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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 October 2005, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Diplomat 'was real Shakespeare'
William Shakespeare
The authorship of Shakespeare's plays has often been questioned
An Elizabethan diplomat named Sir Henry Neville was the real author of William Shakespeare's plays, a new book claims.

The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare says the courtier, nicknamed "Falstaff" by close friends, used Shakespeare as a "front man".

The book by Brenda James and Professor William Rubinstein contains a foreword by Mark Rylance, artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

Many experts remain sceptical at claims to have found the "real" Shakespeare.

Jonathan Bate, professor of Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick, said there was "not the slightest shred of evidence" to back the book's argument.

The authors claim:

  • Neville's ancestors, including King Edward III and John of Gaunt, are described with such accuracy in the history plays that they could only have been written by someone with specialist knowledge.

  • As a director of the London Virginia Company, Neville had access to a 20,000-word letter about the Bermuda Shipwreck of 1609, thought to have inspired The Tempest two years later.

  • The plays attributed to Shakespeare could only have been written by someone deeply familiar with court life, Elizabethan politics, Italy and France.

"This is a pioneering book," wrote Mark Rylance in his foreword.

"No one has considered this candidate before as the author of the works attributed to Shakespeare.

"You will not be alone in having your image of the author shaken by these pages, as I have."

Mark Rylance
Actor Mark Rylance has written a foreword to The Truth Will Out
Ms James told Radio 4's Today programme: "Every step of Neville's life coincides with the themes and chronology of Shakespeare's plays.

"I did not go out to find another candidate - he found me."

Ms James is a former English lecturer at Portsmouth University and Professor Rubinstein is a history professor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

But their claims were rubbished on Today by Professor Bate, a governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

"These arguments always fall back on verbal parallels, which never stand up," he said.

Henry Neville is one of several Elizabethan figures to have been mooted as the "real" Shakespeare.

Others include philosopher Francis Bacon, nobleman Edward de Vere and playwright and poet Christopher Marlowe.

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