The “Bed-Trick”: Re-Posting No. 36 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“[Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, but the father of the lady Anne, by stratagem, contrived that her husband should, unknowingly, sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.” – Thomas Wright, The History and Topography of Essex, 1836, discussing Oxford in relation to his wife Anne Cecil and her father, Lord Burghley.

Measure“[T]he last great Earle of Oxford, whose lady [Anne Cecil] was brought to his Bed under the notion of his Mistris, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan Vere, Countess of Montgomery, Oxford’s third daughter, but probably meaning to identify his first daughter, Elizabeth Vere] is said to proceed.” – Francis Osborne, Esq.,Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth & King James,1658.

These two reports, while differing in their particulars, both assert that de Vere was the victim of a “bed-trick” perpetrated by his wife Anne at the bidding of her father, Burghley – the same situation “Shakespeare” immortalized in no less than four of his plays – All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Hampton Court Palace

The “bed-trick” was a popular stage convention by the end of the sixteenth century, but the evidence is that “Shakespeare” employed it earlier than any playwright of the English renaissance; when Oxford is viewed as the author, the dates of composition go back even earlier.

Whether the incident actually happened or Oxford merely thought so, the story as told separately by Wright and Osborne probably stems from the royal visit to Hampton Court Palace in October 1574. When the schedule for the queen and her entourage became available, Anne, Countess of Oxford, requested additional lodgings she might entice her husband to join her. She wrote to Sussex, Lord Chamberlain of the Household:

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (1526-1583)

“My good Lord, because I think it long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging; that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third chamber next to it … for the more commodious my lodging is, the willinger I hope my Lord my husband will be to come hither.”

Oxford was in Italy the following September when he received a letter from Burghley telling him Anne had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in July; later, upon learning of court gossip that he had been cuckolded, he came to doubt he was the father and separated from his wife for five years.  Had he really been deceived in a bed-trick according to the “stratagem” devised by his father-in-law? In that case, the girl was his natural child; the other possibility is that Burghley concocted and spread the bed-trick story to cover up the fact that, at his bidding, Anne had become pregnant by some other man, a radical explanation put forth by Ogburn Jr. in 1984:

“I strongly incline [to the explanation] that her father was determined as far as humanly possible to ensure the continuation of the marriage and the status of his descendants as Earls of Oxford.  Three years had passed since Anne’s and Edward’s wedding and still there was no sign of issue, while it had now become impossible any longer to deny his son-in-law a Continental trip from which, given the hazards of travel, he might not return.  Thus, exploiting his daughter’s uncommon filial submissiveness and the argument that a child would be the surest means of binding her husband to her, he overcame her compunctions and resistance and brought her to accept service by another male and one of proved fertility …”

[Note: Oxford may have given voice to the idea of Burghley’s involvement in Anne’s pregnancy and deception by means of Hamlet’s remark to Polonius: “Conception is a blessing, but [not] as your daughter may conceive — friend, look to’t.” (2.2) — Curiously, the Folio version of Hamlet includes the word “not,” while the 1604 version omits it.]

Cover of Wright’s History of Essex – 1836

In Shakespeare” Identified, J. Thomas Looney saw Bertram in All’s Well as virtually a self-portrait of de Vere – but it was only after his 1920 book was in manuscript that he discovered Wright’s claim that Oxford himself had been deceived by a bed-trick. The excitement he feels is palpable when introducing “what has been the most remarkable piece of evidence met with in the whole course of our investigations: a discovery made a considerable time after this work had been virtually completed.” He continues:

“This evidence is concerned with the play, All’s Well; the striking parallelism between the principal personage in the drama and the Earl of Oxford having led us to adopt it as the chief support of our argument at the particular stage with which we are now occupied … [Chapter X: “Early Manhood of Edward de Vere”]. What we have now to state was not discovered until some months later:

“In tracing the parallelism between Bertram and Oxford we confined our attention to the incidentals of the play, in the belief that the central idea of the plot — the entrapping of Bertram into marital relationships with his own wife, in order that she might bear him a child unknown to himself — was wholly derived from Boccaccio’s story of Bertram. The discovery, therefore, of the following passage in Wright’s History of Essex furnishes a piece of evidence so totally unexpected, and forms so sensational a climax to an already surprising resemblance that, on first noticing it, we had some difficulty in trusting our own eyes.

“We would willingly be spared the penning of such matter: its importance as evidence does not, however, permit of this,” Looney added, with what Ogburn describes as “quaint Victorian delicacy” in the face of scandalous matters.  After citing the passage from Wright’s History quoted above, he continued:

“Thus even in the most extraordinary feature of this play; a feature which hardly one person in a million would for a moment have suspected of being anything else but an extravagant invention, the records of Oxford are at one with the representation of Bertram. It is not necessary that we should believe the story to be true, for no authority for it is vouchsafed … In any case, the connection between the two is now as complete as accumulated evidence can make it.”

Marliss C. Desens writes in The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama (1994) that this plot device appears in at least forty-four plays of the period, but also that “an examination of English Renaissance dramas shows that bed-tricks were not being used on stage prior to the late 1590’s” and, more specifically, that the bed-trick “begins appearing in plays starting around 1598.”

So, if Oxford was “Shakespeare,” we can say with virtual certainty that in the Elizabethan reign he was the first to incorporate it, and, too, that he did so after being a victim of it in real life, or believing he was.  Oxfordians date the original versions of the plays far earlier than the orthodox dates dictated by the life of Shakspere; in the case of the four plays with bed tricks, here are the differences:

All’s Well That Ends Well – Traditionally to circa 1604; Oxfordians to 1579-80

Measure for Measure – Traditionally to 1603-05; Oxfordians to 1581-85

Cymbeline – Traditionally to 1610; Oxfordians to 1578-82

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Traditionally to 1612-13; Oxfordians to 1566, revision in 1594

Here is another example of how the Oxfordian context stands previous scholarship on its head. The view of “Shakespeare’s” creative process, and its journey over time, is transformed. It’s no wonder the academic world has such built-in resistance to seeing, much less accepting, the change of paradigm.

[This reason is now No. 75 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

Thomas Watson, De Vere and “Shakespeare”: Re-posting No. 35 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford

The poet Thomas Watson is a direct forerunner of the poet of Venus and Adonis and the Sonnets. A leader in the long procession of Elizabethan sonnet-cycle writers, he is linked to “Shakespeare” through Edward de Vere in some startling ways.

Watson’s Sequence of 100 Sonnets Dedicated to Edward de Vere (1582) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

In 1582, Watson published Hekotompathia or The Passionate Century of Love, a sequence of 100, or a “century,” of numbered eighteen-line sonnets or “passions”, with “prose headers” demonstrating his knowledge of works by some fifty classical or renaissance authors in their original languages. He dedicated it to Oxford, testifying that the earl “had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”

It appears likely the “prose headers” were also written by Oxford, who may well have written all of this poetical sequence.

In 1589, the year after de Vere sold his London mansion Fisher’s Folly to William Cornwallis, Watson became employed in the Cornwallis household.  That September, when Christopher Marlowe was attacked by an innkeeper’s son, William Bradley, for failure to pay a debt, Watson came to his friend’s aid and killed Bradley – an act for which he spent six months in prison.

Francis Walsingham, the spymaster (1530?-1590)

Marlowe served as a spy for the English government and it would seem that Watson did, too.  His association with Francis Walsingham, head of the secret service, brings him into probable contact with Oxford from this direction as well. On 21 June 1586, Burghley urged Walsingham to confront the queen about financial assistance to Oxford; five days later Elizabeth awarded de Vere his annual grant of 1,000 pounds, which would be continued by King James in 1603 until the earl’s death a year later.

The fact that Burgley appealed to Walsingham on Oxford’s behalf indicates that the latter’s grant was somehow connected to intelligence activities at the highest level, perhaps involving Catholics among the English nobility as well as diplomatic contact with foreign rulers and courts.

Watson’s Italian Madrigals was published in 1593, the year after his death. Most of its contents had been composed originally by Luca Marenzio while Marenzio was in Mantua living with the Gonzaga family from 1568 to 1574. Watson had never traveled to Italy, but Oxford had apparently stayed with the Gonzaga family while visiting Mantua in 1575.

Also in 1593, Watson’s posthumous sequence of sixty numbered sonnets (in the later-known “Shakespearean” form of fourteen lines) appeared in print as The Tears of Fancie, or Love Disdained (with no author’s name on the title page and only “Finis T.W.” after the final sonnet, which was clearly a version of Oxford’s early sonnet Love Thy Choice, written in the 1570s to express his devotion to the queen.)

When SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS was printed in 1609, one verse in the so-called Dark Lady series (no. 130) was clearly a takeoff on one of the sonnets printed under Watson’s name (no. 7) in the Hekatompathia of 1582. For example, Watson wrote,“Her lips more red than any Coral stone,” and Shakespeare turned it inside-out: “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red.”

Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love attributed to Watson is often cited as paving the way for the Shakespearean sonnet sequence published twenty-seven years later; the two are related through Oxford himself. In the SHAKE-SPEARE volume there is also a series of exactly 100 verses or a “century” (nos. 27 to 126) between two equal segments of twenty-six sonnets apiece (nos. 1-26 and 127-152); this central 100-sonnet sequence contains two sections, of eighty and twenty sonnets, respectively, exactly as Watson’s earlier century had been “divided into two parts” (as indicated on the title page) in an eighty-twenty format.  Watson’s dedication begins:

“To the Right Honorable my very good Lord Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford…

“Alexander the Great, passing on a time by the workshop of Apelles, curiously surveyed some of his doings, whose long stay in viewing them brought all the people into so great a good liking of the painter’s workmanship, that immediately after they bought up all his pictures, what price soever he set them at.  And the like good hap (Right Honorable) befell unto me lately concerning these my Love Passions, which then chanced to Apelles for his Portraits.  For since the world hath understood (I know not how) that your Honor had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand, many have oftentimes and earnestly called upon me to put it to the press, that for their money they might but see what your Lordship with some liking had already perused…”

(This updated post, reflecting the help of editor Alex McNeil and other editorial work by Brian Bechtold, has become no. 36 of the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

“The College of Writers”: Re-posting No. 34 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

“I lurk in no corners but converse in a house of credit, as well governed as any college, where there be more rare qualified men and selected good Scholars than in any Nobleman’s house that I know in England.” – Thomas Nashe, “Strange News,” 1592

De Vere was thirty In 1580 when he bought a mansion in Bishopsgate, even though he was virtually broke and already owned Vere House by London Stone, where he lived. The extravagant second house was nicknamed Fisher’s Folly after its builder, Jasper Fisher, fell into debt because of its too-costly construction.

As Charles Barrell suggests, it appears Oxford acquired the mansion “as headquarters for the school of poets and dramatists who openly acknowledged his patronage and leadership.”

A Caricature of Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

Shakespeare would not, and could not, have developed without other creative artists.  Logically, the Bard would have had an ongoing “college” in a building with many rooms and desks for writers, just as the painter Raphael had a workshop of fifty pupils and assistants, many of whom became significant artists in their own right. Orthodox biographers take it for granted that the author of the Shakespearean plays drew upon the work of several immediate predecessors (who were all connected to Oxford); but once the earl is identified as the author, we can see that these other writers had drawn from his guidance and support. When Oxford was driven into poverty in 1589-90, the same writers began to fall on hard times and suffered misfortune or death.

De Vere owned the Folly through the late 1580’s, as England prepared for the Spanish invasion. This was a time when many “history” plays (including several with the same plots and scenes as “Shakespeare’s” stage histories in the next decade) were originally written and performed. This same period saw the great renaissance of English literature and drama by the so-called University Wits, working under Oxford’s patronage and guidance – Nashe, Lyly, Watson, Greene, Munday, Churchyard, Lodge and others — leading to the first appearance of the Shakespeare name in 1593.

Caricature of Gabriel Harvey (1551-1630) with Nashe

In December 1588,, not long after the victory over King Philip’s Armada, Oxford sold Fisher’s Folly to William Cornwallis, a descendant of the 11th Earl of Oxford. In 1852 the scholar J.O. Halliwell-Philipps revealed his discovery of a small book in the handwriting of Cornwallis’ daughter Anne, who had transcribed the work of various Elizabethan poets including Verses Made by the Earl of Oxford as well as an anonymous poem that would appear in the poetry volume The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), its verses attributed to Shakespeare.

When Anne and her family moved into the house in early 1589, did she wander through its many rooms and find these verses in some corner of Oxford’s library?  Were they tucked away in a desk that one of the University Wits had used?

Halliwell-Phillipps estimated that Anne had transcribed the poems no later than 1590; but since that date was probably too early for Shakspere of Stratford to have written them, he later changed his estimate to 1595.  Barrell countered with reasons why the earlier date is more likely. He also showed that the poem Anne had transcribed is textually superior to the one printed later in 1599. Her version is apparently the only surviving handwritten copy of a poem attributed to Shakespeare dating from the sixteenth century.

An Elizabethan oak chest of the kind where Oxford might have stashed a manuscript

So we start with the theory that Oxford may have written the works attributed to Shakespeare; then we see that he buys a London mansion, which he uses from 1580 to 1588, and that a woman who moves into the place in 1589 transcribes some verses made by Oxford and other poets, including lines that will appear a decade later under the Shakespeare name!

Final Stanza of Poem No. XVIII of Passionate Pilgrim 1599:

But soft, enough – too much, I fear –

Lest that my mistress hear my song;

She will not stick to round me I’ the ear,

To teach my tongue to be so long.

Yet will she blush, here be it said,

To hear her secrets so bewray’d.

Final Stanza of the Anonymous Poem Transcribed in Anne Cornwallis’ Little Book:

Now hoe, enough, too much I fear;

For if my lady hear this song,

She will not stick to ring my ear,

To teach my tongue to be so long;

Yet would she blush, here be it said,

To hear her secrets thus bewray’d.

[Note: This reason is now No. 39 of “100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.” The reposting above is the result of invaluable work by editor Alex McNeil and other editorial assistance by Brian Bechtold.]

The French Connection: Re-posting No. 33 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

No less than five Shakespeare plays are set at least partly in France: King John, Henry V, Henry VI, Pt. 1, All’s Well That Ends Well and Love’s Labour’s Lost.  Would most playwrights deliberately set a play in France if they had never been there?

In Henry V the entirety of Act 3, scene 4, is set within the French king’s palace and consists of French dialogue between Princess Katherine and Alice, the lady attending on her. Some of it is “vulgar” French.

Young Oxford would have learned all about the Vere family and its French origin (the name apparently derived from Ver, near Bayeux) as well as about its founder, Aubrey de Vere, who had come into England with William the Conqueror in 1066, five centuries earlier.  Edward would have learned to read, write and speak French at a very early age, perhaps in the household of Sir Thomas Smith, where he apparently was sent at age four.

Following are fragments of recorded information:

The letter in French written by 13-year-old Edward de Vere to Sir William Cecil, master of the royal wards, in August 1563. (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW)

— When de Vere had entered Cecil House, the printed “Orders for the Earl of Oxford’s Exercises” prescribed a daily routine that included two hours of French studies, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  In a letter dated 23 August 1563, the thirteen-year-old boy wrote a letter to Cecil entirely in French; six years later, Oxford ordered books that included “Plutarch’s works in French” as well as works in Italian and English.

Henry III of France (1551-1589)

— The earl was twenty-four in February 1575 when he and his retinue arrived in Paris, where he was entertained at the French court by the royal family: Henry III, Catherine de Medici (the Queen Mother) and Marguerite de Valois. The English ambassador in Paris, Valentine Dale, wrote Burghley on 7 March of having “presented my Lord of Oxford unto the French King and Queen, who used him honorably.” He added that “amongst other talk the King asked whether he was married.  I said he had a fair lady.  ‘Il y a donce ce,’ dit-il [he says], ‘un beau couple.’

— After Oxford had left Paris for Strasburg, the ambassador again wrote to Burghley: “I will assure your Lordship unfeignedly my Lord of Oxford used himself as orderly and moderately as might be desired, and with great commendation, neither is there any appearance of the likelihood of any other.”  So we have Oxford as a young man at the French royal court, speaking fluent French with the royal family; and in fact his entire life as a nobleman was involved with matters related to France, such as the tumultuous marriage negotiations during the 1570s and early 1580s, when Elizabeth carried on the public fiction that she would wed Alencon.

Map of Paris – 1575

— At the end of Sonnet 73, which proceeds from autumn to winter in the poet’s life, the final couplet reads (with my emphasis):

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

The phrase “leave ere” in the last line is the exact sound of l’hiver, French for “winter,” and simultaneously it plays upon Oxford’s own name, Ver — the way  The Winter’s Tale, translated into French, is L’Compte de l’hiver, the account or “tale” of Winter, or Vere. In addition, the similar-sounding French work “Comte” denotes the rank of Count in France, which is the equivalent of the English rank of Earl.

[NOTE: This reason is now number 54 of 100 Reasons Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford (2016). As re-posted here, it reflects the invaluable work of editor Alex McNeil and the editorial help of Brian Bechtold.]

Here is Act 3, scene four of Henry V:

KATHARINE Alice, tu as ete en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.
ALICE Un peu, madame.
KATHARINE Je te prie, m’enseignez: il faut que j’apprenne a parler. Comment appelez-vous la main en Anglois?
ALICE La main? elle est appelee de hand.
KATHARINE De hand. Et les doigts?
ALICE Les doigts? ma foi, j’oublie les doigts; mais je me
souviendrai. Les doigts? je pense qu’ils sont
appeles de fingres; oui, de fingres.
KATHARINE La main, de hand; les doigts, de fingres. Je pense
que je suis le bon ecolier; j’ai gagne deux mots
d’Anglois vitement. Comment appelez-vous les ongles?
ALICE Les ongles? nous les appelons de nails.
KATHARINE De nails. Ecoutez; dites-moi, si je parle bien: de
hand, de fingres, et de nails.
ALICE C’est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon Anglois.
KATHARINE Dites-moi l’Anglois pour le bras.
ALICE De arm, madame.
KATHARINE Et le coude?
ALICE De elbow.
KATHARINE De elbow. Je m’en fais la repetition de tous les
mots que vous m’avez appris des a present.
ALICE Il est trop difficile, madame, comme je pense.
KATHARINE Excusez-moi, Alice; ecoutez: de hand, de fingres,
de nails, de arma, de bilbow.
ALICE De elbow, madame.
KATHARINE O Seigneur Dieu, je m’en oublie! de elbow. Comment
appelez-vous le col?
ALICE De neck, madame.
KATHARINE De nick. Et le menton?
ALICE De chin.
KATHARINE De sin. Le col, de nick; de menton, de sin.
ALICE Oui. Sauf votre honneur, en verite, vous prononcez
les mots aussi droit que les natifs d’Angleterre.
KATHARINE Je ne doute point d’apprendre, par la grace de Dieu,
et en peu de temps.
ALICE N’avez vous pas deja oublie ce que je vous ai enseigne?
KATHARINE Non, je reciterai a vous promptement: de hand, de
fingres, de mails–
ALICE De nails, madame.
KATHARINE De nails, de arm, de ilbow.
ALICE Sauf votre honneur, de elbow.
KATHARINE Ainsi dis-je; de elbow, de nick, et de sin. Comment
appelez-vous le pied et la robe?
ALICE De foot, madame; et de coun.
KATHARINE De foot et de coun! O Seigneur Dieu! ce sont mots
de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et
non pour les dames d’honneur d’user: je ne voudrais
prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France
pour tout le monde. Foh! le foot et le coun!
Neanmoins, je reciterai une autre fois ma lecon
ensemble: de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arm, de
elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.
ALICE Excellent, madame!
KATHARINE C’est assez pour une fois: allons-nous a diner.
[Exeunt]

“The Quality of Mercy”: Re-Posting No. 32 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

The works of “Shakespeare” contain the author’s own meditations on justice and mercy, emphasizing the need for kings to carry out lawful remedies and punishments with compassion and forbearance.  In Portia’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice about “the quality of mercy” being “not strained” (not constrained), she declares that mercy is “mightiest in the mightiest” and “becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.”  Mercy is above such trappings and is “enthroned in the hearts of kings,” she says, adding:

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice (4.1)

On 7 May 1603, six weeks after Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland was proclaimed James I of England, fifty-three-year-old Edward de Vere wrote a business letter to Secretary Robert Cecil and, in passing, made this comment (printed below in the form of a speech in a Shakespeare play):

Nothing adorns a King more than justice,

Nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice,

Which is the head of all virtue,

And he that is endued therewith hath all the rest.

There is a remarkable similarity of thinking between Oxford and “Shakespeare” as well as a similarity of words; for example, Portia’s statement that when a king combines justice with mercy his “earthly power doth then show likest God’s” is reflected in Oxford’s remark that “nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice” – by which he clearly meant a kind of justice that contains the “virtue” of mercy, or the capacity for forgiveness.

It’s easy to imagine Oxford giving Isabella these words about monarchs in Measure for Measure:

Not the King’s Crown nor the deputed sword,

The Marshall’s Truncheon nor the Judge’s Robe,

Become them with one half so good a grace

As mercy does.  (2.2)

In his dissertation on the “marginalia” of de Vere’s Geneva bible, which the earl had purchased in 1569-70 before age twenty, Roger Stritmatter reports Oxford had marked a series of verses in Ecclesiasticus on the theme of mercy.The question of mercy “is central to the unfolding action of The Tempest,” he notes.  “In this fable Prospero, like Hamlet, learns to abandon the lust to punish his enemies and realizes that ‘the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.’ (5.1). In that statement, ‘virtue’ is a metaphor for ‘mercy.’ ” Stritmatter also points out that previous students of Shakespeare and the Bible failed to notice that Prospero’s epilogue — “as you from crimes would pardoned be — derives “direct, unequivocal inspiration” from Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, which Oxford had marked in his Geneva bible.

Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, as marked by Edward de Vere in his Geneva Bible

Ellen Terry as Portia in 1885

 

“The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle” painted by Edouard Berveiller (1843-1910)

“There can be little doubt as to which side Oxford’s sympathies would lean” during the treason trial of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in October 1586,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920, introducing the Oxford theory of Shakespearean authorship. In other words, the earl, who sat as one of the commissioners at the trial, would have been on Mary’s side, and “as we read of her wonderfully brave and dignified bearing, and of her capable and unaided conduct of her own defense, we can quite believe that if the dramatist who wrote The Merchant of Venice was present at the trial of the Scottish Queen … he had before him a worthy model for the fair Portia…”

Looney quoted Martin Hume: “Mary defended herself with consummate ability before a tribunal almost entirely prejudiced against her. She was deprived of legal aid, without her papers and in ill health. In her argument with [William Cecil Lord Burghley] she reached a point of touching eloquence which might have moved the hearts, though it did not convince the intellects, of her august judges.”

Drawing of the Trial of Mary Queen of Scots as part of the official record made by Robert Beale (1541-1601)

Hume himself quotes a letter in which Burghley says of Mary, “Her intention was to move pity by long, artificial speeches.” Looney writes, “With this remark of Burghley’s in mind, let the reader weigh carefully the terms, of Portia’s speech on ‘Mercy,’ all turning upon conceptions of royal power, with its symbols the crown and the scepter … Now let any one judge whether this speech is not vastly more appropriate to Mary Queen of Scots pleading her own cause before Burleigh, Walsingham, and indirectly the English Queen, than to an Italian lady pleading to an old Jew for the life of a merchant she had never seen before.  Who, then, could have been better qualified for giving an idealized and poetical rendering of Mary’s speeches than Oxford, touted as ‘the best of the courtier poets,’ who was a sympathetic listener to her pathetic and dignified appeals?”

Oxford may have written the first version of The Merchant several years prior to the trial of Mary Stuart – that is, by the early 1580’s, having returned in 1576 from fifteen months on the Continent with Venice as his home base.

Portia’s speech in 4.1 of The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much

To mitigate the justice of thy plea;

Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

Prospero’s farewell at the end of The Tempest:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,

I must be here confined by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.


 

“Timon of Athens” and De Vere: Reposting No. 31 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

Timon of Athens initially appeared in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623, under the title The Life of Tymon of Athens. There is no agreement about when it was written; some scholars studying the mood and style suggest 1605-1609, while others push the date back to 1601-1602.  In the view of those who think Edward de Vere was the author, both time frames are about a quarter-century too late.

Engraving by John Boydell, 1771: Timon in the wilderness, sitting with a spade at left and turning away with expression of disgust as he tosses coins towards two prostitutes, one catching them in her skirts, a soldier at right watching the scene with concern, others gathered in the background

Oxford was twenty-six in the spring of 1576 when he returned to England after fifteen months on the Continent, having traveled all through Italy with Venice as home base. It may well be that a now lost play, The Historie of the Solitarie Knight, performed on 17 February 1577 for Elizabeth and her court, was an early version of Timon of Athens.

Timon is a young nobleman so renowned for his liberality and good nature that poets, painters and tradesmen flock to his home seeking his patronage.  He is generous and trusting.  He  joyously entertains his guests, lavishing them with rich gifts and handing out cash even to the servants.  His seemingly inexhaustible wealth means little or nothing to him: “I gave it freely ever, and there’s none can truly say he gives if he receives … Pray sit, more welcome are ye to my fortune than my fortunes to me!” (1.2).

Oxford, too, had inherited great wealth in the form of vast estates; he, too, was a generous friend (as when he gave money to the scholar Gabriel Harvey, at Cambridge in the 1560s) and an actively involved patron of actors, writers, musicians and others. Like Timon, he was a trendsetter. And he was accustomed to what the Poet in the play calls “the infinite flatteries that follow youth and money.”

The western approach to the Acropolis, showing the Propylaia, Temple of Athena Nike, and the Parthenon.

Soon, however, Timon discovers he has run out of money and fallen deeply into debt, with servants accosting him for payments owed to their masters – exactly what Oxford had learned about his financial situation while still in Italy.  Shocked and distressed by the news of his sudden lack of funds, he wrote to Burghley in January 1576 from Siena:

“My Lord, I am sorry to hear how hard my fortune is in England … I have determined that whereas I understand the greatness of my debt and greediness of my creditors grows so dishonorable to me and troublesome unto your Lordship, that that land of mine which in Cornwall I have appointed to be sold [for travel expenses] … be gone through withal.  And to stop my creditors’ exclamations (or rather defamations, I may call them), I shall desire your Lordship by the virtue of this letter (which doth not err as I take it from any former purpose, which was that always upon my letter to authorize your Lordship to sell any portion of my land) that you will sell one hundred pound a year  more of my land where your Lordship shall think fittest, to disburden me of my debts to Her Majesty, my sister, or elsewhere I am exclaimed upon … ” [Emphasis added]

As Timon puts it, “How goes the world, that I am thus encountered with clamorous demands of debt, broken bonds and the detention of long such due debts against my honor?” (2.2). He questions Flavius, his steward, just as Oxford must have demanded of Burghley to explain how this “dishonorable” situation could have happened without warning:  “You make me marvel wherefore ere this time had you not fully laid my state before me, that I might so have rated my expense as I had leave of means…” (2.2).

Flavius defends himself as Burghley would have done:  “O my good lord, at many times I brought in my accounts, laid them before you; [but] you would throw them off!  I did endure not seldom, nor no slight cheques, when I have prompted you in the ebb of your estate and your great flow of debts.  My loved lord, though you hear now, too late … the greatest of your having lacks a half to pay your present debts” (2.2). [Below, my emphasis again on “gone.”]

Timon: “Let all my land be sold!”

Flavius: “‘Tis all engaged, some forfeit and gone, and what remains will hardly stop the mouth of present dues” (2.2).

Oxford’s surprise that “land of mine in Cornwall” that he had “appointed to be sold” was “already gone through withal” can be heard here:

Timon: “To Lacedaemon did my land extend!”

Flavius: “O my good Lord, the world is but a world: Were it all yours to give it in a breath.  How quickly it were gone!” (2.2)

William Cecil, Baron Burghley: circa 1570

Oxford gave Burghley more instructions, adding, “In doing these things your Lordship shall greatly pleasure me, in not doing them you shall as much hinder me, for although to depart with land your Lordship hath advised the contrary, and that your Lordship for the good affection you bear unto me could wish it otherwise, yet you see I have none other remedy.  I have no help but of mine own, and mine is made to serve me and myself, not mine.” The same thought and virtually the same words are used in the play when one of the usurers instructs his servant:  “Get on your cloak, and haste you to Lord Timon.  Importune him for my moneys … Tell him my uses cry to me; I must serve my turn out of mine own … Immediate are my needs, and my relief must not be tossed and turned to me in words, but find supply immediate.”

After all his former friends refuse to loan him any money, Timon leaves Athens for the depths of the woods, finds a cave and begins to live as a solitary hermit – perhaps why the play performed in  1577 was called The Solitary Knight.

In the forest Timon expects to find “the unkindest beast more kinder than mankind” – words that will find an echo when Oxford writes to Robert Cecil in May 1601 (after the Secretary had helped to gain Southampton’s reprieve from execution): “I do assure you that you shall have no faster friend and well-wisher unto you than myself, either in kindness, which I find beyond mine expectation in you, or in kindred,” signing off “in all kindness and kindred, Edward Oxenford.”

Timon is “a lover of truth,” writes Harold Goddard in The Meaning of Shakespeare, and the play “seems to say that such a man, though buried in the wilderness, is a better begetter of peace than all the instrumentalities of law in the hands of men who love neither truth nor justice.”

“The Life of Tymon of Athens” in the First Folio of Shakespeare Plays – 1623

When Oxford was still a royal ward at Cecil House in 1569-70, enrolled at Gray’s Inn to study law, one of his book orders included “Plutarch’s works in French.” As O.J. Campbell notes in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare, the Shakespearean author “clearly knew the digression on Timon in Plutarch … He may also have read Lucian’s amusing dialogue Timon Misanthropus, if not in Greek, then in either a Latin or a French translation.”

Aside from being fluent in both Latin and French, Oxford had been raised from about age four in the household of Thomas Smith, a Greek scholar, who had tutored him.  Both Smith and Burghley had copies of Lucian, and Burghley’s wife was also a Greek expert, so it’s a given that the very young de Vere had personal access to all the Shakespearean sources.

Many researchers have noted the parallels between Edward de Vere and Timon:

Eva Turner Clark:

“The play depicts Timon as being just as solitary in the midst of his grandeur as he later became in his cave in the woods … Not even Timon could have lived a life of greater luxury and grandeur than the young Earl of Oxford throughout his youth.  Is it to be wondered at that Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, grew up without the slightest idea of the value of money?

“Young Oxford’s mind had been filled by his elders with a love of art and scholarship, of excellence in tournament and the field of war, and there was no room in it for the humdrum, workaday world, with its counting of pounds, shillings and pence.  Nevertheless, as he pursued the objects for which he had been trained, he was made to feel the sting of financial demands continuously from the time he came of age.  It was when he reached a crisis in his affairs, economically and socially, that he wrote the cynical drama of The Solitary Knight, or Timon of Athens

“Doubtless it was because of this experience that Oxford adopted the idea of exposing his fellow courtiers by satire and burlesque, by the suggestion of warning and threat, which is to be found is many of his plays.  In other words, revenge animated him, and, while revenge is not one of the finer impulses, it is a very human instinct to demand satisfaction for an injury done.” (Clark adds, however, that as Oxford grew mentally and spiritually, his personal revenge motive widened and matured into an effort to “show up disloyalty of subjects and dishonesty of politicians, for the benefit of his Queen and for the good of his beloved country.”) [Hidden Alusions, 1931]

Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn:

“One of the hereditary offices of the Earls of Oxford as Lords Great Chamberlain was that of the Ewry, or Water-Bearer to the Monarch.  It was purely honorary, a formal gesture of presenting water on state occasions when the Monarch sat at meat.  There is a direct reference to this [in Timon]: ‘One of Lord Timon’s men!  A gift, I warrant.  Why, this hits right; I dreamt of a silver basin and ewer tonight.’  It is recorded that in 1579 ‘the Queen’s New Year’s gift to th’earle of Oxfourde [was] a bason and ewer of our store..’  Timon’s bitter jest of serving his false friends and flatterers with covered dishes containing only warm water is thus particularly ironical, expressing, as it does, the scorn of the impoverished Lord Great Chamberlain.” [This Star of England, 1952]

Charlton Ogburn, Jr: “I rather think, though, that Timon of Athens as we know it owes more to the manifold adversities that overtook its author in the early 1580’s, when the sale of thirty tracts of land in five years left him stripped near as bare as Timon.” [The Mysterious William Shakespeare, 1984]

William Farina:

“Reading de Vere’s personal connections to the story of Timon, it is not an overstatement to say that Shakespeare’s play tells the story of de Vere’s life.  As the late Anglo-Oxfordian commentator Edward Holmes succinctly put it, The play is closest [of all the plays] to autobiography  … Timon is too raw, too real for comfort.  It was begun too close to the catastrophe which prompted it.  That must be it was left artistically undigested, incomplete.’  Under this scenario, Shakespeare the writer (de Vere) was writing Timon not for commercial gain but because, emotionally, he needed to. According to the Oxfordian view, this was a driven author who perhaps could not finish what he started.” [De Vere as Shakespeare, 2006]

[This post is now Reason 76 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

“Private Letters”: Re-Posting No. 30 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

Attorney William Plumer Fowler served as president of the solidly orthodox Shakespeare Club of Boston in 1960, but eventually came to doubt the traditional belief.  After assuming the presidency of the club for the second time in 1972, he spent an additional year of investigation before finally becoming “convinced beyond any doubt” that Edward de Vere had written the great works. “It came as a shock to me,” he wrote, “after over half a century spent in the mistaken traditional belief, to at last realize that the true author was not the Stratfordian William Shakespeare but someone else.”

Fowler completed his 900-page masterwork Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters in 1986. He had chosen thirty-seven of some fifty letters written by the earl between 1563 and 1603, to demonstrate how they contain “consistent correspondences (averaging over two to a line) in nearly every phrase to the thought and phraseology of Shakespeare’s plays and poems.”

Part of an autograph letter from Oxford to Robert Cecil (his “Brother” or former brother-in-law) in July 1600

“The letters “speak for themselves,” Fowler writes, adding that they “offer convincing documentary evidence of their being those of the true poet Shakespeare, as distinct from the Stratford William Shaksper of similar name.  They are far more than just Oxford’s letters,” he concluded. “They are Shakespeare’s.”

Among hundreds of examples is a statement from Oxford to William Cecil Lord Burghley in July 1581, shortly after the earl’s release from the Tower. He had accused his Catholic cousins Henry Howard and Charles Arundel of engaging in treasonable correspondence with Spain, and they had retaliated with vicious countercharges. It appears they also had revealed his affair with Anne Vavasour, a Queen’s Maid of Honor, who gave birth in March 1581 to his illegitimate son (Edward Vere).  She and the baby as well as Oxford were committed to the Tower for two months; now in July he wrote to Burghley: “But the world is so cunning, as of a shadow they can make a substance, and of a likelihood a truth.”

Plato’s Cave – where shadows, projected on a wall, are mistaken for substance and truth

“This shadow-substance antithesis harks back to Plato’s Socratic dialogue in the Seventh book of The Republic, about the shadows cast by a candle in a cave,” Fowler writes, “and is a favorite of Shakespeare’s. It is unfolded again and again, in the repeated portrayal of what Dr. Herbert R. Coursen Jr. terms ‘Shakespeare’s great theme – the discrepancy between appearance and reality’.”

In Richard II, for example, Bushy tries to calm the queen’s anxiety over Richard’s departure for Ireland: “Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows, which show like grief itself, but are not so … So your sweet Majesty, looking awry upon your lord’s departure, finds shapes of grief more than himself to wail, which, look’d on as it is, is naught but shadows of what it is not” (2.2.14-23). The metaphor is intensified after Richard surrenders his crown to Bolingbroke:

Bolingbroke: “The shadow of your sorrow hath destroyed the shadow of your face.”
King Richard: “Say that again. The shadow of my sorrow! Ha! Let’s see. ‘Tis very true, my grief lies all within. And these external manners of laments are merely shadows to the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul. There lies the substance… (4.1).

“So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised/ Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give,” the poet Shakespeare writes in Sonnet 37, and he begins number 53: “What is your substance, whereof are you made,/ That millions of strange shadows on you tend?”

Oxford’s statement that “the world is so cunning as of a shadow they can make a substance and of a likelihood a truth” appears in reverse order in The Merchant of Venice when Bassanio talks about “the seeming truth which cunning times put on to entrap the wisest” (3.2.) — and in The Phoenix and Turtle: “Truth may seem, but cannot be.”

Oxford wrote to Robert Cecil on 7 May 1603, several weeks after the death of Elizabeth, echoing his motto Vero Nihil Verius (“Nothing Truer than Truth”) in this striking passage:  “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription, for truth is truth though never so old, and time cannot make that false which was once true.”

These ringing words “are mirrored many times by the dramatist Shakespeare,” Fowler writes, “most notably in Measure for Measure, where the entire thought is duplicated by Isabella: ‘For truth is truth to the end of reckoning'” (5.1); and, for example,  in Troilus and Cressida: “What truth can speak truest, not truer than Troilus” (3.2).

Oxford’s father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England, on his mule

De Vere was twenty-two in 1572 when news of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France shocked the Elizabethan Court as tens of thousands of Protestant Huguenots were slain.  In an emotional letter he told Burghley: “This estate hath depended on you a great while as all the world doth judge” – a statement, Fowler notes, anticipating with arresting closeness both Shakespeare’s words and thought in two scenes from Hamlet:

  • Laertes, warning his sister Ophelia against getting too involved with Prince Hamlet because of his high position, tells her: “He may not, as unvalued persons do, carve for himself, for on his choice depends the safety and health of this whole state” (1.3.20).
  •  Claudius gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern their commission to escort Hamlet to England, telling them, “The terms of our estate may not endure hazard so near us,” and Rosencrantz remarks: “The single and peculiar life is bound … to keep itself from noyance; but much more that spirit upon whose weal depends and rests and lives of many” (3.3).

The nearly fifty surviving letters from Oxford to William Cecil Lord and/or his son Robert are mostly about business matters, but in every line he spontaneously reveals himself as the most likely author of Shakespeare’s poems, plays and sonnets. Take, for example, the same letter of September 1572, after the Elizabethan court had received the shocking and frightening news of the massacre, in which the Prostetant hero Admiral Coligny had also been slain; Oxford, in a highly emotional state, wrote to Burghley:

The contemporary artist Francois Dubois (b. 1529) painted this Huguenot view of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572

“I would to God your Lordship would let me understand some of your news which here doth ring dolefully in the ears of every man, of the murder of the Admiral of France, and a great number of noble men and worthy gentlemen, and such as greatly in their lifetimes honoured the Queen’s majesty our mistress, on whose tragedies we have an number of French Aeneases in this city, that tell of their own overthrows with tears falling from their eyes, a piteous thing to hear but a cruel and far more grievous thing we must deem it them to see.  All rumours here are but confused, of those troops that are escaped from Paris, and Rouen, where Monsieur [the Ducke of Alencon] hath also been; and like a vesper Sicilianus, as they say, that cruelty spreads all over France …

Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard De Coligny (1519-1572), slain by an assassin

“And since the world is so full of treasons and vile instruments, daily to attempt new and unlooked-for things, good my Lord, I shall affectionately and heartily desire your Lordship to be careful both of yourself and of her Majesty…

“And think if the Admiral in France was a eyesore or beam in the eyes of the papists, that the Lord Treasurer of England is a block and a crossbar in their way, whose remove they will never stick to attempt, seeing they have prevailed so well in others.  This estate hath depended on you a great while as all the world doth judge, and now  all men’s eyes, not being occupied any more on those lost lords, are as it were on a sudden bent and fixed on you, as a singular hope and pillar whereto the religion hath to lean.”

The above passages, spilled from de Vere’s pen in the heat of the moment, are Shakespearean in dozens of ways.

Ken Kaplan, a colleague in the authorship field, points out Oxford’s use of hendiadys (expressing a single idea using two words connected by “and”) when he refers to the Lord Treasurer as the “hope and pillar” of the state; and how Shakespeare uses literally hundreds of hendiadys, such as when Hamlet, in his “to be or not to be” soliloquy, refers to the “whips and scorns” of time.

Painting focused on the killing of Admiral Coligny by Franz Hogenberg (c. 1540- c. 1590)

Dr. Roger Stritmatter notes that in Oxford’s account of the massacre there are many hendiadys such as “noble men and worthy gentlemen,” “a cruel and far more grievous thing,” … “treasons and vile instruments,” “new and unlooked-for things,” “a eyesore or a beam,” “a block or a crossbar,” “bent and fixed,” etc.

The earl’s emotionally charged letter “reads like a sketch for a Shakespeare history play,” Stritmatter writes:

“Envisioning the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre as a contemporary tragedy, shadowed by the allegorical precedent of Aeneas’ tragic exile from burning Troy, it paints a picture of the mise en scene in which the tragedy unfolds.  Appealing in alternating schema to senses of both sight and sound, it supplies a potent witness to Oxford’s powers of demonstratio, the literary figure by which ‘we apprehend [things] as though before our eyes.’  The iterated appeal to sight, and the organs of sight, could not be more ‘Shakespearean’: like the audience listening to Ophelia’s superlative portrait of the mad Hamlet (2.1.85-99), we are made to seeFrench Aeneases that tell of their overthrows with tears falling from their eyes.’  De Vere’s technique is precisely the same as that of ‘Shakespeare’…”

The earl “slips into his tragic Shakespearean metaphor” of French Aeneases with remarkable ease,” Fowler writes, adding that Aeneas, the hero of Vergil’s great epic, is mentioned twenty-eight times by Shakespeare. Oxford’s description of the cruelty that “like a vesper Sicilianus … spreads all over France refers to the murder of 8,000 French in Sicily three centuries earlier, a massacre that also started during a pageant.  “It is noteworthy that Shakespeare too shows the same familiarity as Oxford’s with the vesper Sicilianus and its pageant,” Fowler observes, citing Antony’s warning in Antony and Cleopatra that “Thou has seen these signs; they are black vesper’s pageants” (4.14), with “black” meaning ominous.

When Oxford laments that “the world is so full of treasons and vile instruments,” he appears to coin a phrase that “Shakespeare” will use in Cymbeline when Pisanio cries out, “Hence, vile instrument!” (3.4).

His characterization of Coligny as “an eyesore or beam in the eyes of the papists” will be echoed in The Taming of the Shrew when Baptista refers to “an eyesore to our solemn festival” (3.2) and when Tarquin in The Rape of Lucrece says, “Yea, though I die, the scandal will survive, and be an eye-sore in my golden coat” (205).

Even this single early specimen of Oxford’s letters, Fowler writes, “serves to corroborate that the earl, rather than the man from Stratford, was the true ‘Shakespeare,’ and that these letters of Oxford are really ‘Shakespeare’s,’ the name by which the talented dramatist will always be known.  Coincidence in the use of common phrases of speech can explain some parallelisms, but not any such tidal wave of them.”

 

(This post is No. 26 – “Private Letters: – in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with editorial help from Brian Bechtold.)

Edward de Vere: The Fabric of His Life in the Sonnets: Reposting No. 29 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was Shake-speare

Edward de Vere was in the best position of anyone in England to be the author of the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered sonnets published in 1609 as Shake-speares Sonnets. The known facts about Oxford’s childhood, upbringing, education, and family all interconnect with the sonnets’ language and imagery.

Oxford was nephew to Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547), who, with Sir Thomas Wyatt, wrote the first English sonnets in the form to be used later by Shakespeare. Oxford himself wrote an early sonnet in that form; entitled Love Thy Choice, it expressed his devotion to Queen Elizabeth with the same themes of “constancy” and “truth” that “Shakespeare” would express in the same words:

“In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – Oxford’s sonnet to Queen Elizabeth

“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Sonnet 152 to the “Dark Lady”

The Shakespeare sonnets are plainly autobiographical, the author using the personal pronoun “I” to refer to himself, telling his own story in his own voice; so it’s only natural that he expresses himself with references to the life he experienced since childhood.   Much of that experience is captured in Sonnet 91:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their Hawks and Hounds, some in their Horse…

Oxford was born into England’s highest-ranking earldom, inheriting vast wealth in the form of many estates.  He was a skilled horseman and champion of two great jousting tournaments at the Whitehall tiltyard.  He was the “Italianate Englishman” who wore new-fangled clothing from the Continent.  An expert falconer, he wrote poetry comparing women to hawks “that fly from man to man.”

And every humor hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest,
But these particulars are not my measure,
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me …

Only someone who already had high birth, and was willing to give it up, could make such a declaration to another nobleman of high birth and make it meaningful; if written to the Earl of Southampton by a man who was not high-born, the statement would be an insulting joke.

Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than Hawks or Hounds be,
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast.
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.

Woodcut of Elizabethan astronomy or astrology

Oxford also left his footprints throughout:

(2) “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow” – He was forty in 1590, when most commentators feel the opening sonnets were written.

(8) “Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly … Mark how one string, sweet husband to another” – He was an accomplished musician, writing for the lute, and patronized the composer John Farmer, who dedicated two songbooks to him, praising his musical knowledge and skill.

(14) “And yet methinks I have astronomy” – He was well acquainted with the “astronomy,” or astrology, of Dr. John Dee and was praised for his knowledge of the subject.

(23) “As an imperfect actor on the stage” – He patronized two acting companies, performed in “enterludes” at court and was well known for his “comedies” or stage plays.

(33) “Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy” – He studied with Dee, who experimented with alchemy, and both men invested in the Frobisher voyages.

Elizabeth woodcut of distillation by “alchemy” to find the imagined “elixir” to prolong life”

(49) “To guard the lawful reasons on thy part” – He studied law at Gray’s Inn and served as a judge at the treason trials of Norfolk and Mary Stuart and later at the treason trial of Essex and Southampton; his personal letters are filled with intimate knowledge of the law.

(59) “O that record could with a backward look,/ Even of five hundred courses of the Sunne”  – His earldom extended back 500 years to the time of William the Conqueror.

(72) “My name be buried where my body is” – In his early poetry he wrote, “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground.”

(89) “Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt” – He was lamed by a sword during a street fight in 1582.

Queen Elizabeth – the Armada Portrait, 1588 – she loved those jewels!

(96) “As on the finger of a a throned Queen, / The basest Jewel will be well esteemed” – He gave the Queen “a fair jewel of gold” with diamonds in 1580.

(98) “Of different flowers in odor and in hue” – He was raised amid the great gardens of William Cecil, who imported flowers never seen in England, something that accounts for Shakespeare’s vast knowledge of plants.

(107) “And thou in this shalt find thy monument” – He wrote to Thomas Bedingfield in 1573 that “I shall erect you such a monument…”

(109) “Myself bring water for my stain” – He was “water-bearer to the monarch” at the coronation of James on 25 July 1603, in his capacity as Lord Great Chamberlain.

Title page of The New Jewell of Health (1576) by Dr. George Baker, dedicated to Oxford’s wife Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford

(111) “Potions of Eisel ‘gainst my strong infection” – His surgeon was Dr. George Baker, who dedicated three books to the earl or his wife.

(114) “And to his palate doth prepare the cup” – His ceremonial role as Lord Great Chamberlain included bringing the “tasting cup” to the monarch.

(116) “O no, it is an ever-fixed mark/ That looks on tempests and his never shaken … If this be error and upon me proved,/ I never writ nor no man ever loved” – He wrote: “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?  Vere.” (Emphasis added)

(121) “No, I am that I am…” –  He wrote to Burghley using the same words in the same tone (the words of God to Moses in the Bible) to protest his spying on him.

(125) “Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy” – He was reported to have been one of the six nobles bearing a “golden canopy” over the queen in the procession on 24 November 1588 celebrating England’s recent victory over the Spanish Armada. (But Sonnet 125, I believe, refers to the canopy held over Elizabeth’s effigy and coffin in the funeral procession on 28 April 1603.)

(128) “Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds”– He was an intimate favorite of the queen, who frequently played music on the virginals.

Courtiers of Queen Elizabeth – entertaining her with lute

(153) “I sick withal the help of bath desired” – He accompanied Elizabeth and her court during her three-day visit in August 1574 to the City of Bath, the only royal visit to that city; and “Shakespeare” is said to write about this visit in the so-called Bath Sonnets 153-154.

The Sonnets of Shakespeare amount to the autobiographical diary of de Vere. The allusions to his life as a high-born nobleman and courtier, appearing throughout the sequence, come forth naturally and spontaneously. In effect, he left his signature for all to see.

[This post, with significant help from editor Alex McNeil, is now Reason 52 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

The Earl of Southampton: Re-posting No. 28 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

One of the most compelling reasons to believe Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is the central role in the Shakespeare story played by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593, as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis, a 1200-line poem that the poet called “the first heir of my invention” in his dedication. The second appearance of “William Shakespeare” in print came a year later, with the publication of an 1800-line poem, Lucrece, again dedicated to Southampton.

The Lucrece dedication was an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the twenty-year-old earl:

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked himself to Southampton for all time.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that the Fair Youth of Shake-speares Sonnets, the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered poems printed in 1609, is also Southampton, even though he is not identified by name. Most further agree that, in the first seventeen sonnets, the poet is urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”

“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in 1984, “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer [1922] spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”

“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

  • De Vere became the first royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in 1562, under the guardianship of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), and in 1571 he entered into an arranged marriage with the chief minister’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil.
  • Henry Wriothesley became the eighth and last child of state as a boy in 1581-82, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted intense pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Cecil’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter, making the elder earl, in fact, the prospective father-in-law. Scholars generally agree that in the seventeen “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare’s tone sounds much like that of a prospective father-in-law or father urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him, although the poet never identifies or describes any specific young woman.

Lady Elizabeth Vere, who married William Stanley Earl of Derby in 1595

J. Dover Wilson writes in 1964: “What man in the whole world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married?”

Obviously, de Vere and Wriothesley both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome of this marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England, who must have had the full blessing of his sovereign Mistress.

Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”

The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”

A Notice of the Essex-Southampton Trial of Feb. 19, 1600 (1601) with Edward de Vere given prominence as a judge on the tribunal

By the time Southampton came to court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford had removed himself from active attendance. It seems that the two shared some kind of hidden story that tied them together:

= As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother. Even though their respective biological mothers were alive when their fathers died, under English law they became wards of the state, and the queen became their mother in a legal sense.

= Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.

= Oxford in the early 1590s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.

= After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford sat as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal for the treason trial of Essex and Southampton.

= The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict; there is evidence that Oxford then worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual liberation, as in Sonnet 35: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate.”

= On the night of Oxford’s recorded death on 24 June 1604, agents of the Crown arrested Southampton and returned him to the Tower, where he was interrogated all night until his release the following day.

= Henry Wriothesley and Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford (born in February 1593 to Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham) became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.” As members of the House of Lords, they often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for doing so.

On the eve of the failed rebellion led by Essex and Southampton in 1601, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s royal history play Richard II at the Globe; many historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself secured permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its scene of the deposing of the king. On the other hand, it is possible that Robert Cecil himself arranged for it, so he could then summon Essex to court and trigger the rebellion, which had actually been scheduled for a week later.

Once the rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of 8 February 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased for several years.

After Southampton was released on 10 April 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

Upon Oxford’s death in virtual obscurity, recorded as occurring on 24 June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published.

As part of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations surrounding the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival. In the days before and after the wedding, seven performances of the Bard’s plays were given. (The royal performances appear to be a memorial tribute to the playwright, rather than a tribute to a living author.) One performance was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, for King James and Queen Anne, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

After Hamlet in 1604 all publications again ceased, for four years. (King Lear was printed in 1608; Troilus and Cressida was issued in two editions during 1608-09; and Pericles appeared in 1609.) Then the silence resumed, for thirteen more years, until a quarto of Othello appeared in 1622; and finally the First Folio of thirty-six Shakespeare plays was published in 1623. Fully half of these stage works were printed for the first time; the folio included none of the Shakespeare poetry, nor any mention of Southampton or the Sonnets.

The connections between Oxford and Southampton are numerous and significant; the link between the two earls is crucial for the quest to determine the real Shakespeare.

[This post is now Reason 53 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with editorial assistance from Brian Bechtold.]

Anthony Munday: No. 27 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (as it now appears in the book)

Anthony Munday was an actor-printer-writer-translator and anti-Catholic spy who signed himself “Servant to the Right Honourable  the Earl of Oxenford.”  Oscar James Campbell is one of many traditional Shakespeare scholars who note the following points of interest about this writer of whom Oxford was the patron:

Shakespeare contributed an addition to the play Sir Thomas More (1592), the first draft of which had been written by Munday.

Shakespeare found incidents and ideas for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594) from Munday’s play John a Kent.

Shakespeare wrote parts of  The Merchant of Venice (1596) by drawing upon Munday’s long prose romance Zelanto, or The Fountain of Fame.

Shakespeare got his general plot outline for Much Ado About Nothing (1598) from Fedele and Fortunio, an Italian play adapted by Munday.

Shakespeare received inspiration for the idyllic green world of the forest in As You Like It (1599) from a play about Robin Hood by Munday.

In the traditional view it appears that during the 1590s the Bard grabbed stuff from Munday whenever he wanted; the reality, I suggest, was the other way around. Munday was one of many writers who served as secretaries to Oxford during the 1570s and 1580s and benefited from his reckless generosity (Oxford provided money, work space, inspiration and instruction) as they developed the English renaissance of literature and drama. I suggest that in the next decade Oxford adopted plots and characters that he himself had originated and had shared with Munday and other writers under his wing.

Edward de Vere

The son of a London draper, Munday had been an actor, most likely in Oxford’s boy company and then in his adult troupe. In 1576 he became an apprentice to John Allde, the stationer whose son, Edward Allde, would later print several Shakespeare quartos. Two years later Munday journeyed to Rome “to see strange countries and learn foreign languages,” as he recalls in English Romayne Lyfe (1582), but Campbell and others state he was actually a spy sent to report on the English Jesuit College in Rome. He returned to England by 1579, when he “may have become an actor again, with the Earl of Oxford’s company,” and that year he published The Mirror of Mutability, dedicating it to his patron and including the following poem to him:

E xcept I should in friendship seem ingrate,

D enying duty, whereto I am bound;

W ith letting slip your Honour’s worthy state,

A t all assays, which I have noble found.

R ight well I might refrain to handle pen:

D enouncing aye the company of men.

 

D own, dire despair, let courage come in place,

E xalt his fame whom Honour doth embrace

 

V irtue hath aye adorn’d your valiant heart,

E xampl’d by your deeds of lasting fame:

R egarding such as take God Mars his part

E ach where by proof, in honour and in name.

 

Munday referred to Oxford’s “courteous and gentle perusing” of his writings. As B.M. Ward notes, the earl was “no ordinary patron,” since he was “willing to give both his time and attention to manuscripts submitted to him, and could be relied on to make suggestions and offer advice.” Oxford and his Euphuists aimed to refine and enrich the English language, believing in the magic of words and the power of imagery, while Philip Sidney and the Romanticists wanted to retail old stories of knighthood to make them more accessible.

Philip Sidney

In 1580 Munday dedicated his novel Zelato, The Fountain of Fame to de Vere (“By A.M., Servant to the Right Honourable the Earle of Oxenford”), praising “the rare virtues of your noble mind” and declaring that “among all the brave books which have been bestowed [upon you], these my little labours contain so much faithful zeal to your welfare as [all] others whatsoever.” He also wrote that the book was “Given for a friendly entertainment to Euphues” — revealing, in effect, that the character of Euphues stood for Oxford himself.

Munday was one of the chief witnesses against Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest who was hanged, drawn and quartered on December 1, 1581; part of Munday’s savage tract A Discoverie of Edmund Campion and his Confederates was read aloud from the scaffold at Tyrburn. His political services against Catholics were rewarded in 1584, when he received the post of Messenger of Her Majesty’s Chamber.

In his 1588 dedication of Palmerin d’Olivia, Pt. 2, a translation, Munday spoke of Oxford’s “special knowledge” of foreign languages and referred to his “precious virtues, which makes him generally beloved” and of “mine only duty, which nothing but death can discharge.” (Only the 1616 reprint containing this information is extant.) Oxford died in 1604, but Munday would never forget his master; in 1619 he dedicated all three parts of a new edition of his Primaleon of Greece to Oxford’s son Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, and spoke of “having served that noble Earl your father of famous and desertful memory” and of “your honourable father’s matchless virtues.”

[This post is now Reason 35 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

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