Dr Ros Barber at the HWS

Barbara Large opened the evening by welcoming special guest Dr Mick Jardine, Head of English, Creative Writing and American Studies at the University of Winchester, Dr Ros Barber our main speaker and Mark Rutter adjudicator for the November competition.  She also introduced James Walpole, the new Social Media Secretary on the organising committee. James is in his final year studying English and Creative Writing but also is a contributing author to Cinema Chords.

Dr Ros Barber & Dr Mark Rutter
Dr Ros Barber & Dr Mark Rutter

Mick described himself as the warm up for Ros Barber. He joined the University in 1978 and been a key player in the theory revolution team that has facilitated the original English Studies morphing into Cultural Studies. He himself has recently produced papers on celebrity culture, writing about David Beckham and Michael Owen rather than Hamlet as he did for his PhD dissertation. Now there are more students of Creative Writing than English Language students at the University.

David Eadsforth introduced Dr Ros Barber who as well as being a celebrated academic, has written three collections of poems, written for radio and TV, held various writing residences and written an award winning debut novel entirely in verse, The Marlowe Papers.

Ros was told that she was not allowed to research whether Shakespeare did write work attributed to him as part of a PhD project, unless it was with the intention of producing a novel. It seemed there was a fear of doubting caused by snobbery, ignorance, conspiracy theory and a belief that those interested to find out more must be Shakespeare haters.

Her investigations showed that there is hard evidence that Shakespeare was a business man and a broker involved in land, grain, tithes, shares, marriage dowry transactions and money lending. He was a shareholder in a number of theatrical organisations and had his name on thirteen plays. There were other plays and poems that had his name that he did not write. The repressed Elizabethan era was a difficult time to be a writer and often writers might use a front person to avoid torture or death. His signature that appears on various works seems to have been the work of up to four people and his hand writing is difficult to read unlike those of other playwrights of the day such as Marlowe and Bacon.

Ben Jonson, the satirist hinted that he doubted that Shakespeare wrote all he claimed to although he appeared to support him publicly. His authorship was also doubted by John Marston and Joseph Hall in 1598. Diana Price, in her book Shakespeares Unorthodox Biography, developed a Literary Paper Trail of ten indicators of an individual being a writer at this time:

  • evidence of education
  • literary letters
  • evidence that they were paid to write
  • direct relationship with a patron
  • original manuscript
  • hand-written literary notes
  • commendation verses
  • miscellaneous personal references
  • books owned or borrowed
  • notice at death as writer

Jonson had all ten indicators, Nashe nine, Marlowe as few as four or three and Shakespeare had none, though a lot of work attributed to him appeared to indicate a Cambridge University education he did not have.

We are led to believe he is the author of William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories and Tragedies, as it has his name on it. There is also a memorial to him in Stratford upon Avon referred to by Ben Jonson.  The engraving on the monument uses rare Latin words for the day whose initials spell the word IMPOST – a tax on merchandise. The main script is ambiguous too.


All the real evidence as to who Shakespeare was, profiles a business man broker with supporting comments from his contemporaries that he may have been involved in buying and selling plays and poems. Ben Jonson, “Poet-Ape, who would be thought our chief”  “from brokage” to “thief”; John Ward, Shakespeare “supplied the stage with two plays a year”; Michael Drayton, Shakespeare “trafficked with the stage”.

Ros ended her exciting and scientific appraisal by saying it does matter that Shakespeare’s authorship is doubted. An error needs to be corrected so that the right person gets the credit, we need to understand the genius that comes from groundwork, understand the sonnets better and stop barking up the wrong tree.

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