It has been a long-held belief among Shakespeare authorship doubters that Audrey, the character in As You Like It, is a symbol for Audience. Quoting Oxfordian Alex McNeil, who writes: “The very name Audrey is significant. Although, as a proper name, its derivation is Anglo-Saxon, Shakespeare may be suggesting a connection to the Latin verb audire—to hear—from which the familiar words “audience,” “audit,” and “auditory” are derived. Shakespeare’s dramatic words were written, of course, but they were written to be heard by an audience."
Some Marlovians concur with McNeil's belief, including Wraight. But as McNeill points out the two words come from different roots. Audrey is actually a form of the name Ethelred or Ethel. Although some critics are awed (so to speak) by the sound of the word, there is no need to ignore or dismiss an obvious biographical connection: the name of the wife of the author's best friend to whom a recent continuation of his masterpiece, Hero and Leander, had been recently dedicated!
Although belonging to special class of persons in Marlowe's personal life (friends, friends-of-friends) Audrey Walsingham also belonged to a broader category of people who were important to his professional life—as a member of the audience for his poems and plays. Therefore, it is not at all surprising that Touchstone's words to Audrey can be taken in two ways. But to deny the the strong autobiographical connection is to ignore human society in the poet's life, his relationships before and after his banishment.
Setting the course for future Marlovians, including A.D. Wraight, Calvin Hoffman failed to make any identification of Audrey in his chapter on "As You Like It" in The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare. Nor did he make the temporal and thematic connections between the publication of Hero and Leander dedicated to the real life Audrey one year before As You Like It was written.
Given the proximity of time between the publication of Chapman's continuation of Marlowe's Hero & Leander in 1598 (dedicated to Audrey Walsingham) and the unflattering characterization of a country girl named Audrey in As You Like It the following year, it is highly improbable that the author (presumably Marlowe) chose the name by accident or merely to refer to "audience."
© 2016 David More
1The Story that the Sonnets Tell pp. 341-342