It was normal in this period for writers to pen commendatory poems - that is, poems that commend the writer or their work - for other writers. Shakespeare's plays and poems are rather unusual in that none of them were fronted in this way, during Shakspere's lifetime. No one wrote commendatory poems for Shakespeare's publications, and Shakespeare didn't write commendatory poems for anyone else. For an expensive and prestigious volume like the First Folio, however, it would have been most peculiar not to have poems of this type in the front matter. We have two poems from Ben Jonson, but the other contributors are not as momentous as you might imagine for such a prestigious volume, and such a famous writer: Hugh Holland, Leonard Digges, and James Mabbe. Hugh Holland was the most established of them, and his poem, 'Upon the Lines and Life of the Famous Scenic Poet, Master William Shakespeare', follows Jonson's. Holland's Shakespearean sonnet gives us no personal insight into Shakespeare's life - it is a standard tribute to a dead poet. Holland was one year older than Shakspere, and a friend of Ben Jonson's - both had been pupils of William Camden, and both remained loyal friends of their old tutor. Camden had listed Holland alongside Jonson, Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, and Michael Drayton, as one of "the most pregnant wits of these our times". He and Jonson had written dedicatory poems for each other, and Holland wrote a couple of poems which were admired at the time, but were not exceptional enough to stand the test of time. After the contents page, we have the two poems by Digges and Mabbe. Leonard Digges was about twenty-nine years old, and had published his first text, a verse translation, six years earlier. In 1622, he had published his second work, the translation of a Spanish novel. His first commendatory poem was published in the front of James Mabbe's translation of Matheo Aleman's The Rogue, in the same year as his poem for the First Folio - and for the same publisher, Edward Blount. Blount had published both of Digges' works. James Mabbe was around sixteen years older than Leonard Digges, but the two had known each other for some time, probably meeting at Oxford University, where Digges had studied from 1603 to 1606. Mabbe was an Oxford scholar, and held posts at Oxford including Proctor, when Digges was there, and Dean of Arts shortly afterwards. He wasn't a celebrated writer - what are described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as his 'modest literary efforts' in the early 1600s amount to a handful of poems, and he had published nothing of significance before the translation of The Rogue - the one Digges wrote a commendatory poem for - in 1622. Mabbe and Digges were both Hispanists - Spanish translators - and we know they had remained in contact since Digges' Oxford days, because around 1615, Mabbe, who was travelling, sent a copy of Lope de Vega's poems, via Digges, to his friend Will Baker, and Digges added an inscription, referring to de Vega as 'the Spanish equivalent of Shakespeare'. Orthodox scholars cite this inscription as proof that Leonard Digges knew Shakespeare personally, because he used the phrase "our Will Shakespeare" - as if that were a term of affection, as one might say of someone in their family, 'our John'. But if you look at the context, it's easy to see how that 'our' claims a national ownership rather than personal acquaintanceship. He describes "this Book of sonnets, which with Spaniards here is accounted of their Lope de Vega as in England wee sholde of our Will Shakespeare" - comparing the Spaniards and 'their Lope de Vega' with we English and 'our Will Shakespeare'. Orthodox scholars believe that Leonard Digges knew William Shakspere personally, because his step-father was called Thomas Russell, and a man called Thomas Russell was mentioned in William Shakspere's will: he was bequeathed five pounds and appointed as overseer. But Thomas Russell is an extremely common name, and we can't be sure that the Thomas Russell who became Leonard Digges' step-father is the same Thomas Russell who oversaw Shakspere's will. Thomas Russell, originally of Bruton Abbey, Somerset, moved to Alderminster - about five miles from Stratford-upon-Avon - in about 1598. He married the widowed mother of Leonard Digges in 1603. After marrying Anne Digges, Russell moved to her house in Rushock, Worcestershire; in other words, as early as 1603, but certainly by 1609, he was living twenty-nine miles away from Stratford-upon-Avon. In an age where travel was time-consuming and difficult (especially in the country), is it likely that anyone would travel twenty-nine miles just to be the second overseer of someone's will? We have no other evidence (even of mutual connections) to suggest the Thomas Russell who lived at Alderminster and then at Rushock knew William Shakspere personally, and at the time Shakspere died there were several Thomas Russells living considerably closer to Stratford-upon-Avon who may have been the signatory. There were Thomas Russells in Tredington (8 miles away), Lillington (12 miles away), and Bishop's Itchington (14 miles away). What's more, the year Thomas Russell married Anne Digges, the 15-year-old Leonard left his home in Warwickshire. He studied in Oxford, then lived in London, then travelled extensively abroad. We have no evidence he ever met William Shakspere, or that their families knew each other. So the best we can say of the claim that Leonard Digges knew Shakspere - or Shakespeare - is that it is unproven. What is proven is the link between Ben Jonson and Hugh Holland, and that between Leonard Digges, James Mabbe and the publisher of the First Folio, Edward Blount. The selection of poets chosen feels like favours called in. Does this seem surprising for a poet whom Jonson calls 'Soule of the Age'?