A Post Stratfordian Shake-speare Blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Devil’s in the Name

A brief digression from our quest for gentleman ushers.

I remember looking through old photographs with my parents, and a picture of an old car brought an exclamation – “Simpy!”  It seems they had named the car. I asked for the details. It was the first new car they purchased.

My father was a prison doctor at the time. In a well-publicized case in Massachusetts a man had shot and killed a policeman and took a bullet in the shootout. When captured, my father extracted the bullet and cared for the prisoner. One of the challenges of being a prison doctor is to separate the truly sick from the fakers who are just trying to get a better bed in the infirmary or score some narcotics. My dad felt he was always able to separate the sick from the phonies except for this one prisoner. He told me when he was with this man he felt he was in the presence of the devil, and it was the only time he’d had that sensation. When he mentioned to the prisoner that he couldn’t tell if he was faking illness or not, the prisoner replied, “Doc, why don’t you put a blonde in my cell and find out?”  The prisoner’s name was Simpson, and he one of the last people put to death under the death penalty statute in Massachusetts.  His name lived on in my parents’ new car, Simpy.   From the corruption of Simpson begot a new car for my folks. That Aristotelian theme will be revisited on these pages later.  But back to Devils and Names.

Ben Jonson’s The Devil is an Ass was performed in the fall of 1616, six months after the passing of William Shaksper.  The play was first printed in 1631, though it may not have been sold until 1640.

The title page contains a Latin motto; Ficta voluptatis Causâ, sint proxima veris – Fictions meant to please should approximate the truth.
Jonson is telling us up front this play is, in part, a true story.

The name, William, has its origins in Old Belgic,  guild helm – golden helmet.  Knowing this, the character in The Devil is an Ass named Guilt-head has our interest. Guilt-head is a goldsmith. A nice pun there, he’s both golden and guilty.

Guilt-head has a son, Plutarchus.  In Act III, sc ii, Merecraft enquires how Plutachus got his name.


He’s named after a book, Plutarch’s Lives.  Guilt-head tells Merecraft he’s placed him with the lawyer Either-side to learn that business. But Merecraft notes that Plutarchus ‘had not his name For nothing’ suggests his name denotes a different profession.


 “That way his Genius lies” The scene ends with a nice allusion to Macbeth, “That way madness lies.”

A moderate, and sometimes in the shadows, non-denominational authorship skeptic has compiled a list of contemporary topical references in Hamlet. I’m not going to publish the list here, as it is not my work, nor am I sure it’s been on any public internet site. The list compiles fourteen contemporary allusions in Hamlet that all date to 1579-1583, with the majority around 1582. They suggest Hamlet was most likely written in 1583. So a 1583-84 season performance is likely. A young assistant in the successful production may have received an unexpected paycheck from the endeavor and at the birth of his son the following year, in 1585,  commemorated that success in his son’s name, Hamnet. That’s the story Jonson is telling us, that William named his son after a book. Notice it wasn’t a book he wrote, but a book he acquired. And it was a book we know Vere purchased, as we still have the receipt!

The conventional Oxfordian position is that there is no connection between Hamnet’s name and the play Hamlet. Oxfordian’s believe Hamnet’s name is indeed, ‘for nothing’ in contravention to what Ben Jonson tells us.

Some Stratfordians argue, as was recently argued at the absurd Stratfordian Festival “court,” that the play Hamlet was named after the boy, who died tragically in 1596.  That argument is flawed by the knowledge of Thom Nashe’s “whole Hamlet’s, or handfuls of tragical speeches” remark from 1589.

The Festival Robe is proposing a subversive solution. The boy, Hamnet,  was named for the play, Hamlet! 

more anon.


1 jimbo in limbo { 11.04.14 at 4:10 pm }

“had not his name For nothing” His name was purchased?
“Military truth” mercenary/money?

2 James Alexander { 04.25.16 at 9:06 pm }

Merecraft as Shaksper? The projector seems very like a play-broker. Mere craft, no art?

Leave a Comment