Francis discusses various pseudonyms with his colleagues, including Wilhelm Shake-Speare
One day, as Francis, Greene, Nashe and Peele were relaxing in the Twickenham drawing room, Francis threw out an idea he had been playing with. “As you know, we have initiated a number of new members into the Freemasons recently, not all of whom are directly concerned with our literary work. I have been thinking that it might be opportune to form a society within the Freemason membership of those particularly concerned with the more spiritual aspects of the Great Instauration project. As you may recall, in the Greek mythology, Pallas Athena bears a plumed helmet, symbol of illumination, a copy of which she bestows on heroes who attain the quest, thereby becoming ‘Knights of the Helmet’. Therefore, I am thinking of calling this very secret society by this name — the Order of the Knights of the Helmet, with a special initiation ceremony, based on a Cabbalistic work I did some years ago in Germany called the Fama Fraternitatis. In the document, I called it the Order of the Rosy Cross.” Francis held up a copy. “It’s in German, so if one of you is up to it, I would like to have an English translation so we can discuss it together.”
Nashe spoke up. “Francis, I would be glad to translate it. And that gives me an idea. You pointed out the other day that you have been putting out a lot of anonymous material, with much more coming, and that you may want to consider putting a common name on all the material. Now ‘helmet’ in German is ‘helm’, and ‘Hwyll’ is the Welsh sun god, who is the equivalent of Apollo. So if you combine them we get Willhelm. How about that for a mask name for the Knights of the Helmet?”
“Interesting possibility,” said Francis, with a respectful glance. “It has a lot of merit. And I do think I am soon going to need a mask that can unify the works.”
“What matters the name?” interjected Peele. “One is as good as another. It’s the content that counts. If we call a rose by any another name, would it not smell as sweet?”
“I think it matters,” said Greene, while Francis scribbled a note to himself. “And personally I prefer ‘Shake-Speare’. I think the spear-shaker analogy from Athena is really good. And it is more English. Which reminds me, I met a fellow recently at the Rose theatre, who checks horses for Burbage and lends small amounts of money to people. In fact I borrowed some from him myself. His lending rates are outrageous, but that is another story. My point is this. His name is Will Shaksper. You get it? ‘Shaksper’…. ‘Shake-Speare’. ‘Will’…. ‘Willhelm’? Apropos our discussion? It fits like a glove.”
“ ‘Shak’ is not ‘Shake’,” said Peele, slightly confused.
“It’s close. Francis could use Willhelm Shake-Speare. It’s perfect. A live mask is better than a fictitious one,” said Greene.
“You think Francis should buy his name?” asked Peele.
“Why not? People do it all the time.”
“What do you think, Francis?” asked Peele a little sceptically.