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Weever's tangled web


The Oxfordian pick has struck gold again, an occurrence that seems to happen with astounding regularity, yet for some reason the nuggets found never seem to get past the assay office.

This time the treasure lode is an article by the new leading light of Oxfordian research, Alexander Waugh, grandson of Evelyn Waugh and an established author in his own right. The last few years he seems to have directed his not inconsiderable intellect to the Oxford Authorship Question, the almost century-long effort to find evidence that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the True Author of the works universally attributed to the usurer, grain dealer, and play broker, William Shakespeare (if that was indeed his real name; Shicklespurt is the more likely moniker) of Stratford-upon-Avon, gentleman.

Mr. Waugh's latest effort, ‘John Weever - Another Anti-Stratfordian,’ is published in The De Vere Society Newsletter, 21: 2 (May 2014), pp. 12-15.

Now, Alexander Waugh is a fine fellow. In all my dealings with him, he has behaved in a thoroughly gentlemanly manner.[1] Scholar, wit, and bon vivant, his opinions are accorded much respect in the world of arts and letters. If nothing else, his stance as an Oxfordian has disproven the popular idea that Oxfordism is a belief held only by monomaniacal, uneducated idiots. This of course is not true; we all know otherwise highly intelligent people who hold ridiculous beliefs—anti-vaccinationists, 911 truthers, vegetarians and the like. Far from being the playground of low-IQ mouth-breathers, it requires a certain type of ingenious cleverness to interpret the historical record in such a counterfactual manner to make it read what they want it to say while maintaining a straight face.

Mr Waugh’s paper has been met with predictable initial enthusiasm among the faithful. Oxfordian author Mark Anderson called it ‘intriguing’, ‘interesting’, ‘an excellent article’, and ‘this great new piece of scholarship’.

Nor would we wish that wits of the caliber of Mr Waugh gun away at their targets with a conventional bore; in fact we applaud them even more when they do not. But that does not render Mr. Waugh immune to criticism; in fact, since he is a vocal and highly visible adherent with the ear of the popular media, it is all the more necessary to point out when he has a genuinely loopy idea. This latest salvo is a good example of why, in the matter of Shakespeare authorship at least, we can dismiss his opinion as having zero credibility.

Waugh’s anti-Stratfordian discovery

Mr Waugh makes the claim that John Weever (1576-1632), the poet and antiquarian who wrote a sonnet praising William Shakespeare, knew that Shakespeare was a fraud, and that he signaled this knowledge by penning Epigram 11 from the fourth week (4:11) in his Epigrammes in the Oldest Cut and Newest Fashion (1599).

In Spurium quendam scriptorem

Apelles did so paint faire Venus Queene,
That most supposde he had faire Venus seene,
But thy bald rimes of Venus sauour so,
That I dare sweare thou dost all Venus know.

Mr Waugh avers that this poem is obviously about Shakespeare because it refers to Venus, and everybody at the time knew Shakespeare’s narrative poem Venus and Adonis (1594), which had gone through six editions by 1599, two of them in that same year. He claims that the title, which translates as ‘To Spurius, a certain writer’, is a giveaway that the name of the writer of Venus and Adonis is spurious, that is to say, not being what it purports to be; a false or fake writer. He goes on to say that the poem insinuates that the author (who was not really William Shakespeare) had an affair with a real women whom he portrayed as Venus in his Venus and Adonis. (He later remarks that this poem and Weever’s sonnet about Shakespeare when read in conjunction hint that the author fathered an illegitimate child with the ‘Venus’. Is Mr Waugh preparing to embrace the Prince Tudor variant of Oxfordism?)

Mr Waugh also has examined the Weever manuscript volume 128 deposited in the Society of Antiquaries library in London. MS 128 contains a notebook in which Weever copied the inscription from Shakespeare’s Stratford funerary monument and gravestone epitaph, writing ‘Willm Shakespeare the famous poet’ in the margin. Waugh contends that the handwriting in the volume does not match that of Weever’s reproduced on page 56 of E.A.J. Honigmann’s John Weever (1987), so the hand in MS 128 is not his. He also faults Weever for misspelling the first two words of the monument inscription, ‘Judcio Pilum’ for ‘Judicio Pylium’, saying that no classical scholar such as Weever would have been likely to make such spelling errors.

Finally, Mr Waugh reports that he observed the watermark, a hand below a cross, and the countermark, the initials ‘OC’. He notes that watermarks changed with changes in the government, giving as an example the crown countermark being replaced by that of a fool’s cap after the beheading of Charles I in 1649. He speculates that the initials are those of Oliver Cromwell, which would indicate that the paper was made during the Interregnum of 1649-1660, long after Weever’s death in 1632.

Mr Waugh’s paper has met with predictable initial enthusiasm among the faithful. Oxfordian author Mark Anderson called it ‘intriguing’, ‘interesting’, ‘an excellent article’, and ‘this great new piece of scholarship’. He jells Waugh’s speculation into fact,  writing that Waugh had ‘discovered that the paper bears a style of watermark that Waugh argues was popularized in the mid- to late-17th century and perhaps specifically during Oliver Cromwell's reign in 1649-1658’, and that it topples ‘one of the precious few remaining pieces of evidence that might show someone in the know at the time saying Shakspere = “Shakespeare.”’

Coppin State University Assistant Professor Roger Stritmatter writes that ‘the reference to Apelles in the poem is a potent link to de Vere’ and that ‘it does make perfect sense that Weever would write *two* epigrams to the bard, since he was a dual being, consisting of both the real and the spurious.’

Weever’s epigram

Te begin, let’s examine the genealogy of Weever’s poem. The French poet Clément Marot composed a rondeau ca. 1527, in which he praised the daughter of a painter from Orleans. 

‘A la fille d’ung Painctre d’Orléans belle entre les autres’
Au temps passé, Apelles, Painctre sage,
Feit seullement de Venus le visage
Par Fiction, mais (pour plus hault attaindre)
Ton Pere a faict de Venus (sans rien faindre)
Entierement la face & le corsage.
Car il est Painctre & tu es son ouvrage,
Mieulx ressemblant Venus de forme & d’aage,
Que le Tableau qu’Apelle voulut paindre
Au temps passé.

Vray est qu’il feit si belle son ymage,
Qu’elle eschauffoit en Amour maint courage; br>Mais celle là que ton Pere a sceu taindre,
Y mect le feu, & a dequoy l’estaindre:
L’aultre n’eut pas ung si gros advantage
Au temps passé. 

Here’s a translation that Nishidani, my friend and Wikipedia collaborator, and I cooked up (OK, N. provided the pot, the vegetables, the meat, and the stove, and I threw in a few spices):

Wise Apelles, the painter, long ago
Imagined Venus, limning just her face.
Your father, aiming higher, sought to trace
Not just her mien, but all that lies below
Unfeigned by fantasy. His painter’s verve
Made you a living masterpiece to match
The youthful Venus, with those shapely curves
Apelles greatly strove, but failed, to catch
Long ago.

So true to beauty the image his art
Crafted, it stokes love’s fires in many a heart;
But the one your Father has tinted seems
To light a fire and furnish, too, the means
To quench it, what the Greek could not impart
Long ago.

Marot’s poem is saying that the daughter of the painter from Orleans (‘made’ by her father in the generative sense) is a more satisfying work of art than a painting of Venus by Apelles, because she not only shares with the image of the goddess the means to inflame passion, she also possesses the means to satisfy it, i.e. a real body.

Marot was a very famous poet, and this work proved so popular that it inspired other poets to try their hand at the same theme, who in turn inspired still others—Nicholas Bourbon, 1533, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (inspired by Bourbon), ca. 1535-6, Gilbert Ducher, 1538, Theodore Beza, 1548, and Timothe Kendall (inspired by Beza), 1577, and more. We have no need to go into all of them; the ones that concern us are those of Beza and Kendall, which were the direct inspirations for Weever.[2] Here’s Beza, followed by a loose translation:

Ad Cl. Marotum

Tam doctè Venerem diuinus pinxit Apelles
Illi vt credatur visa fuisse Venus.
At tantam sapiunt Venerem tua scripta, Marote,
Vt tibi credatur cognita tota Venus.
To Clement Marot

The divine Apelles painted Venus so expertly
That it may be believed Venus had been seen by him really.
But Marot, your verses savour so much of Venus
That it may be believed all of Venus is known to you.

In the phrase ‘Venus is known to you’, ‘know’ is in the carnal sense. Beza’s is a poem about a poem. It is saying that Marot’s poem suggests that he has seen and possibly had sexual relations with the girl he writes of. Kendall translates Beza thusly:

To Cl. Marotus
Apelles learned hand, so fine
Did paint fair Venus Queene:
That every one susposd that he,
Had Venus vewd and seen.
But workes of thine Marotus lewd,
Of Venus sauour so;
That euery one sure deemes, that thou
Dost all of Venus know.

Kendall makes Baza’s suggestion even more explicit, calling Marot’s poem ‘lewd’ and claiming that ‘euery one sure deemes’ that Marot knew ‘all of Venus’, again speaking in the carnal sense.

Weever translated Beza, but knew Kendall’s epigram. Here it is again for comparison:

In Spurium quendam scriptorem

Apelles did so paint faire Venus Queene,
That most supposde he had faire Venus seene,
But thy bald rimes of Venus sauour so,
That I dare sweare thou dost all Venus know.

Weever’s is more polished and succinct than Kendall’s, yet his diction echoes Kendall’s so closely (‘Venus Queene’, ‘of Venus sauour so’, ‘dost all Venus know’) that it is certain he used it as a model. And in fact this is not the only poem in the volume where Weever follows Kendall; epigrams 5:3, 5:11, 5:20, and 7:9 were also based upon Kendall’s previously published epigrams.

On a certain writer, Spurious

More importantly, Weever changes the title and appears to direct the poem to some other poet than Marot. Much energy has been expended on trying to understand Weever’s title.

Mr Waugh’s paper-dating speculation is just that: speculation, and uninformed speculation at that.

In with the accusative of a name can, of course, often mean ‘against’ (In Ciceronem, ‘Against Cicero’). However, as often in Weever’s titles, the adversative sense is absent. In simply means ‘apropos’, ‘on’. Quendam is the accusative singular, masculine of quidam, meaning a certain person, somebody. Spurium is the accusative case of spurius, which adjectively can mean either ‘bastard’, ‘illegitimate’ (child), or false. Here it is capitalized as a name in the title, which translates to ‘On a certain writer Spurious’.[3]

Honigmann thought the epigram might have been aimed at one of a pair of Cambridge students named Spurling. And of course Mr Waugh has come out in favor of the pretended author Shakespeare, a spurious writer in the mythology of Oxfordism. Other Oxfordians have opined that since ‘Spurium’ also means ‘bastard’, Weever possibly had in mind Thomas Bastard, another contemporary epigrammist. How any of this makes any kind of sense is not satisfactorily explained. Thomas Bastard wrote nothing about Venus, and Waugh’s idea that Weever’s poem praises a fake poet for writing so true to life is especially devoid of sense. One can hardly write an epigram praising the intimate finesse of a certain writer’s depiction of Venus, who, the poem says, portrayed Venus so well he must have known the goddess carnally, and then suggest that the selfsame author was spurious.

The key to the mystery lies in observing Weever’s practice in the other epigrams in the volume. Honigmann and Whipple both point out that Weever’s favorite form of wordplay is the pun, especially on names. Honigmann divides the title addressees into ‘straight’ names, that is, those that refer to named persons, and ‘joke’ names, those that use puns to refer to possible real persons. He gives some examples of ‘joke’ names: Monoceros for T. Horne (In Monocerotem, 1:15), De Ore for J. Oraford (3:10), and Galbus for H. Gale (In Galbum 5:13), and many others. This hints that Spurious might point to a pun.

The poem is an imitation of Beza’s Ad Cl. Marotum. All of Weever’s epigrams have Latin titles, but this poem already had one. Weever replaced Ad Cl. Marotum with In Spurium quendam scriptorem, so Spurium must gloss Marotum, rendering that name as ’False’/Spurius.

But why would Marotum be ‘false’? Simply because of his name, ‘Marot’. Marot’s surname is homophonous with Maro, which would have suggested to any lettered Elizabethan ear the cognomen, or surname, of the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, otherwise known as Virgil, to whom almost two decades later Shakespeare was likened in his monument inscription. Marot was false because, though a poet, with his surname being the same as Virgil’s, he was no Virgil, and in that sense, at least, he was spurious. Hence In Spurium quendam scriptorem.

Weever also might have had an allusive undercurrent in mind. ‘Spurius’ in Weever’s title is in the accusative case, ‘spurium’. Now spurium (neuter noun having the same shape as the masculine adjective in the accusative case), according to Isidore of Seville, meant the female genitalia. Further, according to Plutarch, the adjectival form itself was thought by some to have been borrowed into Latin from a Sabine word σπόριον (spórion), meaning the female pudenda, and then allegedly used as a term of abuse for illegitimate children. As a classicist, Weever would have known this, so his title could have had the added shading of Marot’s subject, that part of a woman which can both inflame and quench carnal passion.

Waugh’s paleographic argument

I do not know what experience Mr Waugh has in examining manuscript hands; he does not tell us, but obviously he is no expert. Nor do I claim to be an expert, but I have more than two decades of experience in reading English secretary hand in both facsimile and original manuscripts, including the Weever manuscripts, which I examined last November (2013).

I also do not know if he examined Plate III on page 67 in Honigmann, which is a reproduction of a page from MS 127, the manuscript notes for Ancient Fvnerall Monvments (1631), Weever’s magnum opus. The handwriting on that page is a perfect match for the page from MS 128 that Mr Waugh claims doesn’t match Weever’s signature hand in the samples given on page 56 in Honigmann. But in fact, many letter and word formations are identical to those in example B on that page.

Example B from Hongimann p. 67.

Images from SAL MS 128 reproduced with the kind permission of the Society of Antiquaries Library, London.

One must wonder just how closely Mr Waugh examined the handwriting. Contrary to his assertion that the handwriting in MS 128 bears no resemblance to that in Honigmann's examples, they are quite similar and in some cases identical. Weever’s idiosyncratic miniscule ‘e’s ('view' in line 1, 'Qveenes' in line 3, and 'imperfect' in line 5 in Honigmann's Example B above) that he sometimes used in his signature, which resemble the Greek letter ε, are prevalent all throughout both volumes (see 'Maronem' above from MS 128).

The initial ‘J’ of ‘Judcio’ In MS 128 is identical with that of his given name in his signature. The ‘cio’ of that word is identical with that in ‘judicious’ in line 1 of example B.

The initial ‘M’ of ‘Maronem’ is identical to that in ‘Maister’ in line 2.

The peculiarly-formed ‘q’ (which looks like a crossed number 2) in ‘qvick’ is formed in the same manner as that in ‘Qveenes’ (line 3).

Waugh’s spelling argument

Mr Waugh takes to task Weever’s mispelt Latin, evidently shorthand notes pro memoria taken from the monument. Ironically, in his own article he writes, citing Latin, ‘des’ for ‘sed’ in transcribing Weever’s own preface, where there is no such inversion.

Watermark used by Octavien Chevalier

Watermark used by the Octavien Chevalier family of paper makers from 1556 onwards, example circa 1620.

Every specialist in Early Modern literature knows that variant spelling was the normal practice, so Mr Waugh’s argument that Weever two misspelt Latin words are of no evidential value for anything. Weever also transcribed ‘whome’ for ‘whom’, ‘plac’t’ for ‘plast’, ‘within’ for ‘with in’, ‘Shakespeare’ for ‘Shakspeare’, ‘dy’d’ for ‘dide’, and corrected ‘sieh’ to ‘sith’. Getting in an argument over Early Modern spelling—especially Latin spelling—is senseless, and Mr Waugh should know better.

Waugh’s paper dating argument

Mr Waugh’s paper dating speculation is just that: speculation, and uninformed speculation at that. The hand under cross watermark is common and goes back to the 15th century. Beginning in the 16th century, papermakers often included their initials watermarked on the page. Far from being the initials of Oliver Cromwell, the OC countermark is a mark used by Octavien Chevalier and his descendants who worked Moulin du Verger at Puymoyen, near Angoulême from 1556 onwards, according to forensic paper historian and paper analyst Peter Bower. And the foolscap watermark was common all over Europe long before Charles was beheaded.


Fool's Cap

  Spuriouser and spuriouser

Mr Waugh has adopted the Oxfordian principle that all figures of ridicule skewered by Elizabethan and Jacobean writers must be the loutish conman from Stratford hidden under a pseudonym or cryptic handle.

Contrariwise, when mentioned by name, Shakespeare is Edward de Vere. In terms of method this procedure, characteristic of all anti-Stratfordian polemics, inverts all customary rules of evidence.

As is typical for Oxfordian arguments, Mr Waugh glosses over the glaringly obvious contradiction in his theory, in this case that Weever himself wrote a further epigram in the same collection (4:22), explicitly and unambiguously identifying ‘Honie-tong’d’ Shakespeare—indeed directly addressing him (Ad Gulielmum Shakespeare)—as the author of plays on Richard and Romeo, and both The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis.

The rhetorical technique Waugh adopts is known as obscurum per obscurius, explaining the obscure by means of the more obscure. All he can do with the contradiction is to flag the possibility that 4:11/22 form a cryptic bond that might raise the hermeneutic possibilities of rereading ‘the veiled narrative of the second’ (No. 22). Having suggested, without providing a possible reading that demands explanation, he begs off airily with the mysterious pretext, ‘There is no space here for any lengthy analysis of Weever’s intriguing double meanings or their relevance to the biography of Edward de Vere.’ Ah, had Waugh but world enough, and time, all would be explained! Until then, we must be satisfied with the reliable Oxfordian 'wink wink nudge nudge' that serves for so much other Oxfordian ‘evidence’.

But since when has ‘lack of space’ been a problem for the digitalized world of net publishing? Does the de Vere newsletter have problems with uploading an extra page or two onto its server? No, Mr Waugh has no answer ready, and must plead for lack of space to fob off the avalanche of skeptical cross-interrogatory queries his oblique correlations, if grounded in detailed argument, would suffocate under.

After close examination (Oxfordians would call it ‘Stratfordian examination’), not one of Mr Waugh’s assertions is left standing. His arguments illustrate the prized Oxfordian method of ‘publish first, research later’, or better yet, make an assertion and then challenge others to disprove it.


Mark Anderson, post on ShakesVere Facebook page, 11:57 a.m. 23 May 2014, 'What WAS John Weever saying?' available at  https://www.faceboo…

Peter Bower, personal e-mail, 28 May 2014.

Guide to the E. Williams Watermark Collection, including the Papers of the Hale Family of King's Walden and Other Papers, Folger MS.L.f.1-1058. Collection Overview, Folger Shakespeare Library,

Philip Ford (2013), The Judgment of Palaemon: The Contest between Neo-Latin and Vernacular Poetry in Renaissance France, BRILL.

E.A.J. Honigmann (1987), John Weever: a biography of a literary associate of Shakespeare and Jonson, together with a photographic facsimile of Weever's Epigrammes (1559). Manchester University Press.

Hoyt H. Hudson (1937), ‘Edward May's Borrowings from Timothe Kendall and Others’, The Huntington Library Bulletin, No. 11 (April), pp. 23-58.

Hoyt H. Hudson (1947), The Epigram in the English Renaissance, Princeton UP.

R.B. McKerrow, ed. (1911), Epigrammes on the Oldest Cut and Newest Fashion By John Weever 1599, Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd.

Plutarch, Quaestiones Romanae, William W. Goodwin, ed.,

Kassandra Coghlan and Bill Hamilton. Whistler’s Watermarks, ‘Foolscap watermark’, National Gallery of Australia,

Thomas King Whipple (1925), ‘Martial and the English Epigram from Sir Thomas Wyatt to Ben Jonson’, University of California Publications in Modern Philology, 10: 279-414.


[1]This was true at the time this paper was written. Unfortunately, since its publication, Mr Waugh has degenerated into casting aspersions upon my character, intelligence, and former employment, while declining to address the substance of the article.

[2]The chief source for Weever’s epigrams is Martial, but he also borrows from Ausonius, Catullus, and the Renaissance epigrammists Marullo, Beza, Johannes Secundus, Parkhurst, Buchanan, Stroza, and Sir Thomas More, as well as Kendall. Yes, a good deal of Elizabethan literature was what we would now call plagiarism.

[3] It should be noted that Spurius was a legitimate Latin name. In fact the father of Lucretia, of Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece, was Spurius Lucretius Tricipitinus, a possible, though extremely roundabout, connection to Shakespeare.




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