4. ‘Underhand brokery’ – Authors and the Authorities


Robert Greene Batillus Farewell to Folly 1591Others … if they come to write or publish any thing in print, it is either distilled out of ballads or borrowed of Theological poets, which for their calling and gravity, being loth to have any profane pamphlets pass under their hand, get some other Batillus to set his name to their verses: Thus is the ass made proud by this under hand brokery. And he that can not write true English without the help of Clerks of parish Churches, will needs make him self the father of interludes.
Robert Greene

This chapter looks at identity concealment among Early Modern Authors; the idea of the ‘hidden author’ that is at the heart of the Shakespeare authorship question. It investigates the evidence that some Elizabethan and Jacobean writers, in order to protect themselves from the negative consequences of publishing their works, went beyond anonymity to use ‘fronts’: real people who would put their name to a published work.

Read the first section, and continue through chapter by using the links at the bottom of each post. Sections are summarised below.

  • Could Shakespeare Have Been a Front? Was Shakespeare a front? An examination of the evidence that some Elizabethan writers used ‘fronts’ to protect their identities.
  • A Dangerous Age Elizabethan censorship didn’t just mean the banning and burning of books (though that happened) – it led to the imprisonment, torture and death of writers.
  • Defensive Anonymity Before 1594, nearly all plays were published anonymously. Playwrights had little choice in this. But other writers chose anonymity as a defensive strategy.
  • Shakespeare, the Queen, and Richard II Queen Elizabeth I’s testimony in the trial of John Hayward and her reaction to Shakespeare’s Richard II, with new work on her conversation with Lambard.
  • Concealed Poets In 1603, Sir Francis Bacon wrote to John Davies, who was riding to meet the new king asking that he ‘be good to concealed poets’. Who did he mean?

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