Take what you have gathered from Coincidence
— Henry Neville — how did it all work?
FREDERIC: That paradox? That paradox?
KING and RUTH:That most ingenious paradox!
We've quips and quibbles heard in flocks,
But none to beat this paradox!

Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

I Keep Six Honest..., Rudyard Kipling
COPY BOY: Where'd they find him?
CITY EDITOR:In his office.
COPY BOY: How'd it happen?
CITY EDITOR:Some dame shot him.
COPY BOY: Some dame shot him!  Why?
CITY EDITOR:Barney, you just asked me six important questions.  Who, what, where, how, when and why?  That's what every news story should answer.  You haven't done it.

Teacher's Pet, Directed George Seaton
MAX: Yes, I understand Chief.  But I don't think I quite agree with you.  You see, all you have told me is we know how, but we don't know where.  So that tells us we don't know anything.
CHIEF: What?
MAX: Well, we know who, and that doesn't tell us when, so why should how tell us where?
CHIEF: Max, you're driving me crazy.
MAX: How?
CHIEF: Don't say that word.
MAX: Why?

Get Smart, Shipment to Beirut


Have you ever been to one of those meetings that occur in medium or large organisations?

A, — what they fail to understand is that the last initial of the author must be followed by a full stop to indicate it's an abbreviation and then by a comma to indicate it's the end of field – it is vital that we draw the distinction between 'obtain' and 'acquire' in this context – it is clear that if we present the 'gender issues' session before the break, then after the break we can move directly onto —, sort of meeting.

And at this meeting someone boring – a security person or an engineer – asks, "What is the problem we are trying to solve?"

I sit before my computer, on my table, floor and shelf are James' monograph, Goding and Leyland's paper, a Shakespeare concordance that you could lash the tail wheel of a DC3 to if you wanted to do an on-deck full-power engine test, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a 1976 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the complete works of William Shakespeare (picked up cheap decades ago), the King James Bible and a dated Nelson's Dictionary of World History.

I really can't imagine what James' desk looks like.

And I ask myself – what is the problem we are trying to solve?

Stripped down and colloquially expressed, it's –
"How come the sort of bloke you'd be happy to have a beer with in a working class pub, but you wouldn't want your sister to marry, could write;

        although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract to-night:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say, 'It lightens.' Sweet, goodnight!
This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.

You might as well ask.  "How come a man that couldn't hear, couldn't conduct and destroyed pianos in his attempts to play them, could compose Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?"

It's an easy trap for the educated researcher to slip into, to believe that the artistic mind functions in the same manner as the academic.  How much research would an academic do to create the Mr Jones in Joseph Conrad's Victory?  Conrad walked into a room, a man who had been stretched out on three chairs stood up and walked out – that man became Mr Jones (Author's note, Victory, 1920).

To dismiss Shakespeare for lack of talent would seem, as the Oxford Dictionary of Shakespeare expresses it, to be based mainly on snobbery – rejection of the idea that a man of relatively humble origins without a university education could have written works of genius.

There is a lot of material for debate on this issue.  But really the place for the debate is a high school debating club or the inner suburban dinner party where the guests (and hosts) have had a little too much to drink and half the company is feeling embarrassed and planning in its minds what it will say to its respective spouses as soon as the opportunity arises.

Nevertheless there is great opportunity for hyperbole and inventiveness in the topic and perhaps one day I'll be tempted back to it.


Let us accept that despite his extensive commitments elsewhere, for 25 years Neville felt compelled to write plays and poems, yet did not wish to put his name to his work.

This is not an unusual occurrence – a person occupying a responsible position may feel that the status of the position would be compromised by her literary work – another might feel his work would not be taken seriously if he was known to be the author – another might fear reprisals.

The two traditional solutions to this problem are to adopt a nom de plume (perhaps even with public recognition) or publish anonymously.  Neville, we are told, took a more inventive approach.  He adopted a nom d'emprunt – a name borrowed from another.  Why?

The reasons advanced by James, Goding and Leyland are that Neville was concerned about the anti-royalty content of Richard II and the overt homo-erotic sentiments expressed in the Sonnets (LG2).  Yet there had been 10 plays attributed to Shakespeare over the 16 years before the production of Richard II.  Neville showed remarkable forward planning in deciding on the nom d'emprunt approach for the writing of his first play (BJ255), the politically safe Titus Andronicus.

And why did he choose an existing author?  James contrasts Shakespeare's lack of education and lower social status with the courtly character of Neville.  Yet should authority take offence at the content of the plays (remember that was Neville's concern) guess (and here the American gangster idiom seems apt) who would take the rap – the real William Shakespeare of course.  Is this acceptable behaviour for James' highborn gentleman?


Consider all those who were aware of the Neville subterfuge.

James, Goding and Leyland agree that Thomas Thorpe was involved because the exacting nature of the coding required overseeing at the typesetting stage.

Actually this interpretation understates the complications.  The cover to the Sonnets carries (besides other text) the line "By G.Eld for T.T."  There has been some sub-contracting arrangement between Eld and Thorpe.  (Surely this consideration has been well thrashed out by other investigators.)  Thorpe would have advanced the work to a certain stage (typeset or whatever) and then have passed it onto Eld.  Eld would have commented on the dedication, and Thorpe would have to have provided an explanation for its supposed peculiar format.

We must assume that Shakespeare knew, else the situation becomes Monty Python bizarre.  There is the necessity to include other collaborators also.  Consider, Neville is in The Tower for his association with the Essex's rebellion.  Presumably he had one of the better rooms, with light and a desk.  He receives an ample supply of writing materials and he sits at his desk writing sensuous sonnets and seditious scripts.  Yet authority does not take him to task, nor did his jailer inquire – he must have had collaborators.

It seems that at least two other playwrights, Fletcher and his co-author, Beaumont should be included also (BJ41).  There were several others in the circle as well (BJ273) – possibly even, paradoxically, King James (BJWS).

The audience already knows the plot; the hidden message in the dedication is superfluous.


How did it actually fit together?  Shakespeare's work stretched over approximately a 25 year period from about 1588 to about 1613.  There are 37 plays, 4 or 5 poems and the set of 154 sonnets.  In this period Neville occupied various private and official positions (including time in The Tower) and travelled extensively.  Whatever arrangement Neville put in place to have his material attributed to Shakespeare it must have been extraordinarily flexible and robust to deal with the inevitable complications of forty enactments.

James draws attention to the close chronological match between Neville's stretch of life on earth and Shakespeare's.  It shows remarkably good judgement on Neville's part in his choice of Shakespeare as his nom d'emprunt – imagine the difficulty he would have faced if it was Shakespeare not Marlowe who had been killed in a tavern in 1593.

Each new publication, each new performance of a Shakespearean work would have had its own difficulty for those implicated in the subterfuge.  Let us walk through the generic process of how a play conceived by Neville becomes performed in the Globe theatre.

Neville writes the play, for security he has a clean copy made by someone who must also be a party to the subterfuge.

Neville or a go-between takes the copy to Shakespeare.  There is some discussion about money.  Neville points out that Shakespeare is doing very well from the box office takings.  Shakespeare protests that he never sees any of the royalties from the published editions.  He complains that if he visits Thorpe, Thorpe just places his index finger beside his nose, winks and shuts the door in his face.  Neville tells Shakespeare that he's too greedy.  Shakespeare says one day he might find someone who would be interested to hear where his plays really come from.  Neville says quietly, "How's your friend Marlowe these days?"  (Marlowe was killed under ambiguous circumstances a few months prior.)  Shakespeare shuts up like the clang of a dungeon door.  Neville leaves.

Shakespeare shows the new play he's apparently just whipped up to Burbage, Kemp and the other actors.  He's mildly embarrassed because he can't explain the plot or list the characters.  He gets working copies made from the one Neville gave him and bluffs his way past questions about the handwriting.  In rehearsals there is confusion because the script has very few stage directions.  Shakespeare (as director) muddles his way through it.  Kemp says as an aside to Burbage, "If he wrote that, I'm a witch's wish."  (Charles Darwin is still two centuries away.)  Burbage says, "Don't stress, it will put bums on seats like the others."


When did Neville intend that the Dedication would be decoded?  James explains that Neville used a high level encoding system, known to only a few.  Goding and Leyland illustrate how cryptic his embedded clues were.  And all three researchers explain that it took four (for ;-) centuries for the decoding to be substantially completed.

The paradox of a man using an uncrackable code to hide something he wishes to expose.


Where was the village blacksmith as Shakespeare wandered about town that James can claim "Metalworking imagery is also to be found in plenty in the plays, and Neville is the only authorship candidate to have had knowledge of this" (BJ263) and illustrate her claim with the quotation from King John – "I saw a smith stand with his hammer, thus"?

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Last update January 31, 2014     Mal Haysom    initial posting 29/03/2009