Shakespeare goes to Trial…and it’s about time!


Justin Borrow

Theatre Theorist

The Shakespeare Authorship Question has been a hot topic in academia for the last couple hundred years or so however it is only now beginning to gain the recognition it deserves. Since the publication of the first folio in 1623, there has been speculation that the author Shakespeare may not be the man we think he is…Notable doubters include Charlie Chaplin, Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Henry James and Derek Jacobi, none of them believe the uneducated man from Stratford could have written the “greatest expression of humanity in the English language” and believe there is more to be discovered. Even though there is a plethora of evidence dismissing the orthodox story, it has been stifled and ignored by scholars around the world…until now.

Over time, there have been many candidates brought forth to claim the authorship; however, today only one candidate really has any claim for the authorship against the orthodox story, that man is Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford. Many Oxfordian scholars, who have studied this question for their entire lives have been pushing back against orthodox scholars and academia to legitimize this topic and make it more publicly known. Their wishes are finally being granted.

On October 4th at 10:30 am in Stratford, ON. Two lawyers; one defending William of Stratford and the orthodox story that a grain merchant from Stratford-upon-avon wrote the works and the other opposing him will battle it out. These lawyers will go head to head in a mock trial in front of the Chief Justice of the supreme court of Canada, Beverly McLachlin. Although no “verdict” will be rendered in the end, the Chief Justice with adjourn the trial and hear both sides. York University Theatre Professor and notable Oxfordian, Don Rubin will assist the Oxfordian side in the build up to the trial date.

This is a huge victory for the Oxfordian side of the debate, as their voices are finally being heard, their topic is being taken seriously and they are reaching a greater, public audience. The main objective of the Oxfordian movement is to not only prove that Edward de Vere was the author of the works, but also to allow students the opportunity to hear BOTH sides of the argument and decide for themselves. Academic freedom is a huge issue regarding this topic, those who study it are sometimes chastised for it. The Oxfordian movement is pushing back against that persecution and successfully winning thus far.

The mock trial will take place on Saturday, October 4th 2014 in Stratford, Ontario. Tickets are available on the Stratford festival website The event is free for anyone to attend. For more information on the authorship question, please visit


The Shakespeare Authorship Question: What is it and Why is it Legitimate?

By: Justin Borrow




For those of you aware of the Shakespeare Authorship Question, especially those of you who are against the orthodox story supporting the man from Stratford as the author of the works, you know just how hot of a topic it is. For those of you unaware of the question, or who know little about it, allow me to briefly explain…

Over 400 years ago, during the reign of Elizabeth I, the name “William Shake-speare” dominated the Elizabethan stage. Beginning with two narrative poems in 1593 and 1594 (Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece) followed by 37 plays and 154 sonnets, his work has become collectively known as the ultimate expressions of humanity in the English language. The works are attributed to a man by the name of William Shakspere (note the spelling) born in 1564 to John Shakspere (a glove maker) and Mary Arden in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The story goes that he was raised in Stratford and with a grammar school education, he traveled to London where he became an actor and then a playwright. Not just any playwright, the most famous and most performed playwright of all time. He is said to have retired back to Stratford in 1610 where he lived the remaining years of his life before dying in 1616. In 1623, seven years after the Stratford man’s death, the first collection of Shake-speare’s work, known as the first folio, was published. For over 400 years students have been taught this story as though it is common knowledge. I was taught this story and I can almost guarantee that all of you reading this, have been taught this story. Why would any of us question it? The William from Stratford is the William of the plays, there is not one reason any of us should ever give this a second thought…or is there?

For something to be considered factual there has to be evidence to support it…Correct? The life of William Shakspere is quite well documented. We have his baptismal records, his last Will and Testament, his share holdings in a London theatre and of course his burial records. This man most definitely existed, and he absolutely was connected to the theatre. However that is NOT what is being questioned. William Shakspere as a writer however, has absolutely no evidence whatsoever to support its claim. That’s right, the story which you have been taught in your high school and university classrooms is nothing more than a theory and a weak one at that. The Shakespeare Authorship Question is a hot field of Academia which is determined to seek out the true author of the Shakespeare canon and give him the recognition he deserves. The Shakespeare Authorship Question is not a matter of “Did Shakespeare write Shakespeare?” OF COURSE HE DID! That is the name on the title pages after all… Rather, the question stands as “WHO was William Shake-speare?” Many candidates have been passed down over time from Mary Sidney, to Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley and even Elizabeth I. However, after much research and consideration there is only one candidate still in the running with a legitimate claim to the authorship…Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Edward de Vere was the most educated subject in Elizabeth’s realm. He was a poet and a playwright brought up in the Puritan household of Statesman William Cecil, Lord Burghley. In this house he was tutored extensively in a variety of subjects including: Latin, Greek, French, Law, Medicine, Fencing and more. (Subjects the author “Shake-speare” was well versed in) Shake-Speare’s most used source text, Ovid’s Metamorphoses was translated into English for the first time by Arthur Golding, Edward’s uncle and tutor. Edward would have known that text inside out. Oxford was known as ““a poet who honoured Poesie with pen and practice” by Henry Peachum in his book The Compleat Gentlemen and “the most excellent of Elizabeth’s courtier poets” by William Webbe in his book Discourse of English Poetrie. Just on the surface, these two references serve a stronger case supporting Oxford as the author than William of Stratford. These statements simply prove that Oxford was recognized as a talented poet. There is not one reference, in any document, of any kind referring to William of Stratford as a writer, a poet or a playwright. For more on this, read Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography in which she breaks down the missing literary paper trail to support William of Stratford as a writer of any kind.

Why the pen name?

Edward de Vere was raised in a Puritan house, the Cecil’s hated the theatre and tried for many years to eliminate it from England. However, Elizabeth was a fan and so the Cecil’s were unsuccessful. De Vere was a man of the courts, for him to publish these works under his name would have been political suicide. As an Earl his duties were in the courts, not in the theatres so it was in his best interest to publish them under another name. In addition, Shake-speare’s plays were some of the most controversial and seditious plays put on the Elizabethan stage, some of them were simply against the law such as Richard II. A play about succession (a very touchy topic in Elizabethan England) where a King physically hands over his crown. Elizabeth I famously said “Know ye not that I am Richard II.”  If de Vere’s name was attached to that play, he could have been imprisoned or even executed for sedition. A pen name or pseudonym would have been a smart and safe way for the playwright to remain anonymous while still continuing to publish his plays.

Just as a side note, William Shakspere was a well known actor in London, if he was the author why was he never arrested for any of his controversial plays like most of his contemporaries were? Jonson, Kyd, Marlowe all had run ins with the law regarding the content of their plays…Why didn’t William Shakspere? The man who wrote some of the most controversial plays of the time…Because those in Elizabethan England knew that he was not the author William Shake-speare.

The Authorship Question’s legitimacy 

Orthodox scholars, known as Stratfordians, who continue to fight for the Stratford man’s authorship have a burning hatred for supporters of de Vere’s authorship, collectively known as Oxfordians. For example, just last October there was an article published in the Globe and Mail by theatre critic and Stratfordian Kelly Nestruck attacking York University Professor and notable Oxfordian Don Rubin. Did he attack the question? Hardly. Did he defend his position by breaking down the arguments presented by Professor Rubin? Not at all…He preferred to attack Professor Rubin personally instead… It’s called an Ad Hominem attack in which arguments are dismissed not on evidence, but irrelevant facts about the person making them. For example, Kelly attacks Professor Rubin for only having a Masters degree and not a ph.D…as though that somehow dismisses the years of research Professor Rubin has completed on this topic. Stratfordians are very well known to dish out these sorts of attacks and the Stratfordian book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt ed. by Paul Edmonson and Stanley Wells spends a large portion attacking certain Oxfordians not on their arguments but on their character. As an example: Delia Bacon who founded the Baconian theory (favouring Francis Bacon as the author) suffered from mental illness in her last years, the Stratfordians argue that she went mental for trying to prove a ridiculous theory and since she was mental, therefore the authorship question is mental. Those are the sorts of circular, ad hominem attacks put out by the Stratfordians to combat the Oxfordian researchers.

As an Oxfordian, it is important for me to explain exactly what I am fighting for. Yes, I believe, based on strong academic evidence, that Edward de Vere was the true author of the Shakespeare canon. However, until any definitive evidence is brought forth it continues to be known as the Oxfordian Theory and I accept that. I believe in Oxford because the evidence has told me in my heart that he is the author, however, I am committed to finding the true author. This means if some type of definitive evidence comes to prove that de Vere could not have been Shake-speare, I am willing to let him go. That is the issue with Stratfordians, even with a pile of evidence dismissing the Stratford man as the author, they refuse to budge on their position. That is terrible scholarship. However, until such time evidence against de Vere has been found, I will continue to research to further prove his authorship to the canon.

All I want is for academia to acknowledge that there is a lack of evidence supporting the Stratford man and that there is the possibility that the man from Stratford is not the author of the works. I want the Authorship question to be a legitimate discussion in academia and I want the freedom to research and look into this topic without persecution. I want to be able to discuss this topic freely without being pinned as a conspiracy theorist…There is more than enough strong, scholarly evidence to support the Oxfordian Theory and enough evidence (or lack thereof) to reasonably doubt the authorship of the Stratford man. “Who wrote under the name William Shake-speare?” is a legitimate question to ask.

Why does it matter?

A lot of people ask why does this even matter? What is the point? Most people whom I speak to about this topic ask me this and my response is always the same. It is a case of simple justice. The creator of these works is a genius, his words articulating the deepest expressions of human emotion and he deserves his recognition. Also, by discovering who the true author is, we are able to study the plays with a new outlook. For example, if Edward de Vere was the author William Shake-speare, then the play Hamlet can be read as a form of an autobiography. (This is the play that many scholars turn to when trying to prove Oxford’s authorship due to the extensive connections between the play and de Vere’s life.) It gives the words a new life, and allows us to understand them even more than we do now. Why should a man who possibly never wrote a single letter in his life be credited with the greatest works of all time? Especially if there is scholarly evidence to doubt it. The author of these works deserves to be recognized and one day, he will finally be honoured.

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart
Absent thee from felicity a while,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story. (Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2)


Shake-speare is Shake-speare through and through 

Lastly, the reason so many people are afraid to look into the authorship question or accept its legitimacy is out of fear of desecrating the works. They think that by denying William of Stratford’s authorship they are somehow taking away the beauty of the words. This is not the case at all, Shake-speare is Shake-speare. The words remain as articulate and beautiful as ever and nothing can ever take away that sheer brilliance. The works are genius, they always have been and always will be and these plays will continue to be honoured and adored regardless of the authorship question.

Whichever side of the fence you fall on regarding this topic I ask one favour from you…go to and read the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt for yourself. It is a much more detailed document regarding the issues with William Shakspere’s authorship. If you are convinced please sign it, if you think it’s still hogwash then feel free to move on but at least give it a read, I think you will be very surprised.

To finish, I leave you with the de Vere family motto, a fitting phrase for this topic…

Vero Nihil Verius….Nothing is Truer than Truth.

Shakespeare, Sexuality and Gender

By: Justin Borrow

rosalind from As You Like It


Sexuality and gender are prominent themes in Shakespeare’s plays. Depending on the genre of the play, sexuality and gender are used as either a tool of manipulation, a form of propaganda or sometimes both. During the time of Shakespeare, there was a social construct of gender and sexuality norms just as there are today. There was a hierarchy of sexes and each had their own role in society. Men were masculine, they were not ruled by emotion, they were strong and hard working. Women belonged in the home, they were ruled by men and by their emotions and therefore were thought to often make bad decisions. By blurring the lines between sexuality and gender in his plays, Shakespeare deconstructs these norms to display their ambiguity. Masculine men can play effeminate female roles (which they did on stage) and effeminate women can play masculine male roles.  Looking at both Richard III and As You Like It as major examples, this paper will show the different ways sexuality and gender are used to manipulate characters, alter the action of the play and deconstruct the social norm of gender and sexuality and how they vary depending on the genre of the play.

During the time when William Shakespeare was alive and writing, there were social norms about gender and sexuality that existed similarly as they do today. A major difference is that today there are feminist movements out to abolish gender inequality whereas during the 16th century when Shakespeare was writing in his prime, women were fully aware of their role in society and generally shared the same viewpoint as the men did. It was not seen as sexist at this time, it was the way it was.

A Woman’s place was within doors, her business domestic…Women…themselves accepted this divorce between the private (feminine) and public (masculine) sphere and, despite the recent precedents of Mary Queen of Scots, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth, they shared the age’s distaste…for the notion of women’s involvement in politics. (Gajowski 53, [Keeble] 1994, 186)

Shakespeare sought to defeat these norms, he sought to show that sexuality and gender are ambiguous and mutable. He could be viewed as a feminist in today’s standards because of his attempt to deconstruct the unwritten rules about gender and sexuality in society. Many scholars question Shakespeare’s sexuality and whether or not he had homoerotic tendencies based on some of his sonnets which are believed to have been written about men. Regardless, whether this is true or not we shall never know, however, we do know that he deconstructed the norm of gender and sexuality within his plays. The method he used to deconstruct sexuality and gender depended on the genre of the specific play.

Shakespeare wrote a variety of genres from romance to tragedy to history to comedy. Each genre had its own way of blurring the lines of sexuality and gender. It seemed each genre had its own set of rules and methods for how sexuality and gender were displayed and the limitations they possessed. Although there are women who face tragic fates in Shakespeare’s tragedies they are mainly dominated by men. Examples such as Titus Andronicus, Hamlet, and Othello where the male characters’ fates predominately rule the plot of the plays. There is also a “detachment from sexual violence” (Gajowski 71) in his tragedies. In Othello for example, when he murders Desdemona, Gajowski explains that the violence is uncontrollable. “In Othello [5.2.1] impending male violence toward the female is conceived of and articulated as an impersonal force beyond the control of the male protagonist.” (Gajowski 71) Tragedy favoured the side of the males with them mainly controlling the plot and their fates holding the main focus, however, his comedies took a different approach. “If the dark realm of Shakespeare’s tragedies is essentially men’s territory, pride of place in the bright panorama of his comedies must surely belong to the women.” (Pitt, 75) Shakespeare’s comedies are predominantly ruled by his women, it is here where we see the reversal of gender roles such as Titania’s power in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although Oberon is King of the faeries he can be read as being weaker than his wife. He bends to her will and although he argues with her and makes demands he never truly gets what he wants. While reading the chapter Women in the Comedies and Last Plays by Angela Pitt, She makes an interesting point in regards to the role of Women in Shakespeare’s plays and the possible reason Shakespeare chose women for his comedies. She writes:

Why should the women leap into prominence? One reason may be that Shakespeare found their traditional attributes of modesty, intuition and high-spiritedness highly suitable material for his comedies, and in varying blends and degrees, all his comic heroine’s have these characteristics. They never go beyond what an Elizabethan audience would have found acceptable in a woman: it is rather that Shakespeare exalts the positive, rather than the negative traits. Any women that go against prevailing conventions are redeemed by the end of the play. (Pitt, 75)

This quote highlights my point earlier that genre dictates the limitations of the play and the boundaries able to be crossed. Tragedy is of such serious nature that there are stricter guidelines. In Presentism, Sexuality and Gender in Shakespeare Evelyn Gajowski discusses why comedy can stretch those boundaries and blur the lines even more when discussing sexuality and gender. She writes:

Comedy provides a safety net that allows the unfamiliar or the unacceptable to be presented in public, because the stakes are perceived to be lower than in tragedy. Consequently the outrageousness or unthinkability of some images-their potential for queasiness-can be excused as inconsequential playfulness. This allows greater free play than in work that is taken more seriously and is more closely scrutinized as a result. (Gajowski 133)

A great example of this is in A Midsummer’s Night Dream with Puck, he causes much of the chaos in the play and even goes as far as to make Titania commit bestiality with Bottom who has been transformed into an ass. This sexual taboo could be seen as offensive by the audience but because it’s a comedy it can be forgiven. Puck at the end of the play gives his famous monologue “If these shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended.” (Act 5 scene 1) Puck keeps his good faith as Titania is restored by the end of the play and back in her strong, dominating role as leading woman.

Not only does Shakespeare challenge the social norms of gender roles in his comedies but he also challenges the ambiguity of sexuality. In As You Like It, Rosalind runs away to the forest of Arden dressed up as a boy named Ganymede. Phoebe falls in love with Ganymede unaware that it is actually Rosalind. This creates an interesting piece of metatheatre because the character of Rosalind would have been played by a young, feminine looking boy. Therefore not only is there a homoerotic relationship in the play between the female characters Phoebe and Rosalind but also on the stage by the two male actors portraying the women. Phoebe’s inability to notice that Ganymede is actually a girl, shows the ambiguity of sex, it shows that male and female are mutable, they are one in the same.

Shakespeare also uses sexuality and gender roles as a tool of manipulation. The manipulator uses sexuality and gender to twist the action of the play in their favour. Richard III is the most prominent example where this is present in Shakespeare’s work. Sexuality as it is known in the context of society is broken, it no longer becomes about love or lust but for the gain of power. After killing her husband and her father in law in battle Richard successfully seduces Anne, explaining that he only killed them out of love for her. Despite her hurling insults at him he persists. A notable moment is in Act 1 scene 2 when Richard opens his shirt and holds his sword to his breast telling Anne to kill him if she will not love him because he’d rather die than not have her. He says: “Nay, do not pause: for I did kill King Henry-But ‘twas thy beauty that provoked me.” (Act 1 scene 2) When she drops the sword he says: “Take up the sword again, or take me.” (Act 1 scene 2) It is blatant that Richard does not truly love Anne but that he vies for her love for his own personal gain. When Anne accepts his ring on her finger and exits Richard states “Was ever woman in this humor woo’d? Was ever woman in this humor won?” (Act 1 scene 2) He continues on celebrating his successful seduction of Anne. In this case, although sexuality has lost its proper use, gender roles have not. Although Richard is described as feminine looking, he exhibits the traits of a masculine being, one who gains power and is not ruled by his emotions where as Anne exhibits the traits of an effeminate being, one who seems to be strong willed but is weak and ruled by her emotions. She knows that Richard is evil yet she allows his words to captivate her and gives into his will. She allows herself to be seduced by his sexuality. In Shakespeare and Gender Phyllis Rackin says:

This exchange dramatizes what will be a major source of Richard’s theatrical power- his appropriation of the woman’s part. Characterized throughout in terms of warlike masculinity and aggressive misogyny, Richard also commands the female power of erotic seduction. His monopoly of both male and female sexual energy is vividly portrayed in his seduction of Anne. (Rackin 270)

The gender roles in Richard III are quite reflective of Elizabethan society. Anne is angry at Richard for his heinous crimes yet she cannot make a sound decision because of her emotions that Richard is bringing out of her. Shakespeare deconstructs sexuality by taking it out of it’s norm in society. Rather than it be used for seduction for sex or for love, it’s seduction for love which shows that in fact it is a tool that can be dangerous if wielded by the wrong person such as Richard. Although the gender roles have not changed per se the women of the play have been displaced. In Shakespeare and Gender Phyllis Rackin discusses how Shakespeare “transforms” the women of history and how they are represented, she writes:

The reconstruction of history as tragedy in Richard III is accompanied by a remarkable transformation in the representation and placement of female characters. Paradoxically, even as the female characters are ennobled, they are also disempowered. On the one hand women are much more sympathetically portrayed. On the other, they lose their vividly individualized voices and the dangerous theatrical power that made characters like Joan and Margaret in the Henry VI plays potent threats to the masculine project of English history-making. (Rackin 267)

Shakespeare not only deconstructs sexuality and gender from their norms in society to use them as tools for power but he also uses them as a form of English propaganda. During the time of Shakespeare’s life, the English were hostile with the French forces and Shakespeare used his plays to disempower the French as much as he could. “Shakespeare repeatedly represents the French forces as effeminate.” (Gajowski 70) By portraying the French as effeminate it is a message that they are weak and able to be conquered by England. “Shakespeare represents the entire French Kingdom as a woman to be conquered by the masculine force of the English army.” (Gajowski 70) In this case he uses gender and the attributes of it to portray a certain image about the French. This would have pleased any of the political figures in Elizabethan England who would have been watching these plays. In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the French are seen as a weak force against England. In Act II scene 4, the King of France says: “Thus comes the English with full power upon us;” (2.4. line 1) and he continues talking about the fear the French have for the English. “For England his approaches makes as fierce as waters to the sucking of a gulf.”(2.4. lines 9-10) Here he compares the approaching English force to rushing water. He claims they must be strong, but it is apparent that the French are portrayed to fear the English. This would have evoked a strong reaction from the English audience watching, showing that the French, like women, are ruled by their fear and have little might.

Shakespeare saw the social norms of sexuality and gender in Elizabethan society and sought to deconstruct them to bring a new viewpoint on them. He was the Elizabethan version of a modern day feminist. He showed in his work that sexuality and gender are ambiguous tools that could be used for more than what society said they could be. He showed that men could be women and women could be men, that gender roles can be reversed and that no social norm was concrete. Depending on his genre, his method of deconstructing sexuality and gender changed and he was aware that he could go further within his comedies because of their light-hearted plot lines. He used sexuality and gender not only ambiguously but also as a powerful tool that could be wielded by one to gain power over another for political gain. Lastly, he used sexuality and gender as English propaganda to show that England was stronger than France and that they would always be victorious. Shakespeare’s work and his ability to deconstruct sexuality and gender within it, proves that the social hierarchy is one that is not permanent and can be broken.




Barker, Deborah, and Ivo Kamps. “Engendering the Tragic Audience: The Case of Richard III.” Shakespeare and gender: a history. London: Verso, 1995. 263-282. Print.

Gajowski, Evelyn. Presentism, gender, and sexuality in Shakespeare. Basingstoke England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.

Orgel, Stephen, and Sean Keilen. Shakespeare and gender. New York: Garland Pub., 1999. Print.

Pitt, Angela. Shakespeare’s women. Newton Abbot Devon: David & Charles ;, 1981. Print.

Shakespeare, William. ” Henry V, Act II, Scene 4 :|: Open Source Shakespeare.” OpenSource Shakespeare: search Shakespeare’s works, read the texts. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. <>

Shakespeare, William, and Peter Holland. A midsummers night’s dream. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.

Shakespeare, William. As you like it;. Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954. Print.

Shakespeare, William. King Richard III. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg, 1999. Print.




Commedia Dell’Arte: The Theatre of the Streets

 By: Justin Borrow



Foire Saint-Laurent


Commedia Dell’Arte was a very popular form of acrobatic street theatre performed in early-modern Italy. It was a theatrical spectacle stemming from the French pantomime in which actors would portray certain characters who have predetermined traits. The performances were mostly comedic with humorous violent interactions and very athletic, acrobatic manoeuvres performed by the actors. Commedia Dell’Arte contributed to the social environment of early modern Italy by re-emphasizing social standards, bringing the people of the city together regardless of class, religion or ethnicity and highlighting the importance of the street.

Commedia Dell’Arte which means The Art of Comedy began in Italy sometime during the 16th century. It was an entirely masked performance, each mask representing a specific character whom the audience would all be familiar with. Some of the most popular characters included Il Dottore or The Doctor, Pantalone, Arlecchino, Arlecchina and Colombina. Commedia Dell Arte was mainly performed on makeshift stages outside or physically in the streets. There were no scripts and all dialogue was improvised,  instead there were information sheets called “scenarios” which would outline important plot points so the actors could improvise around a story. A very famous scenario writer in the 17th century was Flamino Scala (1552-1624), an Italian theatre practitioner who travelled with the Accesi Company writing scenarios for the actors to perform. Another popular scenario writer and theatre practitioner was Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806) who’s Five Tales for the Theatre is a rare example of scripted Commedia in which the characters are given a preface of the story and then actual lines to perform. This form became more prevalent a few years later around the 17th-18th Century. It is stated that by this point Commedia Dell’Arte was dying out and audiences were growing tired of its slapstick comedy, they wanted more of a “morally instructive” and entertaining performance.  However, in early modern Italy, when Commedia Dell’Arte was first emerging, it was very popular among both the upper class and lower class citizens who would gather together in piazzas and market squares around the country to watch and be entertained. The actors would travel in troupes around to different cities and later on, different countries to perform improvised comedies for the locals. Although on the surface, Commedia Dell’Arte was simply just a form of entertainment, deep down it was much more than that.

In early modern Italy, segregation was a prominent part of society. There were ghettos for the Jews; the prostitutes and lower class would live in specific areas of the city just as the rich and the elite had their own parts of the city which they inhabited. In conjunction with these divisions there were also certain standards and expectations for each class, the emergence of Commedia Dell’Arte emphasized these standards. For example, the balcony in early modern Italy was a liminal space predominantly used by higher class females. These elite females would not dare be seen outside of the house and although they were sometimes scrutinized for being on their balcony it was deemed more appropriate than to be standing in their doorways on the street, that was for the lower class women. Ritiratezza was an Italian ideology, not to draw attention to ones self and it was considered a trait that a desired woman would be expected to have. Women were watched carefully while in the public eye and criticized if they lacked this virtue. Commedia Dell’Arte kept true to these social norms and many performances ensured that women were staged depending on their social class. For example in the painting une parade au théâtre de la Foire Saint-Laurent devant la loge de Nicole there is a depiction of a Commedia Dell’Arte performance occurring and a well dressed woman, most likely of the elite can be seen standing on her balcony interacting with the characters below. In Alexander Cowan’s article Seeing is believing: Urban Gossip and the Balcony is Early Modern Venice he discusses how Commedia Dell’Arte executed this, he says:

Representations in the theatre have more to offer in this context than paintings, in spite of the artificiality of stage settings. In addition to the visual spectacle, the simultaneous use of two levels on a stage in an outdoor scene may have more to teach us. It was conventional for sixteenth-century productions of the Commedia dell’arte to take place in the street or the public square, a setting which privileged male characters. While lower-class female characters could also appear out of doors as they did in the real world, higher-status women with reputations to protect were only made visible to the audience through the mechanism of using an upper level of the stage in the form of windows or, less frequently, balconies. These permitted them to interact with actors down below, observing them covertly, exchanging amorous looks and words, listening to serenades.

This was not only a way of enforcing these standards but also allowed for the social class of specific characters to be made clear to the audience. For example a woman on a balcony or in a window, the audience would automatically make the connection that she must be of the upper class. Although it reinforced these standards, this method could also be used to cause controversy. If an elite female character up on a balcony or in a window demonstrated poor ritiratezza, then those watching would be shocked and would think critically of the character. The objective of theatre has always been to have the audience pass judgment and opinions on what they are watching. By having a woman demonstrate poor ritiratezza in a performance would provoke the audience to formulate an opinion on that character and judge her based on the values and standards of that time period.

Commedia Dell’Arte was not only a method of re-emphasizing social standards but it was also about bringing together the Italian people. Mixing on a daily level was not entirely common, especially for the elite and lower class unless the different groups were coming together for a specific purpose. When the talking statues began to appear around some of the piazzas it was a chance for elite and lower class to come together and air their grievances by writing their opinions on pieces of paper and sticking them to the statue. This in itself was it’s own form of spectacle. People would stop by and read other’s opinions; it was a moment when social class did not matter, everyone’s voice could be heard. This was one of the few times when these different social groups would interact with one another. Upon the arrival of Commedia Dell’Arte, there was an entirely new reason for these groups to interact on the streets; to watch and connect with this new, exciting form of theatre. Commedia Dell’Arte came into existence sometime after the black plague and some of the stock characters who filled the scenes would have been well known by the Italian people because of this. One of the popular characters that arrived after the plague was “Il Dottore” or The Doctor who’s distinct mask would have been recognizable to the audience as it was the same mask worn by the plague doctors. Arlecchino, who represents the underdog, spends the majority of his time disguising himself to try and outwit his master and win the heart of a particular woman. Many of the lower class men would have felt a connection to the character Arlecchino. During this period, It was popular for men to serenade women at their balconies and try and win their hand in marriage; this was a typical act that Arlecchino would perform and so the males in the audience would have made a connection with that.

Commedia Dell’Arte was born in the streets; it was formed to highlight the social environment of early modern Italy and did so by rooting itself where the majority of these social interactions took place. The characters in Commedia Dell’Arte are extremely versatile and would strategically compliment one another throughout the performances. In Performance and Literature in the Commedia Dell’ Arte by Robert Henke, he discusses how the term stock character does not give the creative and versatile characters justice. “In this intensely collaborative theatre, repertories and expertise continually intersected. The unfortunate phrase “stock character” provides a beggarly tag for these rich and flexible characters.” By having the locals connect with the performance, it allowed for a more meaningful experience, it strengthened that bond not only with the audience but with the physical street itself and everything it represents. Although later on Commedia Dell’Arte was performed in palaces and courts, it was always very rooted in it’s street origins and was fulfilling its purpose of highlighting the social environment when performed within piazzas and market squares for the average citizen. By having these performances shifted to palaces and courts it began to privatize the art. Commedia Dell’Arte was created for everyone and as soon as it began to become private, it took away from its intended purpose. The street was a place for the people, there was a strong bond between the people and the street and these performances of Commedia Dell’Arte emphasized that connection. Theatre in the early modern period allowed for a much stronger connection between the audience and the performers than we see today and Commedia Dell’Arte was no different. By having the performances in the streets, it would have been very common for the audience members to yell and heckle at the performers if they did not like something. If these performances took place in playhouses and elegant theatres, that interaction may have been lost due to etiquette, the street had its own rules and allowed for a much more liberated form of expression. Since the street was the primary location for these performances, this interaction was possible and welcomed by the actors. The street was such a lively environment during this period and it was enriched in the Italian culture, Commedia Dell’Arte soon became apart of that culture and found its permanent place within the streets of early modern Italy.

To conclude, Commedia Dell’Arte presented a mirror image of the social environment of early-modern Italy. It emphasized the importance of certain social standards such as Ritiratezza and the use of windows and balconies for the elite upper class. As a performance embedded in the streets, it followed the regulations and expectations that the street upheld. Commedia Dell’Arte was a common ground which many citizens shared regardless of their social class, religious beliefs or ethnicity and was a barrier breaker that allowed for people from all walks of life to connect with each other on some level. These performances became a linking factor for these different social classes and allowed for interaction between the elite and the lower class to take place regularly. Lastly, Commedia Dell’Arte highlighted the important role that the street played in daily social interaction. This Italian, street theatre was not just simply a form of entertainment but it was crucial part of life in the streets of early-modern Italy.






Cowan, A. “Seeing is believing: Urban Gossip and the balcony in Early Modern Venice” Gender & History, Vol. 23 No. 3 November 2011. 721-738

Gassner, J. The Reader’s Encyclopedia of World Drama, Courier Dover Publications, 2002

Gozzi, C. trans. Albert Permel & Ted Emery Five Tales for the Theatre, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Henke, R. Performance and Literature in the Commedia Dell’Arte, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

MacNeil, A. Music and Women of the Commedia dell’Arte, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Rudlin, J. Commedia Dell’Arte: An Actors Handbook, London: Routledge, 2002. 

Rudlin, J. Commedia Dell’Arte: A Handbook for Troupes, London: Routledge, 2001.

Scala, F. trans. Richard Andrews The Commedia Dell’arte of Flamino Scala: A translation and Analysis of 30 Scenarios, Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.



Bredael Van P. Commedia Dell’Arte Szene in Italienischer Landschaft, 17thC, oil on canvas.

Unknown, une parade au théâtre de la Foire Saint-Laurent devant la loge de Nicole, 1786.




The First Folio of Shakesvere: How and why the first folio of 1623 can be connected to Edward de Vere

By: Justin Borrow B.A Spec. Hon




The first folio was published in 1623 by Edward Blount and two brothers, William and Isaac Jaggard. It has been claimed “The most important book ever written in the English Language” by Sotheby’s Auction House and is officially the most expensive book ever sold. The folio is a collection of the comedies, histories and tragedies of a man, known as William Shakespeare. Orthodox scholars have, for almost 400 years, decided for the rest of the world that William Shakespeare was William Shaksper (Shakspere the trailing e was added on sometime during Shaksper’s life but notice the missing medial e, a very important aspect in the pronunciation of the name and one of the many arguments against the Stratford man) a grain merchant from Stratford. Although there exists approximately 70 pieces of documentation about William of Stratford, none of these documents ever refer to him as a writer. How could it be that the greatest book of all time in the English Language was written by a man who seems to have very little connection to the plays within it or the book itself? If the man from Stratford was not the true author of these works then who was?

Edward de Vere was the 17th Earl of Oxford, he was a man who loved the theatre and loved to write poetry and plays, he was one of the most educated subjects in Elizabeth’s realm with extensive knowledge of the law, medicine and courtly speech and the first folio of 1623 originally attributed to the Stratford man can be directly connected to him and his family. There is probable cause to believe that Edward de Vere was the man who wrote the comedies, histories and tragedies under the pen name William Shakespeare and that the folio of 1623 was a collection of his work, not the man from Stratford.


“Times glory is to calm contending kings; to unmask falsehood and bring truth to light.”-The Rape of Lucrece 

Who was Edward de Vere?

Edward de Vere was born on the 12th of April, 1550 at Castle Heddingham, Essex in the north-east of London. His father, John de Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford, died when Edward was only 18 leaving him the Earldom at a very young age. Out of loyalty to Edward’s father, Queen Elizabeth I’s chief advisor William Cecil had agreed to bring young Edward into his house and educate him under a Puritan roof. The Puritans were against the arts specifically poetry and theatre which would bring turmoil to Edward and Cecil’s relationship. Edward, who was a fantastic composer of poetry, was once praised by Henry Peachum in his book The Compleat Gentlemen published in 1622 (A year before the first folio was published) as “a poet who honoured Poesie with pen and practice” (Peachum 1622) He was also considered “the most excellent of Elizabeth’s courtier poets” in William Webbe’s book A Discourse of English Poetrie published in 1586, approximately 10 years before the name William Shakespeare would appear within the London Theatre scene. It was clear that de Vere had a special talent for writing and was beginning to make a name for himself as a poet, a title that would have infuriated William Cecil. Edward was married on December 16th, 1571 to Anne Cecil, the daughter of William Cecil when she was 15 and he was 21. This marriage was one of political interest and there were domestic issues from the beginning. The marriage quickly came to an end when Anne died in 1588 when she was only 31. Shortly after, Edward remarried Elizabeth Trentham sometime around December 27th 1591, the exact date is unknown. Edward de Vere had three daughters between his two marriages: Susan, Bridget and Elizabeth. These daughters are directly connected to the de Vere’s claim of the Folio as 2 of his daughters would be connected to Earls directly linked to the first folio of Shakespeare. Bridget de Vere was offered to William Herbert, the heir to the earldom of Pembroke for a dowry of 3,000 Pounds, however when Herbert could not receive payment immediately he called off the wedding. Susan de Vere was married to William Herbert’s brother Philip, the 5th Earl of Pembroke in 1604 shortly after the death of her father. These brothers would go on to have a famous book dedicated to them; a collection of plays and poems in 1623, now famously known as the First folio of William Shakespeare but we will come back to this point later on. Edward de Vere died in 1604 at his literary house King’s Place in Hackney, London at the age of 54. There is no documentation of where he is buried however it has been suggested that he may be possibly buried in Westminster Abbey or the parish at St. Augustine. His body has never been confirmed in either place.


The Issue with the Stratford Man and the Folio

The first folio of 1623 was published 7 years after the death of William Shakspere and 19 years after the death of de Vere. There are a slew of dedications in the beginning of the folio by John Heminges and Henry Condell, 2 actors in London during the time of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, one of the most documented playwrights of the 16th/17th century. The author, William Shakespeare is called “The soul of the age” by Jonson. However, in Last Will and Testament, a film by Laura and Lisa Wilson on the subject of Shakespeare’s authorship, Diana Price says “How can the soul of the age be Mr. Nobody?” which is where the issue with William of Stratford begins. There are very few connections to William of Stratford to the Folio of 1623 and these connections are weak, dubious and ambiguous at best. The first page of the folio has a small inscription by Ben Jonson, it talks about the identity of the author and concludes that the reader must “look not on his picture, but his book.” Adjacent to this inscription is the famous Droeshout engraving, a controversial portrait who’s authenticity has been argued over in academia for many years. The image is dissected in Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? by John M. Rollett where he breaks down the flaws of the engraving. He focuses on the clothing worn by the subject, he says:

“The doublet in the engraving displays a number of peculiarities. To begin with, the right     shoulder-wing is smaller than the left shoulder-wing, when they should be (roughly) the same size, or at least balance pictorially. In addition, the right-hand front panel of the doublet is clearly smaller  than the left-hand front panel.” (ed. Shahan, Rollett 115)


The importance of Rollett’s observation is that it discredits this image’s authenticity and thus leaves open speculation as to whom this Mr. Shakespeare is. It also gives weight to the argument that Jonson’s opening dedication can be read with ambiguity and most probably suggests that the engraving does not depict the true author or even a real person. Within the first few pages of the folio there is the dedication by Jonson where he writes “To the memory of my beloved author, Mr. William Shakespeare and what he hath left us.” in this dedication there is written “Thou art a monument without a tomb” William of Stratford’s burial location is noted and documented in the church of the holy trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon. Edward de Vere’s location is not documented and to this day his burial location is unknown thus making him “without a tomb.” If Jonson was aware that de Vere was the true author, this could be Jonson hinting to the reader about the true identity of the author. Jonson was famous for riddles and cryptic messages in his works. In the same dedication Jonson writes “Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were to see thee in our waters yet appear” Orthodox scholars automatically connect this with the mention of Stratford earlier on in the Folio in a different dedication and deduce that it must be William of Stratford-upon-Avon. Although this is a possibility it is not fact, merely a theory and can be countered in favour of Edward de Vere.

The Sweet Swan of Avon?

Bilton Hall was a literary retreat house that the de Vere family inherited in 1499 and held in their family for over 70 years. It is located in Warwickshire England and was where de Vere would escape to write away from the Cecil’s. Bilton Hall holds significant importance to the Folio and its connection to de Vere because of two very specific landmarks that surround the building. There is a river that flows past Bilton Hall, a very famous river which Jonson mentions in his dedication, on the one side sits the river Nidd flowing freely and on the other, the river Avon. On the other side of the house there is a large forest; one which appears in Shakespeare’s works numerous times, the forest Arden. Edward de Vere was known throughout the realm as a poet and playwright, Jonson would have been aware of Bilton Hall and its location. He was not referring to William Shakspere; the grain merchant turned actor from Stratford-upon-Avon when he was writing his dedication, he very well could have been referring to Edward de Vere, as the sweet swan of Avon. de Vere would have been inspired by his surroundings while writing his plays, living on the borders of the forest Arden, his love for pastorals and the woods would resonate in his works. When de Vere died in 1604, he died in Hackney, London. Hackney resides in a suburb also known as Stratford. Bilton Hall could very well be the Stratford monument mentioned in the dedication.  Orthodox scholars connect Avon and Stratford to Stratford-upon-Avon; why? Because it makes sense, there is enough evidence to claim that the references are about the Stratford man but there is no direct correlation, leaving it simply as a theory. The argument for de Vere is equally as strong (if not stronger) and the connections make just as much sense.

A Family Affair

The greatest connection to Edward de Vere and the first Folio comes from his family. Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil had 3 daughters, Elizabeth b. 1575 Bridget b. 1584 and Susan b. 1587. When Anne died in 1588 at the age of 31 he remarried Elizabeth Trentham and had a son named Henry de Vere b. 1593, who would become the 18th Earl of Oxford after his fathers death. Marriage was essential for the de Vere daughters and shortly after the death of her father in 1604, Susan de Vere married marry Philip Herbert, 5th Earl of Pembroke and courtier of James I. In 1597 Bridget de Vere was having an affair with William Herbert, brother of Philip. William Cecil had it arranged so that they marry but after not being able to reach an agreement on the dowry the marriage was called off by William. In the folio there is a dedication to “the most incomparable pair of brethren” and it is dedicated to William and Philip Herbert, The Earls of Pembroke whom both are connected to de Vere through his daughters. After his death in 1604 and assuming that the plays were written by de Vere, the plays and poems of Edward de Vere would have been passed down into the possession of his daughters and it would have been up to them to publish them for their father if they so chose to. They would have been well aware of de Vere’s attempts to keep his name secret from the works and in 1623 under his pen name William Shakespeare, the first folio was published. Assuming these works were written by the man from Stratford, this dedication would not make much sense. The Earls of Pembroke had no connection to William of Stratford, so to have his life’s works dedicated to them seems out of place and askew. The only solid connection between Shakspere and the folio found would be two actors he frequently performed with Heminges and Condell who helped with the publication of the folio.  Although there is some documentation that these two actors were acquainted with William of Stratford, they were also very prominent actors in London and performed in many plays written by the author “Shakespeare” meaning they would have had a relationship with these plays, their publication and quite possibly the author himself

Hamlet as de Vere?

Within the folio is a catalogue of 38 plays ranging from histories to comedies to tragedies. Of these plays, one stands out most when arguing for the authorship of Edward de Vere as the author William Shakespeare. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Scholars have almost unanimously agreed that Hamlet reads very much as a biography of the life of de Vere with identical parallels occurring within the play directly taken from de Vere’s life. Some prominent examples are as follows: In act IV scene vi, Hamlet’s ship is attacked by pirates, he is taken prisoner, stripped naked and left on the shores of Denmark. Similarly in 1576 when de Vere was returning from his trip to Italy (a country which de Vere frequented and 13 of Shakespeare’s plays take place in)*** his ship was attacked by pirates and he was taken prisoner, stripped naked and left on the shores of England. The other main parallel is with the speech Polonius gives to Laertes in act I scene iii (Many scholars agree that Polonius is most likely a caricature of William Cecil) it is almost taken word for word from a private letter William Cecil wrote to his son Robert called “The 10 Precepts” A guide on how to conduct one’s self. How would a grain merchant turned actor from Stratford have had access to these private writings of William Cecil which were never published publicly during his lifetime? It would have been nearly impossible, and unless the man from Stratford wrote Polonius’ speech and the similarities between the two were a wicked coincidence, highly unlikely; then there is an argument to be made that this written by de Vere. Edward de Vere lived in the Cecil house; he was married to Anne Cecil and was essentially raised by her father. He would have had access to the Cecil library where William’s writings would have been kept, including the precepts and it is very probable that de Vere was given this same speech himself while growing up.



***There is no evidence that William of Stratford ever left England or visited Italy 

To conclude, the evidence is clear that the connections between William of Stratford and the first folio of 1623 are dubious at best. There is very little academic evidence that scholars can find to connect the man from Stratford to the plays or the folio itself and orthodox scholars hold onto ambiguous words and phrases to build their argument. Is it possible, of course it is but to claim it as fact would be dangerous scholarship. Edward de Vere however was an educated Earl, a poet and playwright who’s daughters just so happened to marry and be connected to the “pair of incomparable brethren” that would pay for the publication of the folio. He died in Stratford, London, his literary retreat home Bilton Hall was on the edge of the river Avon and next to the forest Arden and Hamlet reads as his biography (or autobiography if you believe he is the author). There is a strong case to argue that the name William Shakespeare which appeared on the 38 plays, 2 poems and 154 sonnets was the pen name for the most educated subject in Elizabeth’s realm. Famously known in Elizabeth’s court as the “spear shaker”, for the arguments he would cause, there is enough academic evidence to argue that the author William Shakespeare was in fact, Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford.


In the words of the de Vere family motto: “Vero Nihil Verius” Nothing is truer than truth.














Works Cited

Emerson, Kathy Lynn. Wives and daughters: the women of sixteenth century England. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston Pub. Co., 1984. Print.

“Index to A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.” Index to A Who’s Who of Tudor Women by Kathy Lynn Emerson. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. <;

Polonius As Lord Burghley Part One.” Polonius As Lord Burghley Part One. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2013. <;.

Shahan, John M., and Alexander Waugh. Shakespeare beyond doubt?. Florida: Llumina Press, 2012. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Hamlet.” Mr. William Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, & tragedies: a facsimile edition of the first folio. London: Yale University Press, 1954. 742-772. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Mr. William Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, & tragedies: a facsimile edition of the first folio. London: Oxford University Press; Yale University Press, 1954. Print.


Spamalot: Risqué and Down Right Hilarious

Justin Borrow

Staff Writer

From talks of migrating coconuts to very expensive forests, there isn’t much that the Lower Ossington Theatre’s production of Spamalot doesn’t offer.

“Lovingly ripped off” from the incredibly successful and ridiculously hilarious motion picture “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, Spamalot, directed by Jeremy Hutton, tells the tale of King Arthur (Jason Gray) and his loving and loyal friend Patsy (Evan Dowling). The two set out on a journey to find knights for their very, very, very, very, round table, and they join in on the knights’ quest for the Holy Grail. Accompanied by “brave” Sir Robin (Mitchell Court), “the good looking” Sir Lancelot (Ryan Jeffery), the “doubtful” Sir Galahad (Thomas James Finn) and the “flatulent” Sir Bedevere (Jeremy Hutton), King Arthur and his knights get into all sorts of absurd and sidesplittingly funny shenanigans on their quest.

Raunchy, obscene and brilliantly choreographed by Michele Shuster, the LOT’s production of Spamalot does everything it sets out to do and more. Having the audience in stitches from start to finish and captivating them with big, bright dance numbers, Spamalot engages the crowd, making them feel just as much a part of the production as the artists. The absurdity never seems to end and the jokes are just as funny today as they were in 1975, when the world was first introduced to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

Special mention goes to Emma Ferrante, who plays The Lady of the Lake, for her hilarious performance and stunning voice, and to Evan Dowling for his wonderful portrayal of the loveable and under-appreciated Patsy.

The LOT’s production of Spamalot is a summer must-see for any Monty Python enthusiast or lover of good, hilarious theatre. From the exaggerated dance numbers to the fun and catchy tunes, plus the tacky, yet brilliant fight choreography, Spamalot is more than just a “flesh wound”; it is a massive success.


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Titus Andronicus Bleeds Nothing But Awesome

Justin Borrow

Staff Writer

Canadian Stage’s production of Titus Andronicus, playing as part of Shakespeare in High Park, is a remarkable piece of theatre that does great justice to the original work itself.

For those of you unfamiliar with this Shakespearean classic, it is the story of Titus Andronicus (Sean Dixon), a Roman general who is so devoted to the empire that he is blinded by his piety. After Titus declares Saturninus (James Graham) the new emperor of Rome, Saturninus falls in love with Titus’ prisoner Tamora, Queen of the Goths (Shauna Black), who swears revenge on the Andronicus family. A story filled with lots of blood, violence and revenge, Titus Andronicus dazzles the crowd from start to finish.

The show captivates the audience from Scene One and holds their attention until the very end; from the incredible set designed by Julia Tribe, to the wonderful costumes designed by Angela Thomas, Titus Andronicus is a visual spectacle not to be missed. Director Keira Loughran makes some interesting and effective choices, which allows the brutal violence of the play to be enacted elegantly; she has the ability to bring beauty to a play that is often viewed as an ugly monster.

The acting is phenomenal on all levels and each character is played with the utmost amount of honesty and integrity, bringing them all to life on stage. Special mention and recognition goes to Sean Dixon, James Graham, and Emilio Vieira, who played the role of Titus’ eldest son Lucius, for their incredible work.

Titus Andronicus is regarded as Shakespeare’s first tragedy and yet, Canadian Stage manages to take such an aged story and give it a fresh, new life. Every component of the show works in such harmony to create a truly marvelous display of all things theatrical. Titus Andronicus manages to dazzle, terrify and bring beauty to violence all in 90 minutes; safe to say that Canadian Stage’s performance of Titus Andronicus bleeds nothing but awesome.


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