Although a Harvard academic claims a 1749 book has proof that Shakespeare’s rebus in The Herball is a printer’s mark, Mark Griffiths explains that this is an error that was corrected in later editions of Typographical Antiquities.

We expected that a storm of controversy would be provoked by the article in Country Life (May 20) in which I identify William Shakespeare on the title page of John Gerard’s Herball. What we had not anticipated is that some academics would rush to dismiss it without even having read the article – this was, indeed, an incredible revelation.

On page 129, I wrote that, although it looked like a publisher’s or printer’s mark, the cipher at bottom right of the title page ‘doesn’t belong to any of the Nortons’, the family of London stationers, one of whom, John, was Gerard’s publisher, ‘or to Edmund Bollifant, the printer of The Herball’. This fact was something that I and my Oxford colleague Edward Wilson had established and tested over a period of years.

On May 19, a day before my article’s publication, and having seen it trailed on BBC News, John Overholt of Harvard University tweeted: ‘Stand back, everybody. I’m about to crush a dream.’ He displayed the note on The Herball that appears on page 433 of Typographical Antiquities by Joseph Ames (1749). It reads: ‘This curious Folio has the mark of William and John Norton together in a cypher.’ This, Mr Overholt thought, destroyed my case. What I saw as an ingenious coded symbol was really nothing more exciting than the mark of The Herball’s publishers. How ignorant, fanciful and idle of me.

Cipher wrongly identified by Ames

I long ago concluded that Joseph Ames was wrong about this cipher. He had, rather, assumed it was the mark of John and William Norton – a natural assumption given its position on the title page, that it’s pretending to be one of the commonest kinds of stationer’s and printer’s identifiers and that it appears to include N and does include O, R, W.

Ames was not infallible. For example, he stated that John Norton was ‘The queen’s printer’ when, in fact, he received no such appointment from Elizabeth I. In the 1786 edition of Typographical Antiquities, the editor William Herbert corrected this error; he also removed the inaccurate assertion that the cipher on the title page of The Herball was the mark of William and John Norton (vol. 2, page 1,216).

Who were the Nortons?

Before I go on, some dramatis personae. The Nortons were William, who died in 1593/4; Bonham, his son and business heir; and John, William’s nephew, apprentice and thereafter a stationer in his own right and independently of his uncle. John and Bonham shared the cost of printing The Herball, but the venture was primarily John’s, hence his name alone on the title page. He landed the project on account of his contacts with Continental publishers of botanical works. The risk was chiefly his; the book was sold from his shop. William was four years dead when The Herball was issued; he’d played no part in its commissioning or production. Why, as Ames assumed, would its title page have a joint cipher identifying him and John as the book’s publishers?

Not a Norton device

In Printers’ and Publishers’ Devices in England and Scotland 1485–1640 (1913), Ronald B. McKerrow gathered the Nortons’ known devices. He did not recognise the cipher on the title page of The Herball as one of them. Nor has it been ascribed to the Nortons in any of the bibliographical studies undertaken to supplement McKerrow’s great survey.

I could have left it at that – this is not a Norton device. But I decided to consult all available records and biographical sources for John Norton to see if there was any reason why, in 1597/98, he would have adopted a new, possibly unique device to reflect his relationship to an uncle who was fully four years dead and with whom he’d had no partnership so signified before. I could find no such reason.

Even Bonham had stopped using his father’s devices soon after his death. There was no warrant for identifying William posthumously on the title page of a book in which he’d had no involvement. But even that wasn’t good enough for me, so I scoured every extant Norton publication, looking for this cipher. I found it nowhere except in The Herball. Moreover, I found telling consistency among the genuine Norton identifiers in these publications.

The true Norton marks

As McKerrow had shown, William used a rebus in which the letters ‘nor’ appear on the side of a barrel (a tun) impaled by Dianthus (aka ‘Williams’), i.e. ‘William(s) nor-tun’. On the root of the Dianthus is the letter W, also for William.

true face of shakespeare

The printer’s mark of William Norton.

By contrast, John and Bonham used more elegant and elaborate pictorial devices: Mercury’s caduceus; allegorical depictions of Truth; the grafted olive tree of Romans 11. Alternatively, their names were spelt out on title pages and in colophons elsewhere and accorded a prominence that was new at the time.

true face of shakespeare

John and Bonham Norton used pictorial devices such as Mercury’s Caduceus (left) and an olive tree (right).

This is the case with The Herball, where ‘Imprinted at London by Iohn Norton’ appears on the title page in rather bolder lettering than ‘John Gerarde’ above it. These two cousins were socially ambitious and had ambitions for their profession. Rebuses and sign-of-four identifiers were too old-fashioned and artisan for them. As I remained worried that I might have missed a Norton mark somewhere, Edward Wilson, Emeritus Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, undertook to make a similar sweep. His findings concurred with mine.

Why is it not a Norton cipher?

But one didn’t even need to know the above to see that this was not the joint cipher of William and John Norton. Consider the following:

1. It is not a genuine sign of four. Such identifiers might have the 4 element at the top the right way around or back to front, but it’s always 4 – not a triangle as here. That fact is important; the unalterable character of the numeral 4 goes to the symbol’s origins in ‘Chi Rho’ ([Greek letters] Χ superimposed on Ρ), standing for Christus Rex. It’s a sacred talisman, not to be messed with – unless you’re trying to signify something very different.

2. The cipher does not contain I (or J) for John Norton. The letter at top right is without doubt E. To determine that, I examined all other known extant specimens of William Rogers’s lettering. Where, as in this case, he was pushed for space, he radically shortened the top bar of E to something like a serif.

If you examine the top bar of this letter in a first impression of the first edition title page (i.e. issued before spring 1598), you can see a faint line, a sort of graphic stutter, where he’s taken the pressure off his burin as he’s feared running out of room – there’s no doubt it’s E. That being so, of what use could such a prominent E possibly be in a cipher meant to convey ‘William and John Norton’? Or, if one insists on seeing L or £ rather than a Rogers E, of what use would they be?

3. What, at first sight, looks like N (a letter essential to Ames’s and now Overholt’s presumed ‘NOR’ component) isn’t N at all. William Rogers was remarkably consistent with N: he always engraved its diagonal with a heavier line than its verticals, and he would certainly have done so here had it been the all-important initial letter of Norton.

4. Opposite, under Burghley, is a shield that appears to be a coat of arms – but it isn’t. It is, rather, a device that uses heraldic elements, that pretends to be a coat of arms in order to convey a message. As such, it’s in keeping with the encoded, typically Cecilian cleverness of this title page: things aren’t what they seem.

Surely the same mentality would also have given rise to the cipher opposite? It is not a real sign of four, not a genuinely straightforward and lowly identifier, but something much more sophisticated.

5. There is growing acceptance that three of the four figures on the title page are who I say they are; that the man at bottom left is Lord Burghley and that the shield under him relates to him. Given which, how would ‘John and William Norton’ relate to the Fourth Man? Is this laureate thespian opposite the Lord Treasurer really a publisher? I think not.

And it’s not Bollifant’s cipher

For the sake of completeness, I should also point out that the mark under the Fourth Man does not belong to Edmund Bollifant, the printer of The Herball, or to his associates in the printing house at Eliot’s Court. Bollifant’s policy on self-identification resembled that of the Nortons, so much so that their devices can be hard to tell apart – pictorial graphics or plain colophons that stated the role he had played, but never the Sign of Four. That is the case in The Herball, where a colophon on the last page simply states: ‘Imprinted at London by Edm. Bollifant, for Bonham and Iohn Norton. M.D. XCVII.’

Nor could the Fourth Man’s mark be an engraver’s mistake. It appears in the same form on all known copies of both impressions of the first edition title page. Any error in this device would have been easy to put right, and top of Norton’s, or Bollifant’s, list of corrigenda.

Nor does the shield belong to the Nortons

I should also head off possible objections to my statement in the article that the shield under Burghley is not the coat of arms of any of the Nortons. It contains an ermine maunch, a charge found in the arms of Norton, a family of ancient gentry and nobility originally based in Yorkshire. This has led some commentators to suppose that the coat of arms on Burghley’s plinth belongs to John Norton. But heraldry does not work like that: an ermine maunch does not say ‘Norton’; nor do all Nortons have the right to display it.

The publishing Nortons belonged not to the Yorkshire clan, but to an unrelated family of Shropshire yeomanry. John Norton never received a grant of arms. His uncle William was awarded arms in late 1593, but this grant attracted censure from some of the younger Heralds. Duly chastised, the publishing Nortons formally relinquished William’s arms soon after his death in early 1594. It was not until 1611 that John’s cousin Bonham, by then a country squire and publisher to the King, was granted a coat of arms. It did not resemble the one on Burghley’s plinth; nor did the late William Norton’s – in both, the colours are different and there is no maunch.

With the Heralds’ rebukes still ringing in their ears, it is unthinkable that John and Bonham Norton would have sported illegitimate or fictitious arms in 1597, let alone printed them on the title page of their most important publication to date. Still less thinkable is that the Lord Treasurer would have tolerated being perched on an emblem that was not his. As I say in my Country Life article, this is not an official coat of arms. When consulted by Edward Wilson, no less an authority than the College of Arms kindly examined this shield and confirmed that this was this case.

Elizabethans and riddles

For the tweeting Mr Overholt of Harvard, the very phrase ‘Cracked the Tudor Code’ was a sure sign that I’d done nothing of the kind. However, social, political and art historians accept that the Elizabethan elite loved codes, riddles and cryptic iconography. For some Elizabethans – the Cecils especially – they were not just a source of pleasure and pride, but a day-to-day practice and a matter of life and death. Books such as William Camden’s Remains and George Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie are rich in such devices and explanations of their meanings and function.

We also know that examples appear in Shakespeare’s works and that he was handsomely rewarded on at least one occasion for designing one. In finding it so implausible that such a symbol could relate to Shakespeare on the title page of a work sponsored by Burghley, Mr Overholt shows much the same grasp of the elite Elizabethan mentality as he does of publishers’ marks from her reign.


true face of shakespeare

Shakespeare: Apollo reborn

Could the Fourth Man be Dioscorides or Apollo and not Shakespeare? Edward Wilson, Emeritus Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, thinks…

  • MDHJohnson

    My “forces are about to be routed”…?

    The New Paradigm is coming, the New Paradigm is coming….

    What hill will you all be gathering on this time, awaiting its imminent arrival?

    A few weeks or September….? Doomsday cults always have such difficulty in settling on a date…but the next one is always the right one — until it isn’t.

  • psi2u2

    Don ‘t count your chickens before they’ve hatched, attorney Johnson. Maybe it isn’t yet obvious to you how your forces are about to be routed. Just give it a few more weeks and you will see. Good day to you, sir.

  • MDHJohnson

    It has nothing to do with my personal happiness, Roger, and I can’t take any credit for the Oxfrauds beating the de Vereans to the punch, but thanks anyway.

  • psi2u2

    I’m so happy for you.

  • psi2u2

    Yes, I forgot that’s one reason why the discussions have improved so much on SV recently. Obviously your demise left a big impression me.

  • A very poor attempt to snatch a bit of undeserved credit.

    And of course, since they cut off access to the general public by making ShakesVere a private Facebook group, it’s hardly like that anyone outside their number was following them.

    There’s not much left for Oxfordians to do, these days. They don’t get out much any more.

    “Grading”, by the way, is what groundsmen do to level playing fields. The exact opposite of what Oxfordians spend their time doing in my experience.

  • Benjamin Hackman

    Knit, Quite agree. Only a crazed botantist hoping to hype his upcoming book believes it is Shakes. Everyone else believes it’s just good old Dioscorides–excpet Chris Carolan (calendar), Willie Jay Ray, and one other uber-Oxie. I’ll amend this post with where to find that discussion, but I think it was on the original Country Life article where Mr. Griffiths first proclaimed his remarkable discovery. (He rather reminds me of poor old Steve Steinburg.)

  • Ben,

    Actually, the figures on the 1597 title page are (clockwise from upper left): Ceres (the Roman goddess of agriculture), Pomona (the Roman goddess of fruit and nut trees), Dioscorides (a Greek botanist), and Theophrastus (the Greek “father of botany”). See the 1633 title page.

    No one in 1597 would have associated Shakespeare with botany.

  • A mock-up of the cipher showing William, John, and Norton is at noodlework(dot)files(dot)wordpress(dot)com(slash)2015(slash)05

  • sandralynnsparks

    I see that Country Life has just quietly noted on Twitter that the play article is up. We’re now on to writing about George Peele, the playwright of Theobald’s Entertainment, somewhere else. Check Twitter about #shakespeare, but it looks, for all intents and purposes, that this topic is now going to fade away.

  • Ishmael_X

    The letter top right just is not E. To make it look like an E you have to redraw the content of the shield, but leave out the shield itself. You can see this at the top of this page where you get the shield in the masthead, but the freestanding mark in the article itself. In the shield, it’s clear that the alleged top-bar is just a bit of shading.

  • I think your conclusion reaches too far in formulating necessary truths, Mark. It is not possible to say categorically that he was not the Queen’s printer. It is only possible to say that there is second-hand witness testimony from Ames, de l’Obel, and others that he was, and second-hand witness testimony from William Herbert (who presumably wasn’t around at the time) that he wasn’t. Also absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. There could be a crucial missing document that would explain all. You say “Norton in the reign of Elizabeth was a man on the make” and cite his importing of cheap bibles. This suggests to me that he was capable of pretending to be the Queen’s printer which would be good enough for the rebus. Your comment about his invention of the title that “I think this highly unlikely” is your point of view, and I’m sure that you are aware that this cannot be raised to the status of a truth. Of course, this point has no effect on my ‘NORtens’ rebus solution, which I regret to inform you exhibits a greater theoretical economy over your solution. 😉 Good research, by the way.

  • sandralynnsparks

    Excellent, Knit. Mr. Griffith’s POV is far from the only way to look at it.

  • Mr. Griffiths,

    Your “2. The cipher does not contain I (or J) for John Norton. The letter at top right is without doubt E.”

    Sorry, but the cipher contains every letter in ‘William’, ‘John’, and ‘Norton’. The letter at the top right is not E; it is L. The I is the vertical line in the middle from the top to the top of the W-M combination.

  • Benjamin Hackman

    Mr. Reality,

    The ShakesVere fB group offered a fascinating window into the Oxfordian mind at work and play. Until perhaps 6 months ago, they tolerated a few interlopers, so long as they did not press too hard. But what ultimately got them was the open Oxfraud fB page (which still is open) and the Oxfraud website, both of which shredded, rather mercilessly at times, the musings of our Oxie brethren. When they could no longer take the heat, i.e., public scrutiny/humiliation, they closed the fB page, turning it into a secret group: membership by invitation only, and then only after bona fides verified by the

    To give them their due, they did occasionally find new material that, with a
    healthy dose of imagination, might have some bearing on what we know (and don’t know) about Shakespeare. But their tendency is to see Oxford EVERywhere, WYLFIWYF, such that any allusion to a bumpkin or a bumbler must be Shakespeare, as if he were the only such in all Elizabethan England and the sole focus of all wits of the age.

    A brief example: John Weever’s epigram (1599) addressed to Spurium (#11 in long series, of which several are addressed to unnamed persons). To a good Oxie, epigram #11 must be mocking Shakespeare, even though a few epigrams later (#22) is the famous one specifically addressed to “honey-toung’d Shakespeare,” immediately followed by an epigram to the great actor, Edward Alleyn (#23). But to a devoted Oxfordian, Spurium must be Shakespeare, the literary fraud. You can read much more about this under Reason #94 at Oxfraud website.

  • calendar

    The mark is easily solved. It is extremely close to the mark used by wool merchants. The Judd marriage portrait painting of 1560 shows it on two woolsacks. But the Herbal mark is slightly different. It is flipped on its axis, with the cross modified to an “E” .

    Now the OED defines “burl” as “a tufte of wool” – ergo, the wool merchants mark stands for “burl” – “burl+E” = Burghley – the dedicatee of the book.

    Quite simple and elegant really.
    You’re welcome.

  • mark griffiths

    From Mark Griffiths 25.V.2015

    Many thanks for giving the cipher so much thought. As you say, the E that it contains would be useful in indicating Elizabeth I if Norton had been printer to her. My difficulty with this is that I don’t believe that he was the Queen’s printer.

    In Typographical Antiquities (1749), Joseph Ames described John Norton as ‘The queen’s printer, in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew’ (p. 432). Others repeated this statement. Ames, however, made many assumptions and errors. Some of these were put right by William Herbert in the 1786 edition of Typographical Antiquities.

    In volume II (page 1296), Herbert stated: ‘Mr Ames styles him [John Norton] queen’s printer, in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but Fran. Flower had a patent for the same, dated 15 Dec. 1573, for his life. I do not find when Flower died; but the company [The Stationers’ Company] seem to have taken the privilege of printing the Accidence, and the Grammar, “whiche, by publique aucthoritie are taught in the Scholes” into their own hands, granting license for printing them to Mr Stirrup & Mr Dawson, the wardens [of the Company] “for the time being, 18 January 1596-7.” I have not found any book printed by John Norton, as a Royal printer, before 1604. So that it appears doubtful, whether Mr Norton succeeded to that office in the queen’s life.’

    My own research bears this out. I’ve found no evidence in the Stationers’ Company records, Government documents, or Norton’s own publications to suggest that he was printer (meaning, in this role, stationer/publisher) to Queen Elizabeth. There does, however, seem to be a strong basis for believing that he was not.

    Despite publishing The Herball with its many connections to Lord Burghley and nods to the Queen, Norton was no Elizabethan loyalist. Before 1594, when he set up shop in London, his business was based in Edinburgh. His continuing dealings there provided excellent cover, enabling him to act as a courier of secret and treasonable letters between the Earl of Essex and James VI, a monarch very much to Norton’s liking and from whom he would benefit greatly. All of this was revealed in the aftermath of the failed Essex Rebellion in early 1601. Norton, miraculously, survived. By June that year, he was in trouble again when Robert Barker, a genuine Queen’s Printer, brought a petition against him and others for threatening his monopoly by importing cheap bibles from the Continent. The Privy Council supported Barker’s case, issuing an order against Norton.

    None of this, to my eyes, seems compatible with the idea of a stationer who’d received an appointment from Elizabeth with all its attendant security and advantages and expectations of dutiful service. Much as I thank him daily for helping to create one of the glories of civilisation, the Bodleian Library, Norton in the reign of Elizabeth was a man on the make. He would not actually make it until the accession of James I, who, unsurprisingly, favoured him, appointing him King’s Printer of Latin, Greek and Hebrew within a matter of months of his arriving in London in 1603.

    Ian Gadd’s impeccably thorough life of John Norton in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography concurs with the above; so do several brilliant studies of him by John Barnard (for example, J. Barnard, pp. 327-344, in Digital Convergence – Libraries of the Future, eds. R Earnshaw and J Vince, Springer, 2008).

    I think we just have to accept that John Norton wasn’t Printer to Queen Elizabeth. Ames’s mistaken but much-repeated assertion that he
    was could have arisen in various ways. One of these is misunderstanding the writings of the botanist Matthias de l’Obel, who in 1605 and subsequently referred in Latin to John Norton as the royal printer when describing the genesis of Gerard’s Herball. Of course, Lobel was correct at the time of writing – by then, Norton was King’s Printer. But he was not Queen’s Printer at the time of The Herball’s publication.

    Another way in which Ames’s error could have arisen is misconstruing the Royal Arms on the title page of The Herball – something I’ve seen modern
    bibliographical and garden historians do. These arms indicate Elizabeth’s
    favouring Gerard (and Burghley), not Norton. She had granted this favour to
    Gerard before: the Royal Arms decorate the initial latter of an epistle by him
    published in 1588, and they are prominently displayed in 1596 edition of his
    Holborn garden catalogue. In neither case was this a reflection of the
    publisher’s status, nor was it on the title page of The Herball. Elizabeth’s
    esteem for John Gerard is yet another of the many facts obscured by long
    neglect, or misinterpretation, of the 1597 title page.

    Given The Herball’s connections to the Queen, I imagine that some might suggest that John Norton devised a mark for himself with E for Elizabeth as a celebratory one-off or a coded pitch for the job of Queen’s Printer. I think this highly unlikely. It would have been unprecedented and tantamount to lese-majeste for a stationer’s mark to co-opt the Queen’s initial in this way. And you have always to remember the men who commissioned this title page, assisted in its design, and were portrayed on it – not just Gerard but also, and above all, Burghley, Argus-eyed defender of the Queen’s Majesty.

  • I agree with Dr Griffiths that the top right letter in the rebus is a broken ‘E’. My suggestion is that because John Norton was the queen’s printer (see Henry Lemoine, ed., Typ. Ant, London, S. Fisher, (1797), p.75) then it represents Elizabeth.

  • Mr. Reality

    ah…hilariousness doth reign upon this thread.

  • sandralynnsparks

    There are differences in how well people are known in different parts of their lives, for anyone. Unknown, like you, fairly known, well known, famous, mega-famous. Warhol’s “fifteen minutes of fame,” which is a category being experienced on this occasion by Mr. Griffiths. A modern comparison would be a status on Google Trends, showing how interested people are in a person. Most topics, like Edward de Vere for example, show flat lines on the Trends graph compared even to Millard Fillmore, who is a flat line compared to almost everyone else. And Shakespeare nearly flat lines compared to Kim Kardashian. Such is the state of fame in our world. But William Shakespeare has something going for him the others don’t – staying power. This trend will continue.

  • bobleblah

    The figure is Edward de Vere, whose family derives from the Latin Verus – i.e. Truth, he was suspected to have Roman Catholic sympathies…and a contemporary poem about de Vere describes him as “Roman”…

    I overtook, coming from Italy,
    In Germany, a great and famous Earl
    Of England; the most goodly fashioned man
    I ever saw: from head to foot in form
    Rare and most absolute; he had a face
    Like one of the most ancient honoured Romans
    From whence his noblest family was derived;
    He was besides of spirit passing great
    Valiant and learned, and liberal as the sun,
    Spoke and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects,
    Or of the discipline of public weals:
    And ’twas the Earl of Oxford.

    it sounds like a perfect description of the figure in the engraving…

  • bobleblah

    How could someone be “well known” but not anywhere near famous? what is the difference between fame and notoriety I wonder…Anyway, Shakespeare wasn’t known at all as a playwright until Meres suggested he was in 1598.

    He would not have included Shakper, but John Gerard would have included Edward de Vere, as Gerard served in the house-hold of William Cecil during the period in which de Vere was a resident…the two would have known each other… and de Vere had quite a reputation for literary pursuits…

  • Zenocrate

    Mr. Griffiths, can you explain why you have left Joyce, and to a lesser extent, Joan Norton out of your story about “The Nortons”? After all, Joyce was the real printer, John more of a bookseller, at least according to the DNB (Joyce inherited the stock of the printer John Bill). And it was Joyce, working with Richard Whitaker, who published the 1633 edition of Gerard’s Herbal. She’s the only Norton who must have worked on the earlier 16th century edition and possibly examined the engraved plates for both titlepages.

  • James Wallace

    Thanks for your reply poetica flora. I am going by the information on the Edward Worth botany library website. My apologies if they have this wrong.
    I’d still suggest the connections between the two title pages (Gerard’s on the one hand and the Clusius/Dodoens on the other) should be enough to identify the four men on the cover of The Herball. Even if it post-dated the Rogers engraving, it follows the same pattern and would provide identification from within four years rather than four hundred.
    As I said, different pictures by different artists, but the connections are there to see. Not in the flowers they hold, no, but look at Solomon’s clasped book. Look at Theophrastus hat. These images are surely linked. (Btw, Solomon top right in both, Theophrastus bottom left in both – I hope that helps.) In Gerard, the first man holding a spade naturally reads as Adam ‘delving’. Of course there are differences – the similarities are what to look for.
    I suppose you are right that they could have dual identities in Gerard’s image, but that is a level of complication that just seems unnecessary. In the case of the fourth man it would mean a triple identity of Dioscorides and Shakespeare and Titus. It’s just too elaborate. The cover is there to sell a book about botany and so portrays botanists with the authority of antiquity – that is the simplest explanation. There need be no mystery, so why confect one?
    Finally, the correspondence between the Roman army botanist Dioscorides of the 2nd edition of Gerard’s book and the Roman army botanist in the bottom right of the first edition just seems to me to be too obvious to be avoided. Add in the armoured botanist Dioscorides also bottom right in Clusius/Dodoens and you have confirmation.
    Below I’ve uploaded the 1601 Clusius, and detail of both the 1st and 2nd edition Gerard Dioscorides, so people can see for themselves and make up their own minds.

  • Benjamin Hackman

    Herr Professor Stritmatter: I was bounced from SV quite some time ago, apparently for daring to challenge some of the finer points of Oxfordian theory. Since then the group has gone “dark,” so Oxfordians can engage in mutual grooming far from the the light of common day. Thus I have no idea what’s happening inside their echo chamber.

  • psi2u2

    Mr. Hackman,

    You will notice that despite being raised a Quaker and believing in the use of first names as a sign of the democracy of man, I do not address you by your first name, and I would be sincerely gratified if you would refrain from presuming to do the same to me. The last I checked, you were a member of SV, so why you should need to ask me that question entirely escapes me. Enjoy your evening – I have grading to do.

  • Timothy Beck

    Telegraph puzzlist Barry Clarke has posted the following on the Guardian blog.

    The most likely explanation (as several people have pointed out) is that it is a printer’s mark for William and John Norton. The letters ‘N’, ‘O’, and ‘R’ are clear to see but what about the Roman tens ‘XXX’ below that to make NORTENS! After all, the figure is dressed as a Roman. Also the bottom part clearly contains a W. Even though Dr Griffiths failed to find a Norton mark like this, this does not mean it cannot be one.

  • Zenocrate

    Another question for Mr. Griffiths: it’s clear you’ve spent years examining decorative title pages and probably consulted scholars who are experts on the history of material texts. So I’d like to know why this particular figure in complete Roman dress is actually an early modern writer, when every single engraved decorative titlepage from an early modern book (let’s say late sixteenth-century to mid-seventeenth-century) that I’ve consulted has ancient figures on plinths, usually in the frame, who are intended to be only ancient figures, never early moderns. True, sometimes early modern authors will appear in their own (central) portraits crowned with laurels, but never in full Roman dress. Why is Shakespeare depicted in full Roman dress? Is Shakespeare the exception here, or are we to read all Roman and ancient figures framing titlepages (on Drayton’s Polyolbion, Raleigh’s History of the World, The Works of Ben Jonson, etc) as early modern literary figures dressed up as ancients, and if so, why? Are they all Shakespeare? I guess I just don’t quite see the point of depicting Shakespeare as a Roman auctor (or in Roman military dress–see the breastplate) in a side frame. Please enlighten me.

  • Zenocrate

    Mr. Griffiths, please explain the “corn” references in Titus Andronicus. As you know, according to the OED, maize (the ear depicted in the Herbal titlepage) was not called “corn” until 1809. The Titus Andronicus references to “corn” are to British and European grains (wheat, barley, oats, or rye) very clearly. “Corn” meant any kind of grain until the 19th century. In the 17th century, they started to call Indian Corn or maize “corn,” but the two citations in the OED clearly demonstrate that this was a general word for the main grain crop of the Native Americans. And Gerard calls it “Turkey Wheat.” Indeed I have yet to find a reference to maize or Indian Corn in all of Shakespeare’s plays. I would be grateful if you could enlighten me.

  • Benjamin Hackman

    Roger, Do you mean SVers (generally) agree that it’s Dioscorides, or at least that he’s more likely than Shakes? I ask simply because under a TLS blog on this topic, Dennis Baron, W.J. Ray, and Mr. Waugh, all arch-Oxfordians, are arguing rather vociferously that the figure is Oxford.

  • MDHJohnson

    So sorry, Roger, but the argument was made at the Stratfordian Facebook group, Oxfraud, hours before it ever appeared at the SV page.

  • psi2u2

    Mr. Hackman — I have to congratulate you, as that is one of the most apt comments of yours that I have read on the internet.

    For the record, in case others are interested, “elsewhere on the internet” (a nice locution) refers, no doubt among other groups, to the Oxfordian facebook group “Shakesvere,” which has produced what looks to me to be highly plausible evidence support it. The only reason I don’t word this more strongly is that, not having spent so many years as Mr. Griffiths has studying the problem I am reluctant to form any definitive conclusion.

  • poetica flora

    Has James Wallace checked the Edward Worth Library’s statement that the title page used for Clusius (1601) and Dodoens Pemptades edition 2 (1616) was first used in Dodoens Pemptades edition 1 (1583)?

    I’ve seen quite a few copies of the first edition of Dodoens’ Pemptades (1583) and they all have a plain title page with the Plantin press logo. No figures. I’m uploading it so you can see what I mean. If James Wallace can find a copy of the 1583 edition with the decorative title page he’s on about, I’d like to see it. Maybe he should upload it here too?

    But I don’t get his argument anyway. The people on this title page just aren’t the same as the ones on Gerard’s (1597). The Roman man in Gerard’s 1597 title page looks like Apollo, another character on herbal title pages. He’s not Dioscorides. And Solomon in the Plantin title page isn’t in the same position as Solomon (or W Cecil) on Gerard’s title page. And none of them have the same plants. Even if they were based one on the other, it wouldn’t mean that the people of Gerard’s page couldn’t be new portraits of real people at the same time.

    How does any of this wreck Mark Griffith’s argument?

  • sandralynnsparks

    If you will not consider anything else, consider these two things: Why would John Gerarde include a playwright who was well known but not yet anywhere near famous on the cover of his book? And would anything Griffiths stated about “knowing” who the people are in the images stand up in a court of law, in our times, or in Elizabethan times?

  • James Wallace

    The bewildering maze of the cypher aside, there is doubt over your identification of all four men, not just ‘Shakespeare’.

    Aside from the obvious resemblance that your ‘Shakespeare’ has to the Dioscorides labelled as such on the frontispiece of the second edition of Gerard’s book, the image from Gerard’s source, the 1583 Antwerp Latin translation of Dodoens, provides a clear, labelled identification for each man.

    To let your readers judge for themselves, they may simply search ‘Clusius Edward Worth botany library’ to find the image, alongside an explanation of its later re-use in Clusius (1601) and Dodoens (1616)

    There we find: “This ornate title-frame depicts the biblical figures of Adam and Solomon (famous for naming plants), and, at their feet, the most famous ancient botanists: Theophrastus and Dioscorides… The title-frame had been bought by Plantin from the widow of the Antwerp printer Jan van Loe and had initially been used by Plantin for Rembert Dodoens’ Stirpium historiae pemptades sex, sive libri XXX published at Antwerp in 1583”

    Do these men correspond to the William Rogers engraving on the cover of Gerard’s book? They are different pictures by different artists, of course, but it seems clear that they are meant to represent the same people.

    Top left is Adam, there again in Gerard, spade in hand, ready to delve.
    Top right Solomon (Salomon) has his clasped book in both.
    Bottom left, Theophrastus sports the same style hat in both.
    Bottom right, Dioscorides, the military botanist in the Roman army is signified with armour and tunic.

    Gerard’s book is largely a translation of this edition of Dodoens. It is then no surprise that Rogers uses these same figures, in the same order, in the same places, on his engraving. Surely this is simplest explanation of the four men’s identity?

  • bobleblah

    Another link between “Shakespeare” and the Earl of Oxford…we don’t know what the connection could have been between Cecil and Shakspere, but we do know that Cecil was Edward de Vere’s father-in-law, and that de Vere grew up in Cecil’s house and gardens.

    So the face is almost without doubt that of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – i.e. Shake-speare!

  • Mr. Reality

    I think you’re on to something.

  • Benjamin Hackman

    Mr. Griffiths,

    Elsewhere on the internet, it has been proposed that your Shakespeare is actually an allegorical figure of Dioscorides. Had you considered this possibility?