Good Sweet Honey Lord

In a recent article for the De Vere Society newsletter, I explored John Davies of Hereford’s reference to Shake-speare in the notes of Microcosmos[1] which is formatted as:

In the article, I briefly noted that the interpretation of the W.S. as “William Shake-speare” seemed reasonable, but that the R B. may not have been intended to indicate another person (Richard Burbage, for example) since the letters are not punctuated the same way as the W.S.

If the periods punctuating W.S. indicate abbreviated words (here “William” and “Shake-speare”) then the B. would be an abbreviated word as well, while the R (without punctuation) would require a different interpretation.

I had wondered if the strange configuration might have been meant to be read

“William Shakespeare our Bee”

After last weekend’s virtual DVS meeting which included allusions to bees and drones and mention of the Alvearie text, I am wondering about this possibility again.

The interpretation of Davies’ note as “William Shake-speare our Bee” would coincide with other “sweet” allusions to Shakespeare.  In a 2018 article Katherine Chiljan provides a list of honey/sweet/sugary references to Shakespeare including:

“Lucrecia Sweet Shakspeare,” W. Covell, Polimanteia (1595); “Honeytongued Shakespeare,” Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia (1598); “Honeytong’d Shakespeare” and his characters’ “sug’red tongues,” John Weever, Epigrams in the oldest cut (1599); “And Shakespeare thou, whose honeyflowing vein,” Richard Barnfield, The Encomion of Lady Pecunia: or the praise of money (1598); “sweet Mr. Shakspeare” was said twice in The Return to Parnassus, Part 1 (c. 1599-1600); “Sweet Swan of Avon!,” Ben Jonson’s elegy to Shakespeare (First Folio, 1623)[2].

I would add to these a few more references of honey/bee-related titles that have been considered connected to Oxford;

Chettle’s “Melicert” who has a ‘honied muse[3],’

Nashe’s “Apis Lapis” (which is sometimes translated as “stone bull[4]” and could be translated as a “stone bee”) and

Spenser’s “Our Pleasant Willy”… “from whose pen /Large streames of honnie and sweete nectar flowe” and who is sitting in “idle cell.[5]” 

Additionally, Bugonia[6], a ritual based on the ancient belief that bees originated from the carcasses of oxen could play a part in this story since “our bee” (the name “William Shake-speare”) was metaphorically ‘born’ from Oxford’s ‘death’ when his own name was separated from his works.

Are there any other references to Shake-speare or Oxford missing from this mellifluous list?  Comment below.

[1] Jannsch, Heidi “John Davies of Hereford Identifies W.S. as Oxford in MicrocosmosDe Vere Society Newsletter, October 2020, pg 5

[2] Chiljan, Katherine “Why Was Edward de Vere Defamed on Stage—and His Death Unnoticed?” The Oxfordian, Volume 21, 2019, p 59

[3] Detobel, Robert, “Melicertus” Great Oxford, Parapress Ltd, 2004, p 223

[4] Barrell, Charles Wisner, The Dedication to Strange News (1592) Reprinted from the October 1944 issue of the Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly

[5] Whittemore, Hank, “Our Pleasant Willy”

[6] Wikipedia contributors. “Bugonia.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Nov. 2020. Web. 15 Dec. 2020.

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Markham’s Secret Video

I have created a PowerPoint presentation expanding on my “Gervase Markham’s Pretty Secret” article that can be viewed at the following link:

Markham’s Secret Video


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Gervase Markham’s Pretty Secret

At the Shakespeare Identified 100 symposium in Washington D.C. on March 4, 2020, Professor Roger Stritmatter mentioned a blog post I had written a few years ago focusing on Gervase Markham’s Honour in his Perfection.

After posting the idea here (Seventeen) I expanded on it in an essay included in the January 2017 edition of the De Vere Society newsletter.  The content of that essay can be accessed here:

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Sogliardo – Part III : A Reflection of Poet Ape?

If Jonson was not just commenting on Shakspere in Every Man Out of His Humour, but also his network of associates in both London and Stratford, the coat of arms Jonson created for Sogliardo might have been intended as a comment on the entire corporation and Shakspere’s position within this group.  A closer look at the coat of arms that Jonson created for Sogliardo also presents some similarities with another of Jonson’s targets, the “Poet Ape.”

SOG.  Nay, I will have him, I am resolute for that.  By this parchment, gentlemen, I have been so toiled among the harrots yonder, you will not believe!  they do speak in the strangest language, and give a man the hardest terms for his money, that ever you knew. 

CAR.  But have you arms, have you arms?

SOG.  I’faith, I thank them; I can write myself gentleman now; here’s my patent, it cost me thirty pound, by this breath.

 PUNT.  A very fair coat, well charged, and full of armory.

SOG.  Nay, it has as much variety of colours in it, as you have seen a coat have; how like you the crest, sir?

PUNT.  I understand it not well, what is’t?

SOG.  Marry, sir, it is your boar without a head, rampant.  A boar without a head, that’s very rare!

CAR.  Ay, and rampant too!  troth, I commend the herald’s wit, he has  decyphered him well:  a swine without a head, without brain, wit, anything indeed, ramping to gentility.  You can blazon the rest, signior, can you not?

SOG.  O, ay, I have it in writing here of purpose; it cost me two shilling the tricking.

CAR.  Let’s hear, let’s hear.

 PUNT.  It is the most vile, foolish, absurd, palpable, and ridiculous

escutcheon that ever this eye survised. — Save you, good monsieur


CAR.  Silence, good knight; on, on.

 SOG.  [READS.]  “Gyrony of eight pieces; azure and gules; between   three plates, a chevron engrailed checquy, or, vert, and ermins; on a chief argent, between two ann’lets sable, a boar’s head, proper.”

 CAR.  How’s that!  on a chief argent?

 SOG.  [READS.] “On a chief argent, a boar’s head proper, between two ann’lets sable.”

 CAR.  ‘Slud, it’s a hog’s cheek and puddings in a pewter field, this.


 SOG.  How like you them, signior?

 PUNT.  Let the word be, ‘Not without mustard’: your crest is very rare, sir.

 CAR.  A frying-pan to the crest, had had no fellow.[1]

When examining the Sogliardo arms scene, the script is typically quoted with the lines shown here in bold dropped out and replaced by ellipses.  Doing this has resulted in much commentary focusing on the image of the ‘boar’s head on the silver platter’ and the social climbing “ramping to gentility” implication of the headless boar standing on its hind legs.  Jonson clearly intended the insulting connection of “boar” and “boor” and for readers to recognize that the shield (escutcheon) resembles motley, since Carlo had previously described it as such in Act III sc i:

PUNT.  …  When saw you signior Sogliardo? 

CAR.  I came from him but now; he is at the herald’s office yonder; he requested me to go afore, and take up a man or two for him in Paul’s, against his cognisance was ready. 

PUNT.  What, has he purchased arms, then? 

CAR.  Ay, and rare ones too; of as many colours as e’er you saw any fool’s coat in your life.

Much more attention has been given to ramping boar (the crest) than the elements in the escutcheon (or shield).  Arthur Nason in Heralds and Heraldry in Ben Jonson’s Plays, Masques and Entertainments provides a detailed explanation of the different parts of the achievement, defines the heraldry terms used by Jonson in this scene and includes an illustration of the arms tricked (drawn and marked with abbreviations indicating colors).[2]


In Ostovich’s edition of the play, the footnotes explain and attempt to interpret Jonson’s design. It is noted that “the gyrony, or lower two thirds of the escutheon’s field, is divided into eight triangles, meeting at the center and alternating in tincture, blue and red.”  Ostovich suggests “the colours provide a satiric commentary on Sogliardo’s social ambition; blue (azure), the heraldic symbol or power, honour, and wisdom, was commonly the colour worn by servants in the sixteenth century; red (gules) was usually associated with gallant courtiers, not bumpkins.” The plates or “roundels argent” are explained to be “circular silver charges, each marking the corner of the lower field; the chevron (one of the nine features of a coat of arms) is shaped like an inverted letter V, and the editor quotes Peacham’s explanation that chevrons represent ‘the rafter of a house.  Howbeit it be a very honorable bearing, yet it is never seen in the coat of a King or Prince because it pertaineth to a mechanicall profession.’[3]  Finally, Ostovich notes that “Sogliardo’s chevron is engrailed checky, or divided by curving lines marking small squares of alternating tinctures, like a chess board, but in three colours; or, the heraldic metal gold, vert, the heraldic colour green; and ermines, heraldic fur, black with white spots.  They signify a travesty of gentlemanly quality in Sogliardo’s nouveau-riche vulgarity; sick or ‘humorous’ appetites and poor judgement (judges and peers wear ermine as a sign of authority).” [4]

Considering the design of Sogliardo’s coat of arms after examining the Stratford Corporation evidence in the previous post, three points from this explanation are of particular interest.  Like the ‘boar without a head, rampant’ that is given as the crest, the checkey with three colors instead of two (as seems to be the traditional display of checkey) does not appear to be a regular usage.  There is already a motley design with the red and blue gyronny, so the addition of the chevron, engrailed (wavy edged) results in a “behind this motley curtain there is even more motley” effect when the escutcheon is colored in.


The motley appearance is appropriate since Sogliardo is presented as being a fool in the play, so the “double motley” design could be piling insult upon insult, but there is an important point about all this motley that has not been considered: it is made from cloth.[5] If readers are meant to interpret this design as motley, then its identification with cloth goes hand in hand.  It is known that the Stratford Corporation members were involved in cloth/clothing related money matters and one researcher even referred to the members of the Quiney family as part of the “mercery mafia.”[6]  Sogliardo is both being identified as foolish and as being associated with cloth at the same time.  As Ostovich points out, part of the design is not associated with full robes of ermine, worn by judges and peers, but small bits of fur, tacked together with a patchwork of other bits and pieces.

Another important detail of the escutcheon that is strangely not commented on by Ostovich (or her source, Nason) are the roundels.  The ‘roundels argent’ are the silver discs, referred to in heraldry as “plates.” The reader’s association of the plates with the hogshead and puddings joke have limited the interpretation of ‘plates’ to the tableware definition.  However, gold roundels (called bezants) and silver roundels (called plates) were commonly used in heraldry to signify money.  In an armory guide written by John Bossewell in 1572 a shield is described:[7]

Here in thys field, Azure is to be sene, five Plates in crosse, These are to be taken for perfecte money & good, although they be not signed or stamped with the image or style of any prince, and although they bee not so marked, yet they are money, and ought to be so called.”

In his 1946 article “The Three Golden Balls of the Pawnbrokers,” Raymond De Roover suggests that the pawnbroker sign originated from heraldry, where roundels were arranged in the same manner seen in Sogliardo’s shield:

“…it is quite certain that the sign of the three balls is not of recent date.  It is found in old prints picturing pawnshops and most probably back to the Middle Ages.  In those times, heraldry was a living art whose symbolism was understood by the common people.  In heraldry, money is often represented by balls or disks, especially of gold or silver.  It is, therefore not surprising that the pawnbrokers adopted a sign with balls, since these were the symbols of money and were associated in the public mind with banking and other forms of money-lending.  Three balls were probably chosen because in heraldry three is the most common number of charges on the escutcheon.[8]

The author included the arms of the Pawnbrokers of Great Britain, which shows a similar layout; sable, a chevron or, between three bezants.   Although silver and not gold, the three plates on Sogliardo’s arms are placed in the same arrangement De Roover describes.


Ostovich’s quote from Peacham’s explanation that chevrons represent ‘the rafter of a house’ and  ‘pertaineth to a mechanicall profession’[9] can be seen in an 1596 engraving by Benjamin Wright[10] now in the Folger Library, which depicts the arms of the ‘Cheife corporatons [sic] of England.’ A segment of the engraving is included here, and of the fifteen livery companies shown in this segment, ten share a layout similar to Sogliardo’s (____on a chevron between three____)


Section of Wright’s ‘The armes of all the cheife corporatons [sic] of England’ – 1596
 Row 1  – Carpenters, Shoemakers, Painters, Curriers, Masons
Row 2 –  Cookes, Coopers, Bricklayers, Bowyers, Fletchers
Row 3  – Scriveners, Bottlemakers and Horners, Stationers, Marblers, Woolpackers

Of the 60 companies shown on Wright’s entire engraving, twenty of them share the layout shown on Sogliardo’s shield; a chevron surrounded by three “tools of the trade.” These “tools” are not necessarily three identical objects, but three tools or products related to the company or ‘corporation.’  For example, the coat of arms for Bowyers are described as “Sable, on a chevron Or between three floats argent as many pierced mullets of the field,” Carpenters’ as “Argent, a chevron engrailed between three pairs of compasses sable” and Fletchers’ as “Sable, a chevron between three broad – arrows Or, headed and flighted argent.”[11]



Of course, the arms of the livery companies are not the only escutcheons that use a chevron design: the shape of the chevron naturally leaves space for three charges arranged with two above and one centered below, but the connections between the Stratford Corporation topics and situations shared by the characters in his play indicate that Jonson may have had this particular corporation in mind while he was writing the play.  The arms Jonson created equated Sogliardo, not with illustrious families, but with tradesmen like those in the London Corporations. Jonson’s opinions of Shakspere as the undeserving, boorish head of the “family” are made clear in the characterization of Sogliardo.

In the configuration of Sogliardo’s arms, Jonson has introduced the motley/fabric design in the gyronny, intensified it with the tri-colored checkey chevron and surrounded it with silver coins.  Interpretations of this design could be a fool with money, a foolish moneylender, and/or someone who makes money from dealing/ pawn brokering with fabric/clothing.  These interpretations fit with the Stratford Corporation communications with Richard Quiney about Shakspere at the time Jonson was writing the play; their interests focus on cloth and clothing and their interactions with Shakspere exemplify that he was understood to be a source of money for these interests.

Placing this design underneath a boar’s head ‘in chief between two annulets sable,’ could be a display of the role in the group Shakspere had, as use of a chief in heraldry was understood to acknowledge the bearer as the ‘head’ of a group.[12]  The arrangement of the boar’s head between two rings also results in a pillory effect visually.  Skewering Shakspere in the portrayal of Sogliardo was one way of doling out punishment; ‘granting’ him a coat of arms that reinforces Shakspere’s position as the ‘top fool’ of his ‘company,’ the Stratford Corporation, would reinforce this intent.

Viewed in this light, Sogliardo’s arms present a visual representation of another jab Jonson took at Shakspere: his poem “On Poet-Ape.”  Comparable imagery and terminology are used by Jonson in this sonnet:

On Poet-Ape

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,

   Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,

From brokage is become so bold a thief,

   As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.

At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,

   Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown

To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,

   He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own:

And, told of this, he slights it.  Tut, such crimes

   The sluggish gaping auditor devours;

He marks not whose ‘twas first: and after-times

   May judge it to be his, as well as ours.

Fool!  as if half eyes will not know a fleece

   From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece?

poetapechart (2)

Sogliardo’s trip to the herald’s office to gain arms is mentioned five times in Every Man Out of His Humour; twice by Carlo, once by Fungoso and twice by Sogliardo. [14]  Jonson made it clear that he was intentionally leading up to the presentation of the arms and created them with a specific message in mind.  Since ‘On Poet Ape’ reflects the same sentiments about a specific person and uses similar imagery and phrasing, it seems likely that Jonson had the same subject in mind when writing both pieces.



[1] Jonson, Ben, Every Man out of His Humour,

[2] Nason, Arthur Huntington, Heralds and Heraldry in Ben Jonson’s Plays, Masques and Entertainments, New York City, 1907

[3] Jonson, Ben, Every Man Out of His Humour, ed Ostovich, Helen, Manchester and New York, 2001 (Peacham, The Gentleman’s Exercise (1634) cited in Nason 96.

[4] Ostovich 232 – citing Nason 24, 94 and Linthicum, p 41.

[5] The term Jonson actually uses in the play is “a fool’s coat” but this phrase is defined as “the motley coat of a fool or buffoon,” and “motley” as “Cloth woven from threads of two or more colours; a piece of this cloth. In early quots. evidently a fine fabric, but often used in the 16th and 17th centuries for a coarse cloth.”

[6] Germaine Greer, “His Daughter Judith and the Quineys”, The Shakespeare Circle, Cambridge University Press 2015

[7] Bossewell, John, VVorkes of armorie deuyded into three bookes, entituled, the concordes of armorie, the armorie of honor, and of coates and creastes, collected and gathered by Iohn Bossewell Gentleman. Third Book, page 7.  See also Legh, Gerard, Accedens of armory.  150

[8] de Roover, Raymond, “The Three Golden Balls of the Pawnbrokers” Business History Review, 1946, vol. 20, issue 04, 117-124

[9] The Gentleman’s Exercise is dated 1634.  This postdates the play but Bossewell’s work, listed above, also  includes the following: The Frenche call thys signe a Cheueron.* In Latyne it is called Signum capitale, & Tignus, or Tignum, in Englishe it is a rafter of an house, which beareth the roofe: and of vs Northerne men, it is called a Sparre, or Sparres, of others the barge coples. The whiche signes by all likelyhode were firste borne of carpenters, and makers of houses:for an house is neuer made perfecte, till these coples be put vpon it, by the maner of an heade: and two suche ioyned together, make a capitall signe: that is to saye in yenortherne tongue a cople of sparres.

[10] Wright, Benjamin, The armes of all the cheife corporatons [sic] of England wt. the companees of London described by letters for ther seuerall collores, EEBO STC (2nd ed.) / 26018

[11] Heraldry of the World:

[12] Guillam, John, A Display of Heraldry, 1610 “And as the head is the chiefe part in a man, so the chiefe in the Escocheon should be a reward of such onely, whose high merits have procured them chiefe place, esteeme, or love amongst men.” 45

[14] Lines in EMOOHH regarding Sogliardo’s acquiring arms:

Act I, sc ii – Carlo to Sogliardo :

I’ll bring you where you shall ha’ your choice for the money.

Act II sc i – Sogliardo to Fungoso:

You shall ha’ me at the herald’s office, sir, for some week or so, at my first coming up.

Act II, sc ii – Fungoso to Fallace:

Sister, if anyone ask for mine uncle Sogliardo, they shall ha’ him at the heralds’ office yonder by Paul’s.

Act III sc i – Carlo to Puntarvolo:

I came from him but now.  He is at the herald’s office yonder.

Act III sc i – Sogliardo:

By this parchment, gentlemen, I have been so toiled among the harrots yonder, you will not believe.

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Sogliardo – Part II:  Shakspere & Co.

Members of the Stratford Corporation

in Ben Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour


Much of the evidence for William Shakspere throughout the late 1590s documents his involvement in business and financial matters.  One important piece of financial evidence has come down to us through Richard Quiney, a business associate and family friend of Shakspere, who wrote him a letter in 1598 requesting a 30£ loan.  This loan was subsequently discussed by other members of the Stratford Corporation in their communications with Richard Quiney.  An examination of this correspondence alongside Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour reveals considerable similarities between Shakspere’s Stratford associates and interests and the characters and situations presented by Jonson in the play. In light of these similarities, it seems that Jonson found his inspiration for Sogliardo and his “family” from Shakspere and the members of the Stratford Corporation.

The Stratford Corporation 

In Shakespeare’s Money, Robert Bearman relates that John Shakspere, William’s father, had been part of the Stratford Corporation throughout the 1560s:

It was common practice for prominent members of the business community to enter the ranks of the civic elite who made up the Stratford Corporation, a twenty-eight-man, self-perpetuating oligarchy established by the Corporation’s founding charter of 1553.  John was no exception to the rule.  After holding a number of civic posts, he was elected an alderman in July 1565, high bailiff in September 1568, and chief alderman in July 1565. [i]

It does not appear that William followed in his father’s footsteps serving this group, but a comparable involvement is reflected in the person of Richard Quiney, who was elected principal burgess in 1580, chamberlain in 1587 and alderman in 1588.  In The Shakespeare Circle, Quiney is described by Germaine Greer as “a mercer, son of Adrian Quiney, also a mercer, grandson of another Richard Quiney, also a mercer.”  In 1581 he married Bess, the daughter of Thomas Phillips, also a mercer, who Greer refers to as “a chief figure in what I am tempted to call the mercery mafia.”[ii] While a leading member of the Stratford Corporation, Quiney often traveled to London on corporation business, and he is documented as being in London for much of the fall of 1598.  In addition to being recorded as a mercer, “a person who deals in textile fabrics, esp. silks, velvets, and other fine materials… also (occasionally): a dealer in haberdashery”[iii] the corporation records show that “Master Richard Quiney useth the trades of buying and selling of corn for great sums and making of malt.” [iv]  Two of Quiney’s business interests, therefore, were fabrics and grain dealing.

It is the letter this Richard Quiney wrote to William Shakspere requesting the procurement of a 30£ loan that is the only known letter to Shakspere in existence.  However, there are several other letters written to Richard Quiney that give a more complete view of the interactions of the Stratford Corporation members and their concerns, as well as their impression of who William Shakspere was and what his association was with their group. Referred to as revealing a “complex web of interlocking debts” on the Shakespeare Documented website, the information contained in the letters between Quiney and the members of the Stratford Corporation (including Abraham Sturley, Adrian Quiney and Daniel Baker) indicates that Shakspere was known to this group of associates as someone who had access to money and could arrange loans when needed.  The evidence also shows that the personal interests of the members of the Stratford Corporation at this time included their grain stores and acquiring money to pay cloth/clothing debts or to make clothing related purchases.  Similar concerns are reflected by the family of Sogliardo in Every Man Out of His Humour.  Additionally, Shakspere’s position within the group is comparable to that of Sogliardo’s: when money is needed, he is one that “the family” could approach with requests to attain it.

Shakspere has previously been suggested as the model for Sogliardo because he was documented as applying for a coat of arms in 1596 and 1599, and the words “Non Sanz Droict” (Not Without Right) appear on the Shakspere arms application while Jonson sets up Sogliardo’s ‘motto’ with a similar wording of “Not Without Mustard.”  Shakspere had purchased New Place in 1597, so it is clear he had land and money in the late 1590s and that he was attempting to gain gentleman status by attaining arms. When Sogliardo appears on stage, his first words include the statement:

     I have land and money, my friends left me well, and I will be a gentleman whatever it costs me. Sogliardo (Act I, sc ii)

The editor of a modern edition of Every Man Out of His Humour, Helen Ostovich, defines ‘friends’ as ‘relatives’ here, which is interesting in light of the familial terms used between members of the Stratford Corporation.  On Shakespeare Documented, Bearman comments on the title “brother” used between the members several times, indicating that it may have meant “brother alderman,” but that some relationships between the members are “hard to explain” or not fully understood.[v]  Although they referred to Shakspere as “friend” other Stratford Corporation members addressed each other as “brother,[vi]” and Daniel Baker called Richard Quiney and his wife “aunt” and “uncle.” Adrian Quiney, naturally refers to Richard as his “son.”

But the term “friends” is the one used by Jonson in regard to Sogliardo’s money and coincidentally, also used by Abraham Sturley in relation to Shakspere in a letter to Richard Quiney dated January 24, 1598.   Sturley writes that he heard Shakspere was interested in purchasing more land and asked Quiney to convince Shakespere to instead invest in the tithes of the Stratford Corporation.  Sturley hoped that “bi the instruccions u can geve him theareof, and bi the frendes he can make” Quiney could persuade Shakspere to invest in these tithes instead of purchasing the land he was thought to have in mind. Interestingly, Shakspere is being discussed in regard to land and money and friends in Sturley’s letter.

Of additional interest is something mentioned later in the same letter when Sturley reports: “v shall vnderstande brother that our neighbours are growen with the wantes thei feele throughe the dearneses of corne … malecontent.” Bearman explains that officials at this time had been asked to investigate the activities of local maltsters who were accused of hoarding.  Sturley writes that these officials hoped within a weeke to leade some of them in a halter and that the Earl of Essex would intervene “to se them hanged on gibbetts att their owne doors.” [vii] The phrase used by Sturley of the accused hoarders being lead “in a halter” is reflected in the Sordido character in the play when Jonson uses the stage direction:

     Enter Sordido with a halter about his necke… (Act 3, scene ii)

In his letter, Sturley is commenting on current events in England concerning official decrees. Ostovich explains:

A proclamation was issued on 31 July 1596 against covetous farmers and engrossers; local sheriffs had to submit monthly surveillance reports on its enforcements by justices of the peace. Another proclamation, issued 23 August 1598, was directed against any hoarding or wasting of corn, ‘especially such as so contemptuously and unchristianly either have fed dogs or made starch’ for their own vanity or profit instead of sustaining the poor in a time of dearth (Proclamations 2.355 in the BL)[viii]

In Jonson’s play, Sordido delights in his hidden stores of grain and his ability to hide them from the authorities.  In Act I scene iii, he heartlessly swears to hide his grain regardless of the proclamations issued instructing him against this:

                                    …Here’s a deuice
To charge me bring my grain unto the markets.
Ay, much!  – when I haue neither barn nor garner,
Nor Earth to hide it in, I’ll bring it, but till then
Each corn I send shall be as big as Pauls.
O, but (say some) the poor are like to starve.
Why let ‘hem starve, what’s that to me? (ln 97-103)

Two surveys of the holders of grain and malt were recorded in Stratford, one in 1595 and one in 1598.  In Shakespeare’s Money, Robert Bearman also notes that Richard Quiney’s recorded holdings in 1595 of:

“forty-seven quarters of barley and thirty-two of malt, were the highest in town.  By the time of the second survey of 1598, written up by Quiney himself, these holdings had miraculously dwindled to just over sixteen quarters.  Some massaging of the figures might therefore be expected.” [ix]

According to Bearman, Richard Quiney was deceitfully hiding his assets. This is what just what Sordido pledges to do at the beginning of the play.  Since Quiney was not a farmer, he is not literally “a farmer burying his grain.” Instead, he used his position as the recorder of the grain survey to “hide” his grain by, as Bearman phrases it, “massaging” the amounts of his holdings on paper.

The concerns and actions of Richard Quiney and Abraham Sturley are reflected in Jonson’s Sordido character. Another member of the Stratford Corporation who seems to have been an inspiration for one of Jonson’s characters is Daniel Baker.  Baker’s correspondence with his “uncle” Richard Quiney is comparable to the interactions between Fungoso, his father Sordido and his uncle Sogliardo. Fungoso daydreams about purchasing the clothes worn by Brisk and then requests that his uncle arrange borrowing the money for him, under the presumption that the money will be used for books.  Sogliardo mediates this money transaction for clothing between his brother and his nephew:

Sogliardo: Your mind is carried away with somewhat else. I ask what news you hear?

Fungoso: Troth we hear none. (Aside) In good faith, I was never so pleased with a fashion, days of my life! O an I might have but my wish), I’d ask no more of God now but such a suit, such a hat, such a band, such a doublet, such a hose, such a boot, and such a–

Annoyed that his uncle Sogliardo is talking about recent puppet shows he has heard about in the vicinity, Fungoso calculates how much money he would need to purchase his new outfit;

Fungoso: …Let me see: the doublet, say fifty shillings the doublet; and between three or four pounds the hose; then boots, the hat, and band – Some ten or eleven pound would do it all, and suit me for the heavens!”

He then approaches Sogliardo to “make a motion for me to my father” asking his uncle to secure money from Sordido, claiming that it would be used for schoolbooks.  Fungoso asks Sogliardo to negotiate for him instead of speaking directly to Sordido, who is standing nearby;

Fungoso: … I pray you, move it for me.

Sogliardo: That I will.  When would you have me do it? Presently?

Fungoso: O, ay, I pray you, good uncle! [Aside, as Sogliardo and Sordido step to one side] God send me good luck! Lord, an’t be thy will, prosper it! O Iesu! Now, now, if it take (O Christ!) I am made for euer! (Act II, sc i, 449)

Sordido later agrees to give Fungoso “ten pound” but “part with no more,” a comment which may indicate that Sogliardo had originally approached his brother with a higher amount, and they bargained to reach ten pounds.  Sogliardo acts as the middleman or broker here, securing the money from Sordido for Fungoso.

The correspondence surrounding the 30£ Quiney-Shakspere letter reveals that the Stratford Corporation members saw Shakspere as filling a similar broker role for their group.  Although this loan request letter written by Richard Quiney is often touted as the one and only letter to William Shakspere, its contents were known about and commented on in other letters by the members of the Stratford Corporation.  One letter indicates that Quiney’s 30£ request, supposedly to pay off his own debts in London, was actually made for Abraham Sturley.  Sturley had indicated in an earlier letter to Quiney that he had bonds coming due soon[x] and in a subsequent letter stated that he was happy to hear that Shakspere would help “procure us monie.”[xi]  Meanwhile, back in Stratford, Quiney’s father, Adrian, sent word that if Quiney were to acquire money from Shakspere, he should bring the money home and use it for an investment in knytte stockings.[xii]  At the same time, Quiney’s “nephew,” Daniel Baker, sent several letters expecting Quiney to pay his debts to London drapers[xiii] with money (presumed to be the 30£ from Shakspere) he had heard Quiney might be acquiring[xiv].

Like Fungoso, Baker makes his requests for money to his “uncle.” In the play, when Fungoso distractedly (and somewhat rudely) interacts with his uncle Sogliardo, he lists how much each desired item will cost and who he will purchase it from.  He then asks Sogliardo to make arrangements for the money.  After he receives the money, it is quickly spent and Fungoso becomes more harried and desperate as the play goes on.  Similarly, after hearing about the 30£ loan from Shakspere, Baker sent a hurried letter dated November 24, 1598 to Quiney in which he submits a list of payment requests for his uncle to dole out to the drapers (cloth merchants) on his behalf:

Vnckle Quyne my Commendacions done etc I vnderstand by your Letter to Mr Alderman that Mr Kympton is not yet paide his 4li 7s which I much marvayle of for that that I appointed Mr Barber to appoint iijli to bee paide to Mr Kympton thys last weeke yff hee weare not payd beefore otherwise to pay the 3li to Mr Woolly & the monie was payde to Mr Woolly wherby it should seeme that Mr Kympton was payd beefore. I pray you Know ceartainly yff hee bee payd & yff not then vse som meanes eyther to pay hym speedely or eles send meeword that I may sent it hym for I am ashamed that hee is so longe unpayd. my Aunt Quyne telleth mee that you are to Receaue 20 or 30£ In London & that you will pay som monie for mee yff neede bee: & in that Resspect I have Lent her som monie allredy to serve her occations so yff you can pay mee 20li then disschardge Mr Kympton & the Ressadew pay to Mr ffrauncis Evington at the Checker in watling street: yff Sir Edward Grevile haue payd hym 10li then doo you pay hym 10li more. yff Sir Edward paid hym non then pay Mr Evington 15li yff you can. or 20li yff your monie will hould owt: and then yff you have any more spare monie Leave 10li for mee with my Cossen Vnderhill uppon ludgate hyll. & I will write to hym wheer to pay it for mee. but yff you thinck that you shall not haue monie for mee Let mee know with all speed that I may otherwise provid & so in great haste I comyt you to god Stretford 24 November 1598 Yours ever  Daniell Baker[xv]

Since the evidence shows that Richard Quiney was in London in 1598, his association with Will Shakspere could have brought him in close proximity to Ben Jonson since Shakspere and Jonson knew each other at this same time. The correlations between the characters and the members of the Stratford Corporation suggest that they may have provided the inspiration for Jonson’s characters. Like Quiney, Sordido is unlawfully hiding his grain in order to make a profit.  Like Baker and Adrian Quiney (who hear of the 30£ loan and provide Richard Quiney with cloth-related options for its usage) Fungoso itemizes his costs to a number of cloth vendors and expects his uncle to arrange for payment.  Like Quiney’s request for 30£ from Shakspere, supposedly for his own debts, but actually for Sturley’s, Fungoso is not being honest in his loan request.  Like Sogliardo and Sordido, Shakspere and Quiney are expected to arrange financial assistance for/between members of the “family” when asked.  These correlations between the characters in Every Man Out of His Humour and the members of the Stratford Corporation suggest that Jonson was aware of the group’s correspondence, interactions, and interests at this time, as well as Shakspere’s role within the group, and that Jonson used them as the models for the characters of Sogliardo and his family in his play.



[i] (Bearman, Robert Shakespeare’s Money, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 9)

[ii] (Germaine Greer, “His Daughter Judith and the Quineys”, The Shakespeare Circle, Cambridge University Press 2015)


[iv] (113 Greer quoting Minutes and Accounts of the Corporation of Stratford Upon Avon 1553-1598, 1921-2011 6 Vols. Stratford-upon-Avon, The Dugdale Society.)


[vi] According to several essays in The Shakspeare Circle, Shakspere’s actual brother was working in London as a haberdasher at the time adding another component to the cloth/clothing ‘family’ interests


[viii] Jonson, Ben, Every Man Out of His Humour, ed Ostovich, Helen (Manchester and New York, 2001) 155, citing de Bruyn, Lucy, Mob Rule and the Riots: The Present Mirrored in the Past, London and New York, 1981

[ix] Bearman, Robert, Shakespeare’s Money: How much did he make and what did it mean? Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016




[xiii] OED defines draper as “One who made (woollen) cloth. Subsequently, A dealer in cloth, and now by extension, in other articles of textile manufacture: often qualified as woollen draper, linen draper

Draper was originally a term for a retailer or wholesaler of cloth that was mainly for clothing. A draper may additionally operate as a cloth merchant or a haberdasher.

  1. Orig., One who made (woolen) cloth. Subsequently, A dealer in cloth, and now by extension, in other articles of textile manufacture: often qualified as woollen draper, linen draper.



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Sogliardo – Part I : “A Cheefe Argent”

UPDATE 03.21.20

Content removed – An expanded version of my post exploring the phrase “a cheefe argent” from Jonson’s “Every Man Out of His Humour” has been accepted for publication in an upcoming edition of OUP Notes and Queries.


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Whose Name Doth Deck This Tombe?


Stratford Monument Inscription [i]


A few years ago I became interested in the Stratford monument and determined that the Latin inscription at the top could be anagrammed to reveal that Edward de Vere was the author Shakespeare.  I began this blog with those findings (hence the name Hiddenepitaph), but after some reflection, I felt that my interpretation was overly complicated, and that a solution (if there truly was one on the monument) had to be simpler.  I removed the article, but periodically revisited the issue, grappling with the idea that Edward de Vere was somewhere being referred to on the Stratford man’s plaque.

While I was considering possible solutions, Alexander Waugh published his article about the monument,[ii] asserting that the Latin inscription reveals that the real Shakespeare is interred not at Holy Trinity Church, but with Chaucer, Beaumont and Spenser in Westminster Abbey.  This is an elegant solution (that I don’t necessarily disagree with), but I struggled with this explanation, because I felt that the phrases “in this monument” and “Ys (this) tombe” were indicating that there is something on the plaque itself that would tell us definitively who Shakespeare was, not where he was, or with whom he was literally interred.

This week I glanced at my notes and focused on the line “whose name doth deck Ys tombe” wondering about the various meanings of the word “deck” (besides covering or adorning as in “Deck the Halls”)

The Oxford English Dictionary includes a definition that refers to the arrangement of items: “a pile of things laid on top of one another.[iii]”  Being most familiar, of course, with a stack of cards being referred to as a “deck” I wondered if “deck this tombe” indicated that we are simply to arrange the Latin inscription in a slightly different configuration. If we simply stack the six phrases on top of each other, we find that de Vere’s name does, in fact, deck this tombe as an acrostic.


Acrostics[iv] are poems or other compositions where the first letters of each line are arranged to form words when read vertically.[v] These were common at the time the Stratford Monument was installed:


Ben Jonson’s acrostic poem included in 1612 The Alchemist

Unlike Ben Jonson’s acrostic above, the solution to the puzzle included in the Latin inscription of the Stratford monument depends on the second letter of each word.  I am unsure how common this was at the time, but it was presumably done this way because the first three phrases beginning with V-E-R across the top of the monument would have been immediately obvious.  Since the name of the true author still needed to be hidden, there had to be a slightly more puzzling arrangement that wouldn’t be noticeable at first glance, but simple enough if the “passenger” decided to “stay” and try to read the hidden name.

Notes and References:


[ii] Waugh, Alexander,  “Thy Stratford Moniment” –  Revisited, deVere Society Newsletter, October 2014,

[iii] deck, v.1
1. trans. To cover; esp. to cover with garments, clothe. Obs.
  1. a.To clothe in rich or ornamental garments; to cover with what beautifies; to array, attire, adorn.
deck, n.1
1. A covering. Obs.
  1. a.Naut.A platform extending from side to side of a ship or part of a ship, covering in the space below, and also itself serving as a floor; formed of planks, or (in iron ships) of iron plating usually covered with planks.  The primary notion was ‘covering’ or ‘roof’ rather than ‘floor’
  2. a.A pile of things laid flat upon each other.
1625   F. Markham Bk. Honour ii. vi. 63   Any whose Pedigree lyes so deepe in the decke, that few or none will labour to find it.
1631   J. Mabbe tr. F. de Rojas Spanish Bawd xix. 185   Subtill words, whereof such as shee are never to seeke, but have them still ready in the deck.
[iV] acrostic, n.  
a.       A (usually short) poem (or other composition) in which the initial letters of the lines, taken in order, spell a word, phrase, or sentence. Cf. telestich n  
.Sometimes the last or middle letters of the lines, or all of them, are similarly arranged to spell words, etc., whence a distinction of single acrosticdouble acrostic, or triple acrostic.
 [v] The uses of thorns Ys and Yt (for “this” and “that”) arranged perfectly vertically (see the plaque) may also be hinting at the stacking formation.
















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Shakespeare the Player

The New York Times reported  yesterday that William Shakespeare of Stratford was an “Actor. Playwright. Social Climber.”    The “new evidence,” referred to in the article (relating to Shakespeare’s grant of a coat of arms) provides earlier copies of evidence that was already extant.


The newly discovered drawing of Shakspere’s arms is presented on the left (c. 1600), and the previously acknowledged evidence on the right (c.1700).

James Shapiro from Columbia University seems to think that this earlier copy of the same evidence will put an end to the authorship question.  How he came to this conclusion is a mystery, since there is still no mention of the man from Stratford being an author.   How he can refer to this new evidence as a “smoking gun” is  also puzzling.  The label itself “Shakespeare ye player by garter” could actually serve as a clear distinction: these are the arms of the player (actor), not the arms of the writer with the similarly spelled name.  If the man who acquired these arms was the writer, why weren’t the arms on any of the published works, particularly the First Folio?

I agree with Shapiro that “Shakespeare of Stratford and ‘Shakespeare the player’ were one and the same,” that these were his arms, and he was a social climber. We already knew all this from other evidence, however, much of it from Ben Jonson, who listed Shakespeare as an actor in his own folio, and who parodied his attempts at getting arms in Every Man Out of His Humor.   What we still don’t know (because there is no contemporary evidence) is that the man from Stratford was a writer.  None of this new evidence indicates that he was..

Below is a link to the response from the De Vere Society to the Times article  :

De Vere Society Response

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The Shakespeare Authorship Ruse Documented in Ben Jonson’s Epigram To Fine Grand


Shake-speare’s First Folio provided the foundation for Will Shakspere of Stratford’s identification as the great author.   Acknowledging that Ben Jonson played a part in the Folio’s production and also had a hand in the inscription on the monument in Trinity Church, Nina Green notes that this “suggests that the publication of the First Folio and the erection of a monument to Shakespeare in the church at Stratford were a coordinated effort in which Ben Jonson played a key part.”[i]    Recognizing that there was a “coordinated effort” enables readers to interpret Jonson’s works in a new light. When read with an understanding of his involvement in the authorship deception, Jonson’s epigram “To Fine Grand” seems to reveal his participation in the attribution of the great works of Shake-speare to the Stratford man.  The form of the poem, several of the items listed, and the grand total of the “fine,” seem to indicate that the authorship ruse is likely the true subject of this epigram.


Epigrammes” is a collection of poems that first appeared in The Workes of Benjamin Jonson, printed in November, 1616.[ii]  “To Fine Grand” has traditionally been read as a lament by Jonson about being a “poet for hire” in which he is expressing his disgust at the many services he has rendered to “Grand;” an unidentified courtier or patron.  A familiarity with the evidence that exists for William Shakspere, and knowing that Jonson was involved in the message that posterity received about Shakespeare’s identity, provide an entirely new reading of “To Fine Grand.”  The poem includes references to money lending, lying about authorship, a picture, an imprese, and an epitaph.  Each of these items has specific associations with William Shakspere and Ben Jonson.

Jonson’s signature ambiguity is on display in the title, which can be understood two different ways. “Fine” could refer to finery in dress and manner (This poem is ADDRESSED TO someone in the upper class (a grandee) Jonson has nick-named “Fine Grand”), or it is intended as a bill or a penalty that must be paid (the purpose of the poem is TO FINE someone Jonson has nick-named “Grand”).  Although using the word “To” as in Jonson’s other epigrams “To Groome Ideot” and “To Person Guilty” would imply that “Fine Grand” was being used as a title, the next three times Jonson names his target, he uses only GRAND[iii] in capital letters.   The form of the poem (a bill for items or services rendered) seems to indicate that its intention is the monetary definition, as does the final line (“Pay me quickly or I’ll pay you.”).

So does he intend either of these meanings? Both? Is he addressing two different people? One a grandee and one a businessman?  Inspection of the poem will show that half could be directed at William Shakspere while the other half addresses Jonson’s employer in the Shakespeare authorship deception.  Along with the form of the poem resembling a business transaction (and documentary evidence of William Shakspere indicates he was an investor, moneylender and broker), many of the “items” Jonson includes in his bill have explanations could relate to Shakspere himself, and others to the tasks required of Jonson in the attempt to put Shakspere forward as the author Shake-speare.

What is’t, fine Grand, makes thee my friendship flye,

Or take an Epigramme so fearefully:

As’t were a challenge, or a borrowers letter?

Jonson would never have known the only letter we would have of William Shakspere’s would be a “borrower’s letter” from Richard Quiney[iv]  but since additional evidence exists that shows Shakspere was known for lending money (and bringing suits against those who failed to pay him back.[v]), we can assume that Shakspere’s moneylending activities and court challenges were publically known at the time.

The world must know your greatnesse is my debter.

Certainly, no one is more responsible for the greatness of the Stratford Man than Ben Jonson.  All references to the great author being the man of Stratford-Upon-Avon followed the First Folio’s publication in 1623, for which Jonson provided dedicatory poems and letters. Without Jonson’s contributions to the First Folio, there may never have been a successful myth that Shakspere had been the greatest writer of all time.

Meanwhile, Jonson also seemed to be constantly trying to set the record straight by associating Shakspere not with writers, but with actors.  In The Workes of Benjamin Jonson, Jonson lists Shakespeare on the cast lists of comoedians in the 1598 production of “Every Man In His Humour” (as Will Shakespeare) and as one of the principall tragoedians in the 1603 production of “Sejanus” (as Will Shake-speare).  Both lists also include actors Heminge, Condell and Burbage. The First Folio includes a cast list headed by “William Shakespeare” as well as dedicatory letters signed by actors Heminge and Condell (but thought to have been written by Jonson).[vi] These associations with actors taken together with the interlineation in Shakspere’s will leaving money for rings to Heminge, Condell and Burbage) provide evidence placing Shakspere firmly in an acting and not a writing profession.  Other evidence confirms that Shakspere was a shrewd businessman and moneylender.[vii]   Only because of Jonson is Shakspere identified as an author, therefore Will Shakspere was indebted to Jonson for his reputation of literary greatness.

In-primis, GRAND, you owe me for a iest;

I lent you, on meere acquaintance, at a feast.

Item, a tale or two some fortnight after;

That yet maintaynes you, and your house in laughter


Speculating on the specific jest and tales that Jonson refers to in the next four lines would be futile, but similarities between these items and some legends in the Shakespeare mythos can be observed.   There is a story involving Shakespere and Richard Burbage that is considered an invented joke. [viii]  If this is the jest Jonson is responsible for, then he is once again placing Shakspere in the company of actors, and not writers.

The phrase “meere acquaintance” echoes another legend from the Shakespeare “biography:” that of the “Merry Meeting.”   In 1662 the Vicar of Stratford recorded some local gossip he had heard of the events that preceded Shakspere’s death.   It told that “Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merry meeting, and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a fever there contracted.”  The similarity in wording between meere/merry and acquaintance/meeting is an interesting coincidence.  

But regardless of the actual tales and jest, the message we seem to be getting from Jonson is that the person he is speaking to took these things and didn’t compensate or acknowledge Jonson as the source, insinuating that the addressee repeatedly stole Jonson’s work/ideas.  This sentiment is also reminiscent of the subject of “On Poet Ape” who “makes each man’s wit his own; and told of this, he slights it…”

Item, the babylonian song you sing;

Item, a fair greeke poesie for a ring,

With which a learned madam you belye.

Again, it is unwise to speculate on the specific song and poesie that Jonson has in mind here.  “Babylonian” can be defined as meaning “incomprehensible”[ix] and “greeke[x]” has definitions including being deceitful or difficult to understand, so the use of these terms seems to lead into the belying in the following line, again taking us back to the sentiment from “On Poet Ape.”

It is quite interesting that the object of deceit is a ring, since a connectionbetween Will Shakspere and the London theatre community is made with rings.  In Shakspere’s will, money was left for Burbage, Condell and Heminges (members of the King’s Men theatre company) to purchase rings.[xi]  Coincidentally, Shakspere’s will is also itemized like “To Fine Grand,” but seeing this poem as an intentional allusion to Shakspere’s will would require Jonson’s presence at the composition and signing of the will, and there is no evidence he was involved in it.[xii]

Jonson indicates that Grand used a poem (poesie) to deceive a learned madame.[xiii]  This section paints Grand as a cheat and or deceiver.  Grand’s belying a learned madame could indicate that educated people were attributing poems to the undeserving Shakspere at this time in history and this was upsetting Jonson.  He expressed aggravation with this in “On Poet Ape” as well, at someone whose actions might lead posterity to “judge it to be his as well as ours.”

Item, a charme surrounding fearefully

Your partie-per-pale picture, one halfe drawne

In solemne cypres, the other cob-web- lawne.

In Heralds and Heraldry in Ben Jonson’s Plays, Masques and Entertainments, Arthur Huntington Nason states that the party per pale division “does not occur in any of the coats blazoned by Jonson.[xiv]”  Jonson does not appear to be talking about a coat of arms, however, since he uses the word “picture” and not “escutcheon” or “shield” and describes the picture, not with the standard “tinctures,” but in colors associated with clothing; cypress (black) and lawne (white).  A blazon would use the words “sable” and “argent” to indicate black and white.

The picture most associated with Jonson and Shakspere/Shakespeare, of course, is the Droeshout engraving on the front of the First Folio.  The picture of “Shakespeare” is odd to say the least, but the background of Martin Droeshout’s engraving resembles heraldic hatchings dividing it into two distinct sides – similar to a party-per-pale shield.    An examination of Jonson’s poems surrounding the Droeshout engraving reveals that he included a charme (the repetition of certain words) as well.[xv]  The word “picture” also has a derogatory definition, meaning: a person who is a poor imitation of someone or something else; a counterfeit[xvi]



Droeshout Engraving – Used with permission from Meisei University[xvii]


Item, a gulling imprese for you, at tilt.

Contemporary references to Shakspere associated him with the word “gull.”  In Shakespeare Suppressed, Chiljan explains:

Ben Jonson and an anonymous writer at Cambridge University lampooned the Stratford Man in a cluster of comedies performed during 1598 to 1601.  All four plays feature one character of this description: an uneducated or naïve man who pretends to be or believes he is a gentleman.  His pose is seen as ridiculous by the more knowledgeable characters and in three of four plays he is called a “gull.” He pretends to write poetry, but actually gets it from brokers, steals it, or hires others to write it.  He has money, but how he obtains it is not explained.  Although some may argue that this is a standard character type, three of the plays describe the gull with characteristics specific to the Stratford Man.  It was no accident, then, that the word “gull” was stressed – a pun on Gulielium – the Latin equivalent of William. [xviii]

An imprese can refer to either a device (a heraldic shield) or the motto accompanying a device. [xix]  Shakspere’s father John and later William applied for the right to bear arms.  The imprese (or motto) associated with William Shakspere’s coat of arms is the phrase “Non Sanz Droit.” Although there is some disagreement that this phrase was ever used as a motto by the Shakspere family, it is on the application and Ben Jonson seems to parody this phrase in Every Man Out of His Humour, where he includes a scene where Sogliardo, aspiring to become a gentleman, buys a coat of arms.  The knight Puntarvolo echoes Shakspere’s motto when he exclaims that Sogliardo’s motto should be “Not Without Mustard!”

The Shakspere Coat of Arms includes a tilting spear and a bird sits atop the shield.  Is this bird intended to be seen as a gull? The drawing on the 1596 application includes a bird that resembles a seagull more so than a falcon (the bird described in the blazon), but this could just be the herald’s rendering.  The item on the shield is a tilt spear (or tilting spear), so Jonson’s usage of gulling, imprese and tilt in close proximity can all refer to Shakspere’s arms.  There is no evidence to suggest that Jonson designed Shakspere’s arms, but the retelling of Sogliardo’s fight with the heralds and “Not Without Mustard”/ “Not Without Right” suggests that Jonson knew detailed information about Shakspere’s attempt to get arms.  How involved Jonson was in the design is unknown, though the capital letters of the motto bear a similarity to Jonson’s handwriting. [xx]


Shakspere’s 1596 Application for Arms


Jonson’s Masque of Queens Manuscript















Item, your mistris anagram, I’ your hilt.

Item, your owne, sew’d in your mistris smock.

Of the paintings said to be of Shakespeare, one may portray the sentiment of these two lines.  Jonson mentions an anagram in a hilt and a smock (which at the time he was writing referred to a chemise type undergarment worn by women). [xxi] [xxii]


A portrait at Hampton Court Palace once claimed to be of Shakespeare displays both of these items.  The sitter’s sleeves are unbuttoned, showing the shirt beneath.  The sword hilt in the sitter’s right hand is tilted at such an angle and the knuckles are shaded so that it appears to be an X and the hilt in the sitter’s other hand is rounded like an O.  The belt crossing over the front of the doublet includes a buckle that seems to display the letters E and D, providing the letters needed to anagram ED OX (standing for Edward Oxenford?)  This portrait is reported to have come from Penshurst[xxiii], the home of the literary Sidney family and location of Ben Jonson’s poem “To Penshurst.”  Jonson’s connection to the supposed first known “home” of this painting make this another interesting coincidence and possible that it is the anagram he is describing in To Fine Grand.


Royal Collection Trust/ C Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Item, an epitaph on my lord’s cock,

In most vile verses, and cost me more pain,

Than had I made ’em good, to fit your vein.

The epitaph on the Stratford monument in Trinity Church has already been suggested as Jonson’s doing, but the wording on the gravestone is often described as “doggerel.” Could these be the “vile verses” Jonson is describing?  Is Jonson telling us that he was also responsible for composing the gravestone verses, written to sound like it was composed by the Stratford Man?

FG6 (2)

The word “cock” could have multiple meanings ranging from: a rooster, the male of various bird species, the head, God, the chief of a group, the male body part, or a boat, among other things. [xxiv] But the association with “vile verses” and earlier “gull” wording make it likely that Jonson was shortening the word “cockscomb” (fool) or “woodcock” (a fool, simpleton, dupe), both of which have negative connotations that fit in with the gull imagery. [xxv] As noted above, there were similarities drawn between several fictional characters and Shakspere that depict him as a gull, along with the drawing on the application having more similarities with a gull (the male of which, like many birds, is a cock), than a falcon as blazoned (the male falcon is called a tercel).


Fortie things more, deare GRAND, which you know true,

For which, or pay me quickly’, or Ile pay you.

Jonson lists nine items individually and then adds “Fortie things more.” If totaled (9 items + 40 more items) the grand total of items would then add up to 49.  Did Jonson do this purposely?  If so, what is the significance of 49?  The closest number 49 – Epigram 49[xxvi] is titled “To Play-wright.” Was Jonson leading us to connect To Fine Grand to a certain play-wright?


Although the word “playwright” is attributed to Jonson[xxvii], the term “playwrights” appears in a dedication poem for Sejanus signed by “Cygnus” in 1605.  Both usages are derogatory. Where Jonson wrote plays but described himself as a poet, perhaps he initially used the word “play-wright” to describe someone who wasn’t writing his own plays, but fastening pieces of already written works together, similar to the “Poet Ape.”  If Jonson is referring to the same person in On Poet Ape, could he be insinuating that Fine Grand is associated with the same person who “picks and gleans” and “makes each man’s wit his own” by building plays as a wheelwright builds a wheel or cartwright builds a cart, from previously fashioned pieces?

Jonson mentions Play-wright  having his own booke in Epigram 49, but what playwright had “his own” book that was like Jonson’s?   The Workes of Benjamin Jonson was published in the fall of 1616.  Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies Histories & Tragedies published seven years later, establishing Shakspere as Shakespeare for years to come.  Jonson was, of course, a driving force behind this book.

The mention of the “epitaph” and “vile verses”  raises the suspicion that this poem may be alluding to the Shake-speare ruse.  The resemblance of the Droeshout engraving to a “partie-per-pale picture” is another link and the use of “gulling imprese” and “tilt” remind us of fictional and actual arms associated with Shakspere. The correlations between the items listed in To Fine Grand and the evidence we have from Shakspere’s life, along with the form of the poem and the total leading us to a poem involving a play-wright all seem quite persuasive.   The difficulty encountered with this theory is that the poem predates the First Folio printing by at least seven years.  Would Jonson already have been preparing the epitaph, the vile verses, and the partie-per-pale picture at that early date?

If “To Fine Grand” is addressed to William Shakspere of Stratford and the “grandee” that employed Jonson to put the Stratford man forward as the author Shakepeare, Jonson could be revealing that he was in the process of preparing the paratexts of the First Folio and the other elements of the authorship deception as early as 1616, while he was in the process preparing his own collection of texts.  If the dedication from Troilus and Cressida is included as Jonson’s in the preparation of this “cock and bull” story, then there was a plan in motion by 1609.  In Shakespeare Suppressed, Katherine Chiljan suggests “… plans for the identity switch were afoot before the Stratford Man had died…” [xxviii]

Listing the elements of the ruse before the ruse was officially made public would certainly provide plausible deniability for Jonson.  If he felt distaste with the plan itself, printing an epigram about it would give him an outlet for expressing his annoyance while camouflaging it in a cluster of other poems addressed to various unidentified persons. By documenting his efforts in “To Fine Grand,”  Jonson was leaving himself an acknowledgement of the work was doing in the time-consuming project that would otherwise remain a secret for the rest of his life.


Notes and Sources:

[i] Green, Nina: “Did Ben Jonson write the inscription for the Shakespeare monument in the church at Stratford on Avon?”

[ii] Donaldson, Ian. Ben Jonson: A Life. Oxford University Press: United Kingdom. 2011. Pg  325, sources Pg 495.   Donaldson reports that although the Stationers Register lists a book titled “Ben Jonson his Epigrams” in May, 1612, “no copy is known to exist, and it is likely the project came to nothing.”

[iii] The use of the word “Grand” also reminds us of the dedication on the 1609 quarto edition of Troilus & Cressida, where the writer (who some have posited might be Jonson) hints the “Grand possessors” are withholding the plays from the public.  If these “Grand Possessors” had decision making power over the release of Shakespeare’s Plays, then addressing the recipient/ as “Grand” in this poem could be connected to this effort.

[iv] Addressed to “his ‘Lovinge good ffrend & contreymann Mr Wm Shackespere’. Quiney asks for a loan of £30 (about £3,750 in today’s money).”

[v] Barber, Ros. Shakespeare: The Evidence, The Authorship Question Clarified. 2014.  Kindle Edition 2.2 Evidence: Financial and Business Dealings


[vi] Whalen, Richard F. “The Ambiguous Ben Jonson: Implications for Addressing the Validity of the First Folio Testimony.” Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Llumina Press. 2013, p132

[vii] Barber, 2.2 Evidence: Financial and Business Dealings


[viii] Barber A-32 John Manningham’s Diary

“the anecdote appears to be a joke and as such very likely invented”

[ix] Donaldson, Ian, The Oxford Authors; Ben Jonson, Oxford University, 1985

[x] OED

Babylonian, n. and adj.

2. derogatory. Of, relating to, or belonging to the Roman Catholic Church; Roman Catholic. Obs.Chiefly with reference to Revelation 14–18. See Babylon n.2 1.

Greek, n.  4. A cunning or wily person; a cheat, sharper, esp. one who cheats at cards. (Cf. French grec.)


Item I gyve and bequeath to mr richard Hamlett Sadler Tyler thelder XXVIs VIIId to buy him A Ringe; to William Raynoldes gent XXVIs VIIId to buy him a Ringe; to my godson William Walker XXs. in gold; to Anthonye Nashe gent. XXVIs VIIId in gold; and to my ffellowes John Hemynges, Richard Burbage and Heny Cundell XXVIs VIIId A peece to buy them Ringes.[xi]

Bonner Cutting describes this section of Shakspere’s will as “the Ring Paragraph.”

This messy paragraph contains eight bequests: rings to two Stratford friends, three monetary gifts with no specified purpose, and of course the curious interlineation of the money to his “fellows” Heminge, Burbage and Condell to purchase rings. With the exception of the 20 shillings to his godson, the other bequests are all for 26s and 8d. Rings were popular gifts and testators often bequeathed their own. But when money was allocated for the purchase of rings, as it is in the Stratford Will, instructions were usually included for the type of ring to be purchased or for an inscription to be engraved on it. Mr. Shakespere’s bequest of rings is entered with no comment. As for the interlineation to the actors, it should be noted that they are the only legatees in the will who are outside of the testator’s immediate family and his close circle of friends in Stratford-on-Avon. It should also be noted that this line is so jammed between the original lines that the scrivener could barely fit it in.

Click to access Cutting-Will.pdf

[xii] Unless someone would like to put forth the idea that the John Robinson who served as witness to the will was a near anagram for “Rob-Ben-Johnson”  All we know of John Robinson was that he resided in Blackfriars (Jonson lived in Blackfriars for a time as well, coincidentally)

[xiii] OED

belie, v.2  †d. To assume falsely the character of; to counterfeit. Obs.

1616   B. Jonson Challenge at Tilt in Wks. I. 998   Art thou still so impudent, to belie my figure? that in what shape soeuer, I present my selfe, thou wilt seeme to be the same?

6. To reject the truth or integrity of implicitly; to treat (a thing) as false by acting at variance with it; to be false or faithless to. Obs.

1600   B. Jonson Every Man out of his Humor Dram. Pers.,   Fastidius Briske..cares not what Ladies fauor he belies.

Greek 8. Unintelligible speech or language, gibberish. Also heathen Greek (rarely Hebrew-Greek). (Cf.Hebrew n. 2b.) St. Giles’s Greek: slang.

a1616   Shakespeare Julius Caesar (1623) i. ii. 279–84   He spoke greeke…those that vnderstood him, smil’d at one another, and shooke their heads: was Greeke to me.

[xiv] Nason, Arthur Huntington, Heralds and Heraldry in Ben Jonson’s Plays, Masques and Entertainments, Press of Burliegh and Flynt, Maine, 1907, p 23

[xv] This author posits that the intention of the Droeshout was that readers fold the engraving in half and hold it up to the light to see the intended face framed with laurel leaves. I have also indicated that half of the engraving was copied from a painting of Henry Wriosthesly, the Third Earl of Southampton.  Since Jonson uses the phrase “your partie per pale picture” I think that the “grand” in this poem is directed at Southampton.


[xvi] OED


a.      With of or genitive. A person who strongly resembles another; a person who appears to be a likeness or image of someone or something else. Also (in early use) derogatory: a person who is a poor imitation of someone or something else; a counterfeit. Cf. image n. 4.

  1. 1609  Shakespeare Troilus & Cressida  i. 6   Thou picture of what thou seemest, and Idoll, Of idiot worshippers.

[xvii]   The copy of the Droeshout engraving in the Meisei copy of the First Folio appears to be creased down the center as if it was folded at some time.

[xviii] Chiljan, Katherine. Shakespeare Suppressed.  Faire Editions. 2011. Chiljan, pg – 203

[xix] OED

† imˈprese | ˈimprese, n.

Obs.     1. A device, emblem: = impresa n. 1.

  1.                         A motto: = impresa n. 2.

[xx] I don’t know if there has ever been a handwriting analysis of the arms application, or if there has ever been a suggestion that Jonson was involved in the writing of the application.  Some of the capital letters in each document resemble the other, but I would think that capital print letters are more likely to appear similar when written in different hands.  Comments are welcome below.  Image of Masque of Queens from

[xxi] The Arte of English Poesie Contriued into three Bookes: The first of Poets and Poesie, the second of Proportion, the third of Ornament, LONDON, Richard Field, 1589

The author of the Arte of English Poesie refers to anagrams as ladies’ entertainments so “mistris anagram” could be referring to the fact that anagrams weren’t a respected, or a “manly” form of wit.

Of the Anagrame, or Posie transposed.

One other pretie conceit we will impart vnto you and then trouble you with no more, and is also borrowed primitiuely of the Poet, or courtly maker we may terme him, the posie transposed, or in one word a transpose, a thing if it be done for pastime and exercise of the wit without superstition commendable inough and a meete study for Ladies, neither bringing them any great gayne nor any great losse, vnlesse it be of idle time.


[xxiii] Norris, Joseph Parker, The Portraits of Shakespeare, R. M. Lindsay, 1885 p179

[xxiv] OED

[xxv] The phrase “cock and bull” originated around this time, but there is no definite origin for the phrase.  Is it possible the phrase came from our lord’s “cock” (Shakspere) and the “bull” (Ox-ford/MonOx “my Ox”/Apis Lapis “stone Ox”)?  The identity switch could be the original cock and bull story.  cock and bull story noun informal  – an implausible story used as an explanation or excuse


Two other of Jonson’s epigram titles include “Play-wright”

[xxvii] Play-wright  – “the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder (as in a wheelwright or cartwright). Hence the prefix and the suffix combine to indicate someone who has “wrought” words, themes, and other elements into a dramatic form – someone who crafts plays. The homophone with “write” is in this case entirely coincidental.

The term playwright appears to have been coined* by Ben Jonson in his Epigram 49, “To Playwright”, as an insult, to suggest a mere tradesman fashioning works for the theatre. Jonson described himself as a poet, not a playwright, since plays during that time were written in meter and so were regarded as the province of poets. This view was held as late as the early 19th century. The term playwright later lost this negative connotation.”

* “Playwright” may not have been coined by Jonson.  It is used by “Cygnus” in a dedication to Jonson’s Sejanus in 1605



[xxviii] Chiljan, Katherine. “Chapter 9 – A Pembroke and Jonson Production,” Shakespeare Suppressed. Faire Editions. 2011.




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There has recently been some discussion on authorship forums about the significance of the number 17 in Elizabethan and Jacobean documents as a hint or clue to Edward de Vere’s authorship.  Anti-Oxfordians have claimed that the designations that we now use for referring to the Earls of Oxford were not used during the life of de Vere, and therefore the number 17 would not be a reference to him.

Gervase Markham’s Honour in His Perfection, printed in 1624, references the 15th-18th Earls of Oxford  by number in the marginal notes, while using the title “Earle of Oxford” within the text:


John the 15 Earle, John the 16 Earle, Edward the 17 Eale (sic) and Henry the 18 Earle are all numbered in this way:




Since  Gervase Markham was using the same numerical system for designating the Earls of Oxford that we use now, the number 17 could have significance in this case. The 1624 publishing date was not contemporary to Edward de Vere’s life (d 1604) but his son Henry was the current holder of the title, and Markham assigned him the number 18 in the work’s side notes, while using the phrase “now Earle of Oxford” within the text.

Interestingly, the title of Edward de Vere is misspelled as “Eale*”  and Markham never refers to Edward de Vere as an earl within the text.  He uses the phrases “noble father of this princely Oxford now living,”and “this nobleman,” unlike the other earls of Oxford who are referred to by first name and/or as “Earle” somewhere within the text.   This could just be a stylistic choice, but on the page following his description of Edward de Vere  (page number 17) Markham begins relating the famous exploits of the Fighting Veres and then goes off on a tangent about “mistaking of names” in the recording of true events.   Could Markham have been indicating his “mistake” in the marginal notes and pointing out that a certain name associated with Edward de Vere  was not being recorded?


(page 17) …looke in all that hath beene written in the Neatherlands, within the compasse of the longest memory now liuing, and belieue it in eue∣ry page, in euery action, Vere cannot be omitted: only in that Storie there is one pretty secret or mysterie which I cannot let passe vntouched, because it brings many difficulties or doubts into the minde of an ignorant Reader; and that is, the mistaking of names, for the Authour of that Worke bindes himselfe too strictly to the Scripture phrase, which is to make

(page 18) make one name to containe another; as the name A∣dam to containe the name Eua also, and the word man to containe the word woman also; and so the Authour speaking of many notable and famous exploits fortunately performed, deliuers you peraduenture but the name of Nassau, or the Dutch, and such like; whereas in truth and true meaning, the name of Vere should euer be included within them, & the sence so read, the Story is perfect. I speak not this to derogate any thing from the excellencies of that most excellent Prince to whose Vertues I could willingly fall down & become a bond-flaue; for the whole World must allow him a Souldier vnparaleld, and a Prince of infinite merit: but only to shew that the least spark of Vertue which is, cannot chuse but repine when it finds a great Vertue iniur’d by a pen whose blaunching might make the whole World forgetfull. (my italics and bold)


Was the Shakespeare authorship the “pretty secret or mystery?” Is Markham expressing his frustration that the 17th Earl of Oxford’s literary contributions would be known to posterity as someone else’s?  This work was published a year after the First Folio; when the “blaunching” of de Vere as the Author  was in full swing.  Did he include this excerpt within the description of the Vere cousins as a veiled homage to the soon-to-be-forgotten Author, or was he actually commenting on the historical records of the Fighting Veres in the Netherlands?

Additional research is needed to find the answers to these questions, but as far as the numbering system of the Oxford earls, it is clear that Gervase Markham, writing in the 1620s, was familiar with, and using, this numbering system, and so the information provided within this text on page 17, may be significant.

Notes and References

Markham, Gervase: Honour in His Perfection: Or, A Treatise in Commendations of the Vertues and Renowned Vertuous Vndertakings of the Illustrious and Heroycall Princes Henry Earle of Oxenford. Henry Earle of Southampton, Robert Earle of Essex, and the Euer Praise-worthy and Much Honoured Lord, Robert Bartue, Lord Willoughby, of Eresby: with a Briefe Cronology of Theirs, and Their Auncestours Actions. And to the Eternall Memory of All that Follow Them Now, Or Will Imitate Them Hereafter, Especially Those Three Noble Instances, the Lord Wriouthesley, the Lord Delaware, and the Lord Montioy: B. Alsop, 1624  (Images from British Library, Transcript from;view=fulltext)

Anderson, Mark: Shakespeare by Another Name: p260-261

*Was the usage of “Eale” in the marginal noted also meant to indicate the mythological bull-like beast? Thomas Nashe referred to an ox when he spoke of Will Monox (French for “my Ox”) and Apis Lapis.  The Eale was an ox-like animal with boar’s tusks, possibly alluding to both Oxford’s name the boar on the de Vere crest.






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