Robert Detobel, The Concealed Poet (2010)

1. Introduction


This work arrives on the heels of a spate of new Shakespearean biographies, all clearly seeking to place the man's life within striking distance of his immortal works, an endeavor that has, due to the apparent paucity of the documentary record, been conducted primarily in the realm of speculation and fiction.  It is our observation that this relatively recent explosion of searching for a connection between Shakspere's life and his art is in direct response to increased public awareness of a growing body of evidence that the man traditionally accepted for centuries as the Bard of Avon may not in fact have been the true poet.

            Apparently in hopes of dispelling all doubt in the Stratford player and shareholder's identity as 'Shakespeare,' traditional biographers have stepped up their attempts to locate the life of the incumbent bard in a literary historical context, presumably poring over all extant contemporary documents in the quest of any salient detail that might have escaped detection until now.  Nevertheless it is our contention, based upon our own research, that a number of key primary source documents have not been throroughly examined and placed within their rightful historical context by previous scholars and historians of the era. 

            We will be following an underground route, or subway. It will take us but three stations to meet the author of the Shakespearean works. The first stop is St Paul’s Churchyard, at the sign of the Half Eagle and the Key, the shop of William Jaggard, printer of the First Folio. The next is not far off, Stationer’s Hall, the building of the Stationer’s Company, where Shakespeare’s works were registered for printing. Finally we arrive at Botolph Lane, where Francis Meres resides. We call it “subway” because the primary concern will not be to find the author. His identity at this moment is only a by-product of our first goal: to find answers to problems related to publication in general and of Shakespearean works in particular. These questions are of a technical nature. Some have thus far been unsatisfactorily answered by scholars, others haven't been addressed at all.  To begin with, how is the prefatory material to the First Folio to be understood? Secondly, what was the true role of the printer James Roberts in the publication of Shakespeare’s plays between 1598 and 1604?  Finally, what is the significance of Francis Meres’ “Comparative Discourse”, a symmetrized name-dropping of ancient and English authors, in which Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies are set upon a par with the hallowed classic tragedies of Seneca and the comedies of Plautus?

           At the end of part I the identity of the author will be known, but of his personality we shall have learnt hardly anything. The advantage of a formal approach, a trip by subway, is also its limitation. Having attained our goal of identifying the author (in our estimation unequivocally) by a very formal procedure, we still cannot claim to know anything of him as a man, the singular individual who would one day be named 'the soul of the age.'

          The subject of part II is the concealed poet, without quotation marks, for his presence is no longer a mere scent in the wind, he is now visible, palpable, and he is less concealed than not named. He first comes into view in one of Greene’s pastoral romances, reappearing later in a brief report by another author as the foremost poet of the 1580s.  We see him in the midst of the famous literary quarrel raging in the first half of the 1590s between Harvey and Thomas Nashe, the outstanding satirist of his time, though Shakespeare is strangely absent from the contretemps (or is he?).  We witness that he is repeatedly apostrophized by both Harvey and Nashe as the dominant figure amongst the London literati of the 1580s and 90s, a prolific patron and premier poet in his own right.  Curiously, he has remained a blind spot in English literary history.

            He will turn out to be the same person we identified as the poet Shakespeare at the end of part I, and here we find him, the pre-eminent literary light at the teeming centre of  the world of English literature for the last two decades of the sixteenth century.

But orthodox theorists have claimed to know at least something personal about Will Shakspere of Avon. Therefore we will look (in part III) at what is universally regarded as their principal evidence, said to be found in Robert Greene’s infamous invective against Shakespeare as “Shake-scene” in a letter in Greene's Groatsworth of Wit.  Is it possible that all puzzling aspects of this letter have not been thoroughly examined within the proper historical framework?  To contextualize this question we have reviewed a wider base of contemporary information.  According to traditional biographers, this letter provides the first glimpse of the personality of Shakspere, as penned by an embittered playwright and poet who was envious of his fellow's success. Yet after careful review of the events surrounding the publication of this pamphlet, and of the language in related documents, our conclusion is that 'Shake-scene' was anything but a playwright, though he was most certainly an actor whose prominence as a player would have made his identity instantly recognizable to any contemporary reader and/or theatregoer.