Multiple Authors

One of the most obvious places to start with an inquiry into Shakespeare is to list the areas of knowledge the author is shown to have mastered. They include the many foreign languages, the apparent insider knowledge of the inner workings of the royal court, trained legal phrases and concepts, naval expertise, European travels, sports of the nobility, and comic and acidic allusions to powerful people on the national stage. It has also been noted by many scholars that the Shakespearean history plays are a superb and effective set of propaganda pieces that legitimize and glorify the Tudor dynasty; they are based on a revised version of Holinshed’s chronicles, commissioned by Secretary of State William Cecil, principal minister to the Queen.

It would seem impossible for any one person to have known this much information, been connected to so many other authors, created this enormous body of work, and been utterly invisible to his peer group and to history. One solution to this enigma would be a literary team.

Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, ran a literary academy at her estate in Wiltshire where most of the principal authors of the day spent significant periods of time, competing and collaborating. These writers were the backbone of English Renaissance literature. The group included Abraham Fraunce, Nicholas Breton, Henry Constable, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Edward Dyer, Gabriel Harvey, Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, Walter Raleigh, Hugh Sanford, Edmund Spenser, Thomas Watson, Ben Jonson, and Fulke Greville.

Arguments can be made for the contribution of others to the canon as well, such as Richard Barnfield, George Chapman, Thomas Dekker, Robert Greene, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, John Lyly, Thomas Nashe, the Earl of Rutland (Roger Manners), Earl of Oxford (Edward de Vere), John Marston, and John Webster. John Florio was a close friend to both Mary Sidney and Fulke Greville, as well as the Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.

This academy was akin to a spider web with Mary Sidney and Fulke Greville at the center and strong links to all of the other candidates, all the theaters and acting troupes, the courts of England and Europe, the noble families, the politicians, the spy services and, especially, Stratford-upon-Avon and the First Folio of 1623.