground!

But back to Greene. This is not the playwright, who is one of the best with his 'tyger's heart.' This is the upstart crow - the actor pretending he can bombast out a blank verse as the best of the playwrights can. What absurd impudence. In case there's any doubt as to who he's talking about, Greene continues:

and being an absolute Johannes Factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.

So the actor is a 'jack of all trades' who's conceited enough to pretend he's a Shake-speare, the only one in the country. Even the hyphen is a distinguishing mark here, because Shake-speare often used the hyphenated form, and we'll discuss that later in our search for who he is. The 'jack of all trades' well describes Shaxper, and this quotation from Greene shows us that Shaxper was actually passing himself off, at least to his fellow sharers and actors, as Shakespeare. I suggest this is a problematic quotation only when thinking there is only one Shakespeare = Shaxper. But we already know that he cannot be Shakespeare. Once you have two persons referred to in the quotation it's no longer, I believe, a mystery as to what he's saying.

2. The Parnassus Play

There's another quotation that we need to consider

Kemp: Few of the university pen plaies well, they smell too much of the writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talke too much of Proserpina and Juppiter. Why heres our fellow Shakespeare, puts them all downe. I, and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent fellow, he brought up Horace giving the Poets a pill, but our fellow Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit.

Burb: It is a shrewd fellow indeed.

The 'I' that begins the short sentence above was sometimes used in those days as an alternative for 'aye', or our 'yes'. And Burb: is short for Burbage.

On the face of it this seems convincing Stratfordian evidence for Shaxper as Shakespeare. Here we have two of the most famous actors of their day, sharers and actors with Shaxper in the very company of players that included many of Shakespeare's plays in their performances. They should certainly know what they are talking about, and here we have Kemp referring to 'our fellow Shakespeare' who 'puts them all down', 'them' being the university playwrights (Note 1). No wonder many Stratfordians say this proves Shaxper was Shakespeare. But before giving up on facing this apparently intractable problem, let's look at it a little more closely and try to see what's going on here.

What we find is that there were three plays, all apparently written anonymously, called:

The Pilgrimage to Parnassus

The Return from Parnassus Part 1

The Return from Parnassus Part 2

Being anonymous we cannot really know when they were written or by whom, but they are alive with jibing references to the theatre industry. It's been said they were performed between December 1597 and January 1602, without explanation as to why or how this precise dating is arrived at. But we don't need to quibble about dating. More important, it's said that they were performed by students of St. John's College, Cambridge, apparently at the University.

By way of explanation, in classical Greece, Parnassus = a great mountain in central Greece, sacred to Apollo, Bacchus and the Muses. Anyone who slept on this mountain became a poet. The Muses were goddesses presiding over poetry, music, dancing and all the liberal arts. There were 9, daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne. They resided principally on Mount Parnassus.

The author of the Return from Parnassus calls actors 'mimic apes.' This type of persiflage - and worse - is nothing new in the history of the arts (Note 2).

The late Elizabethan literary warfare was more seriously embittered partly because of the rising tide of Puritan Protestantism vs. Catholic orthodoxy, for which about 300 Protestant supporters lost their lives burned at the stake during the 5 year reign of Queen (Bloody) Mary and it's said about 300 Catholic supporters were executed during the last 30 years of Queen Elizabeth's reign. These are substantial numbers when we remember that the total population of London was under 200,000 and of the entire country probably well under 4 million. It's said there were about 4 million at the time of the Black Death in the mid 1300s, when some whole villages were completely wiped out, leaving about 2.5 million, gradually rising after that despite subsequent lesser plagues to the late 1500s that concern us here. So the entire population of England then was probably about that of greater Toronto, in Canada, or about half the population of Chicago, in the US, at the end of the 20th century.

It so happens that long ago when I was not at Cambridge, but 'the other place' I took part in a play as an actor. My part was very, very, small. I'm no actor, but at least as well as the performance I took part in the rehearsals, saw what was going on, and learned something about how to direct and produce, or not to, in a university play. It was a bit of a romp. And in the 20th c. I don't think the university was exactly a spawning ground for playwrights, as it was in the 1500s. So this personal experience is of very limited value. But that said, let's see what goes on in Act 4 of the Return from Parnassus, part 2.

Will Kemp, the Globe clown actor, and sharer at the Globe playhouse until he left in 1599, and Richard Burbage, the principal 'tragic' actor and sharer at the Globe, are in the play to give instruction in their art to young hopeful actors. They have the conversation we've quoted, before the instruction begins.

Kemp begins "Few of the university pen plays well, they smell too much of the writer Ovid and that writer Metamorphosis..."

He mixes a plural noun with a singular verb, then he thinks the work that Ovid wrote, the Metamorphoses, is another writer. Remember this is a university audience. It's a real put down and must have caused some amusement. I doubt very much that Kemp and Burbage played these parts. It's true Kemp is a famous clown, but he's supposed to be an instructor here, and presumably talking seriously. But he's being ridiculed for his ignorance. The actors were probably students, the writer(s) possibly also, or former St. John's men.

To finish Kemp's first sentence ... 'and talk too much of Proserpina and Juppiter.' He goes on to say that Shakespeare 'puts them all down.' He cannot mean by not using any of these three beings he's mentioned by name, because Shakespeare in his work uses all three, and Ovid and Jupiter quite frequently. And where, one may ask, does he 'put them all down' ? For example, Hamlet's instructions are to the players not to overplay their parts, not criticizing the playwright. Hamlet merely says he'll add a few lines to make it germane whereby to 'catch the conscience of the king.'

This leads us to conclude that Shaxper, among his fellow actors, was holding himself out to be Shakespeare. They must have been very gullible to believe this, as any playwright would know. It may also mean that this audience, or the writer(s) of this play probably knew who the real Shakespeare was.

It appears to mean that Shaxper obtained, or was handed, the plays of Shakespeare as they were produced and then passed them on to the Globe company as his own, and conceitedly tried to live up to the part. The Parnassus writer(s) ham it up some more by bringing Jonson into it. Jonson was constantly sniping at his fellow playwrights. For example in Every Man in his Humour, said to be a great comedy and one of his best plays, where we're only in Act 1 scene 4, when the character Captain Bobadil says...

I would fain see all the poets of these times have such another play as that was (Hieronymo); they'll prate and swagger, and keep a stir of devices, when as I am a gentleman, read 'em, they are the most shallow, pitiful, barren fellows that live upon the face of the earth again.

A 'stir of devices' might be translated as a 'potful of plays'.

No playwright cares to have this kind of comment on his work. And Jonson is always at it. His play the Poetaster has more such comment. He ran a sort of literary dog fight with the playwright Dekker in particular. No wonder when Jonson visited Scotland and stayed with the Scottish poet William Drummond, that poet noted in his private jottings that Jonson was

'a great lover and praiser of himself and a contemner and scorner of others.'

Horace was a Latin poet (68 BC to 8 BC) among whose works was his Satires.

Jonson includes Horace as a character, with Ovid, Virgil and Augustus Caesar as well as many others, in his play the Poetaster. Near the end of the play Horace asks Caesar for, which is granted, permission to give a pill to a poet (Crispinus)

Would give him a light vomit that should purge

His brain and stomach of those tumorous heats...

Here's a sample of the result

CRIS. O! I shall cast up my-(spurious)-(snotteries)-

HOR. Good. Again.

CRIS. (Chillblained)-O-O-(clumsie)-

HOR. That (clumsie) stuck terribly.

MEC. What's all that. Horace?

HOR. (Spurious snotteries), (chillblained), (clumsie)

TIB. O Jupiter!

GAL. Who would have thought there should have been such a deal of filth in a poet?

And so on. I put the words which Crispinus 'brought up' in brackets, as the printed play uses italics.

So the reference to Horace giving the Poets a pill is straightforward enough. But first Kemp says Shakespeare 'puts them all down' and finally says Shakespeare 'hath given him (Jonson) a purge that made him bewray his credit'.

Commentators have searched about to find what these phrases refer to. Some suggest that Shakespeare the dramatist put Jonson down by collaborating with Dekker and, or, Marston in some of their play ripostes to Jonson, possibly in the 'Satiromastix, or the untrussing of the humorous poet.' Others have suggested that Shakespeare may have done this in his play Troilus and Cressida, in the opening, and the character of Ajax who seems unnecessarily wooden for the part he plays in the action.

Since Jonson's 'pill' is so obvious, specific, and there for all to see, I suggest Shakespeare's 'putting them all down' and his 'purge' must be even more obvious and straightforward. Shakespeare's plays were very popular, more so than the University Wits plays, and much more so than Jonson's plays. If and when Jonson's and Shakespeare's plays were being performed opposite one another in different theatres, the theatre playing Jonson would be half empty, and the one playing Shakespeare would be packed. That, I suggest, is the purge that destroyed Jonson's credibility.

I hope we don't have to go through all these internecine literary wars to find the elusive Shakespeare. It seems to me both of those quotations are clear enough if we have a conceited pseudo-playwright who is a small part actor, as well as a superb poet and dramatist being a different person. If there were two men involved, both quotations seem to me to make abundant sense. And to top it off, in the Parnassus play Burbage is made to say (speaking of their 'fellow Shakespeare')

It is a shrewd fellow indeed.

which as I think I've shown in previous chapters, is exactly what Shaxper is.

After this necessary diversion, which concerned me until I studied it more closely, I think we can say with reasonable certitude that both excerpts refer to two persons, not one Shakespeare, which is precisely the point I've arrived at in the present enquiry.


Looking at this problem caused me to turn to Troilus and Cressida long before my plan for considering it in the context of the plays.

It amazes me that some scholars seriously discuss whether this play is a comedy. I suggest it's more a requiem for a poet/dramatist. It's true that the publisher referred to it as a comedy, but this is an Elizabethan speaking. I'm reminded of the opera convention that a 'comic opera' or 'opera comique' is not necessarily a comedy, people may die wholesale in it, but it means there is recitative, or spoken dialogue, whereas grand opera has nothing but words which are sung. By analogy in plays it would presumably mean having prose interludes interspersed within the blank verse, as is the case in the play Troilus and Cressida.

One scholar, in his introduction to the play, wonders why Shakespeare wrote it. I suggest it contains a theme in his life. He mentions the story in his long narrative poem which is his second earliest published work, The Rape of Lucrece, again in The Merchant of Venice, Henry 5th, 12th Night, Hamlet, and alludes to it in All 's Well that Ends Well. What is this theme?

Here are the last 15 lines of the play, a form of Epilogue, spoken by Pandarus, an archetype for procurers of women for brothels:

Full merrily the humble-bee doth sing

Till he hath lost his honey and his sting,

And being more subdued in armèd tail,

Sweet honey and sweet notes together fail.

Good traders in the flesh, set this in your painted cloths,

As many as be here of Pandar's hell,

Your eyes, half out, weep out at Pandar's fall;

Or if you cannot weep, yet give some groans,

Though not for me, yet for your aching bones.

Brethren and sisters of the hold-door trade,

Some two months hence my will shall here be made.

It should be now, but that my fear is this,

Some gallèd goose of Winchester would hiss.

Till then I'll sweat and seek about for eases,

And at that time bequeath you my diseases.

Here are the editor's notes:

(The first 4 lines) an allusion to impotence caused by venereal disease.

'Eyes, half out'; half blind, another reference to the ravages of venereal disease

'Aching bones'; another result of syphilis

'hold-door trade'; whores who stood at the open doors of brothels to attract customers

'gallèd goose of Winchester'; a gallèd goose is a person suffering from venereal disease, either a prostitute or her client. The brothels in Southwark were under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Winchester.

'Sweat'; the standard treatment for venereal disease.

Now we can answer the question of the editor who asked, why would Shakespeare write this play. I think the answer may be disturbing, but very simple. Shakespeare apparently had syphilis. He seems to know first hand what he's writing about in these 15 lines. He even tells us he should write his will now, but will do it in two months. If I'm right, and I think I have to be, then this should be a late play, or the play may have been written a little earlier, with this final speech tacked on late in his life. It doesn't really matter to us which it is. Dating the plays is not what we're after here. And we know they can't really be dated accurately in any case. One Stratfordian list dates it 1601, and 15th from the last. Another undated list has it 13th from the last.

I suggest those 15 lines at the end of the play tell us that this terrible disease had really taken hold of Shakespeare. Pandarus was a procurer, not a customer. One would think that a procurer would ordinarily have enough sense to be content to make his living from the 'avails' of the business and leave the prostitutes and their diseases to the customers. But in these 15 lines Pandarus is telling us in some detail what it's like to be a sufferer, and that is what makes me conclude that it's Shakespeare speaking to us about himself. It's his personal experience that gives us the veracity of those lines. It's his prognosis that he has to make his will soon.

This comes as a complete surprise to me, and probably to you. I think I'm right about this because there was no need to tack this speech on at the end of the play. It's said that Shakespeare used Chaucer (1340? -1400) as a source. Chaucer wrote a 5 book epic in verse on Troilus and Criseyde. I could find nothing in it related to sexual or any other diseases. That is something added by Shakespeare. I, for one, certainly did not expect to find this result so early in our investigation. A Shakespeare with syphilis narrows the field of candidates very considerably.

We have not come to the end of the remarkable evidence attending this play. The quarto edition, published in 1609, has what's called the 'quarto epistle.' Here's how it's headed


For those who have followed along from the beginning of this enquiry it's an obvious identifier for de Vere. 'A Never' becomes 'An E. Ver.' (Edward Ver) This is cleverly done. It implies that the person who wrote this is not a writer, or playwright, it also may imply that the playwright is now a never writer - he will never write again. This was true of de Vere in 1609; he had died in 1604. The Ever (E. Ver) reader is a reader of de Vere's work. It seems the publisher is writing posthumously for the writer to the reader. It's presumed not to be acted, but to the reader, to be read.

The text of this 'epistle' begins

Eternal reader, you have here a new play, never staled with the stage.

The publisher, assuming he wrote the 'epistle,' calls it a comedy. But then he says

...this author's comedies, that are so framed to the life, that they serve for the most common commentaries of all the actions of our lives...

It continues some sentences later

And believe this, that when he is gone, and his comedies out of sale, you will scramble for them... but thank fortune for the scape it hath made amongst you, since by the grand possessors' wills I believe you should have prayed for them rather than been prayed...

This is a snag if we are thinking, as the heading indicates, it might be our first candidate, de Vere, who wrote the play, because de Vere died 5 years before this publication.

But it so happens that the Stratfordian editor has this to say

Troilus and Cressida has a number of unsolved , if not insoluble, problems. The exact date and place of the first performance are uncertain: we do not know whether it was ever publicly performed: we do not know for certain the nature of the manuscript which formed the copy for the Quarto (1609)... and, more significantly, critics are hopelessly divided as theatrical directors in their interpretation of the play.


The play was entered in the Stationers' Register on 7 February 1603

"Mr Robertes

Entred for his copie in Full Court holden this day to print when he hath gotten sufficient authority for yt...."

Presumably Roberts did not obtain the necessary authority as he did not publish the play. Six years later, on 28th January 1609, there is another entry relating to the play:

"Ri(chard) Bonlan

Henry Walleys Entered for their Copy...."

It was duly printed later that year.....

The Quarto Epistle

On the whole it seems most likely that this epistle was written soon after the private performance of the play and before the public performance. It must have turned up during the printing of the Quarto, but may well have been written in 1602 or early 1603, at the time of the original entry in the Stationers' Register, when it was hoped to publish the play.

This is helpful to us because it explains why the epistle says 'when he is gone.' If, and only if, de Vere was Shakespeare, this would fit. He was not 'gone' in 1602-3, but in 1604. And the 'grand possessors' suggests nobility. If, and only if, de Vere was Shakespeare, these may be Elizabeth Trentham, dowager Countess of Oxford, and her 16-17 year old son, the 18th Earl of Oxford, who were moving house in 1608-9 when she sold King's Place, and where a near neighbour was an acquirer of manuscripts for a publisher.

But, to tie all this together, the quarto original front page says

Written by William Shakespeare

It may come as a shock to many people to find that Shakespeare probably had syphilis. This disease apparently produces many idiots, but also, rarely, creates a super genius.

Milton was one. His enemies said it was caused by his dissolute youth. His principal biographer, Denis Saurat, devotes a chapter-long appendix to his health. Fortunately for posterity, Milton described in literary detail the progressive nature of his descent into blindness. This enabled Saurat to provide a modern medical diagnosis. It excludes the more usual (today) types of eye disease...

...We conclude then, after considering the whole body of available documents, that Milton's blindness was due to retinitis, complicated perhaps by glaucomatous troubles developed from eyestrain as a result of a generally bad state of health, probably attributable to hereditary syphilis... It is a matter of general observation that, from the point of view of the intellectual faculties, there are two categories of hereditary syphilis; some are degenerates, unintelligent - or even idiotic, some others, on the contrary, are endowed with a precocious and supernormal intelligence. Milton evidently belonged to this last category.

Milton was not the only intellectual super genius proceeding from a syphilitic body. Beethoven, the 'Shakespeare of music' was another. In his case he had one syphilitic and one tubercular parent. The degenerative congenital disease caused his progressive deafness.

There is a (2001) web site on Beethoven that says

There are various theories circulating today regarding Beethoven's health and hearing loss. It has been suggested that Beethoven was suffering from Syphilis (now discredited) or that he was poisoned. I have listed the presently accepted causes of his ailments and death, though tests are being carried out on his hair and should prove the matter conclusively.

To summarize: one lab. report on his hair found high lead concentrations, evidence that lead poisoning may have caused his life long illnesses. Another lab. reported distinctive trace metal patterns associated with genius, irritability...were not present, a third lab. found mercury levels were undetectable...

These results provide no evidence that Beethoven received medical treatment for syphilis, usually treated in the 1820s with mercury compounds. This supports the concensus of Beethoven scholars who believe that Beethoven never had syphilis. Rumours that Beethoven suffered from syphilis have been discounted in all serious musicological literature for the last 30 years.

None of this distinguishes between hereditary (congenital) syphilis and contracted (caught) syphilis. The fact that a lab. found no trace of mercury is the only positive piece of information here. Even that is not conclusive. Being congenital, it may never have been suspected. Being Beethoven, he might have refused treatment.

If we go back a few years, Sir George Grove, in his 1879 first edition of the Dictionary of Music and Musicians, after detailing the results of the post mortem examination of the auditory apparatus of Beethoven, said that

the whole of these appearances are most probably the result of syphilitic affections at an early period of his life... this diagnosis, which I owe to the kindness of my friend Dr. Lauder Brunton, is confirmed by the existence of two prescriptions, of which, since this passage in the text was written, I have been told by Mr. Theyer, who heard of them from Dr. Bartolini.

Dr. Bertolini (not Bartolini) was Beethoven's physician for many years. When the doctor thought himself at the point of death he ordered his letters and notes regarding Beethoven to be destroyed because of his 'delicate regard for Beethoven's reputation.' If the composer's illnesses were typhus, or deafness, why would this affect his reputation? The implication in Grove's writing is rather that Beethoven contracted the disease in his youth.

Our problem with Shakespeare is that since it's a pseudonym we don't know yet who he is. We can only rely on Pandarus' speech to be telling us his condition. It may be either hereditary or contracted syphilis.

The only candidate we have at present begun to consider is de Vere, and it seems that he had syphilis. Although the information about the courtesan in Venice implies contractual syphilis, that might not have been the case. The 16th Earl, de Vere's father, was involved with a woman who was disfigured by his relatives slitting her nose, the 'punishment' for a whore. It's quite possible then, that de Vere's father contracted syphilis before the 16th earl married de Vere's mother. In this way de Vere might have had congenital syphilis. The 'lameness' and 'not an able body' he writes about in later life may have had this progressive disease as their cause. Whichever form of it he may have had, it may also explain why he did not have any more children by his wife Elizabeth Trentham for 11 years after the birth of his only legally born son who survived. The answer is given in the first two lines of the quotation from the Troilus play, about the bee losing its sting. He was impotent through the disease.

It is probable, then, that Shakespeare, Milton, and Beethoven had one or other form of syphilis, and perhaps in each case more likely to have been hereditary than contractual.

To put this in perspective, dyslexia was unidentified as a disorder at the beginning of the 20th century. Only recently has it been related to a gene: DYX3. It's

...a language disorder in which a person with normal vision has difficulty comprehending written language. Its main characteristic is a confusion in the orientation of letters, which is caused by the person's reading in the wrong direction across the page, the inability to perceive certain similarities or differences in letters or words, and the inability to pronounce unfamiliar words. The cause of dyslexia is unknown, but a central nervous system defect is suspected.

Why introduce this entirely different malady? Let me list for you three cases of dyslexia: Albert Einstein; Winston Churchill; General George Patton. The point I'm making here is that any type of hereditary disease or disorder is not the fault of the person, the child, who inherits it.

All the unexpected evidence stemming from Troilus and Cressida begins to strengthen the candidacy of de Vere as Shakespeare, but we have a long way to go yet before making a decision. We have not even begun to consider Shakespeare's poems and plays, and have only been led fortuitously to the last few lines of the Troilus play.

Now we can begin our search for the real poet/dramatist.


The University pen playwrights are generally considered to be, in the decade of the 1590s:

Robert Greene, St. John's College (BA) and Clare Hall (MA), Cambridge

Thomas Lodge, (son of Sir Thomas Lodge, Lord Mayor of London), Oxford

John Lyly, Magdalen College, Oxford

Christopher Marlowe, Bene't (later Corpus Christi) College, Cambridge

Thomas Nashe, Cambridge

George Peele, Oxford.

Other University-educated playwrights included

Francis Beaumont, Oxford and Inner Temple (law school)

John Fletcher, Bene't College, Cambridge.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, St. John's College, BA, Cambridge and

Christ Church College, MA, Oxford and Gray's Inn (law school).

An enthusiastic patron of playwrights was the Earl of Southampton, who also attended St. John's College, Cambridge.

As can be seen from the list, some references do not give the college attended.


Name Calling in the Arts


I played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard.


Berlioz composes by splashing his pen over the manuscript and leaving the issue to chance.

Richard Strauss

Arnold Schoenberg would be better off shovelling snow.

More up to date, and apropos -

Alfred Hitchcock

I did not say actors were cattle. I said actors should be treated like cattle.



Since writing this chapter further research has disclosed more on the development of the Troilus and Cressida tale. The original Homer's Iliad description of the girl variously described later as a slave girl, prisoner, and favoured mistress of Achilles, named her Brise'is. Her husband was killed by Achilles at the sack of the city of Mynes. Homer also tells us about Chryse'is, captive mistress of Agamemnon, released by him to her father Chryses after the prophet Calchas had said the gods were displeased with the Greeks because he kept her and refused her father's ransom offer. She later became Criseyde, or Cressida. Agamemnon was angry, saying he liked her better than his wife Klytemnestra. Agamemnon was commander-in-chief of the Greek forces at Troy. Agamemnon now said if I have to give back Chryse'is to her father I'm not going to be the only one without a girl captive I like; so, Achilles, I want your Brise'is instead. Achilles began to draw his sword, but the gods persuaded Achilles not to fight over this. Agamemnon got Brise'is. Achilles sulked in his tent and refused to fight, until his friend Patroklos was killed wearing the armour of Achilles.

Passing through the hands of a number of early writers, the story became altered and embroidered along the way, including a series of mis-translations and misunderstandings. For our purposes we can begin with the mediaeval story of Roman de Troie by Benoit de Sainte-Maure (c. 1160). For him the Troilus and Cressida story is an episode of only about 1,300 lines in a total of some 30,000 on Troy.

The bare bones of the story developed in the middle ages is that in Troy city Troilus, younger son of King Priam, sees the beautiful widowed Cressida at a religious ceremony, and falls madly in love. His friend Pandarus finally discovers who Troilus is pining for, says why didn't you say so, she's my relative (niece, cousin, etc). As both Troilus (T) & Cressida (C) are nobility, it must remain a secret to preserve their reputations. After some resistance C agrees to a meeting arranged by Pandarus. A torrid secret love affair follows. Then the Greek and Trojan leaders agree to exchange C for Antenor, a Trojan warrior. C's father had previously deserted to the Greeks, so she will be returning to her traitorous father. Both T & C are devastated by the news. She promises somehow to return to T in 10 days. Days and months go by, but no return of C. Then T sees a keepsake of his to C on Diomedes, a formidable Greek fighter. Now he knows the truth. She has deserted him for a Greek. Hence, false Cressida.

Some of the Benoit details are mirrored in Shakespeare's play: Benoit's Briseida receives the greetings of the Greek leaders; she loses interest in returning to Troy; Diomedes gives her a 'steed' he captured from Troilus; there is a truce; she gives a keepsake from Troilus to Diomedes; Troilus sees the keepsake on Diomedes' armour; Troilus fights bravely in despair at her treachery.

There is a twist where Benoit has Troilus unhorse Achilles who in the next battle has his subject Myrmidons surround and unhorse Troilus, who is then slain by Achilles before he can stand up. In Shakespeare it is Hector who is deliberately surrounded by the Myrmidons when he is taking an unarmed rest from battle; they slay him as Achilles watches. In Benoit the episode ends with mourning for Troilus. In Shakespeare all three, Troilus, Cressida and Diomedes, are alive at the end of the play.

There is no hint of sexual diseases in the Benoit episode.

Boccaccio (1313-1375), the famous Italian writer, tells the story at book length in his il Filostrato. Here the main interest is the love between Troilo and Criseida. C is a widow. She is also libidinous, and if she can't have T because she's been exchanged for Antenor then she will have Diomedes the Greek warrior who's determined to get her. There is no hint of sexual diseases in the Boccaccio story.

It's said that Chaucer (1340? - 1400) used Boccaccio as a source for his Troilus and Criseyde (in 5 'books'). Chaucer's older English is not an easy read for a non-expert in the 21st century. But he seems to me to be diffident in giving his sources; he referred to 'other books' and said he didn't know whether she had any children. Chaucer was a religious man. He ends his story with Christian moralizing. There is certainly no hint of sexual diseases in Chaucer.

It was necessary to read the Boccaccio (in translation) as well as the Chaucer because we're considering de Vere as a candidate for Shakespeare, and we know that de Vere could read and write fluently in Latin and Italian. It would have been no problem for him to have read the Filostrato in Italian. He probably read both Boccaccio's and Chaucer's versions.

But there is something else to consider. A writer named Robert Henryson wrote a poem of only 616 lines in the same stanza form as Chaucer. He called it Testament of Cresseid. Apparently we have no dates for Henryson but the work was already published by 1492. He says that after reading Chaucer he found another book which gave a subsequent history of Criseyde. Deserted by Diomedes she became a common prostitute in the Greek camp. She cursed the gods for this and they in return gave her leprosy. She became so disfigured that when Troilus met her begging and gave her 'alms' (a donation to a beggar) he didn't recognize her. She didn't recognize him either. Later she found out who he was and died of a broken heart.

It's said this work by Henryson was reprinted without attributing it to him as part of the Troilus and Criseyde edition of Chaucer published by Thynne in 1532 and again by Speght in 1598. It's very likely that 'Shakespeare' read the Boccaccio in Italian, Chaucer in older English, and both Thynne and Speght in the Elizabethan editions of the T & C story. The addition of leprosy by Henryson is still not a reference to a sexual or venereal disease.

According to Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia leprosy is uncommon in Europe. It's a relative of tubercular diseases. In one of its forms, a milder one, fingers and toes lose feeling, become cut off from the rest of the body and may in time break off. In the more contagious form the body is not able to resist; in extreme cases the voice may change drastically, blindness may occur or the nose may be destroyed. Throughout the ages leprosy has been one of the most dreaded diseases and its victims the most avoided. Almost all cultures believed that victims of leprosy were spiritually unclean.

This story has certainly moved a long way from Homer's tale of the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles over favourite mistresses. In his Troilus and Cressida play it would have been an easy step for Shakespeare to transmute the Henryson leprosy into his closing medical diatribe on syphilis. My point about Shakespeare is that he doesn't moralize on syphilis. He tells us what it's like to have it.

To Chapter 8 To Chapter 10

Back to Index Page