Elizabethans were fond of using props or poses to have their portraits say something
about the sitter. See the mask line that runs from the ear on the right? The Dorshout
engraving of Shakespeare on the cover of the First Folio tells us the face is a mask, a
clear image from which we can deduce the name itself is a pseudonym. The words on
the Stratford Monument (built while the First Folio was being prepared) reinforce
this idea. Peter Farey analyzes the words on the monument which, according to
him is telling us the Shakespeare name was merely a "page" to serve someone elses wit.


Did the Pseudonym Come Before the Front Man?

Cynthia Morgan



The William Shakespeare name first appeared on a literary work (Venus and Adonis) two weeks after Marlowe’s alleged death. Venus and Adonis was entered into the Stationers Register anonymously a few weeks before Marlowe was arrested. The first recorded notice of a Venus and Adonis purchase is June 12, 1593, thirteen days after his alleged death. The name William Shakespeare appears not on the title page where an author’s name was conventionally placed, but as a signature to the dedication to Southampton. John Baker has pointed out that this dedication page is not conjoined with the text, which, he says, “suggests the attribution an afterthought, something hastily added subsequently to the printing of the text”. The following lines in the dedication to Southampton seem to be cryptic puns on the fictional burial and eye-wound:


. . . till I have honoured you with some graver labour.

. . .  But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed . . .


       Marlowe's Hero and Leander begins with an allusion to Venus and Adonis. At the beginning of a new play Marlowe habitually alluded to his previous play. The second part of Tamburlaine refers back to the first part:


The general welcomes Tamburlaine received 
When he arrived last upon our stage . . .


       The Prologue of The Jew of Malta alludes to the Guize’s death at the end of his preceding play The Massacre at ParisFaustus begins with allusions to both Dido and Edward II, Edward II begins with an allusion to Hero and Leander, and Hero and Leander begins with an allusion to Venus and Adonis

Where Venus in her naked glory strove
To please the careless and disdainful eyes
Of proud Adonis, that before her lies.


Christopher Marlowe translated all of Ovid’s forty-eight elegies in the Amores while he was a divinity scholar at Cambridge, and he was the first to do this. William Shakespeare’s sudden appearance onto the literary scene as a highly developed poet and a lover of Ovid dove-tailed perfectly into Marlowe’s sudden disappearance from the literary scene and Marlowe’s love of Ovid. What are the odds Shakespeare from Stratford would have placed the two-line heroic couplet in Latin on the title page of Venus and Adonis from Elegy XV of Ovid’s Amores that only Marlowe had translated and that didn't come into print until 1598 under Marlowe's title Ovid's Elegies?


Vilia miretur vulgus: mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.


In his translation Marlowe wrote these lines as follows:

Let base-conceited wits admire vile things,
Fair Phoebus lead me to the Muses' springs.


The Muses’ springs are the same Paegafean springs mentioned earlier in Thomas Watson’s Eglouge in which he carries on a dialogue between himself and Thomas Walsingham. Roman poets often referred to Apollo as Phoebus (shining light). On the title page of Venus and Adonis it is, therefore, Apollo who fills Marlowe’s favorite poet Ovid’s cups from the Castalian springs on Mt. Parnassus. A less poetic but more literal translation of Ovid’s Latin used on the title page of Venus and Adonis according to Wraight is: “Let the vulgar admire vulgar things; as for me, tawny-haired Apollo fills my cups from the Castalian springs on Mt. Parnassus.” Parnassus was the sacred source of literary inspiration and home to the muses for Ovid. Parnassus was also associated with a satirical genre of mock trials in which writers were prosecuted for their stylistic and social crimes—like the exiled Ovid and, as The Marlowe Studies contends, Christopher Marlowe.

Considering Marlowe’s arrest and mounting crisis around the two informers’ accusations occurred within the span of merely twelve days before he supposedly died on his last day of bail at Deptford in a room with fellow secret agents, and considering that the Shake-speare sonnets of exile seem to reveal he was hurried out of the country, we might speculate it was Thomas Walsingham who wrote the dedication and chose the passage for the title page. The lines take on a relevance they would not have had before Marlowe’s arrest and fictionalized death, just as does the meaning of the name William Shakespeare. 

Wraight has shown us that the lines in Ovid’s Amores following those on the title page of Venus and Adonis also dovetailed into Marlowe’s circumstances at that time. She says, “The motto was a cryptic choice, for only those knowing the whole poem and his own tragic circumstances could appreciate the significance of culling the first two lines from this passage. Here are the succeeding lines as Marlowe had translated them:


About my head be quivering myrtle wound,

And in sad lovers' heads let me be found.
The living, not the dead, can envy bite,
For after death all men receive their right:
Then though death rakes my bones in funeral fire,
I'll live, and as he pulls me down, mount higher.


It has been speculated by some Marlovians that Marlowe’s highly educated and powerful protectors in secret intelligence let the publisher of Venus and Adonis, Richard Fields, choose this front man for Marlowe’s work. It is difficult to believe, however, that these men would have given such a task to an outsider like Fields so early in the game rather than create their own pseudonym for Marlowe, one rich in pertinent resonance. If this thesis is correct, the part-time actor/businessman from Stratford bore a similar name which much later conveniently provided him with the ability to broker plays under the William Shakespeare name. Let us explore the meaning of the William Shakespeare name to see if it bears any relationship to Marlowe’s aristocratic protectors and to his situation after May 30th, 1593.

The first publication of the Sonnets, Thorpe's 1609 edition Shake-speare's Sonnets, was indicative of a pseudonym because of the hyphened Shake-speare in the title. The sixteenth century was an age of censorship when literary disguises often employed a hyphen in a name resonant with meaning, such as Mar-prelate, Curry-knave, and Tell-truth. The name William comes from the Old High German origin Willehelm, a compound name composed of “willeo” (will, determination) and “helm” (protection, helmet) which gives us “determined protection”. In The Shakespeare Enigma, Peter Dawkins explores the meaning of the William Shakespeare name and its relationship to Apollo and Athena:

The name William is derived from Hwyll, the name in Welsh of the god of light, called Apollo by the Greeks, and helm, meaning helmet. In other words, William is a reference to Apollo’s golden helmet of light, for which both Apollo and his feminine counterpart, Athena, were particularly noted, along with their 'shaking' spears . . . Athena’s helmet is known as the helmet of invisibility, since it is reputed to bestow an invisible protection upon the wearer. 


If Marlowe’s patron Thomas Walsingham were going to select a pseudonym for his “charge” to protect him, he could have done worse than create a name that stood for the protectors of the arts Apollo/Athena. Dawkins points out that the Greek name Pallas Athena literally means “Spear Shaker” or Shake Spear”, and says this helps to explain why Ben Jonson hailed Shakespeare as an Apollo, and why, in Sonnet 38, Shake-speare declares his Muse to be the Tenth Muse, Apollo’s counterpart Pallas Athena. Apollo was the patron God of music and poetry, and his most common attributes were the bow and arrow. The name Shakespeare as a pseudonym would have derived from the Greek God Apollo who had the ability to cure (bring Marlowe back from "death" under a pseudonym). Athena was the patroness and protector of the arts often depicted holding a spear and wearing a golden helmet. Athena sprang full-grown from the head of her father Zeus, just as William Shakespeare seems to have sprung full grown into the limelight as a poet. 

Thomas Walsingham was taught the ins and outs of secret intelligence from his first cousin once removed, Sir Francis Walsingham. In 1590 Thomas Walsingham was named chief mourner at Sir Francis Walsingham’s funeral. Sir Francis was patron to Marlowe's good friend Thomas Watson. It is from Watson’s Meliboeus, written to honor Sir Francis Walsingham after his death and dedicated to Thomas Walsingham, that we know the Apollo association would not have been far from Thomas’ mind three years later. Watson gives the real people he writes about in Meliboeus Latin names: Sir Francis is Meliboeus, Thomas is Tityrus, and Watson is Corydon. The long poem is framed as a dialogue between Tityrus and Corydon. When Tityrus asks Corydon to help him complain of Meliboeus’ death, Corydon replies: I now beginne: Apollo guide my sound, and weepe yee sisters of the learned hill: That your Paegafean springs may leap their bound. At one point Tityrus (Thomas) says of his cousin’s death:


And Venus weepe, as if Adonis dide.
And Stilbon with thy hat cloude Phoebus face


Watson ends the long poem speaking of Damon (Burghley) who is still alive to protect England, Aegon (Howard) who is still alive to defend her coast, and finishes his part of the dialogue between himself and Tityrus, saying:


Name Mopfus, Daphnis, Faustus, and the rest,
Whose feurall gifts thy singing can express:
When thou shalt tell how he in them is blest,
Their very names will comfort her [England’s] distress.


While some tend to negate Marlowe's importance to the aristocracy as part of the argument that Thomas Walsingham would not have risked saving him by faking his death at Deptford, the inclusion of this reference to Faustus suggests otherwise: Thomas (Tityrus) shall sing of how Sir Francis in Faustus (Marlowe) is blessed, Marlowe’s very name will comfort England’s distress. This implies that Marlowe’s dramas were intended as a positive force for England. Marlowe wrote Dr. Faustus a year or so before Meliboeus was written, so it is a fair assumption that he bore that nickname among his friends and associates. The name comes up again in an epigram by John Davies:


Faustus, not lord nor knight, nor wise nor old,
To every place about the town doth ride;
He rides into the fields, plays to behold,
He rides to take boat at the water side:
He rides to Pauls, he rides to th’Ordinary
He rides unto the house of bawdry too,
Thither his horse doth him so often carry,
That shortly he will quite forget to go.


       Thomas Watson is known as the Father of the English Sonnet, and Shakespeare is often spoken of as Watson’s Heir. We have no evidence that the man from Stratford knew Watson. We do have evidence that Watson and Marlowe were not only very good friends, they were both under the patronage of the Walsinghams. It is well known that Watson may have saved Marlowe’s life during the “Bradley duel” in 1589. When Watson died in 1592, his Latin epic Amintae Gaudia was seen through the press by Marlowe.

In the wake of Francis Walsingham’s death in 1590 Thomas Walsingham took on the burden of forming a new co-operational intelligence network between Burghley and Essex, whose comrade Southampton was always nearby. There is no known relationship between the Stratford man and Southampton, but this contextual setting gives us a more solid ground for the use of Southampton as the dedicatee of the first published work under the Shakespeare name than any connection orthodox Shakespeare scholars have surmised between Southampton and the man from Stratford.

There is no evidence the Stratford WilliamShackspere (from his will, page1) or Shakspere (from his will page 2) or Shakspear (from his will page 3) was connected to the dramatist's name William Shakespeare until the erection of the Stratford Monument which was built just before the publication of the first folio in 1623. A study of the Stratford Shakespeare's six signatures reveals he never signed his name "Shakespeare" on any of the six legal documents we have for him; this study analyzes the handwriting of his shaky signatures, comparing it with the Secretary and Italian writing hand then in use, and explores the fact that he never completed the whole of his first or last name.