Could the Fourth Man be Dioscorides or Apollo and not Shakespeare? Edward Wilson, Emeritus Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, thinks strong evidence points to the playwright.

There is now growing acceptance, beginning with no less an authority than Prof Stanley Wells, that three of the men depicted on William Rogers’s 1597 title page of John Gerard’s Herball are real persons as identified by Mark Griffiths in Country Life (May 20)—namely, John Gerard, Lord Burghley and Rembert Dodoens. Debate continues about the identity of the fourth man, whom Griffiths rightly identifies as William Shakespeare, primarily on the basis of the uniquely indicative combination of plants associated with him on the page, the laurel wreath he wears and his dress, which is Roman costume as worn on the Elizabethan stage (see Henry Peacham’s drawing of Titus Andronicus in performance).

Why the Fourth Man isn’t Dioscorides

Early on in this debate, James Wallace objected that this figure is, in fact, Dioscorides, Roman army surgeon and one of the greats of Classical botany. Wallace’s argument was that Dioscorides was depicted in Roman dress on title pages of herbals in this period; for example, he appears on the title page of the second edition of Gerard’s Herball (1633). There seems, however, to be no precedent on the title pages of Renaissance herbals for depicting Dioscorides with a laurel crown.

Nonetheless, Wallace felt that he would be a more likely figure to show on the title page of the 1597 edition than Apollo, an embodiment of the literary arts, and that the laurels worn by the Fourth Man merely signified military honours rather than Apollonian, i.e. poetic achievement. Moreover, Wallace ventured that the novelty of the plants associated with the Fourth Man signified his being a Dioscorides for a new age—a brave assertion in view of Griffiths’s expertise in Renaissance botany.

The image of Apollo

In fact, Griffiths had determined that Apollo is portrayed and named among the figures shown on the title page of Henry Lyte’s A Niewe Herball (1578/9), a work also supported by Burghley, written by an associate of Gerard and based on a text by Dodoens. But the image of Apollo of greatest importance to Griffiths’ research was the one featured on the title page of Neuw Kreuterbuch by Iacobus Theodorus Tabernaemontanus (Frankfurt 1588).

true face of shakespeare

There, Apollo is shown opposite Aesculapius, god of medicine. He wears Roman military dress and a laurel wreath and he holds the poet’s lyre (see image attached). He is there to represent Classical poets such as Ovid and Virgil, whose plant-filled works are freely quoted by Tabernaemontanus (as they were by Dodoens and Gerard) as major authorities. John Gerard used this book and knew its author.

Moreover, a sweet reciprocity ensued whereby elements of Rogers’s 1597 engraving for Gerard were incorporated in the title pages of editions of Neuw Kreuterbuch published after 1598 (chiefly, the goddess Flora and the oval garden).

The Fourth Man must be a new Apollo – and a poet

In short, there is a precise and incontrovertible precedent that establishes the fact that the Fourth Man on Gerard’s 1597 title page represents not Dioscorides, but Apollo and the poets he inspired. Given that the other three figures are portraits of persons alive in the 16th century camouflaged as the characters conventionally shown on botanical title pages, we are looking at a new likeness of an Elizabethan poet.

In her A Portrait of the Author in Sixteenth-Century France (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1980), Ruth Mortimer reproduces (fig 26, p41) an Apollonian portrait bust of Ronsard wearing a laurel wreath and Roman cuirass and paludamentum (Roman military cape, here correctly depicted rather than the theatrical version worn by Gerard’s Fourth Man) from the 1567 Paris edition of the collected works.

Laurels and classical dress

The portrayal of English authors with laurel leaves and the question of their wearing of classical dress is a topic I have begun to address. The earliest such that I have found so far is the frontispiece to a manuscript presentation copy to Elizabeth of The Tale of Hemetes the Heremyte (1575; British Library MS Royal 18 A.XLVIII, fol. 1r) by George Gascoigne. Here, the poet is shown in modern dress but with a laurel wreath hovering over his head.

The laurel was, in Edmund Spenser’s words, ‘meed of mightie Conquerours/And Poets sage’ (Faerie Queene, 1.1.9). Soon after he published this, the question of which English poet deserved the official laurels became hotly debated – not least because Spenser, widely bruited for the role, blew it by antagonising Lord Burghley first in The Faerie Queene and then, more explicitly, in his verse collection Complaints issued early in 1591 and promptly withdrawn.

It is highly significant that, in the years immediately following this debacle, Shakespeare, by now the most popular poet of the age (see Lukas Erne, Shakespeare and the Book Trade, 2013), was awarded Apollonian bays and dress by William Rogers on the title page of Gerard’s Herball.

Subsequently, Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson would also be portrayed crowned with laurels, albeit wearing their own contemporary clothing – unlike Shakespeare in Rogers’s engraving, they are not Apollo incarnate. Laureate self-presentation was a topic of a number of 16th- and 17th-century poets (see Richard Helgerson, Self-Crowned Laureates; Spenser, Jonson, Milton and the Literary System (Berkeley, etc., 1983)), but, whereas for them the award of laurels was a question of either bold or fretful assertion, Rogers showed Shakespeare, like Ronsard, with both laurels and classical dress, but in a way, as Mark Griffiths has shown, redolent not only of classical statuary but also of the Elizabethan stage.


  • mark griffiths

    It’s not the Latin poems commending The Herball that provide a key to its title page, but Gerard’s ravishingly written epistle ‘To the courteous and well-willing Readers’.

    He terms the investigation, cultivation and appreciation of plants ‘that excellent Arte of Simpling’. It is ‘a studie for the wisest, an exercise for the noblest, a pastime for the best. From whence spring flowers, not onely to adorne the garlands of the Muses, to
    decke the bosoms of the beautifull, to paint the gardens of the curious, to garnish the glorious crownes of Kings; but also such fruit as learned Dioscorides long travelled for; and princely Mithridates reserved as precious in his owne private closet’.

    Gerard goes on to mention other Ancients in addition to Dioscorides and Mithridates. They represent a class, illustrious botanical scholars and authors of discourses ‘written of the vertues of Herbes’. On the title page, they’re personified and reborn for the renaissance in the disguised portrait of Rembert Dodoens, book in hand.

    In Gerard’s epistle, the scholar is the first of four significant kinds of practitioner or beneficiary of ‘that excellent Arte of Simpling’.

    Second come exalted patrons and proponents: ‘one King Salomon, excelling all the rest for wisedome, of greater royaltie than they all (though the Lillies of the field outbraved him) he onely (I say) might yeeld hereunto sufficient countenance and
    commendation, in that his lofty wisdome thought no scorne to stoupe unto the
    lowly plants.’ Solomon on the title page is Lord Burghley, a connection also made
    in the book’s dedicatory epistle.

    Next, Gerard focuses on his own vocation as a herbarist – not the same as a ‘herbalist’, but a student, lover, grower and namer of plants: ‘Talke of perfect happinesse or pleasure, and what place was so fit for that, as the garden place where Adam was set, to be the Herbarist?’ On the title page, Gerard plays the part of this
    primal gardener-taxonomist.

    Finally, he asks: ‘Whither did the Poets hunt for their syncere delights, but into the gardens of Alcinous, of Adonis, and the orchards of Hesperides? Where did they dreame that heaven should be, but in the pleasant garden of Elysium?’ He has already spoken of flowers that adorn the garlands of the Muses and referred to ‘that beloved flower of Apollo’. Plants, for him, are inextricable from poetry, as he will
    show in the 1000-plus pages that follow. And so, on the title page, the Fourth
    Man is Phoebus, and a living poet.

    I see the rain has stopped – time I was back in the garden.

    Mark Griffiths

  • napsjam

    Nicely written, and a welcome civilized tone, which is generous, but advancing a more strained and difficult explanation of something Griffiths has explained more neatly and which Wilson summarizes well below. Plus it ignores the flowers, which are not random or decorative or generic (“English flowers”), but careful, specific and meaningful. They identify the four men, as do their likenesses. I’m not an Oxfordian, I’m intrigued rather than convinced by the puzzle-symbol on the plinth, but the likeness is a good one, and the flowers speak. I reckon it’s Shakespeare.

  • edward wilson

    James Wallace is wrong to suggest that Mark Griffiths and I overlooked the Latin poems of commendation in Gerard’s Herball. He is also wrong to imply that we failed, for whatever reason, to consider any possible significance they may have for the book’s title page. Having discussed these poems with Mark Griffiths over some five years, I know that he thinks they have no relevance to the figures on the
    title page; I share this view.

    Griffiths has already stated that Gerard’s admirers hailed him as a new Dioscorides. Yes, some of them said that he deserved laurels for his literary achievement, a standard compliment in this period. As I have explained, however, there is no tradition of depicting Dioscorides as a laureate in 16th Century herbals. More importantly, there is no reason to believe that Gerard is depicted as
    Dioscorides on the title page of The Herball. There, he appears in the guise of
    a working gardener, i.e. Adam. This is a good likeness of Gerard, its size and
    his role-playing notwithstanding. How do we know that? From the careful formal
    portrait of him that William Rogers engraved some months later and which stands
    as the frontispiece of The Herball. Moreover, the figure on the title page is
    cleverly identified as both Gerard and Adam by the flower that he holds:
    Pulsatilla vulgaris, a Gerard favourite, which, Adam-like, he named Pasque Flower.

    Why would Gerard be depicted twice on his own title page? How can the Fourth Man be Gerard when he is too young and bears no facial resemblance to him? Gerard was 52 in 1597, aquiline, and gaunt of face, having not long recovered from a bad bout of malaria. This same objection would apply to the idea that the Fourth Man is Gerard rejuvenated: young he undoubtedly is; recognizable as Gerard he is not.

    At this point, I expect that Mr Wallace will offer the defence, all-too often heard these days and especially from Shakespeareans trying to account for questionable paintings, that Elizabethan portraiture was not about capturing facial resemblance. This is palpable nonsense: of course Elizabethans expected portraits to resemble their subjects. One has only to consider Shakespeare’s allusions to likenesses true
    and false to know that.

    Perhaps Mr Wallace means that the Fourth Man is an idealized portrayal of Dioscorides? In that case, why depart from the convention that depicted him in correct Roman military garb, without laurel wreath, and as a man of seniority and experience? Why confuse his identity by dressing him as a stage Roman, crowning him with bays and taking off him the long hard years from which Dioscorides and Gerard both derived much authority? And why make this one figure imaginary or idealised when the other three are recognizable, if camouflaged, portraits of Dodoens, Burghley and Gerard?

    Mr Wallace has accepted that Fritillaria meleagris meant much for Gerard (and for Shakespeare), but he offers no satisfactory explanation of the irises beside the Fourth Man. Given the significance of the flowers associated with Solomon-Burghley opposite, these irises must relate to the Fourth Man in some specific way. But they signify nothing for the real Dioscorides, or for Gerard his Elizabethan
    incarnation: they were common in cultivation by the 1590s, and one of them (Iris
    tuberosa) was no Gerard favourite.

    As Mark Griffiths has repeatedly pointed out, Fritillaria meleagris, too, has no connection to the historical Dioscorides. The notion that it’s simply a new plant to herald a new Dioscorides for a new age is desperate and fanciful. Gerard pioneered various species which, in 1597, were newer and rarer than Fritillaria meleagris and, unlike it, considered to be of medicinal importance – Schinus molle, for example, a supposed panacea from South America, which he obtained from his friend (and Shakespeare’s patron) Sir George Carey, the second Lord Hunsdon.

    In short, the five species associated with the Fourth Man do not convey either the ancient Dioscorides or Gerard his early modern counterpart. By contrast, those around his opposite number relate precisely and eloquently to Solomon-Burghley, as do the Pasque Flower to Gerard and the Crown Imperial to Dodoens: there are reasons for them. In the case of the Fourth Man’s two opposed irises, there is a
    demonstrable connection to Shakespeare’s early history plays, as there is between Fritillaria meleagris and Venus and Adonis. The work of no other playwright or poet of the period points to these species.

    We remain convinced that there is no reason to believe that the Fourth Man is Dioscorides. Nor is he John Gerard, to whom he bears no relation in terms of physical appearance or (save Fritillaria meleagris) of the plants associated with him.

    James Wallace has wondered of what relevance Apollo would have been to The Herball. Mark Griffiths has already outlined the great importance of Classical poetry in Gerard’s work. Like many Elizabethan writers, he was eager to use translation to bring knowledge of the Ancients within the understanding of a vernacular audience – especially so in that he was interpreting poetry for practical ends and for a readership which, significantly, included women. This in itself would have been warrant enough to depict Apollo or his living incarnation on the title page of The Herball, and no departure from the norm when at least three earlier herbals closely consulted by Gerard had also presented the god.

    However, there’s no getting away from the fact that three of the figures on the title page were instrumental in the book’s creation. Our investigations indicate that
    Shakespeare assisted Gerard in versifying numerous translations of passages of
    Classical poetry (note – versifying, not translating, which Gerard did), and
    probably in enhancing some of the front matter of The Herball (Gerard’s prose,
    not the poems of commendation). By noting the occurrence of Gerardian botany in
    Shakespeare’s canon, we can posit that this mutually beneficial collaboration
    appears to have begun in the early 1590s. That is why Shakespeare is the Fourth
    Man on the title page of Gerard’s Herball. However, by 1597, he was also, as
    Lukas Erne has shown, the most popular poet of the age. There was every reason,
    personal and practical, conventional and commercial, for Gerard and Norton to
    grant him his plinth and his laurels.

    Edward Wilson,
    Worcester College, Oxford

  • sandralynnsparks

    MJ – That has to be the most revealing poem Oxenford ever wrote (I’m going to begin using your habit of the full name from now on). And it sums up Oxfordianism’s goal nicely – take away from the common man who does the work, and don’t let him profit from it – hand the profit to the one who sits still.

  • MDHJohnson

    I got two wrong on the Benezet test, giving two of Shakespeare’s lines to Oxenford. As to May’s test, no, I cannot tell the difference between Oxenford’s lines and those of the other mid-century poets. As May states, there is a “chasm” between Oxenford and Shakespeare.

    Oxenford presumably wrote the following when he was an adult, twenty-three years of age.

    So he that takes the pain to pen the book,
    Reaps not the gifts of goodly golden muse;
    But those gain that, who on the work shall look,
    And from the sour the sweet by skill doth choose,
    For he that beats the bush the bird not gets,
    But who sits still and holdeth fast the nets.

    That is horrible sing-songy verse with a cloying overabundance of alliteration.

    EDIT: I’ve been doing a bit more research on this and it appears that four of the lines that Benezet gives to Oxford should actually be attributed to Robert Greene. I gave them to Shakespeare, so I actually had six wrong but only two that counted between Oxenford and Shakespeare.

  • James Wallace

    Call off the search. The fourth man is Gerard himself, dressed as Dioscorides in a laurel wreath. Two commendatory verses in Latin at the start of the book state that Gerard deserves Apollo’s/Phoebus’ honours, and the second also gives him his new name – the English Dioscorides. A third, in English by William Westerman, asks for English flowers to be twined in his garland too, given this time by Nature.

    Michael Bulley, a retired classicist and occasionally a contributor of Latin verses to Mary Beard’s TLS blog, saw my suggestion here that these two Latin poems might contain relevant descriptions of Gerrard and of laurel crowns, and worked on them further. Here are his prose translations of the second half of each:

    “The soldier dashes into battle. He draws his sword and victory is his. You have used your pen mightily: what rewards will ensue from your victory – crowns of myrtle and of laurel? The passage of time can eat away such profit and reduce it to nothing, but, in return for your study and all those labours you have expended on it, through which you keep the welfare of men safe and sound, that maker of all things and guardian and origin of our salvation has resolved to encircle your forehead with an eternal crown.” – G. Launaeus

    (He has struggled here with the word ferrum – iron, which he says can mean ‘sword’ or in later Latin ‘stylus’ or ‘pen’.)

    “Come, then, let Phoebus’ learned men share at least a part of the honour, for they know how to drive out the legions of diseases that lie in wait for human lives. And take up, with a smile, the mighty labours of this ANGLO-DIOSCORIDES, that he has accomplished for his country and for your well-being. Turn aside for a while into the gardens that Chorteia tends, that Flora adorns and all the Naiads and Dryads, Graces and Nymphs of Britain. Here you will find health for the body and pleasure for the mind. Let your mind roam free here: a divine power inhabited the gardens.” – Fran. Hering

    I’m very grateful to Michael Bulley for this – I thought that they might finally solve the mystery, and they do so more clearly than I had hoped. He doesn’t claim to be an expert, and he accepts he may not have them perfectly right, but the meaning of them is clear. The first says soldiers may get laurel crowns, but for his mighty labours Gerard deserves one too. The second confirms that scholars also deserve Apollo’s glory, and gives him his rightful title of Anglo-Dioscorides. And Mr Griffiths has just said here that Gerard’s contemporaries also compared him to Dioscorides elsewhere.

    All is explained – the Apollonine laurel wreath, the Roman military dress, the reason he holds the new and exciting plant he himself grew and described (and that Shakespeare obviously knew about), and the very reason why he is on the cover of the book he wrote in the first place. Even the hipster beard now makes sense.

    Any keen and educated Elizabethan reader buying Gerard’s Herbal who wondered who the fourth man was would find the answer in black and white on pages seven and eight of the book he or she would have had in their hands.

    Whether Launaeus and Hering have described the Rogers engraving, or Rogers illustrated their poems, I don’t know, but it is first hand evidence, from Gerard’s own book, for the fourth man’s true identity. Can Mr Griffiths now seriously claim that this is purely coincidental?

    I wasn’t the first to suggest Dioscorides, though I may be the first to suggest the double identification with Gerard. Mr Griffiths knows that I’ve already twice accepted in the comment sections of Country Life, both to him last week and to Mr Edward Wilson the week before, that the Edward Worth library may have got it wrong. In the absence of their reply, I’m happy to accept his opinion – it is indeed post and not ante. (Perhaps he should press them further). I was careful to take that into account in my more recent comments. Whether there is still a replication of identities on both images – well, that is now, frankly, irrelevant in the face of the new evidence the Latin verses reveal in identifying the fourth man.

    And if, as Mr Griffiths now states, there is indeed a double identity of Gerard as Adam, it doesn’t preclude a second portrayal of one on the cover. Not quite a Sir Henry Upton portrait of multiple representations at different stages of life, but a fascinating one none the less.

    It seems strange that Mr Griffiths overlooked these two Latin poems. I’m sure that in making his case he didn’t withhold the information they contain deliberately – it must be an honest mistake. He’s not only demonstrated formidable knowledge but also shown considerable patience in the face of some pretty aggressive attacks. Perhaps he may be able to accept that there is now an alternative straightforward, undeniable and likely explanation as to the fourth man’s identity. He’s not the first to mistakenly see Shakespeare where he isn’t, and he won’t be the last. He would be a rare man to be able to admit he got his identification wrong. And, ultimately, he is the only man who can put an end the argument by doing so.

    He obviously and rightly admires Gerard and his achievements. He’s done him a huge service in freeing him from accusations of plagiarism. It would be a terrible shame if he now takes away those honours, given to him by admiring contemporaries in his own book, to throw them upon a Shakespeare who really doesn’t need them. The ‘fourth man’ Shakespeare will never be accepted seriously, except by Oxfordians hungry to see their man wherever they can.

    Shakespeare can live without this image. It’s a beautiful, magical and transformative one for Gerard, and I sincerely hope Mr Griffiths will allow him to wear his truly deserved laurel crown.

  • mark griffiths

    Naturally, John Gerard’s contemporaries sometimes identified him with Dioscorides. Both were highly placed surgeons who practiced physic as well as surgery, took an overwhelming interest in plants, had seen military action, and travelled far. This is yet another reason for concluding that the Fourth Man on the title page of Gerard’s Herball (1597) is not meant to be Dioscorides. Had a Dioscorides role been on offer in this design, Gerard would have taken it, and he would have been shown in proper Roman dress and with appropriate plants. But Gerard is shown as the gardener at top left – a recognizable likeness, complete with his dearly held Pasque Flower.

    That Gerard here is also acting the part of Adam, the primal gardener and plant-namer, is not something I deny for a moment. For reasons of space, I didn’t spell it out in my Country Life article (May 20). In my book, I go into ‘Adam’s likeness’, as Shakespeare calls the Gerard-like gardener in Richard II, in some depth. (I find him ‘Gerard-like’ on account of his political astuteness, evident closeness to his noble patron, and remarkable eloquence – features of this character which have struck some modern theatre directors as misconceived on Shakespeare’s part: surely no real gardener could have such attributes?)

    James Wallace entered this discussion by suggesting that the title page of Clusius’ Rariorum plantarum historia (1601) was the model for the one created by William Rogers for Gerard’s Herball in 1597. However, the Clusius 1601 title page was not originally engraved for the first edition of Dodoens’ Pemptades (1583), as Mr Wallace believed, and it was not published prior to Gerard’s Herball (1597/8). For further details on the production and illustration of Clusius 1601, see Dirk Imhof’s Jan Moretus and the Continuation of the Plantin Press (vol. 1, pp.195-8, Brill 2014).

    Although they both feature Adam and Solomon, these two title pages – Gerard 1597/8 and Clusius 1601 – do not correspond in design or, more importantly, in method.

    In Clusius 1601, Adam is plainly captioned and nude save for a modestly placed sprig of non-descript foliage. In Gerard’s Herball, he is clothed and kitted as a gardener. As mentioned above, he is also an identifiable portrait of the author, bearing a plant that Gerard admired and, in continuing Adam’s office, named.

    In Clusius 1601, Solomon is at top right and, again, plainly captioned rather than identified by any signature plants. In Gerard’s Herball, he is at bottom left, and his identity is signalled by his holding Lilium candidum. In The Herball, Gerard states that this was the species of lily that outshone Solomon. He also expatiates on the King’s plant expertise when praising Lord Burghley. Other Elizabethans identified Burghley with Solomon on account of his wisdom, likewise with Nestor – such comparisons were well-established.

    Opposite Solomon-Burghley on Gerard’s title page stands the Fourth Man. If the layout of The Herball’s title page were identical to that of Clusius 1601, there’s a chance he might be Dioscorides, or a modern incarnation of him, as James Wallace argues. But the layout is not identical, as we’ve just seen. And he’s wearing Apollo’s laurels, which were not worn by Dioscorides in his actual portrayals on the title pages of 16th Century herbals. Who, in any case, would this new Dioscorides be, given that the other figures are disguised portraits and he’s patently not John Gerard? No other botanist or medic in Gerard’s milieu was eligible for such Dioscoridean glorification. And what contribution would such a person have made to The Herball?

    Portrayed on the book’s title page are its author, his primary source, and his patron. The likeliest other contributor worthy of portraying is the man who helped with The Herball’s copious verse translations and with the exquisite prose of its front matter – in other words, an Apollonian contributor.

    Finally, there’s Fritillaria meleagris, the Fourth Man’s key flower, corresponding to Solomon’s Lilium candidum. This cannot denote Dioscorides either long-dead or reborn for a new age.

    This species had only become known to botanists some 25 years before Gerard’s title page was engraved (see the letters about it between Clusius and its discoverer Noel Caperon). It was first found in rural France, and that country was the extent of its wild distribution so far as Gerard and his contemporaries were concerned. It had not been described by any Classical author. It had no known medicinal properties. As Gerard wrote at the end of his chapter on Fritillaria meleagris, the plant which, significantly, he named Checkered Daffodill: ‘Of the faculties of these pleasant flowers there is nothing set downe in the ancient or later writers, but [they] are greatly esteemed for the beautifieng of our gardens, and the bosomes of the beautifull’ (Herball, edn. 1, p. 123).

    By 1597, one pre-eminently beautiful bosom was famous for having received this ‘new-sprung’ checkered flower – Venus’s at the climax of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis.

    Mark Griffiths

  • mark griffiths
  • Dear F.Art … zzz … *fast asleep* …

  • James Wallace

    Dear Mark,

    I’ve acknowledged to you before elsewhere in these comments that the Edward Worth botany library website may have their facts wrong here, and that the other engraving is post not ante. As you say, although it doesn’t prove a similar pattern is being followed, it doesn’t preclude it, and I’ve simply suggested it is worth investigating to see if the same pattern is being followed, which it may well do – you’ve still ignored entirely the serious possibility that the first man on Gerard’s cover is Adam.

    I’m not denying that laurels are strongly associated with Apollo, and I don’t doubt his relevance to renaissance Herbals – as I said, he is also the god of healing, and is often shown alongside Aesculapius the god of medicine on their covers. I say he can represent either poetry or healing, or honour, fame, or learning for that matter. Your argument relies on laurels *exclusively* representing poetic achievement, which they demonstrably don’t have to. You just can’t dismiss Dioscorides on this basis (or even Gerard as the ANGLO-DIOSCORIDES he is named as at the start of the book). If writing a Herbal represents poetic achievement, even then Dioscorides can still qualify to wear Apollo’s bays for this very reason.

    Remember, unlike you, I’m not claiming categorical certainty about the fourth man, just that Dioscorides is a possibility that fits, and given who he is and his frequent appearances on other covers, is therefore a far more likely bet than Shakespeare. You are claiming an absolute level of proof to exclude him that just doesn’t exist. The truth is we can never know for sure (I’m happy to admit that – are you yet?), though if you had never made your claim for Shakespeare I doubt anyone would have made much fuss about mine.

    Since today is the anniversary of Christopher Marlowe’s death, here is a quotation from the chorus at the end of Dr Faustus, the story of a scholar who makes a catastrophic misjudgement, which again shows that references to Apollo’s laurels can also represent scholastic and non-poetic honours –

    “Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
    And burned is Apollo’s Laurel bough,
    That sometime grew within this learned man.”

    Best wishes, James

  • mark griffiths

    Earlier on in this discussion, James Wallace brought up the title page design used in both Clusius’ Rariorum plantarum historia (edn. 1, 1601) and Dodoens’ Stirpium historiae pemptades sex, or Pemptades for short (edn. 2, 1616). He had read that this engraving was acquired by the publisher Christopher Plantin from the widow of Dodoens’ former publisher Joannes Loeus and that Plantin used it in the first edition of Pemptades (1583). Going clockwise from bottom left, this title page depicts Theophrastus, Adam, Solomon, and Dioscorides. Mr Wallace believed that it offered a clear precedent for the four men illustrated on the title page engraved by William
    Rogers for John Gerard’s Herball (edn. 1, 1597/8), and especially so in view of
    the fact that Gerard’s book was based on Dodoens’ Pemptades 1583.

    I and others responded, saying we felt Mr Wallace’s source was in error, and that we had never seen a copy of the 1583 edition of Pemptades with this title page or any design like it. On the contrary, the book’s title page is a remarkably plain affair, its only image being the Plantin dividers device.

    Plantin acquired some of the plant illustrations that he reproduced in Pemptades (1583) from Joannes Loeus’ widow. These images are not the same thing at all as the title page that Mr Wallace has in mind. It would seem, however, that botanical historians may have confused them. For the facts, see the meticulous summary of the publishing history of Pemptades edition 1 in Volume II, pp. 833-4 of The Plantin Press (1555-1589): A Bibliography of the Works printed and published by Christopher
    Plantin at Antwerp and Leiden, by Leon Voet with Jenny Voet-Grisolle (Van
    Hoeve, Amsterdam 1981).

    In style and content, the title page of Clusius 1601 appears to be of later date than the early 1580s and to have been created with Clusius in mind. It gives prominence to the tulip, a plant with which he was closely associated, and it relates
    artistically and botanically to the portrait of Clusius by Jacob de Gheyn the Younger
    that was engraved for inclusion in this book. In letters from Leiden written between the early 1590s and 1600, Clusius touches on the creation of new artwork
    for Rariorum plantarum historia (1601). It’s also the case that this volume
    used some plant illustrations that had appeared in the 1583 Pemptades; but,
    again, these are not the same thing at all as the title page. Subsequently, the
    title page of Clusius 1601 was adapted and used for the second edition of
    Dodoens’ Pemptades (1616).

    The 1597 title page of The Herball is not indebted to the one seen in Clusius 1601 and in Dodoens 1616. In terms of influence, Rogers looked to the genuinely early title pages of Dodoens’ works from the 1550s onwards (also used in Henry Lyte’s Niewe Herball, 1578/9) and to Tabernaemontanus 1588. In all of these, Apollo is featured.

    To doubt Apollo’s relevance to a 16th Century herbal is simply to misunderstand renaissance botany. Gerard’s Herball is replete with quotations from and allusions to Classical poetry, as are the works of Dodoens and Tabernaemontanus. Virgil, Ovid and other poets were considered major authorities. A large part of Gerard’s job as a writer was interpreting them (and the intervening centuries of interpretations) for the Elizabethan age. Poetry plays a huge part in The Herball as it did in Gerard’s botanical practice. Happily, he was not living at a time such as ours, when it seems that even intelligent and educated people find it inconceivable that science and literature could speak to one another.

    The fact that the 1601 Clusius title page shows four men – Theophrastus, Adam, Solomon and Dioscorides – does not mean that those same four were depicted by Rogers on the title page of Gerard’s Herball a few years earlier. It may be that the Rogers design influenced the Clusius title page, but that possibility is no basis for assuming that the figures in both are the same. One has only to look at other botanical works of this period to see that quite a range of historical
    and mythic figures was eligible. And even if Rogers had been using the same personnel as Clusius’ 1601 title page, it wouldn’t alter the fact that his figures are
    camouflaged portraits of persons alive in the 16th Century. But he
    wasn’t using the same personnel: his Fourth Man is not Dioscorides. He’s Apollo,
    and, as the plants accompanying him tell us, William Shakespeare.

    Mark Griffiths

  • F. Arthur Holding

    Anyone, other than Barryispuzzled, who wants to investigate the popularity of Shakespeare’s early poetry will find lots of information in, Lukas Erne and Tamsin Badcoe’s article called, *Shakespeare and the Popularity of Poetry Books in Print, 1583–1622*.

  • James Wallace

    Mt Wilson attacks my suggestion that the fourth man is likely to be Dioscorides, partly by claiming that the identity of the first three men indicates another Elizabethan contemporary, partly by claiming that the fourth man must represent an ‘Apollo incarnate’. I’ll deal with the first two as briefly as I can, and then leave Mr Griffiths and him with a new possibility. Then I’ve a life to get back to.


    It’s been just over a week since Mr Griffiths sprang his ideas upon the world. There has been little time to investigate his claims for the first three men. It’s too soon for Mr Wilson to talk of ’general acceptance’.

    The engraving which offers a simpler matrix of identification of all four – the cover of the Latin translation of Dodoens that Gerard’s Herball itself translates – labels the four as Adam, Solomon, Theophrastus and Dioscorides. Does the first man (top left) as Adam hold for the Rogers engraving? Yes – there he is, spade in hand, ready to delve (while, presumably, Eve spins). The portrayal of Adam with a spade is extremely common. It’s in medieval woodcuts. In stained glass windows (such as in Canterbury and Lincoln cathedrals). It’s even, by nice irony, in the Mole-catcher’s Speech helpfully reprinted by Griffiths in this week’s Country Life: “the first gardener that ever was – Adam”.

    To the religious early modern mind ‘reading’ these images, the identification of the first man with a spade as Adam would be immediate and overwhelming. He appears with spade on other botany books of the period – the cover of 1591 ‘Icones stirpium’ by Matthias L’Obel – the same man who worked on Gerard’s edition in Norton’s shop. Mr Wilson wants to close this line of inquiry down before it’s begun by appealing to ‘general acceptance’. By that argument, it is even more ‘generally accepted’ that he and Mr Griffiths are embarrassing themselves by clinging on to their ‘Shakespeare’ claim.


    I don’t say that laurels indicate merely military honours. They were also given to athletes, or to signify honour or everlasting fame. They could be bestowed not just for poetic but for scholastic or medical achievement. Apollo is the god of healing as well as poetry. Why on earth does Mr Wilson think he appears on medicinal herbals in the first place? To represent sunshine?

    The engraving on the 1588 Neuw Kreuterbuch of Aesculapius and Apollo simply shows the two gods of medicine and healing paired together to advertise a book that offers medical remedies. This Apollo wears a wreath. So? That doesn’t make the fourth man a poetic ‘Apollo incarnate’.

    That print frame used for Henry Lyte’s 1578 Herbal Mr Wilson cites as evidence had first been used on an earlier edition of Dodoens’ 1563 Cruydt-boek – both are herbals, not works of poetry. Mr Griffiths has “determined” that the top left figure here is Apollo? Well done— he’s labelled. Mr Wilson conveniently forgets to mention that here the laurel wreath is worn, not by Apollo, but, top right, by Aesculapius the god of medicine. The gods of healing and of medicine paired together again, with clear pictorial evidence that those laurels can also go to medical prowess, not poetry. The scholar physician Dioscorides with his evergreen honour and fame can certainly deserve his crown of bays. Mr Wilson objects that this would be the first representation of Dioscorides wearing a laurel wreath – it is bizarre of him to claim it then to be the first representation of Shakespeare wearing one instead.


    The idea that a ‘Dioscorides for a new age’ is pictured isn’t, as Mr Wilson says, a ‘brave assertion’ – it’s a statement of the obvious, especially given that someone else made a very similar suggestion when the book was first published. A final thought: the fourth figure may indeed have a double representation, not of Apollo and Shakespeare, but the man who, in the Latin verses of praise that begin the book, is suggested by Dr G Launaeus as truly deserving the victor’s rewards of ‘Myrti lauriq; corona’ – ‘the myrtle and laurels; the crown’, who is (perhaps, my Latin is rusty) ‘statuit frontem redimire corona’ – ‘presented at the front redeeming the crown’ – and the man whom Dr Francis Hering not only praises but gives a new name to in capital letters. It’s Gerard himself, the ‘ANGLO-DIOSCORIDES’.

    Perhaps that’s a better title for Mr Griffiths’ book.

  • F. Arthur Holding

    Well, Barry Clarke, you’ve perfected snark, but that’s not going to get you very far. You in fact show through your behavior the corruption of your own position which is still useful to other less stubborn readers. (And your yawn is contagious–I’m done with you.)

  • … and waiting *yawn* …

  • F. Arthur Holding

    Very good points, Bobleblah. Many people here may be familiar with how often Shakespeare uses imagery of gardening and plants in his poetry but they probably have not thought to look for that imagery in Edward de Vere’s poetry.

    The Earl of Oxford to the Reader of Bedingfield’s Cardanus’s Comfort.

    The labouring man that tills the fertile soil,
    And reaps the harvest fruit, hath not indeed
    The gain, but pain; and if for all his toil
    He gets the straw, the lord will have the seed.
    The manchet fine falls not unto his share;
    On coarsest cheat his hungry stomach feeds.
    The landlord doth possess the finest fare;
    He pulls the flowers, he plucks but weeds.
    The mason poor that builds the lordly halls,
    Dwells not in them; they are for high degree;
    His cottage is compact in paper walls,
    And not with brick or stone, as others be.
    The idle drone that lahours not at all,
    Sucks up the sweet of honey from the bee;
    Who worketh most to their share least doth fall,
    With due desert reward will never be.
    The swiftest hare unto the mastive slow
    Oft-times doth fall, to him as for a prey;
    The greyhound thereby doth miss his game we know
    For which he made such speedy haste away.
    So he that takes the pain to pen the book,
    Reaps not the gifts of goodly golden muse;
    But those gain that, who on the work shall look,
    And from the sour the sweet by skill doth choose,
    For he that beats the bush the bird not gets,
    But who sits still and holdeth fast the nets.

  • bobleblah

    No. I can’t tell the difference. Were you able to?

  • bobleblah

    Thanks for your reply.
    1. There are no dates for the writing of any of the plays of Shakespeare. You may be referring to the first performance of the Tempest in 1611, but the text of the play from the First Folio may or MAY NOT have been the same text as that performance. Research has demonstrated that the references that “prove” the Tempest relies on Strachey have been reasonably challenged as well. It is a glaring weakness in the Stratfordian case to even try to rely on this theory at all.

    2. He was accused of sodomy as part of a package that included being a Catholic as well. There is no evidence that he was guilty. It is in interesting that you concede he had something to do with actors. (Oscar Wilde was another famous writer accused of sodomy…I can probably think of others)

    3. If he was Shakespeare than he was not a terrible poet. Rather, the “terrible” poetry would instead be regarded as the “apprentice-ship” of William Shakespeare, and become incredibly important. But I have yet to meet anyone who can tell the difference between De Vere and Shakespeare, so the claim that he was “terrible” seems to be a refuge of the desperate.

    4. It is not a matter of who we WANT to be Shakespeare, it is a matter of history. Perhaps if we asked REAL historians, not literature professors…

  • MDHJohnson

    I mean Steven W. May, author of *The Elizabethan Courtier Poets: Their Poems and Their Contexts* and *The Poems of Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford*, originally published in ‘Studies in Philology’ (1980). What I am quoting in these posts is taken from a paper that Professor May presented for a symposium, conducted at the University of Tennessee Law School in 2004, dealing with the Shakespeare authorship debate. I have only and always seen his name spelled as “Steven”, and I actually enjoyed an exchange of emails with him not too long ago regarding this subject.

  • F. Arthur Holding

    You can ask me to do whatever you want, but I suggest that unless you do the research yourself, you will not be convinced.

  • Zenocrate

    I completely agree. And here’s my favorite online comment on the Guardian’s piece about this:


    “Roses and lilies are difficult to engrave so I charge three groats each or I’ll do you the economy package deal of a fritillary and ear of sweetcorn for a groat”

    Publisher: “done””

  • Zenocrate

    I think you mean Stephen May, not Steven May, right?

  • Zenocrate

    Edward de Vere died before Shakespeare’s most important and final plays were written. And he raped young boy actors. And he was a terrible poet. I don’t think anyone wants him to be Shakespeare.

  • sandralynnsparks

    No, it really isn’t snarky, you never had questions like that on tests? It sharpens reading comprehension. So does this: The word possible is a safe word for floating ideas. That’s the word for discussion – that could have been fascinating. Using the word probable would have meant there was anecdotal evidence to back up his reason for having the idea – but he doesn’t have anecdotal evidence, so now he has an argument on his hands. Saying absolutely this was Shakespeare? That turns it into a fight. If you’re going to pick a battle, it better be the one for which one has solid ammunition, in this case in documents saying this was absolutely the purpose of that image. He doesn’t have that. And that’s what makes me very angry. Someone with the years of experience he has had should know better than to go that far. It hurts him. It’s going to slide off of Mark Hedges, and Edward Wilson, but it will not slide off of him, because it affects how people will see his work. And I happen to know what that is like.

  • napsjam

    For the number of plays, if “we’ll never know” is the “easy answer”, then that actually is a snarky debating trap, and not nice at all.

    For the rest, I understand that if Griffiths had said maybe, instead of I’m sure, you’d be less angry. That’s fine – not sure why it gets you that way, but clearly it’s a powerful reaction. If you tackle the possibility, then, and not the assertion – does it not appear possible (likely?) based on the evidence Griffiths brings (the botanical evidence no ordinary Shakespeare scholar could be expected to know, and then fresh thought and research on the history and people), that Shakespeare collaborated with Gerard and was patronized by Burghley, and they all had a connection with the Herball? And is that not be a grand contribution to make to our knowledge of Shakespeare, what he knew and how he knew it?

    The portrait

  • sandralynnsparks

    No I’m not. You just don’t know the answer either. That always fascinates me. Most people really don’t think logically. Which is how Griffiths and Wilson tripped themselves up. You think throwing lots of information about will work in a case like this. That years of looking at everything possible will deliver all the answers. Not if logic is left out of the process. There are too many variables to logically claim without a doubt that any image was Shakespeare, which is why Jonathan Bate was so politically and gently polite with his statement that the chances that this image was Shakespeare was more plausible than most – simply because Griffiths put more work into the project. No one knows what Shakespeare looked like. Unless a forensic sculptor goes to work on his skeleton, no one will ever come close to knowing, and even then we’ll not really know, because there are certain surface variables that can only be guessed at. We’ll never know.

    And that is the easy answer to the question “how many plays did Shakespeare write?” We’ll never know.

    If Griffiths had announced “could this be the face of Shakespeare?” and presented his ideas as possibilities and left them at that, without proclaiming “I am right and there can be no other answer!” people might have argued, but there would be no logical basis for arguing with him. There would certainly be no good reason for ridicule, (and yes, I happen to believe sometimes it is called for) because he would have presented it in a way that gave some leeway. He painted himself into a corner. Fortunately, paint dries.

    I just ordered his book on the Lotus and am looking forward to it. Seriously. I think he’s a wonderful writer. I will review it, and there will be no ridicule. I consider ridicule a lesson. I’ve had lots of them. They don’t bother me.

  • napsjam


    You seem to be in a bit of a tangle figuring out what to say and how to respond. Glad to hear there’s a purpose to your posts. Good luck with the writing project.

  • sandralynnsparks

    No, it’s not a snarky little trap, and don’t talk about me arguing the wrong way around, because for the question, you just did.The answer to the question is easy. What is it? As for the rest, give it a rest. Almost everyone else has left already. The only reason I’m here is for a writing project.

  • napsjam

    so, Sandralynnsparks, how many plays did shakespeare write? Do you include plays he may or may not have co-authored? Plays people argue he might have written? Do you include the playlet Griffiths discusses in this week’s magazine? I think not easy-peasy at all, I think a snarky little debating trap.

    You’re arguing the wrong way round. Ronsard is a famous poet, earlier than our frontispiece, and has been laurelled and portrayed in Roman garb. So he is precedent for portraying someone you think is a great poet that way. Shakespeare doesn’t have to be as famous as Jerry Lewis in France for it to make sense to his friends later to pick up that image and portray him that way. We’re talking about a first impression, first edition print run of dozens, not even close to a hundred, with (my guess, not Griffiths) the frontispiece at least in good part an in-joke or shared message among friends, not some national reflection of great fame. Among botanists and gardeners, you sell a big expensive useful book with a beautiful frontispiece. For the few who are and know the collaborators, it is satisfying to include their portraits and a message encoded in plants and symbols. If it’s a statement that gets people talking in London, all to the good. But it’s still a bit of fun intended for a few – and it gives us a recognizable portrait of handsome young Shakespeare, full head of hair, slight squint, wonky earlobe and all.

  • Daft as the test is, I would expect most 15-16 year olds, at the end of a 40 minute Practical Criticism lesson, to be able to make out a few qualitative differences.

    Poet A:
    My reason, the physician to my love,
    Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
    Hath left me, and I, desperate, now approve
    Desire is death, which physic did except.
    Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
    And frantic mad with evermore unrest;

    Poet B:
    Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?
    Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?
    Who filled thine eyes with tears of bitter smart?
    Who gave thee grief, and made thy joys to faint?
    Who first did print (sic – it’s PAINT) with colours pale thy face?
    Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?

    The problem is that it is all one to Oxfordians. So bobleblah. Can you spot a few qualitative differences yourself between the first six lines and the second? Why did I pull two six line chunks? And which would you say was written by the better poet?

  • MDHJohnson

    I will be more than happy to supply you with the text of Professor May’s “test”. As to the “point of Benezet’s proposed “test” it had nothing to do with establishing whether or not anyone was an “authority on poetry”. It was specifically put forward as “proof that their verse [Shakespeare’s and Oxenford’s] was indistinguishable.” At that, it fails miserably.




    What griping griefs to pangs that lovers prove?
    What travail tough to lovers’ weary ways?
    Whose froward fate untimely death hath wrought,
    But what for that, I did so well proceed,
    With irksome cries bewail thy late done deed, So may they chance to find a salve for secret sore,
    Which otherwise in covert kept will soon increase to more.
    To every vice due guerdon doth belong,
    As death shall daunt my deadly dolors long-suffering
    What hard mishap have I among the rest,
    With weary thoughts are my green years oppressed,
    Live like a haggard still therefore, and for no luring care:
    For best I see contents thy mind at wish and will to fare.
    Such furious fits and fond affects in me my fancies make
    That bathed in trickling tears, O bed, I thee forsake;
    From pangs of plaint to fits of fume my restless mind doth run,
    With rage and fancy reason fights, they altogether strive.
    A silent suit doth seld to grace aspire
    And that we might this matter set on fire;
    When other laughed for joy, it brought to mind my woe,
    When music slaked their sorrows, then my secret sore did grow.
    That she shall mourn and weep again as fast,
    And far surmount these hidden scorching flames,
    Whilst iron, fire or poison may be found,
    Why seek I thus to shun the snares and shift with verses oft,
    Sith praise of force must press the place where wisdom rules aloft?
    The more I would weed out my cares, the more they seem to grow,
    The fleeting fame on yearth have sought, she glory great in sky,
    They through pomp and she through pain advanceth fame on high.
    What greater gain may be than this,
    That one that laughs at his mischief,
    So long to fight with secret sore,
    Hereby to learn in such a sort,
    Our life to lead as none there is,
    That ill thereof may once report.
    But who can stop the stream that runs full swift?
    Or quench the fire that crept is in the straw?
    The eagle’s force subdues each bird that flies,
    What metal may resist the flaming fire?
    See here his chance that might have lived full well:
    So baited sweet is every deadly trap;
    In bravest bowers doth deepest danger dwell,
    And from the sour the sweet by skill doth choose.

  • sandralynnsparks

    You don’t do your research past a certain point, which is why I thought you might be a cover for one of them. You certainly didn’t go far enough researching me, because you stopped the search about me at the silly points everyone stops at, and don’t realize how you got your information and comment wrong. Besides, if you can’t answer the simple question how many plays Shakespeare wrote, how far can you possibly go? You’re right about one thing – this is far enough.

  • bobleblah

    Yes I would be very interested in Professor May’s test. While I would agree that it is not conclusive regarding authorship, that is not the point of the test. The point is that if a person cannot tell the difference between Shakespeare and ANYONE then that person is not an authority on poetry, and should probably stop criticizing. Can you tell the difference? If you can’t, then your derision of de Vere’s poetry is inappropriate.

  • poetica flora

    Where is your Sixth Sense ?
    I’m the wrong gender to be Dr. Griffiths or Prof. Wilson. I’m for them because I’m deeply interested in
    botany and literature and I know Griffiths’ work and I think he’s right. Also I can’t stand seeing this discussion being dragged down by the sort of person who thinks Wikipedia is an authority and that Country Life readers need to be told that Ronsard was French. Our discussion ends here.

  • MDHJohnson

    Now, to the three points you think you are making…

    #1 – Do you have any evidence for any of your assertions? How do you know that Gerard is someone that Oxford “grew up with”? As for your intimations, they are worth less than nothing. Do you have any evidence at all, from Oxford’s letters or from any other source, that he had any interest in botanical matters? Of course, nothing you have written actually deals with the point that5 I was making as to the inherent contradiction in Oxenfordian scenarios.

    #2 – I realize that you don’t know much about Shakespeare or the evidence which establishes a prima facie case for the attribution of the works to him, but I thought you might at least have some familiarity with Oxenfordian theory. Many Oxenfordians believe that Meres was doing more than simply making a reference to William Shakespeare — in fact, they think, he was dropping a clue as to the hidden author. These impossible contortions are necessary for Oxenfordians since Meres writes of the two men as completely different people. Interestingly enough, though, there never seems to be any actual evidence that Meres did any such thing…it is all just speculation and assumption devoid of any factual support. Sensible people reading Meres see the multiple references to William Shakespeare [nine of them, to be exact, versus one for Oxenford] as evidence of the growing popularity of Shakespeare as a writer “for the stage”.

    #3 –
    > > > bobleblah: “There is NOT ONE PIECE of EVIDENCE that anyone considered the man from Stratford to be Shake-speare either. That is why there is a question.”

    Your statement is correct in only one sense. There isn’t just one piece of evidence identifying the man from Stratford as the author Shakespeare. In fact, there are multiple pieces of such evidence. Jonson, Heminge, Condell, Digges, Baker, Camden, Dugdale, Heywood, etc. all left evidence in the historical record indicating that they considered Mr. Will Shakespeare of Stratford to be the author.

    You more than ably demonstrate the actual reason that there is still a question in your blatant denial of the existence of such evidence. On the flip side of the question, there actually isn’t any evidence, direct or circumstantial, that anyone at the time ever considered Vere to be Shakespeare. There is only speculation and special pleading.

  • MDHJohnson

    I didn’t say his poetry was “bad”, although some of it most definitely is. Oxford was “a competent, fairly experimental poet working in the established modes of mid-century lyric verse,” just as Professor May has pointed out. But that is all he was, at least by the evidence that we have to go on. A poet writing in a mid-century style, one that was considered out-of-date and old fashioned by the time Shakespeare’s poetry was written.

    Professor May, again:

    “Oxford’s verse, in short, lacks any unique features of style, theme, or subject to connect it with Shakespeare’s poetry.

    After the publication of my edition of Oxford’s verse in 1980, references to the Earl’s poetry all but disappeared from Oxfordian polemic. The authentic canon of De Vere’s poetry is a great embarrassment to the movement because it so manifestly contradicts the claims of Looney and his followers that the Earls verse in any way resembles the poetry of William Shakespeare. The chasm between the two poets is

    In his book, ‘Shakespeare Identified’, Looney wrote that the case for Oxford “will either stand or fall” as readers are convinced that de Vere’s poetry does in fact “contain the natural seed and clear promise” of Shakespeare’s verse …”

    By that standard, the case for Oxford was lost long ago.

  • MDHJohnson

    As Professor Steven W. May has written, the Benezet test “reveal[s] only that a selective placing of lines from one poet with those of another (or others) creates a jumble that no one could separate on the basis of style alone. With the rest of the Oxfordian stylistic methodology, Benezet’s test is meaningless as evidence for common authorship.” *Oxford As Poet and Playwright, Volume
    72, Number 1, UT Law Review [Fall 2004], p. 231.

    To further demonstrate how such a test is worthless for determining common authorship, May devised his own test modeleled on that done by Benezet, in which he compiled a “medley of excerpts from obscure mid-century poets interspersed with Oxford’s lines.” I will supply the content of May’s test here if anyone is interested, but the effect is to show that Oxford blends in with his contemporaries, and that “{E}very element of Oxfgord’s poetic expression was ‘in the air,’ so to speak, by the 1550’s. This plain style was nurtured by a few writers on into the seventeenth century, long after other developments in style and prosody had rendered it old fashioned. Oxford’s surviving poems represent merely one man’s contribution to the rhetorical mainstream of an evolving Elizabethan poetic. That poetic had, however, reached something of a plateau between 1550 and 1579, after which Spenser and Sidney, in very different ways, propelled it forward. Oxford’s received canon of sixteen poems belongs decidedly on the plateau. It is all of a piece with the work of such poets as Barnaby Googe, George Gascoine, and Thomas Howell, as well as Tuberville; by the same token, it is far removed from the style of such “‘golden’ poets as Michael Drayton, Samuel Daniel, Henry Constable, and William Shakespeare.”

    Oxford was a product of his times, but those times were long past when William Shakespeare appeared on the scene.

  • I asked you to provide the argument that Shakespeare’s work was more popular in 1597 than Spenser’s, Drayton’s or Daniel’s. I’m still waiting.

  • Mark

    All this ‘it must be a poet’ stuff is illogical. What it ‘must be’ is an emblematic figure of the wisdom of not seeking, but accepting acclaimed, honour. And no, that doesn’t mean it has to be a recent honour, or the result of sage-like acts of literary excellence (if it’s Apollo representing such, why not a lyre?). In fact, the laurel-crowned head was, for 16thc readers, not particular to any area of honoured performance (16c sculpture, tapestry, painting, engraving and other decorative arts show laurel-headed Roman emperors, kings, Ovid, Virgil, soldiers, heroes ancient and modern, near contemporary poets, gods, mythical figures – oh, and cupid occasionally). What a laurel-crowned man resplendent in 16thc faux-Roman costume (by a truly awful engraver by European standards) is probably doing there is filling space with a rather tedious depiction of generalized honour, despised and accepted without having sought it and given by popular acclamation. Unless Dr Griffiths has ‘incontrovertible proof’ that the engraver consciously modelled this on a live human being called William Shakespeare, it’s all a tissue of conjecture and obfuscation of the main point – which is that this was work executed in a hurry by a not very talented engraver using models from the continent, and inventing bits and pieces to fill in. Building an argument for a portrait from life of a single individual for an engraver working in an age of formulaic emblems in title page design is pure fantasy.

  • F. Arthur Holding

    No ad hominem at all Mr. Clarke, it simply seems from your slightly snarky musings that you forgot a couple of very popular and important Shakespeare poems. Do you not agree that they were both popular by 1597? It looks to me like you avoid the bulk of Professor Wilson’s rather refreshing argument, try to find some little thing wrong, and you can’t even get that right. Sorry if you can’t handle a correction without accusing me of improprieties.

  • sandralynnsparks

    The differences between Ronsard and Shakespeare are these: For Ronsard “his popularity in his own time was overwhelming and immediate” (Wikipedia) and he was broadly published, a poet who was as much a nationalist as a poet, and a nobleman. Plays in 1597 were not considered literature, and WS basically, at the time, would have been considered a one hit poet with fairly local fame, instead of international, not even national, renown. Ronsard is HIGHLY documented. He was publicly patronized by the royals. And he was French. They not only have a long tradition of worshiping poets to excess, a habit that didn’t truly start in England until after Shakespeare’s time, but they have a tendency to worship people who wear funny clothes (Jerry Lewis and Marcel Marceau). Show me how many portraits you can find of British Elizabethans wearing anything but the latest fashion unless they are dressed for a pageant or costume ball. It wasn’t an English practice.

    The comparison is useless. And you are pretty much the only one hanging in there and sticking up for Griffiths and Wilson. I halfway suspect you are one of them. It’s done. BTW, I’m still waiting – how many plays did Shakespeare write? Easy peasy.

  • poetica flora

    Professor Wilson’s
    masterly short essay ought to have silenced the bonkers theory that the Fourth
    Man on the title page of the 1597 Herball is Dioscorides. But I noticed someone
    on social media asking why this Apollo would be bearded (Apollo usually being
    smooth-cheeked). You might as well ask why the very eminent Gerard and Dodoens
    are dressed as a humble gardener and a hermit scholar, or why King Solomon
    (Lord Burghley) looks decrepit and not at all splendid and has a wart on his cheek
    (he does!). It’s because these are real people playing parts. So the Fourth Man
    can be Apollo and play other parts AND have a beard because he did in real
    life. I can’t believe that one or two tweeters who are theatrical or to do with
    the art world don’t get this point. Anyway, I thought it might help if I
    uploaded the engraving of the French poet Ronsard that Professor Wilson refers
    to. It’s from his collected works (Paris 1567). This is a real poet, with a
    beard, wearing Apollo’s laurels and Roman military dress. It’s pretty much what
    William Rogers did later with Shakespeare on the
    title page of Gerard’s Herball.

  • bobleblah

    For the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with the poetry of de Vere, I am posting the Benezet Test. About half the lines are Shakespeare – the other half are de Vere. Can YOU tell which is de Vere and which is Shakespeare? Hint: no excerpt is shorter than 4 lines or longer than 8.

    If care or skill could conquer vain desire,
    Or reason’s reins my strong affection stay,
    Then should my sights to quiet breast retire,
    And shun such signs as secret thoughts bewray;
    Uncomely love, which now lurks in my breast,
    Should cease my grief, through wisdom’s power oppressed.
    My reason, the physician to my love,
    Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
    Hath left me, and I, desperate, now approve
    Desire is death, which physic did except.
    Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
    And frantic mad with evermore unrest;
    Fain would I sing, but fury makes me fret
    And rage hath sworn to seek revenge of wrong;
    My mazed mind in malice so is set
    As death shall daunt my deadly dolours long;
    Patience perforce is such a pinching pain
    As die I will, or suffer wrong again.
    For, if I should despair, I should grow mad,
    And in my madness might speak ill of thee;
    Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
    Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
    Love is a discord and a strange divorce
    Betwixt our sense and rest, by whose power,
    As mad with reason, we admit that force
    Which wit or labour never may empower
    My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
    At random from the truth vainly expressed:
    For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
    Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
    Why should my heart think that a several plot,
    Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
    Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not,
    To put fair truth upon so foul a face
    Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?
    Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?
    Who filled thine eyes with tears of bitter smart?
    Who gave thee grief, and made thy joys to faint?
    Who first did print with colours pale thy face?
    Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?
    Above the rest in court, who gave thee grace?
    Who made thee strive in virtue to be best?
    Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
    The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
    O, though I love what others do abhor,
    With others thou shouldst not abhor my state.
    What worldly wight can hope for heavenly hire,
    When only sighs must make his secret moan ?
    A silent suit doth seld to grace aspire,
    My hapless hap doth roll the restless stone.
    Yet Phoebe fair disdained the heavens above,
    To joy on earth her poor Endymion’s love.

  • bobleblah

    Tell me, what makes Edward de Vere’s poetry so bad? Why did contemporary sources praise it (as well as hint that there was much of it hidden)? Why did Sidney Lee declare to be of “much lyric beauty”? Also, there are some pretty bad pieces of Shakespeare too, but we don’t assume that someone else must have written those, so the idea that Shakespeare was some kind of flawless paragon is a little out of place.

    Strawman #1 – “everyone, including the gardener, appears to have been in on the supposed secret” Certainly not. “The Gardner” in this case is someone that Edward de Vere grew up with. He is not just “everyone”.’ Further, the intimation is that de Vere had something to do with the composition of the book.

    Strawman #2 – there is no way to know what Francis Meres knew or didn’t know, but there is no reason to consider him an authority, merely one of the excruciatingly few references that are made about William Shakespeare – the fact of which leads the sensible to question if the story of the FAMOUS actor is just that – a story.

    Strawman #3 – There is NOT ONE PIECE of EVIDENCE that anyone considered the man from Stratford to be Shake-speare either. That is why there is a question.

  • MDHJohnson

    No, actually, the person who is regarded most likely to be the author Shakespeare is William Shakespeare of Stratford. We do have some of Edward de Vere’s published poetry and it is largely forgettable [in fact, so much so, that Oxenfordians feel compelled to make all sorts of excuses for it in order to try to explain away its clumsiness, and though they may claim to find Shakespearean qualities in those poems, they somehow never seem able to rise to the challenge of explaining just what those qualities might be].

    This pen-name argument is intriguing. The contention is that Oxenford was forced, for whatever reason, to hide his authorship behind an allonym [not a pseudonym, if we are to be accurate], and yet everyone, including the gardener, appears to have been in on the supposed secret. We are informed that the Elizabethan society was akin to a police state with all the resources and power to strictly guard and enforce the hidden authorship, and yet even a country rector like Francis Meres was allegedly dropping clues to the secret identity of the actual author. And yet, all of the time that this secret wasn’t actually a secret, and even after de Vere died, not one person ever is noted to have mentioned that the fellow from Stratford wasn’t really the author…or that Oxenford was. What are the odds?

  • Touch of the ad hominem, there! Although … it’s not a matter of whether or not I’ve heard of them, it’s a matter of whether our ancestors had in 1597. Again, it’s easy to project Shakespeare’s popularity in our own age into the past in an era when writers (especially dramatists) were undervalued. What about Edmund Spenser, Michael Drayton, or Samuel Daniel? I’d like to see the argument that Shakespeare’s work was more celebrated in 1597 than these distinguished gentlemen.

  • bobleblah

    Lets not forget Edward de Vere, the man who is regarded as the most likely candidate to be Shake-speare. He was known as a poet and as a patron of writers. His family claimed descent from Rome. He grew up in William Cecil’s house at the time John Gerard was in Cecil’s service. And IF HE WAS writing under a pen-name he would have been hiding his true identity behind it, or hiding his pen-name behind his true identity as the case may be.

  • F. Arthur Holding

    Barry you seem puzzled. I’m sure you’ve heard of *Venus and Adonis* (1593) and *The Rape of Lucrece* (1594). And I’m sure you can investigate how popular these works were if you don’t already know that.

  • MDHJohnson

    While they were popular with the general public, V&A and Rape of Lucrece were not well received in the academic world at the time. I would be very interested to see any contemporary statement from this time in which the proposed answer to the “hotly debated” question as to “which English poet deserved the official laurels” was William Shakespeare.

    As to the ambivalent, if not hostile, reaction of the university-educated poets to Shakespeare’s love poetry, there is plenty of evidence.

    From *Return From Parnassus 2*:

    William Shakespeare
    Iudicio: Who loves not Adons love, or Lucrece rape?
    His sweeter verse contains heart robbing lines,
    Could but a graver subject him content,
    Without love’s foolish lazy languishment.

    Then, of course, there is Gabriel Harvey:

    “The younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeares Venus, & Adonis : but his Lucrece, & his tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke haue it in them, to please the wiser sort.”

    The “younger sort” – just like the student audience for the *Parnassus* plays. The university wits, like the authors of these plays, were torn about Shakespeare, admiring his ability as a writer, but not condoning his choice of subject matter.

    The whole war between Hall [another university man] and Marston began with Hall’s criticism of Marston for writing an imitation of the salacious love poetry of V&A in his *Pygmallion*. In response, Marston alleged that he was
    actually engaged in parodying the love poetry of Shakespeare’s work.

    For another example of the satiric target that was love poetry at the turn of the century, we could turn to the example of Amoretto in the first play in the series, *The Pilgrimage to Parnassus*. The character is skewered for his devotion to Ovidian poetry and is made to spout some of the worst examples of the too sickly “sweet” poetry:

    Touch not her mount of joy, it is divine,
    There Cupid grazes or else he would pine. (lines 398-99)

    There is, of course, the obvious echo of Shakespeare’s V&A. Amoretto believes that the “sole province of poetry is love,” but any “sound Elizabethan Art of Poesy could have taught him otherwise. Puttenham, for instance, in a classic division of poetry according to its praise function, speaks of three kinds: ‘the chief and principall is: the laud honour & glory of the immortal gods,’ the second, ‘the worthy gests of noble Princes,’ and last, and least, is the recreative, ‘the common solace of mankind in all his trauails
    and cares of the transitory life.’ Love — or ‘the amorous affections
    and allurements’ — is only one of many recreative subjects of poetry.” [Paula Glatzer, *The Complaint of the Poet, p. 53]

    The play depicts Amoretto’s Ovidian rhetoric as “the only tempter” which “convinces both Philomusus and Studioso to waste some of their valuable time” on their pilgrimage to Parnassus. [Glatzer, p. 55] It is clear that the
    authors of the play saw love poetry, like Shakespeare’s V&A, as a distraction to the students and a waste of their time, which they should be devoting to more serious subjects.

    And some more…

    Here is Hall on “the licentiousness of popular love poetry”:

    What is some Shordich furie should incite
    Some lust-stung lecher, must he needs indite
    The beastly rites of hyred Venerie,
    The whole worlds vniversal baud to bee?
    [Book I, Satire IX; *Virgidemiarum*]

    A reference to Shoreditch…interesting.

    And here is Guilpin, in his *Skialetheia*:

    Fie on these Lydian tunes which blunt our sprights
    And turn our gallanst to Hermaphrodites…
    Hence with these fiddlers, whose oyle-buttred lines,
    Are Panders vnto lusts, and food to sinnes,
    Their whimpering Sonnets, puling Elegies
    Slaunder the Muses; make the world despise
    Admired poesie, marre Resolutions ruffe,
    And melt true valor with lewd ballad stuffe.

    “Love poetry, the satirists argued, slanders the very name of poetry; it is only ‘lewd ballad stuffe,’ and, as such, should stay in its place in the streets and the stews.” [Glatzer, pp. 131-132]. It should have no place with the students at the universities, where it corrupts young gallants like Gullio.

    Here is Leishman, in his edition of *The Parnassus Plays*, speaking of the attitudes expressed by the university wits as to love poetry:

    “Whether or not the above attempts at explanation are sound or adequate, the fact remains that, about the turn of the century, “sugared” sonnets and “conceited” erotic poems in the manner of Ovid, such as *Venus and Adonis*, suddenly ceased to be fashionable, and became, like the gallants who admired them, subjects for satires and epigrams.” [p. 50]

    So, just who were the people who were participating in the debate, around the time [1597] that John Gerard’s *Herball* was published, who were clamoring for Shakespeare to be identified as the poet laureate of England? As I stated earlier I would very much like to see some evidence in support of that claim.

  • I wonder where your idea comes from that Shakespeare was “by now the most popular poet of the age”. In 1597, he didn’t even have his name on a play quarto, it would be unusual to find a dramatist’s name on a playbill [in a 1699 letter, John Dryden remarked that Congreve’s name on the playbill of A Double Dealer was “unprecedented”], and authors were not as highly regarded as they are today. I’m sorry but I think this statement is a projection from our own age into an era with different values.

    No matter … the main premise is the rebus interpretation which if you google “Alleged Shakespeare portrait” [in quotes] and take the link to the barryispuzzled wordpress blog, you’ll see an explanation with greater theoretical economy that Dr Griffith’s version.

    Why does the phrase “bailing out a sinking ship” come to mind?!

  • sandralynnsparks

    Too late.