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on 28 October 2005
This book presents a brand new candidate - Sir Henry Neville - in The Shakespeare Authorship Question, and in general does so very well. It undoubtedly reads as the best researched book on the Authorship Question that I've seen, and makes a very strong case for Neville - far stronger than the published cases for any other candidates, including those for 'the man from Stratford'.
'Code-breaking' of some dedications and other documents - rather than the plays themselves - certainly appear to have been the starting point, but it is the evidently huge body of research that is summarised here that is of vital importance: this research could, with further work, ultimately lead to a complete re-evaluation of the Shakespearean canon.
Clearly, adamant Stratfordians - and those who insist that only the words, rather than the author, are important - will not welcome this book. However, anyone who does NOT have a closed mind on the Authorship Question should read this.
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on 2 January 2006
Having read the book from a neutral position, the strength of analysis and argument does lead to a credible proposal of Sir Henry Neville as 'Shakespeare'. There are many apparent convergent facts linking the plays with the life of Neville.
Whilst the links are, in places, a little superficial, the book adds weight to the authorship question and opens new avenues for review and critique within Academia. Unfortunately, there appears little debate on line with which to assess the acceptance or refutation of the arguements. Not surpising, the few claims of snobbishness concerning the non-acceptance that an uneducated man could write such material perhaps strengthens the case as no real contradictory evidence has been put forward to deny claims.
Likening this to other great scientific debates, say about the earth, whether it was flat or round ? was it the centre of the known Universe or not ?, one is led to think that the great weight of thinking, if not evidence, is against the claims, however, there is still great mileage in assessing and evaluating what the book has to say.
I personally look forward to reading more documentary evidence and debate regarding this credible authorship candidate.
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on 28 May 2006
This is a fascinating book, which has been very well researched. Of course, the `it must be Shakespeare' brigade will rubbish it because they will never believe that anyone else wrote all those masterpieces. As usual, they will go through it line by line splitting hairs at every opportunity.

The problem for the Shakespeare loyalists is they have little or no evidence to back up their own man. No manuscripts, no explanations as to how a man with a very basic education could have been as knowledgeable on so many different topics. What this book does is show the story of a man, Neville, who was well educated, and well connected. A man who travelled across Europe, and who was a member of parliament. He had access to many people in power. It also documents the extraordinary events of this man life, and places them in context of the dates with many of Shakespeare's plays.

I don't know if Neville wrote the works of Shakespeare, but there is more evidence to link him than the man from Stratford.
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on 11 March 2006
The truth will out indeed! This book is so incredibly bad that it almost seems to raise questions concerning its own authorship. James and Rubinstein, both supposedly academics, sound like a pair of ambitious but arrogant teenagers rather than assiduous scholars. Their argument is nothing more than speculation, with very little empirical evidence to back up their claims.
The three sources they refer to are: firstly, a notebook from the tower of London with annotations that relate to a coronation. Secondly, a copy of Halle's Chronicles, which provided much of the source material for Shakespeare's plays and thirdly, a manuscript that possibly held literary works. The authors surmise that all three pieces of evidence belonged to their candidate for the authorship, Henry Neville. In order for their argument to work, they have to draw a successful link between these three sources, Henry Neville and the man from Stratford himself, William Shakespeare. On every count they fail miserably due to the fact that their whole argument is based upon conjecture. Evidence that contradicts their case is left out of the book altogether, whilst facts that are not incongruent are massaged to seem convincing. Arguments that are presented as speculation at first, are accepted as fact later on, from which more speculation is grafted on top. In short, all we have here is speculation built upon speculation. The authors cannot even explain away why Neville would keep his identity as a playwright secret and even admit this on page 56. Without this, there isn't even an argument to debate over. Furthermore, the fact that Neville's life seems to coincide with the chronology of the plays is just not an argument, but purely an observation, and even here, they have to stretch their case in order to make it stick.
All this aside, the essential premise that Shakespeare was not educated enough to possess the skill and knowledge that he did is erroneous (and snobbish!). Most of his associate playwrights (i.e. Ben Jonson) did not go to University and the ones that did were usually from the same kind of background as Shakespeare (i.e. Christopher Marlowe). Furthermore, most people do not tend to point out the absurdity inherent in the idea that the 'real' playwright would make use of a supposed ignoramus. Shakespeare performed the plays daily in a sprawling, busy city, interacting with fellow actors and people from all walks of life. If he was not the real author, it would not have been long before he was exposed. (Imagine if Einstein decided to attribute the special theory of relativity to someone who was unable to do long division!)
As for the evidence that is either left out or skirted over tartly, the authors fail to explain away the following which points overwhelmingly toward the man from Stratford as being the real author: the Stratford monument erected in 1623, the Warwickshire dialect terms used in many of his plays, the stuff Shakespeare got wrong (e.g. geographical details such as Bohemia having a coastline in a Winter's Tale etc), documents that contains Shakespeare's writing (his application for a coat of arms, his will etc)and numerous contemporary references that refer to Shakespeare as a playwright. If there was a conspiracy then it would have had to include half of London!
True genius isn't quantifiable. No one makes such claims concerning Leonardo da Vinci (possibly the most intelligent human being ever), yet his education was far more negligible than Shakespeare's. If this book has any intrinsic merit (apart from its unitentional comedic value), then it is to show how not to conduct a historical analysis. Despite the fact that its fundamental premise could be plausible, (if we did not possess the evidence to contradict it), this work contains little more substance than your average David Icke offering.
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on 3 June 2006
I bought this book on the recommendation of a colleague who had read and been persuaded by its arguments. Although I have an open mind about the issue of authorship, having also read other biographies of "the man from Stratford" I am increasingly persuaded that Shakespeare is the author of his own plays - and this book has done nothing to dispel that impression. James and her academic back-stop seem chiefly to base their argument on the lack of evidence surrounding the circumstances of Shakespeare's life. However, there is equally little evidence to support her assertion that it was Henry Neville who wrote the plays, and such evidence as James has uncovered is unskilfully deployed. She descends all too often to a denigration of "the man from Stratford", to the effect that he was a mediocre, money-grubbing, ill-educated individual who lucked out in finding someone who wanted him to masquerade as the author of the plays. The book is unbalanced and shrill in tone. Additionally, it dismisses the quality of an Elizabethan education - and in doing so ignores the extraordinary effects of the grammar schools on the cultural life of the country. Shakespeare was one of a number of young writers who transformed our literature, primus inter pares. The playhouses were chock-full of young men from a range of backgrounds who produced an extraordinary outpouring of literature - Marlow famously is the son of a shoemaker, Jonson's stepfather was a bricklayer, Webster's father was a carriage-maker, Tourneur's father was a water-bailiff who elevated himself - the point about the Elizabethan era was that it was a time of social fluidity - a hard-working man could make something of himself, could acquire an education, a coat of arms and gentility.

Finally, James fails entirely to use the evidence of the plays and poems themselves in any substantial detail to support her claim. She simply asserts that "the man from Stratford" (one of the most annoying phrases) "could not possibly" have written the works. This ignores the wealth of detail that suggests that the author of the plays had a background and education that were exactly those of the man from Stratford - rich in understanding of the English countryside, familiar with the Bible and Ovid's Metamorphosis, acquainted with the skills of rhetoric. Ackroyd's careful reading of Shakespeare, the prevailing criticism and his thorough research into the Elizabethan era is a much more convincing and engaging portrait of the man who might have written the plays.
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on 2 October 2007
This is a weak book, one which tries to make its insubstantial argument seem strong by attempting to show that "the man from Stratford" could not possibly have written the works attributed to him instead of producing positive textual evidence of alternate authorship by Sir Henry Neville. It takes little account of recent professional Shakespeare scholarship and is very selective about older work; occasionally the Royal biographer Anthony Holden is cited in the notes as a Shakespearean authority, for instance. It completely ignores the growing evidence that Early Modern plays were not usually written by "lonely geniuses", but were formed collaboratively. Tellingly, its points have found little or no sympathy with professional scholars, and this is not because such scholars have a vested interest in the authorship question.
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VINE VOICEon 25 May 2006
What the authors utterly fail to do in this book is to help us know who Henry Neville was or to provide convincing proof apart from a few circumstancial (coincidental) similarities in the lives of the two almost exact contemporaries. Perhaps the book was compiled in a hurry - if so the haste is evident and the writing suffers. Undoubtedly there are some interesting parallels - especially the Tempest sources and Neville's investments in expeditons to the West Indies. However so many gaps are left in Neville's family life and political career, there is no evidence of any connection with the theatre or literary efforts and little analysis of documents or corroborative material. If such "evidence" turns up I hope it will be compiled by a more able writer.
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on 9 April 2010
The book does not cite original sources in many instances. If you wish to follow a source up by looking at the numbered note at the back it says 'cited by' meaning that the author is simply quoting something from another book by someone else. Scholars always read source material so this is either put together hastily or not from normal scholarship in the way evidence is normally presented. It is more like reading a case for the defence than a balanced and scholarly account that weighs ALL the evidence.

One rather obvious point~why would Neville as Shakespeare include Hermia in Midsummer Nights Dream making a fool of herself for laughs going on about her lack of height if his own wife was notably small? Rather tactless I would have thought.

Also why on earth does he need to be in disguise as Shakespeare and why did no one say it was him after his death? The reasons given are not enough and if he thought that being a playwright was beneath him then he doesn't deserve to be Shakespeare even if he was if you follow my meaning!

Having been in the School in Stratford and heard some of the oral traditions connected to Shakespeare's time there, the assertion he left at 12 with no education is at variance with the School's tradition and records of their staff and what most biographers say. So I was not impressed at reading the sweeping comments about Shakespeare's lack of education. All the evidence for was not mentioned and there was no mention of a visit to the school or any research in that area.
People are too easily taken in by material that sweeps known knowledge or counter arguments under the carpet by not even referencing them and need to be wary when statements are made without evidence to back them up.

I have not quite finished it yet but in its favour it is very readable and there are some interesting parts. I especially like the references to lines in the plays that contain insider knowledge, like the ferry in Venice, jews being in Frankfurt as well as Venice etc. Detailed research on Henry Neville has apparently been carried out but yet again when I went to the notes wanting to find a source and where it was so I could go and read it the actual information was not given just a County 'Archives' but not with any address or manuscript detail that would enable you to follow up the source material. This means it cannot be checked which is not how scholarship is normally presented; all sources have to be able to be checked by other scholars or researchers. There may well be a case for Henry Neville but it needs to be better presented in more precise and fair relationship to the Stratford Shakespeare I think.
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on 14 January 2009
In Bill Bryson's very sensible and interesting book "Shakespeare" he writes, "William D. Rubinstein, a professor at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, stated in the opening paragraph of his anti-Shakespeare survey:"Of the seventy-five known contempory documents in which Shakespeare is named, not one concerns his career as an author."
That is not even close to being so. In the Master of the Revels' accounts for 1604-05 - that is, the record of plays performed before the King, about as official a record as a record can be - Shakespeare is named seven times as the author of the plays performed before James 1. He is identified on the title pages as the author of the sonnets and in the dedications of the poems The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis. He is named as author on several quarto editions of his plays, by Francis Meres..." and so Bryson goes on providing plenty more to show up Rubinstein's opening gambit for what it really is - a load of attention-seeking sensationalist nonsense. Bryson makes the point that in the first 200 years after Shakespeare's death NOBODY doubted his authorship. In recent years, however, with NO evidence except sweeping generalisations and guesswork, over 5000 books have been written claiming it was not Shakespeare but somebody else - each book, like this one, claiming that they are right and everybody else is wrong. It could be laughed at if only there wasn't so much money to be made in spreading this codswallop.
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on 7 November 2005
I am afraid that I cannot agree with Will Monox and Liesel Knightley - the book is absolutely brilliant. As a result of reading it a year ago I have bought about 15 books about Shakespeare - about who might have written the plays. I have probably spent about 200 hours searching the internet for stuff on this subject - there is quite a bit.

Brenda James has definitely got the right person. All my reading has come to suggest that Queen Elizabeth had about 6 or 7 children - among them Oxford, Mary Sidney, Robert Cecil, Francis Bacon, Henry Neville, Robert Devereux (Essex) and Southampton - and maybe one, two or three more. In those days if you were fertile and enjoyed sex, you had a lot of children! For example Neville had 11 children that survived, by his wife Anne. All the Kings around Europe at that time, and for the next 100 years, had mistresses and illegitimate children that were carefully placed. Seymour fathered the first, Robert Dudley the next half dozen, and Oxford fathered the last - Southampton, his own brother!

The children are all intertwined and intermarried with those closest to Elizabeth - Cecil, Walsingham etc - and the next generation down intermarried.

King Lear is back to front - it about Elizabeth's last years - she executed her favourite son, Essex, and put her next most favorite (Southampton and Neville)in the Tower until she died. Absolutely tragic. It is all hugely intertwined - have a look at the portraits.

I think there is a great deal of unresearched material still out there - as everybody has spent the last 200 years looking in the wrong place. As I understand it Brenda Jackson is deep into original research for another book.

Just yesterday I read on the internet that when the Earl of Pembroke showed Queen Victoria a document that he had proving that Elizabeth secretly married the Earl of Leicester in 1560, she threw it on the fire, saying that "one must not interfere with history" !!

The book "Leicester's Commonwealth" printed in Antwerp in 1584, has a passage that says "anie of his owne broode, whereof he hath stoore in manie places, as is knowne, to ye lawful succession of ye crowne ..." !

Buy the book "The truth Will Out" and pass it round. It is the beginning of a whole new understanding of Shakespeare.

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added 21/12/2007
The first line of Ben Jonson's poem commemorating Shakespeare in the First Folio, which he helped put together in 1622, goes "To draw no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name". Try rewriting that as "To DRAW no NV, Shakespeare, on YOUR name". Who was NV? Not NeVille? Not the very same NeVille who spent nearly 3 years in the Tower with the "Southampton" to whom the Sonnets were dedicated? Not the NeVille who was born, and died, a year before the Stratford Shaksper, to whom he was related? Shake - a - Spear ... "shake-speare" was a very good name, a suitable name, for our bard to take. Propaganda - getting your message across - however crooked - is, and was, the name of the game. Elizabeth was no "Virgin" ! She was not given that title until she was in her late 50s! Look up Psalm 46 in the King James Bible, the 46th words from the top, and bottom, to see how important the wordname/phrase "shake-speare" was to the writer!! It does come in any of the other 20 English bibles I've looked at.

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added 16th July 2010
Another coincidence .. ? A few months ago as I went to look at a secondhand car to the east of Reading I passed a sign to Waltham St Lawrence. I remembered that Neville's father (Elizabeth's master of the Revells) built a new mansion there (Billingbear, which burnt down in 1923? - a surviving panelled room was moved to a minor university in New York...) when Neville was a year or two old - so I thought I would see if I could find a pub for lunch. Well, I nearly had a heart attack when I found the Bell Inn - it had a plaque on it that explains how Ralph Newbery, citizen and stationer of London, bequeathed the Bell Inn for the benefit of the Parish of Waltham St Lawrence in 1608. Further research on the net reveals that Newbery was both Elizabeth's and James' publisher, and that he, a ploughman or something similar, had left the village shortly after Neville was born to make his fortune in London. Did Neville senior give him a helping hand? The Nevilles are known to have been extremely kind to the people on their estate, and to their neighbours.

It is a quite incredible pub, by the way - a 16th century Weald Hall building. Much of the village is from the same date. I believe the church - which was locked when I was there - has a remembrance statue/plaque to Neville's father. An old man in the pub said that it contained a group of carvings, including one of the young Neville playing. It must have been put up by "Shake a Spear" to honour his father - the sort of thing that you could imagine the real Shakespeare doing with some care and a bit of style - I must see if I can borrow a key to that church sometime ...

How many pubs do you know of - anywhere in the world - given to a village by a stationer? Shakespeare's stationer? ... I remember reading somewhere that Cecil junior complained that Neville spent far too much money on stationery when Neville was ambassador in Paris - he must have been overclaiming his expenses! In 1608 Neville had been back in the village for 5 years (Elizabeth stuck Neville and Southampton in the Tower 3 years before she died - and James let them out when he took charge) - I believe James came to visit Neville at Waltham St Lawrence at about that time - for literary instruction. If you have followed the Psalm 46 stuff above - James must have chosen Neville to edit his famous bible ... !!!

added 10th July 2011
A few months ago I revisited Psalm 46. Between the words "Shake" and "Spear" there are 109 words. Or 111 words if you include "shake" and "spear". That is One One One words - it cries out "me", "me", "me" !!! Number and word puzzles meant a lot in those times, when they had no newspapers, films, TV, radio, telephones or internet to distract them. Messages were often intercepted, so secret meanings were often added in a variety of ways. The above example of 46, 111, 46 is about as simple as it gets - and does not feature in any other english translation of the bible I have looked at - and I have checked 20. Of those 20 bible translations spanning 400 years The King James Bible is of course the only one "shake - a - spear" could have edited. And the words "shake" and "spear" do not both appear on any other page in the bible.
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