The Rival Poet

The Bard incognito… or how I imagine he would do it.

Some believe The Rival Poet to be a wordsmith who challenged Shakespeare. Others propose the rival of the sonnets to be Shakespeare’s way of personifying the pressure of competition, brought about by a multitude of other exceptionally skilled writers in his midst. I believe in a slightly broader theory – that the point is not who it was about, but rather recognition of insecurity, burning ambition and admiration of rival talent within even the brightest of the bright.

I think in certain ways he was talking about a voice from within pushing him to be better.

It is widely rumoured that William Shakespeare was a nom de plume for a nobler gentleman. I personally believe this to be true. If you take a quick scattered look (yes, Google it, that’s good enough) it’s not difficult to find pieces of the man assumed to be The Bard. There are taxation records, warrants for arrest, recordings of court appearances, stories of financial woe and the like. This is not a slight on the man’s reputation, just a realistic representation of a common man. And that is exactly where my leaning towards the pseudonym theory solidifies.

One glance at the collected works and it’s plain to see – these are not the works of a common man.

Only years of convoluted history combined with prolific skill could create such a mystery. When you picture a man connected directly from heart to mind to quill and ink, who’d have thought there would be deeply hidden unspoken truths?

The reason I mention The Rival Poet is firstly because the idea is clandestine and intriguing. I’m sucked in by it. Nobody knows for certain who Shakespeare wrote the sonnets in reference to. But do we really care? Probably not. It’s just cool to think about.

My second reason is pretty personal. I feel insecure today and I need a reason to shake it off. This whole ‘Rival Poet’ deal hints at a very human side of Shakespeare – a challenge from a man to himself to be better than he was last night and better then he thought he could be this morning.

A man who was irrefutably one of the very the best in history at what he did still found areas of weakness and disillusionment; struggled with self doubt. But you know what? He was and still is legendary.

Lesson time: Insecurity may tell you a million vaguely logical reasons to be afraid of something, but you have one excellent reason to ignore them all – fear is shortsighted and for that exact reason it has no idea who you are capable of becoming in spite of it.

Shakespeare knew fear, so he wrote some poems about it. Then he wrote Hamlet.


Rival Poet Sonnets 78-81

Yes, there are five more, but the human attention span can only last so long and Shakespeare was a wordy dude.


So oft have I invoked thee for my muse,
And found such fair assistance in my verse,
As every alien pen hath got my use,
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing,
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned’s wing,
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine, and born of thee,
In others’ works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces graced be.
But thou art all my art, and dost advance
as high as learning, my rude ignorance.


Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid,
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace,
But now my gracious numbers are decayed,
And my sick muse doth give an other place.
I grant (sweet love) thy lovely argument
deserves the travail of a worthier pen,
yet what of thee thy poet doth invent,
He robs thee of, and pays it thee again,
He lends thee virtue, and he stole that word,
From thy behvious, beauty doth he give
and found it in thy cheek: he can afford
no praise to thee, but what in thee doth live.
Then thank him not for that which he doth say,
Since what he owes thee, thou self dost pay.


O how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue tied speaking of your fame.
But since your worth (wide as the ocean is)
The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
My saucy bark (inferior far to his)
On your broad main doth willfully appear.
Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat,
Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride,
Or (being wrecked) I am a worthless boat,
He of tall building, and of goodly pride.
The if he thrive and I be cast away,
The worst was this, my love was my decay.


Or I shall live your epitaph to make.
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten,
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
You name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie,
your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er read,
And tongues to be, your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead,
You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.