Shakespeare Part II – the reaction

Dad has sent me this cutting from the Stratford Herald, in which Sir Stanley Wells and Dr Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust rebutt Dr Griffith’s discovery in no uncertain terms.

Herald

The argument that the ‘rebus’ is a printer’s logo is interesting.

The symbol clearly means something: but what? If it is a logo there must be more examples, not just of similar emblems used as a printer’s mark – because, see below with the Gresham portrait, such a rebus could be a trade symbol – but displayed in this position.

People certainly did use symbols like this as personal emblems. I’m more used to seeing them in a Northern European context. There’s a whole set of them, very similar in style and complexity, in stained-glass panels somewhere – a National Trust house I think; Packwood? – German from the inscrIptions and paired with heraldic shields. Sir Thomas Gresham uses a simple version in his 1544 portrait in the collection of the Mercers’ Company, which must be his trade mark.

Thomas_Gresham,_1544

(c) The Worshipful Company of Mercers

At this point I wonder if the W O R 4 mark is the trade mark of William Rogers the engraver.

I have no time for bogus identifications. And of course my spider-sense tingles when someone tells me there is ‘no other interpretation’ of how someone read an image 400 years ago. But I’ll always listen where there’s a chance a theory has legs. The ‘rebus’ may well prove to be a red herring. Dr Edmonson makes a good point. But the inked inscription WS suggests that an Elizabethan owner may have associated these initials with the image. And the fritillary is at least linked to Shakespeare’s work. This is enough to give the theory serious consideration.

I won’t join the chorus of dissent, because I remember an American academic years ago swimming against a similar tide when she claimed that a Restoration poet known only from her pen-name was the alter-ego of a well-known courtier. Dr Maureen Mulvihill was right, and Lady Mary Villiers Duchess of Richmond is now identified as ‘Ephelia’ in her DNB entry.

Perhaps the truth lies in between. Perhaps there was no secret propaganda work for Lord Burghley, and no collaboration with John Gerard. Perhaps William Rogers just based his allegorical figure of poetry loosely on London’s hottest new poet, putting enough of Shakespeare’s face in it for people at the time to recognise. I believe that Shakespeare was enough of a name and a ‘face’ for that to be possible. But we can be patient. If the evidence exists then one day it will be found. We still live in an age of Discovery.

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