Exploring the evidence that Sir Henry Neville was Shakespeare.

In science knowledge develops through experiment and evidence. Starting with questions and doubts, new hypotheses are developed and their predictions are tested against experimental experience. This research approach often generates new evidence that corroborates or refutes previous ideas and so increases the probability that a new hypothesis is correct or indicates it must be modified. In this way is knowledge advanced. In literature and the arts this procedure may be followed (for example in authenticating a newly discovered painting by Rembrandt), but another process is also at work: the accretion of academic opinion. Careful study leads to opinions being formed. These may be based on available evidence and develop authority because of the status of the academic and their institution. Aristotle and Galen developed great authority in previous times though their ideas were later superseded.  Opinion can harden into “facts” that become the basis for belief. Belief can then influence practice and a quasi-religious orthodoxy develops. The theory that human health was the result of a balance between four humors is an example: this belief lasted for hundreds of years.

An example of Henry Neville’s annotations in books that offer evidence of his authorship of Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar is a note about Mark Anthony’s speech (epitaph) to the crowd after Caesar’s death: “λογοs επιταφιοs M. Antonii in G. Julium Caesarem” in the Greek volume of Appian (Dionysius section), page 170. It is suggested by Casson that this annotation dates from Neville’s student days at Merton College, Oxford, long before the play was written. Another annotation in the same volume on the same subject but possibly written later, shows Neville was especially interested in this speech over Caesar’s dead body. (See Chapter 5)

The Shakespeare Authorship is such a case where orthodoxy has developed that has been accepted by generations. Questioning the authorship of William Shakespeare, the actor/theatre sharer from Stratford-upon-Avon, has been labeled by senior figures in the field as “heresy”. Yet doubts about the authorship date back centuries, indeed to the playwright’s life time (Hall and Marston in 16th century satires named the author as “Labeo” and in 1611 John Davies named Will Shake-speare “our English Terence” in his Scourge of Folly. Terence was a Roman actor who passed off other people’s plays as his own). These doubts and questions about the Stratford man’s authorship have led recently to a number of researchers checking all available facts and finding that the case for his authorship is indeed very weak and owes more to opinion, hearsay and myth developed after his death than to any documented evidence during his lifetime.

One reason why the Stratford man has remained in place as the author is the weakness and eccentricity of other proposed candidates who either died too soon or lived too long or for whom the evidence is just not convincing. The Stratfordian establishment has also been an impediment to enquiry into the authorship as their scholars have ridiculed rival claimants and denied there is any problem. However substantial recent research has illuminated the field and shown there are new reasons for doubting the Stratford William Shakespeare’s authorship.

Sir Henry Neville
One of the portraits of Henry Neville at Audley End House is the uppermost picture on the pillar. The “Incomparable pair” of William and Philip Herbert, the 3rd and 4th Earls of Pembroke, are diagonally opposite looking across at Neville. These brothers were the dedicatees of Shakespeare’s First Folio and became patron and mentors of Henry Neville’s oldest son Henry and grandson Richard.

As stated above science proceeds through gathering of evidence, testing and modifying hypotheses until eventually the truth emerges. In the case of the Shakespeare Authorship the latest evidence points to Sir Henry Neville (1562-1615). Ten years of research and nine books have now established a strong case backed by more documentary evidence than is available for any other candidate, including notebooks, letters, annotated library books relevant to the Shakespeare plays and the facts of Neville’s life and experience which exactly match what we would expect for the writer of these works. Neville knew the key people, used rare vocabulary employed by Shakespeare, had a documented interest in theatre, hid his authorship of documents put before parliament and was described as “discreet”. However Neville left tell tale traces of his authorship. Neville’s authorship is a testable hypothesis: new evidence continues to emerge. He was in the right places at the right times. He visited France, Italy and Scotland. He was a member of the Mermaid Club, a friend of Southampton, the Sidneys, Jonson, Fletcher and Beaumont. Above all it is his annotated library books which provide startling new evidence of his authorship as he made notes on Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, Brutus, Claudius and the rapist Tarquin. He left notes in books relevant to The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, Hamlet, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and Cymbeline. Other notebooks and manuscripts contain marginal notes on every reign covered by the history plays and include rare vocabulary and even spellings that the Bard used. An avalanche of documentary evidence is now available in support of Henry Neville as the answer to the Shakespeare Authorship Question. Neville’s life matches the evolutionary trajectory of Shakespeare’s works written between about 1590 and 1613, and always explains why he wrote a particular play at that time, especially why there was a great break in the writing around 1601, after which he wrote the great Tragedies, starting with Hamlet.

More discoveries are to come as three more books are in preparation. Sir Henry Neville was Shakespeare: The Evidence is a comprehensive summation of the evidence so far.


Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare: The Evidence by John Casson and William D. Rubinstein is available for purchase now.