| A rare copy of Hamlet dated 1611
London, Oct. 5: Enter stage left: a dramatic new candidate for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.
The real author of the works that have been attributed to William Shakespeare for more than 400 years has been unmasked, according to research.
A book to be published this month by a leading academic publisher, with a foreword by Mark Rylance, the artistic director of the Globe, will claim that the greatest plays and verse in the English language were written by Sir Henry Neville (1562-1615) ' a leading Elizabethan figure, though a minor character in today’s history books.
Whether Shakespeare’s Stratford-on-Avon birthplace will be consigned to a tourists’ backwater, and the vast publishing industry devoted to him condemned to pulp, remains to be seen, but the authors, the academics, Brenda James and William Rubinstein, are in no doubt that they have finally uncovered the “real Bard”.
They say that Neville, a rotund man nicknamed “Falstaff” by close friends, had the virtue ' unlike Shakespeare, who lacked an appropriate background ' of being an educated man of culture, a courtier and a well-travelled linguist.
A wealthy landowner, he was a Member of Parliament for most of his life and an ambassador to France, belonging to one of England’s great families and related to many monarchs depicted in Shakespeare’s plays.
His life has been found to mirror the evolution of The Bard’s works so precisely that the authors believe that it cannot be dismissed as coincidence. In the history plays, Neville’s ancestors ' for instance, Richard Nevil, the Earl of Warwick in Henry VI, Part II ' are described with an accuracy that could have been written only by someone with Neville’s knowledge.
The authors have unearthed in Lincolnshire’s Public Record Office a notebook of 1602 belonging to Neville while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Crucially, they say, it includes background notes for the procession in Henry VIII some 11 years before the play was produced. They also discovered that, as a director of the London Virginia Company, a trading venture, Neville had access to a 20,000-word letter detailing the Bermuda shipwreck of 1609, “a base” for The Tempest two years later.
Shakespeare could not have known of this letter, they say, as releasing it might have devalued the shares in the Virginia Company. Such evidence was strengthened by Neville’s letters, which they found to be eloquent and “Shakespearean” in tone and vocabulary.
James, a former English lecturer at Portsmouth University, stumbled across Neville after cracking the secret of the mysterious dedication to Shakespeare’s sonnets.
She claims that hidden in the text is a clue that points to Neville ' on which she will elaborate in her next book.
After seven years of research, she contacted professor Rubinstein of the University College, Wales and an associate of The Shakespeare Authorship Trust, a body set up to provide a “neutral forum”.
Although agnostic in the debate, he agreed to co-write the book. “The coincidences of Neville’s dates and the chronology of the plays are so overwhelming, they are compelling in themselves. There are no awkward bits,” he said.