Eric Sams

Eric Sams (3 May 1926 – 13 September 2004) was a British musicologist and Shakespeare scholar.

Eric Sams
Born(1926-05-03)3 May 1926
Died13 September 2004(2004-09-13) (aged 78)
OccupationMusicologist and literary scholar
Alma materCorpus Christi College, Cambridge
Notable worksThe Songs of Hugo Wolf (1961, 1983), The Songs of Robert Schumann (1969, 1993), The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Early years, 1564–1594 (1995)

Born in London, he was raised in Essex. His early brilliance in school (Westcliff High School for Boys) earned him a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, at the age of sixteen. His lifelong passion for puzzles and ciphers stood him in good stead in his wartime service in British Intelligence (1944–47). After the war he read Modern Languages at Cambridge (French and German), 1947–50; upon graduation he entered the Civil Service. In 1952 he married Enid Tidmarsh (died 2002), a pianist. Their elder son, Richard, is a Japanese scholar and chess master working in Tokyo; their younger son Jeremy Sams is a composer, lyricist, playwright, and theatre director.


In music, Sams wrote on and studied a range of subjects and genres, though his specialty was German lieder. He wrote volumes on the songs of Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Hugo Wolf. His theory of song-motifs is one of the 20th century's most important contributions to the research in the field of German song studies. From 1965 to 1980 he was a regular contributor to The Musical Times with essays and reviews. Most notably, he wrote on Schumann's and Brahms's ciphers and music codes (the "Clara-Theme", among others), on Elgar's Enigma and on Schubert's and Schumann's pathologies. His New Grove articles include Schubert and Schumann work-list, "Wolf" and Wolf work-list, "Mörike", "Hanslick" and "Musical Cryptography" (also in Grove 6). He reviewed opera performance for the New Statesman, 1976–78 and wrote record reviews for Gramophone 1976–78.


"Shakespeare was an early starter who rewrote nobody's plays but his own... He may have been a master of structure before he was a master of language."

― Eric Sams, The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Early Years (1995), p. 146

In the field of Shakespeare studies, Sams specialised in the early phases of Shakespeare's career. He published over a hundred papers on the subject and wrote two books, The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Early Years, 1564–1594 (New Haven & London 1995) and The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Later Years, 1594–1616 (unfinished at the time of Sams' death, an edited text being published as an e-book by the Centro Studi "Eric Sams", 2008) [1]. Building on the work of W. J. Courthope, Hardin Craig, E. B. Everitt, Seymour Pitcher and others, Sams' thesis was that "Shakespeare was an early starter who rewrote nobody's plays but his own", and that the young playwright "may have been a master of structure before he was a master of language".[1] Far from being a plagiarist, Shakespeare found accusations of plagiarism (e.g. Greene's "beautified with our feathers") offensive (Sonnets 30, 112). Trusting the early 'biographical' sources John Aubrey and Nicholas Rowe, Sams re-assessed Shakespeare's early and 'missing' years, and argued through detailed textual analysis that Shakespeare began writing plays from the mid-1580s, in a style not now recognisably Shakespearean. In full critical editions of the two plays, he defended the attributions of the anonymous Edmund Ironside and Edward III to Shakespeare. The so-called 'Source Plays' and 'Derivative Plays' (The Taming of a Shrew, The Troublesome Reign of King John, etc.), and the so-called 'Bad Quartos', are (printers' errors aside) his own first versions of famous later plays.[2] As many of the Quarto title-pages proclaim, Shakespeare was an assiduous reviser of his own work, rewriting, enlarging and emending to the end of his life.[3] He "struck the second heat / upon the Muses' anvil," as Ben Jonson put it in the Folio verse tribute. Sams dissented from 20th-century orthodoxy, arguing strongly against the concept of memorial reconstruction by amnesiac actors, which he called a "wrong-headed" theory. "Authorial revision of early plays is the only rational alternative."[4] The pirated copies referred to in the preamble to the Folio were the 1619 quartos, mostly already superseded plays, for "Shakespeare was disposed to release his own popular early version[s] for acting and printing because his own masterly revision[s] would soon be forthcoming".[5] Sams believed that Shakespeare in his retirement was revising his oeuvre "for definitive publication". The "apprentice plays" which had been reworked were naturally omitted from the Folio.[6] Sams also rejected 20th-century orthodoxy on Shakespeare's collaboration: with the exception of Sir Thomas More, Two Noble Kinsmen and Henry VIII, the plays were solely his, though many were only partly revised.[7][8] By Sams' authorship- and dating-arguments, Shakespeare wrote not only the earliest "modern" chronicle play, The Troublesome Reign, c. 1588, but also "the earliest known modern comedy and tragedy", A Shrew and the Ur-Hamlet (= the 1603 Quarto).[9]

Eric Sams' revised Shakespeare canon and chronology (including plays by some considered apocryphal, and including plays dismissed by some as 'Bad Quartos'): from The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Early Years, 1564–1594 (1995) & The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Later Years, 1594–1616 [unfinished] (2008)
The Famous Victories of Henry V Written by Shakespeare c.1586 or earlier.[10] Released for printing c. 1598 as Shakespeare nearing completion of Henry IV–Henry V trilogy (see below).
King Leir Written by Shakespeare c.1587.[11] Rewritten as the Quarto King Lear, the Folio text being further revised.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre Written by Shakespeare late 1580s, as Jonson and Dryden reported.[12] Acts III–V rewritten for Quarto.
Edmund Ironside Written by Shakespeare c. 1588 or earlier. Sams believes the manuscript is Shakespeare's hand.[13] Sequel Hardicanute lost; Ironside withdrawn because anti-clerical & completely rewritten as Titus Andronicus.[14]
Ur-Hamlet Written by Shakespeare c.1588 or earlier; substantially = Hamlet Q1.[15] Rewritten and enlarged as Q2 Hamlet, the Folio text being further revised.
The Troublesome Reign of King John Written by Shakespeare c.1588.[16] Rewritten as King John.
The Taming of a Shrew Written by Shakespeare c.1588.[17] Rewritten as The Taming of the Shrew.
Titus Andronicus Act I derives from an early version, written by Shakespeare c. 1589 (perhaps = Titus and Vespasian, Henslowe's 'Tittus & Vespacia', performed in 1592[18][19]); rest revised c. 1592.[20][21][22] Scene added for Folio text.
The True Tragedy of Richard III Written by Shakespeare c. 1589–90.[23] Rewritten as The Tragedy of King Richard III (see below).[24]
Edward III Written by Shakespeare c. 1589, revised 1593–94.[25] Omitted from Folio because anti-Scottish.[26]
Thomas of Woodstock, or The first Part of the Reign of King Richard II Written by Shakespeare c. 1590.[27] Unpublished. Richard II the sequel.
The First Part of the Contention Written by Shakespeare c. 1589–90.[28] Rewritten as Henry VI, Part 2 for Folio.
The True Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke Written by Shakespeare c.1589-90.[29] Rewritten as Henry VI, Part 3 for Folio.
Henry VI, Part 1 Written by Shakespeare c. 1590–91.[30]
The Comedy of Errors Written early 1590s.[31] "A version played in 1594", but "no reason to suppose it was the Folio text".[32]
The Tragedy of King Richard III First Quarto is Shakespeare's early version, written c. 1593.[33] Folio text revised and enlarged.
Sonnets Autobiographical and mostly written c. 1590–94; earliest (no. 145) from early 1580s, latest (nos. 107, 126) written 1603 & 1605.[34][35] Southampton the addressee; Venus and Adonis and A Lover's Complaint also written for and about him.[36]
Love's Labour's Lost A drame à clef, contemporaneous with the Sonnets.[37][38] Later revised and enlarged.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona A drame à clef, contemporaneous with the Sonnets, written by Shakespeare post-1594.[39] Sams follows A. L. Rowse's identifications (Proteus = Southampton, Valentine = Shakespeare, Silvia = Dark Lady of Sonnets).[40]
Richard II Written c.1595 or earlier.[41] Deposition scene added after 1598 (1608 Quarto), the Folio text being further revised.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Sams follows A. L. Rowse's suggestion that this was played at the wedding in May 1594 of Mary Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton and Sir Thomas Heneage.[42]
Romeo and Juliet First Quarto is Shakespeare's early version, written c.1594-5.[43] "Corrected, augmented and amended" in Second Quarto, with minor revisions thereafter.
The Merchant of Venice Sams accepts the suggestion that this was written in 1596, after the capture at Cadiz of the San Andrés, to which it refers.[44][45]
[ Love's Labour's Won ] Written soon after Love's Labour's Lost and rewritten as All's Well That Ends Well, a drame à clef (Bertram = Southampton, Parolles = Barnaby Barnes, Lafew = Shakespeare).[46] All's Well revised c.1602.[47]
The Merry Wives of Windsor First Quarto is Shakespeare's early version, written late 1590s.[48] Substantially revised and enlarged for Folio.
Henry IV, Part 1 & Part 2 Written c.1597-98 (reworked from his Famous Victories of Henry V, c.1586 - see above).[49] Apologetic altering of Sir John Oldcastle (buffoon in Famous Victories) to Sir John Falstaff.[50]
Henry V First Quarto is Shakespeare's 'middle' version, written 1590s (reworked from his Famous Victories of Henry V).[51] The Folio text revised and enlarged, 1599.

Critical reaction to Sams' 1995 book was largely favourable. "Much of what is postulated for [Shakespeare's] boyhood years seems convincing," wrote Jonathan Keates, "including a background in Catholic recusancy and a schooling interrupted by family financial crisis. Neither is the idea of the poet as a reviser of his own early work implausible, and Sams is a persuasive salesman of his big idea that so-called 'bad quartos' represent valuable first thoughts."[54] "His unwillingness to collude with academics against actors," wrote Professor Stephen Logan, "springs from a deep respect for the past. He would sooner trust eyewitness testimony, however informal, than the authority of [the Shakespeare Establishment] consensus."[55]

Selected worksEdit

  • The Songs of Hugo Wolf, 1961 (rev. 1983).
  • The Songs of Robert Schumann, 1969 (rev. 1993).
  • Brahms Songs, 1972 (rev. 2000)
  • Shakespeare's Lost Play, Edmund Ironside, 1986.
  • The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Early years, 1564-1594, 1995.
  • Shakespeare's Edward III: An Early Play Restored to the Canon, 1996.
  • The Songs of Johannes Brahms, 2000.
  • Essays and reviews on music, Shakespeare, and cryptography, 1966-1998, online edition in the web-pages of the Centro Studi "Eric Sams"
  • The Real Shakespeare II: Retrieving the Later Years, 1594-1616, 2008, e-book published by the Centro Studi "Eric Sams"
  • Opere complete in 15 volumi. Collana diretta da Erik Battaglia e Valentina Valente. Traduzione e cura di Erik Battaglia. Asti, Analogon Edizioni, 2007- (Vol.1, Il Tema di Clara, 2007; Vol.2, Variazioni con Enigma svelato, 2008; Vol.3, Introduzione ai Lieder di Brahms, 2008; Vol.4, Hugo Wolf. Introduzione alla vita e alle opere, 2008; Vol.5, Tabù or not tabù, 2010; Vol.6, I Lieder di Robert Schumann, 2010; Vol.7, Robert Schumann, Jean Paul: Papillons, with an Introduction and a Commentary by Eric Sams, 2010; Vol. 8, Musica e codici cifrati, 2011; Vol. 9, I Lieder di Hugo Wolf, 2011; Vol. 10, I Lieder di Johannes Brahms, 2013; Vol. 11, L'opera lirica è perfidia e passione per paranoici, 2015)


  • Gerald Moore, Preface to The Songs of Hugo Wolf, see above.
  • id., Preface to The Songs of Robert Schumann, see above.
  • Graham Johnson, Preface to The Songs of Johannes Brahms, see above.
  • Anthony Burgess, "Cygnet of Avon", The Observer, February 2, 1986, p. 29
  • Erik Battaglia, "The application of thought to musicology. A Tribute to Eric Sams", in SSUSA (Schubert Society of the USA) Newsletter, Vol. 3, n.l 1, 2005; reprinted in The Lyrica, newsletter published by the Lyrica Society for Word-Music Relations, Harvard, n. 26, Spring 2005.
  • Andrew Lamb, "Elgar, Shakespeare, and A Little Light Music", Essay for the Centro Studi Eric Sams, 2007
  • Ron Rosenbaum, "A visit with an avenging angel" in The Shakespeare Wars, 2008, pp. 66–75.
  • Francis J. Sypher, "Two Essays on Eric Sams", written for the Centro Studi Eric Sams, 2009 and 2011 (also a numbered pamphlet edition, New York 2009-2011)


  1. ^ Sams 1995, p.146
  2. ^ Sams 1995, pp. 182–183: "The early Hamlet, A Shrew, The Troublesome Reign, The Famous Victories of Henry V, King Leir ... were performed in Shakespeare's heyday, by actors and companies well known to him; he must have known who had written them. On any objective economical appraisal, he had."
  3. ^ Sams 1995, p.169: "1598, Love's Labour's Lost, 'newly corrected and augmented'; 1599, Romeo and Juliet, 'newly corrected, augmented and amended'; 1599, 1 Henry IV, 'newly corrected by W. Shakespeare'; 1599, The Passionate Pilgrim, containing early versions of Sonnets 138 and 144; 1602, Richard III, 'newly augmented'; 1604, Hamlet, 'enlarged to almost as much again as it was'; 1608, Richard II, 'with new additions of the Parliament Scene, and the deposing of King Richard'; 1616, The Rape of Lucrece, 'newly revised'; 1623, the First Folio, where each of the eighteen plays already published now has textual variants (Titus Andronicus has a whole new scene)."
  4. ^ Sams 1995, p. 160
  5. ^ Sams 2008, p. 271
  6. ^ Sams 1995, p. 171
  7. ^ Sams 1995, pp. 185–188
  8. ^ Sams 2008, pp. 117–118
  9. ^ Sams 1995, p. 152
  10. ^ Sams 2008, pp. 149–150, pp. 198–211
  11. ^ Sams 2008, p. 269
  12. ^ Sams 2008, pp. 302–312
  13. ^ Sams, Shakespeare's Lost Play, Edmund Ironside, 1986
  14. ^ Sams, Shakespeare's Lost Play, Edmund Ironside, 1986
  15. ^ Sams 1995, pp. 120–135
  16. ^ Sams 1995, pp. 146–153
  17. ^ Sams 1995, pp. 136–145
  18. ^ Sams 1995, p. 171
  19. ^ Sams, Shakespeare's Lost Play, Edmund Ironside, 1986, p. 43
  20. ^ Sams, Shakespeare's Lost Play, Edmund Ironside, 1986, p. 30
  21. ^ Sams 1995, p.164
  22. ^ Sams, 2008, p. 449
  23. ^ Sams 2008, p. 117, p. 164
  24. ^ Sams 2008, pp. 114–125
  25. ^ Sams, Shakespeare's Edward III: An Early Play Restored to the Canon, 1996
  26. ^ Sams, Shakespeare's Edward III: An Early Play Restored to the Canon, 1996
  27. ^ Sams 2008, p.151
  28. ^ Sams 1995, pp. 154–162
  29. ^ Sams 1995, pp. 154–162
  30. ^ Sams 1995, p. 115
  31. ^ Sams 2008, p.69
  32. ^ Sams 1995, p. 185
  33. ^ Sams 2008, pp. 159–164
  34. ^ Sams 1995, pp. 103–113
  35. ^ Sams 2008, pp. 61–67
  36. ^ Sams 2008, pp. 73–80
  37. ^ Sams 1995, p.116
  38. ^ Sams 2008, pp.183-197
  39. ^ Sams 2008, p.176
  40. ^ Sams 2008, p.176
  41. ^ Sams 2008, p.150
  42. ^ Sams 1995, p.101
  43. ^ Sams 2008, p. 71, pp.165-174
  44. ^ Sams 1995, p.xv
  45. ^ Sams 2008, p.247
  46. ^ Sams 2008, pp.234-242. (Chapter relating this to The Weakest Goeth to the Wall, c.1586, appears unfinished. Sams 2008, pp.221-223.)
  47. ^ Sams 2008, pp.234-242
  48. ^ Sams 2008, pp.261-267
  49. ^ Sams 2008, p.199
  50. ^ Sams 2008, p.200
  51. ^ Sams 2008, p.199, p.224
  52. ^ Sams 1995, pp.163-166
  53. ^ Sams 2008, pp.117-118
  54. ^ The Observer Review, 5 March 1995
  55. ^ The Times, London, 9 Feb. 1995

External linksEdit