Who Was the Dark Lady? The Full Debate…

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Published in: Uncategorized on December 1, 2018 at 11:26 am  Comments (1)  

Philip Sidney: Re-posting No. 47 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Edmund Spenser’s first mention of someone named “Willie” appeared in The Shepherd’s Calendar attributed to “Immerito,” a pen name, in 1579. At that time Oxford was twenty-nine and a recognized poet (but had stopped signing his poems three years earlier), whereas Shakspere of Stratford was just fifteen years old.

Spenser depicted a “rhyming match” between two poets “Willie” and “Perigot.” It was a thinly disguised spoof on the current rivalry between the leaders of England’s two literary factions: Oxford, head of the Euphuists, and Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), a de facto leader of a faction that thought to “standardize” English versifying. The two men were also on opposite sides politically; in general, Oxford was more liberal while Sidney leaned to the Puritan camp.

That year they also became embroiled in an infamous “quarrel,” or shouting match, on the Greenwich Palace tennis court, where members of the visiting French delegation had front-row seats, watching from the windows of their private galleries. The delegation had come to England to negotiate the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon, which Sidney opposed and Oxford publicly championed, though Oxford apparently knew, along with Burghley, that the French match was a big charade on her Majesty’s part.

Oxford held Sidney in contempt for his plagiarism of other writers’ works; for that reason he hated the contemporary praise Sidney received but didn’t deserve. On the royal tennis court, the earl scornfully glared at Sidney and shouted: “Puppy!” to which Sidney retorted: “In respect, all the world knows that puppies are gotten by dogs, and children by men!” 

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) – from the Miniature by Isaac Oliver at Windsor Castle

Oxford stood silent, allowing Sidney’s words to resound within the courtyard. The unintended implication was that Sidney, a puppy, was begotten by a dog (a son of a bitch, we might say). Then after some further sharp words, Sir Philip “led the way abruptly out of the Tennis-Court,” as Fulke Greville recorded in his adoring homage Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney (written in 1610-14 but not published until 1652).

Sidney and other Romanticists aimed to “reform” English poetry by instituting “certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse,” as Spenser wrote to Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey. Their objective, B. M. Ward writes, was to “reclothe the old stories of knighthood and chivalry as to render them more vivid and applicable to their own times.”

Oxford and his Euphuists viewed laws and rules of literature as made to be broken (a view “Shakespeare” would share). Their aim was to refine and enrich the English language; as Ward writes, “It was the magic of words and the imagery of sentences that appealed to them.”

Ward also observes that, regardless of how much Sidney irked Oxford, “There is nothing essentially antagonistic in these two points of view; neither can live without the other.”  These men were literary “pioneers,” with Oxford and Sidney mutually providing each other with “the necessary stimulus without which no human achievement can be attained.”

Philip Sidney would die in the Battle of Zutphen in September 1586 at age thirty-one, adding to his popular image as a heroic courtier and soldier

Probably the most notable example of the Oxford-Sidney literary rivalry is their pair of epigrams, Oxford’s beginning with “Were I a king I might command content” and Sidney’s verse, in reply, beginning with “Wert thou a king, yet not command content.”

Spenser opens the contest in his Shepherd’s Calendar this way:

WILLIE (Oxford): Tell me, Perigot, what shall be the game,

Wherefore with mine thou dare thy music match?

Or been thy bagpipes run far out of frame?

Or hath the cramp thy joints benumbed with ache?

PERIGOT (Sidney):  Ah!  Willie, when the heart is ill assayed,

How can bagpipe or joints be well a-apaid?

The exchange continues through a succession of stanzas and grows into a wild volley of contrapuntal rhyming, such as:

PERIGOT (Sidney): It fell upon a holy eve,

WILLIE (Oxfod): Hey, ho, holiday!

PERIGOT (Sidney): When holy fathers were wont to shrieve.

WILLIE (Oxford): Now ‘ginneth the roundelay!

PERIGOT (Sidney): Sitting upon a hill so high,

WILLIE (Oxford): Hey, ho, the high hill!

PERIGOT (Sidney): The while my flock did feed thereby.

WILLIE (Oxford): The while the shepherd self did spill!

Here, I submit, we have Spenser describing a significant chapter in the development of the great author who would call himself “Shakespeare” some fourteen years later. The lines Spenser assigned to “Willie” can be described as “pre-Shakespearean,” that is, foreshadowing the scene in Twelfth Night when Feste the Clown (representing Oxford) sings with the same “hey, ho” and back-and-forth rhyming:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But this reason also involves the crucial issue of dating, with the example of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a “pleasant conceited comedie” first published in 1598, its title page advertising it as newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere.” Orthodox scholars (given the Stratford man’s chronology) need to have it written circa 1592-1596, but the evidence suggests a much earlier date.

In January 1579, several months before Spenser introduced “Willie” and “Perigot,” the Elizabethan court was entertained by the double bill of A Maske of Amazones and A Maske of Knights, which Oxfordians view as the first version of Love’s Labour’s Lost, an extremely sophisticated court comedy in which Berowne is an unmistakable self-portrait of de Vere and Boyet is unmistakably Sidney.

Love’s Labours Lost is full of the same contrapuntal jousting in which Oxford and Sidney were engaged in the late 1570s.  It appears to be all in fun, but finally the author moves in for the attack upon Boyet/Sidney, accusing him of stealing from the works of others:

This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons peas,

And utters it again when God doth please … (5.2)

Three centuries later Sir Sidney Lee would point out that “the majority of Sidney’s efforts” had been inspired by Petrarch, Ronsard and Desportes, from whose works in French he grabbed “almost verbatim translations” as if they were his own.

One day, lovers of Shakespeare will be much richer for their ability to learn the true story of Oxford and Sidney within and beneath the lines.

Sidney died in the Battle of Zutphen in the Netherlands, fighting for the Protestant cause against Spanish forces. Shot in the thigh, he suffered from gangrene for twenty-six days until his death on 17 October 1586, after which he became a national hero.

(The above text now appears as No. 71 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil.)

“Our Pleasant Willy”: Re-posting No. 46 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford

Edmund Spenser published the first books of The Fairie Queene in 1590; in the following year came the Complaints, which contained his poem The Teares of the Muses.  In the latter, nine goddesses bemoan the current state of the arts, despite the fact that a great renaissance of English literature and drama had been taking place, just in time for England’s defeat of Spain’s attempted invasion in 1588.  Now, at the start of a new decade, Spenser was warning that the renaissance had ended.

The English government, having used the wartime services of writers working under de Vere’s patronage, promptly forgot them. Burghley began to pressure the earl financially. As a result, many of the writers who depended upon him fell to the wayside. Lyly, his private secretary, was out of a job; Kyd was tortured to death on the rack; Watson died in 1590; Greene died in 1592; Marlowe was murdered in 1593; Lodge left England. Future scholars would conclude that “Shakespeare,” arriving onto the printed page in 1593, “had the field all to himself.”

One of Spenser’s laments in Teares is delivered by the goddess Thalia, Muse of Comedy, who wails over the public withdrawal of a particular poet-dramatist who, while being “learning’s treasure,” has been delivering “comic sock” to audiences with his plays:

Where be the sweete delights of Learning’s treasure,       
That wont with comick sock to beautefie
The painted theaters, and fill with pleasure
The listners eyes, and eares with melodie,
In which I late was wont to raine as queene,
And maske in mirth with graces well beseene?           

O, all is gone! and all that goodly glee,
Which wont to be the glorie of gay wits,
Is layd abed, and no where now to see;
And in her roome unseemly Sorrow sits,
With hollow browes and greisly countenaunce               
Marring my joyous gentle dalliance.

Spenser certainly knew in 1590 that de Vere had abruptly withdrawn from public life; in that sense, as well as financially, the earl was “dead of late.” Continuing her lament in Spenser’s poem, Thalia declares:

And he, the man whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter* under mimick shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all ioy and iolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.*

Instead thereof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scornfull Follie with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in rymes of shameles ribaldry
Without regard, or due decorum kept;
Each idle wit at will presumes to make*,
And doth the learneds taske upon him take.

[*”Counter” = counterfeit, imitate; “drent” = drowned; “make” = write poetry.]

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streames of honnie and sweete nectar flowe,
Scorning the boldnes of such base-borne men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himselfe to mockerie to sell.

Only one man in Elizabethan England held the mirror up to Nature with such scathingly accurate imitations of truth that his audiences roared with laughter and swooned with delight. “We should be convinced that by ‘our pleasant Willy,’ Spenser meant William Shakespeare,” Nicholas Rowe writes in his Some Account of the Life of the bard (1709), the first attempt at Stratfordian biography, explaining that “such a character as he gives could belong to no other dramatist of the time.”

But Spenser’s description has presented an insurmountable problem, as Shakspere of Stratford had barely begun his alleged career in 1591.  In no way could he have withdrawn from writing for the stage, nor could he have been “dead of late” or “sitting in idle cell.” But such was precisely the case with forty-year-old de Vere, who had become a virtual recluse by 1591; in the Oxfordian view, he had begun revising his previous stage works to be published under the “Shakespeare” pen name.  In that view he was “idle” only in the sense that he was no longer writing many original works for the public; otherwise he was hard at work, alone, transmuting much of his prior work into literary and dramatic masterpieces that would live for all time.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that, as a much younger man in 1576, Oxford had published a signed poem in The Paradise of Dainty Devices concluding he was “never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.”

And what to make of Spenser’s statement about “our pleasant Willy” that he was “Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,” reflecting the attitude of a high-born nobleman who looks down with scorn upon commoners?  At a time when class distinctions were rigid, how could the commoner Shakspere have fit that description unless he was scorning the boldness of such men as himself? Otherwise it expresses exactly the view of proud de Vere, the highest-ranking earl of Queen Elizabeth’s realm.

“The Faire Queene” by Spenser (1590) and his Dedication to Queen Elizabeth

One of Spenser’s seventeen dedicatory verses to noble individuals in The Fairie Queen of 1590 was to Oxford, whom he praised directly and personally as a poet, in language that called attention to “the love which thou dost bear to th’Heliconian imps [Muses] and they to thee, they unto thee, and thou to them, most dear.” Writing publicly to de Vere, using his real name and calling him the poet most beloved of the Muses, Spenser added:

Dear as thou art unto thyself, so love

That loves and honors thee; as doth behoove.

Ogburn Jr. translates those lines as Spenser telling Oxford: “As dear as you are to yourself, so are you to me, who loves and honors you, as it behooves me to.”

The bafflement over the identity of “our pleasant Willy” disappears once the “experts” realize that Spenser was referring to the great author who was not, after all, Shakspere of Stratford, but that same earl of Oxford who was “most dear” to the Muses and would soon adopt the pen name “William Shakespeare.”

[This blog post, with editing by Alex McNeil, now appears as No. 30 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), published by Forever Press.]

The Echo: Re-Posting No. 45 of 100 Reasons to Conclude that “Shake-speare” was the Earl of Oxford

 A Lover’s Complaint by “William Shake-speare” (the name is hyphenated on the title page) appeared in print at the end of the first and only quarto of the Sonnets in 1609; the “Echo” poem “Sitting Alone Upon My Thought”  in Verses Made by the Earl of Oxforde was written circa 1581.  The similarities between the two works are unmistakable. If Oxford wrote the Complaint attributed to “Shake-speare,” he must have written it about the same time he wrote the “Echo” poem, nearly three decades earlier than 1609.  Here is how they both begin: A Lover’s Complaint by Shake-speare (1609) From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded A plaintful story from a sistering vale, My spirits to attend this double voice accorded, And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale; Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale, Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain, Storming her world with sorrow’s wind and rain. Upon her head a platted hive of straw, Which fortified her visage from the sun, Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw The carcass of beauty spent and done… “Sitting Alone Upon My Thought” – (before 1581) Sitting alone upon my thought in melancholy mood, In sight of sea, and at my back an ancient hoary wood, I saw a fair young lady come, her secret fears to wail, Clad all in color of a nun, and covered with a veil; Yet (for the day was calm and clear) I might discern her face, Three times, with her soft hand, full hard on her left side she knocks, And sigh’d so sore as might have mov’d some pity in the rocks; From sighs and shedding amber tears into sweet song she brake, When thus the echo answered her to every word she spake… As one might see a damask rose hid under crystal glass. Here, too, are lines from Ruins of Time attributed to Spenser (1591), also with remarkable similarities: It chaunced me one day beside the Shore Of silver streaming Thamesis to be, Nigh where the goodly Verlame stood of yore, Of which there now remains no Memory, Nor any little Monument to see; By which the Traveller, that fares that way, This once was she, may warned be to say. There, on the other side, I did behold A Woman sitting sorrowfully wailing, Rending her yellow Locks, like wiry Gold, About her Shoulders carelesly down trailing, And Streams of Tears from her fair Eyes forth railing: In her right Hand a broken Rod she held, Which towards Haven she seem’d on high to weld. Each of the poems centers upon a mysterious maiden sitting alone and weeping. The Stratfordian model dictates that “Shake-speare” must have seen Ruins of Time before writing his Complaint; but Oxford had already written his Echo poem far earlier than 1591, so the likelihood is quite the reverse, i.e., that Spenser borrowed from him.  And if Oxford had also written A Lover’s Complaint much earlier, then Spenser might have borrowed from that poem as well! (This blog post is updated with editing by Alex McNeil and now appears as no. 82 in 100 Reasons Shake-Speare was the Earl of Oxford.)  

“Youthful Verse”: Re-posting Reason 44 of 100 Reasons Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford

(Note: one or two words below are blue in color and link to advertisements; I am currently unable to remove these pesky things, so please ignore them.)

Some who cling to the traditional Shakespearean biography sneer at Oxford’s poetry, declaring it too inferior to be written by the great author; what these critics may not realize, however, is that many (if not most) of the earl’s signed poems were actually songs. Moreover, most were published in The Paradise of Dainty Devices of 1576, when he was twenty-six, and that he may have written them much earlier. Much later, in The Arte of English Poesie of 1589, he would be cited first among “noblemen and gentlemen of Her Majesty’s own servants, who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest.”

Dr. Louis P. Benezet of Dartmouth College (1876-1961), a pioneer in educational reform, created a string of lines attributed to “Shakespeare” and mixed them with lines attributed to Oxford; then he challenged colleagues in the English Department to guess which lines were from which author.  If they failed to guess correctly (as usually happened), the next question was, “Well, do you think it’s possible that all those lines came from the same poet?”

Following is a section of that test, using some of Benezet’s examples with some new ones I’ve thrown in; this is followed by a section with the same lines plus the name of the author – Oxford or Shakespeare – to whom they are attributed. It’s not scientific and “proves” nothing; but before looking at the answers, try guessing which lines come from “Shakespeare” and which from Oxford:

Who taught thee how to make me love thee more

The more I hear and see just cause of hate?

In constant truth to bide so firm and sure

Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy

In true plain words by thy true telling friend

To scorn the world regarding but thy friends

Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?

Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?

The Earl of Oxford’s initials E.O. are on the cover page of The Paradyse of Dainty Devices, 1576, with Edward de Vere’s early poems and songs among the collection

If women would be fair, and yet not fond

Or that their love were firm and not fickle still

For if I should despair, I should go mad

And shall I live on th’earth to be her thrall?

A torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed

And since my mind, my wit, my head, my voice, and tongue are weak

My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming

If care or skill could conquer vain desire

Or reason’s reins my strong affection stay

Past cure I am, now reason is past care

My death delayed to keep from life the harm of hapless days

Desire is death, which physic did except

I saw a fair young lady come, her secret fears to wail

A plaintful story from a sistering vale

The Answers:

Who taught thee how to make me love thee more

The more I hear and see just cause of hate?

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 150, lines 9-10

In constant truth to bide so firm and sure

= Oxford, Rawlinson MS, “Earl of Oxenforde”

Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 152, line 10

In true plain words by thy true telling friend

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 82, line 12

To scorn the world regarding but thy friends

Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?

Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?

= Oxford, Rawlinson MS (“Earl of Oxenforde”)

If women would be fair, and yet not fond

Or that their love were firm and not fickle still

= Oxford, Britton’s Bower of Delights

For if I should despair, I should go mad

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 140, line 9

And shall I live on th’earth to be her thrall?

= Oxford, Paradise of Dainty Device (“E.O.”), 1576

A torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 133, line 8

And since my mind, my wit, my head, my voice, and tongue are weak

= Oxford, Paradise of Dainty Devices, (“E.O.”), 1576

My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 102, line 1

If care or skill could conquer vain desire

Or reason’s reins my strong affection stay

= Oxford, Paradise of Dainty Devices (“E.O.”) in 1577 edition

Past cure I am, now reason is past care

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 147, line 9

My death delayed to keep from life the harm of hapless days

= Oxford, Paradise of Dainty Devices (“E.O.”), 1576

Desire is death, which physic did except

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 147, line 8

I saw a fair young lady come, her secret fears to wail

= Oxford, “Verses made by the Earle of Oxforde,” Rawlinson MS

A plaintful story from a sistering vale

= Shakespeare, A Lover’s Complaint, line 2

There are hundreds of similarities between writings attributed to Oxford and to “Shakespeare,” for example:

= Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry:

As, to behold desert a beggar born

= Oxford:

Experience of my youth, made think humble truth

In deserts born

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 89:

As I’ll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,

I will acquaintance and look strange,

Be absent from thy walks, and in my tongue

Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell.

= Oxford:

Thus farewell, friend: I will continue strange,

Thou shalt not hear by word or writing aught.

Let it suffice, my vow shall never change;

As for the rest, I leave it to thy thought.

= Shakespeare, Sonnet 114:

And my great mind most kingly drinks it up

= Oxford:

My mind to me a kingdom is

Can it be that the poetry Oxford wrote during his youth is the missing early work – the all-important apprenticeship – of the young Shakespeare? If we went looking for evidence of Shakespeare’s early poetry, the verses attributed to de Vere when he was young are exactly what we should expect to find. The other side of that coin seems true as well: that the more mature poems and sonnets attributed to “Shakespeare” are exactly what we should expect to find from the pen of the older, more experienced de Vere; and that, of course, leads to the conclusion that, in fact, Oxford’s mature poetry was published under the “Shakespeare” pen name.

Note: This blog post is now number 21 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Wins “Dark Lady” Debate

The Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1575 – National Portrait Gallery, London

On Sunday (October 14), during its annual conference convened this year in Oakland, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship held a three-way debate about the identity of the so-called Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Each of us agreed in advance that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is the author and that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton is the so-called Fair Youth, leaving the identity of the woman open for debate. John Hamill argued for Penelope Rich; Katherine Chiljan made her case for Anne Vavasour; and I supported Queen Elizabeth, who won by a secret-ballot vote of the membership in the audience. Each of the others made a formidable case, in his or her 20-minute opening presentation, making for an afternoon session of special excitement. Here, in full, is the overview I gave at the outset:

Making sense of the Sonnets can begin with the realization that these intensely personal lines were set down by the highest-ranking earl at the royal court – and that the beloved younger man is also a member of the court. But finding the story in the sonnets becomes possible only by also identifying the right woman.

Even if we knew nothing of the author, it’s clear this woman is someone of incredible importance to him, and wields enormous power over him – a woman with whom he’s been involved in a long, complicated relationship – whom he’s believed in and defended, even when she has failed to live up to his belief in her – a woman for whom, in the end, he has sacrificed the truth and betrayed himself.

I’d like to present evidence that the powerful, dominating woman we call the Dark Lady can only be the same powerful, dominating woman who pervades the lives of both those earls, and who pervades so much of Oxford’s writing – from his own early Shakespearean sonnet professing his devotion to Queen Elizabeth to his portraits of Venus and the Phoenix, Cleopatra, Titania, Olivia, Portia, Silvia, Queen Gertrude, and more. His final words to this powerful, deceitful, inscrutable woman sum up their long relationship that has now, in the end, drained his soul and left him in bitter disillusionment:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost;/ For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,/ Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,/And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,/ Or made them swear against the thing they see./For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,/To swear against the truth so foul a lie.”

Has there ever been a more wretched confession of shattered illusion and self-betrayal?

Three themes about Queen Elizabeth as Dark Lady:

First, context: Identifying the queen allows us to locate the time frame and historical circumstances for these sonnets – a context every true story must have.

Second, metaphor: The darkness of the woman is not literal but metaphorical; and the metaphor is inseparable from Elizabeth and her imperial frown.

Third, language: Oxford employs the same words to and about the Dark Lady that he’s already used to and about the queen, and used exclusively for her.

Context: The overall context is that Oxford desperately wanted the Sonnets not only published and eventually read, but also, hopefully, understood – by readers in the future. The Sonnets are for “all posterity” and “eyes not yet created,” even when “tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.” So there must be an important story here, for us. He’s playing the long game, which means the story must transcend all strictly personal issues, no matter how deeply felt. It must involve some major situation to be recorded by English history. Given all we know about Shakespeare, the story must also involve some great issue of his own time; and the most pressing issue was the urgent need for an uncontested – and, therefore, peaceful – royal succession.

The vital publishing life of Oxford’s Shakespeare plays coincides with this growing alarm: What will happen if the queen dies before naming her successor? The great issuance of Oxford’s plays under the Shakespeare name occurred in the final years of her life, up to her death. The man was still trying to guide and protect her and his country.

And the contents of his revised history plays reflect this intensifying crisis. The British author Peter Lake aptly titles his recent book “How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays.” His recurring theme is that Shakespeare was using history to raise awareness of the current crisis and ways of dealing with it. Elizabeth’s urgent responsibility was to put a successor in place, to avoid civil war and even possible takeover by a foreign power. But she could not – or would not – carry out this responsibility, and finally the tension boiled over in the Essex Rebellion of early 1601.

The rebels began by paying for a special performance of Oxford’s play Richard II, which Elizabeth knew was about her and the possibility of her being deposed, even killed. The earls were hoping to prevent Robert Cecil from further manipulating the queen to ensure his own survival. Oxford had portrayed Cecil as the hunchbacked tyrant Richard III; and now the secretary was terrorizing Elizabeth (“They were planning to kill you!”) and keeping her under his firm control. For Oxford, after a lifetime of service to queen and country, it was all crashing down with his cunning former brother-in-law maintaining total command of England. As James of Scotland put it, Cecil had made himself “king there, in effect.”

Now the context begins to reveal itself. Our goal, in my view, has always been to read these autobiographical sonnets to and about the Dark Lady (nos. 127-152) in conjunction with events that must comprise the framework and foundation of Oxford’s story. And once we see Elizabeth as this woman, it becomes clear that the story unfolds between the two most important events: the failed rebellion of 1601 and the queen’s death two years later in 1603. These moments, destined to be marked by history, are the two bookends. Then, from one to the other, the sonnets and events begin to illuminate each other and to bring the story to life.

It begins with Sonnet 127 on that tragic night when most young nobles of Elizabeth’s court have been jailed on charges of having plotted against her life. The age of “Gloriana” has come to an end. It’s over – and “therefore” the eyes of their sovereign mistress have turned “Raven black.” The ravens had become dread symbols of executions on the Tower Green. When Anne Boleyn was decapitated, it was said that “even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements, gazing eerily at the strange scene: a queen about to die!”

Now two former favorites, Essex and Southampton, are both set to die on that same Tower Green, so it’s no wonder the aging queen is in “mourning” as at a funeral. After the head of Essex is cut off, the beloved Fair Youth is next, and now his fate is also up to Elizabeth.

Imagine Oxford’s emotional turmoil over this tragic situation! He might even blame himself. All three of them – Southampton, Oxford, Elizabeth – are suffering. And so Oxford addresses the queen in words echoing those of Christ on the cross: “Of him, my self, and thee, I am forsaken, a torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.” What other kind of situation would compel this proud nobleman and great author, who hated hyperbole, to liken his own suffering to that of Christ?

Back in 1911, the legal expert Edward White declared that Sonnets 133 and 134 “clearly refer to the confinement of Southampton in the Tower” and “express the poet’s desire to go his bail by substituting his person for that of his friend, in jail.” It’s Elizabeth who has Southampton in her prison, so Oxford begs her: “Prison my heart … but then let my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail. Who ere keeps me, let my heart be his guard; thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.” In other words: “I will not let you execute him in my prison!”

White also declared: “The poet proffers to forfeit himself as security for Southampton.” Oxford tells the queen: “So now I have confessed that he is thine, and I my self am mortgaged to thy will. My self I’ll forfeit so that other mine thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.”

Now he begs her Majesty to relieve his suffering by executing him instead: “O call me not to justify the wrong that thy unkindness lays upon my heart … Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.” An old saying was that “monarchs have killing looks.” They kill, literally, with their eyes.

Waiting in the Tower, Southampton writes a lengthy poem to the queen, trying to save his life – the only poem by him that we know of. (Before Essex was executed, he, too, had written a poem to her Majesty while in the Tower. So clearly poetry was an important means of communicating with the queen – which makes three earls and former royal wards, each writing verse for Queen Elizabeth in relation to the very same dire circumstances.) In Southampton’s poem, discovered just several years ago, the earl reminds Elizabeth: “Only mercy is the prince’s own.” Only the monarch can deliver mercy; and when she does spare his life, a relieved Oxford responds in Sonnet 145: “Straight in her heart did mercy come.”

But time to settle the succession is running out; nor does Elizabeth seem to care about the ultimate fate of Southampton, who might be left to die in the Tower as a condemned traitor in perpetual confinement. So Oxford wails in amazing lines such as these in Sonnet 147: “Past cure I am, now reason is past care,/ And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.” His continued loyalty to the queen stands at complete odds with her failure to name a successor and protect England from chaos and bloodshed.

James of Scotland has a blood claim, but with complications. He’s a foreign king, born on foreign soil, technically not qualified, and even more deeply unqualified in his character, not to mention that he’s also the willing pawn of Robert Cecil. For all that, however, he does have a claim; but still Elizabeth refuses to name him.

In the end Oxford delivers those final bitter words to the dying female monarch who has always been the most important person in his life: “And all my honest faith in thee is lost.” And now we can see the metaphor of the queen’s darkness.

Oxford established the metaphor in Sonnet 25: “Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread/ But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,/ And in themselves their pride lies buried,/ For at a frown they in their glory die.” Elizabeth’s favorite courtiers behave like her flower, the marigold, all opening to the warm light of “the sun’s eye” – her sovereign eye; but with just a frown casting her shadow of royal displeasure, their glory dies in darkness. That’s the metaphor, set forth by Oxford himself, and it’s inseparable from Elizabeth.

Of the twenty-six sonnets in this series, only five involve her darkness, and each time it’s a variation of that same metaphor:

In the opening sonnet (127), after eight lines, he reports: “Therefore” – “Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,” – the raven, harbinger of death – “her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem” – the eyes of mourners at a funeral. It’s a metaphor. In 130, “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Back in those lines about the marigold, the queen’s eye was the sun; now, because of her imperial frown and negative view, the sunlight has disappeared. All is dark.

How the queen looks at someone or something is also what she does; and in 131 he tells her: “In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds.” In 132 her eyes have “put on” black, again in mourning; but if her eyes are already black, why would she have to put it on? Finally, in 147, she’s “as black as hell, as dark as night.” And that’s it for the darkness, all metaphor, all tied to the power of the queen’s negative view that turns day into night.

And now the language, to and about the queen:

For example, in 134: “I my self am mortgaged to thy will.” In a letter to Cecil about the queen, he promised not to “contradict her will.” A common saying was, “Others debate, but the king wills.”

In 140 she has “tongue-tied” or silenced him, the same as when his art is “tongue-tied by authority.” Well, the queen is authority; and she’s the only one who can tongue-tie or officially silence him.

He writes to her in 149 about being in “thy service.” He had told Burghley, “”I have engaged myself so far in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light.” What other woman has he ever served? Also in 149 he’s “commanded by the motion of thine eyes.” In a private memo he urged the queen to give her “commandment.” And in King John he wrote about “the motion of a kingly eye.”

In his early sonnet about the queen, Oxford had blared forth his “love” and “constant truth” on her behalf. He was loyal and consistently honest. Now, as she nears death, he writes about her side of that commitment: about “thy” love, “thy” truth, “thy” constancy – the same three words; but in the end, she has had no love or truth or constancy. She has betrayed him and England itself; and therefore he has sworn falsely, all his life, by supporting and praising her.

Recall him telling how he has engaged himself in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light; but now all his honest faith in her is lost. He admits he has had to “swear against the truth so foul a lie.” What other woman could force this strong-willed man of high rank, for whom truth was the most sacred value, to swear against it for her sake?

Soon after Oxford died the following year, 1604, came the printed full Hamlet. He must have labored to revise and expand this magnum opus right up to his last breath. In the final scene, Fortinbras comes down from the north to rule Denmark amid its royal wreckage, just as Cecil triumphantly brought James down from the north to rule England its crippled royal court. Hamlet bemoans his “wounded name” and implores Horatio to “tell my story.”

Five years later, 1609, the Sonnets are published for posterity; and I have no doubt they contain the story Horatio promised to tell the “yet unknowing world” about “how these things came about.” Here is Edward de Vere’s most personal voice – his own story – and the most direct revelation of his authorship.

Here is Oxford’s cry that his own wounded name “be buried where my body is.” Here is the truth of the great author at the royal court of England; his devotion to Southampton; his long, conflicted relationship with the queen; his fury and despair over her failure to protect his beloved isle, not to mention her unwillingness to liberate Southampton. Here is his confession of misguided loyalty and self-betrayal for her sake; and his swift disappearance within the black hole of official anonymity: “I, once gone, to all the world must die.”

Only when Queen Elizabeth is recognized as the powerful “dark lady” will the context, metaphor and language of the Sonnets enable Oxford’s untold story to finally come into focus – for posterity, for history, for us.

The Legal Mind of “Shakespeare”: Re-posting No. 43 of 100 Reasons Why the Great Author was the Earl of Oxford

“In Shakespeare’s multiple personalities, there is none in which he appears more naturally and to better advantage than in the role of the lawyer. If true that all dramatic writing is but a form of autobiography, then the immortal Shakespeare must, at some time in his life, have studied law.” – Commentaries on the Law in Shakespeare, 1911, Edward J. White

There’s not a shred of evidence that Shakspere of Stratford ever went beyond grammar school (if he attended at all), much less to a university or law school.

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford served as highest-ranking nobleman on the tribunal at the February 19, 1601 treason trial of Essex and Southampton — as indicated by a contemporary notice of the event

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was seventeen in 1567 when he entered Gray’s Inn to study law. He was steeped in legal matters involving his earldom and the royal court; he sat on the juries at the treason trials of the duke of Norfolk (1572), Mary Queen of Scots (1586) and the earls of Essex and Southampton (1601).

A recent book, Shakespeare’s Legal Language (2000), contains a detailed discussion of Shakespeare’s legal terms and concepts. Authors B.J. Sokol and Mary Sokol point out that twenty-five of thirty-seven Shakespeare plays refer to a trial and that thirty-five contain the words “judge” and “justice.”

“Nothing adorns a king more than justice,” Oxford wrote to Robert Cecil in May 1603, referring to the newly proclaimed King James, “nor in anything doth a king more resemble God than in justice.”

Traditional scholars usually assert that Shakespeare didn’t really demonstrate an exceptional knowledge of the law, at the same time struggling to explain how he could have become so “law-obsessed,” as Sokol & Sokol put it.

Back in 1869, for example, Lord Penzance spoke of Shakespeare’s “perfect familiarity with not only the principles, axioms, and maxims, but the technicalities of English law, a knowledge so perfect and intimate that he was never incorrect and never at fault … At every turn and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile, or illustration, his mind ever turned first to the law.  He seems almost to have thought in legal phrases…”

“Any intelligent writer can acquire knowledge of a subject and serve it up as required,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. writes in The Mysterious William Shakespeare, adding it is “something else to have been so immersed in a subject and to have assimilated it so thoroughly that it has become part of one’s nature, shaping one’s view of the world, coming forward spontaneously to prompt or complete a thought, supply and image or analogy.”

Oxford served on the jury at the trial of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle in October 1586 (drawing by Edouard Berveiller)

Mark Twain wrote in reference to Shakspere of Stratford that he “couldn’t have written Shakespeare’s works, for the reason that the man who wrote them was limitlessly familiar with the laws, and the law-courts, and law-proceedings, and lawyer-talk, and lawyer-ways—and if Shakespeare was possessed of the infinitely-divided star-dust that constituted this vast wealth, how did he get it, and where, and when? . . . A man can’t handle glibly and easily and comfortably and successfully the argot of a trade at which he has not personally served. He will make mistakes; he will not, and cannot, get the trade-phrasings precisely and exactly right; and the moment he departs, by even a shade, from a common trade-form, the reader who has served that trade will know the writer hasn’t.”

Following is a small sample of excerpts from Oxford’s letters showing his familiarity with the law and legal matters:

“But now the ground whereon I lay my suit being so just and reasonable … to conceive of the just desire I make of this suit … so by-fold that justice could not dispense any farther … The matter after it had received many crosses, many inventions of delay, yet at length hath been heard before all the Judgesjudges I say both unlawful, and lawful … For counsel, I have such lawyers, and the best that I can get as are to be had in London, who have advised me for my best course …  [to Queen Elizabeth]: And because your Majesty upon a bare information could not be so well satisfied of every particular as by lawful testimony & examination of credible witnesses upon oath … So that now, having lawfully proved unto your Majesty … “

Oxford attended at the House of Lords on forty-four days during the nine sessions held 1571 to 1601.  In the sessions from 1585 onward he was appointed one of the “receivers and triers of petitions from Gascony and other lands beyond the seas and from the islands.” In November 1586 he was part of a committee appointed to address Elizabeth on the sentencing of Mary Queen of Scots.

In Sonnet 46, the poet describes a trial by jury:

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war

How to divide the conquest of thy sight;

Mine eye, my heart thy picture’s sight would bar

My heart, mine eye the freedom of that right;

My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie

(A closet never pierced with crystal eyes),

But the defendant doth that plea deny,

And says in him thy fair appearance lies.

To cide this title is impanelled

A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,

And by their verdict is determined

The clear eyes’ moiety, and thy dear heart’s part:

As thus, mine eyes’ due is thy outward part,

And my heart’s right, their inward love of heart.

Scholars of the Stratfordian tradition have often speculated that “Shakespeare” must have been a lawyer. The fact that Oxford himself was a lawyer does not prove that he was the great author, but it is an important piece of the accumulated evidence in his favor.

[Above is the version edited by Alex McNeil and now no. 56 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

“Truth’s Authentic Author”: Re-Posting No. 42 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

“Shakespeare” was obsessed with truth.  In his works he used the word “truth” at least 309 times and “true” no less than 766 times, with “truer” and “truest” and “truths” about three dozen times – well over a thousand usages of those five word forms. Equally obsessed with truth was Edward de Vere, starting with his earldom motto VERO NIHIL VERIUS or Nothing Truer than Truth.  So similar are “Shakespeare” and Oxford in this respect that “truth” is another reason to believe they were one and the same.

Pallas Athena, a.k.a. the Goddess of Truth

The similarity is not just in terms of quantity but also in regard to how “truth” is used by “Shakespeare” and by Oxford in writings under his own name.  For example, in the Shakespearean plays the phrase “truth is truth” appears three times: King John (1.1); Love’s Labour’s Lost (4.1); and in Measure for Measure (5.1), when Isabella says: “It is not truer he is Angelo than this is all as true as it is strange:  Nay, it is ten times true; for truth is truth to the end of reckoning.”

Oxford wrote to Robert Cecil on 7 May 1603, several weeks after the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of King James:  “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.”

In my view, Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s Sonnet 123 during the same period, just a few days before Elizabeth’s funeral on 28 April 1603, expressing the same theme: “NO! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change … Thy registers and thee I both defy … For thy records, and what we see, doth lie … This I do vow, and this shall ever be: I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.”

Given such a similarity between the words in Oxford’s letter and those of Shakespeare’s sonnet, how can we fail to consider that both might have been written by the same man? “Shakespeare” believed that even though the winners of political power struggles would write the history for future generations, the truth will eventually come out. Certainly that was his overall objective for the sonnet sequence. His intention was to create a “monument … which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read.” (Sonnet 81)

The Merchant of Venice (2.2): “Give me your blessing; truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man’s son may, but at length truth will out.”

The Rape of Lucrece (stanza 135): “Time’s glory is to calm contending kings, to unmask falsehood and bring truth to light.”

Oxford to Robert Cecil in January 1602, in eerily similar words: “But now time and truth have unmasked all difficulties.”

Sonnet 82: “Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized in true plain words by thy true-telling friend.”

In the Shakespeare play, Troilus echoes Oxford’s motto Nothing Truer than Truth:

True swains in love shall in the world to come

Approve their truths by Troilus: when their rhymes,

Full of protest, of oath and big compare,

Want similes, truth tired with iteration,

As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,

As sun to day, as turtle to her mate,

As iron to adamant, as earth to the center,

Yet, after all comparisons of truth,

As truth’s authentic author to be cited,

“As true as Troilus” shall crown up the verse,

And sanctify the numbers.

(Troilus and Cressida, 3.2, emphasis added)

[This post is the version edited by Alex McNeil and now appearing as No. 85 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016)]

Edward de Vere, “Commedia dell’arte” and “Shakespeare”: Re-posting No. 41 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

Scholars identify at least a dozen Shakespeare plays influenced by the Italian dramatic art form known as Commedia dell’arte, with its stock characters and improvised skits that were often bawdy and satiric: the list includes Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing.

The same scholars, however, cannot plausibly explain how “Shakespeare” became so familiar with this “comedy of art” performed by troupes of traveling players in Italy, since it was virtually unknown in England when he was supposedly writing the plays.  The traditional author never set foot in Italy, while Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford had made his home base in Venice during 1575 and 1576, when the Commedia dell’arte was at the peak of its popularity.

Early on, supporters of Oxford’s authorship predicted they would find evidence the earl attended Commedia dell’arte performances in Venice during his several months there. In 1956, Julia Cooley Altrocchi discovered a “clincher” for that long-held prediction. At the Bibliotecha Marciana in Venice she came upon a book called Dell’Arte Rappresentativa Premeditata ed all’Improviso or Dramatic Art by Rote and Extemporaneous Performance (1699) and subsequently reported:

“A long section is devoted to the stock character of Graziano, the talkative Bolognese ‘doctor’ who tells long tales and never stops for breath.  With little schooling and without a medical degree, he blabs endlessly, often in Latin, impressing everyone until he is always shown to be a quack.  One of his famous recitals is the so-called ‘Tirade of the Tournament’ (Tirata della Giostra) in which the actor rattles off the names of twenty or thirty knights and ladies, their titles and countries of origin, the color and trappings of their horses, the color and devices of their garments and shields, and the events that befell each one on the field of tourney.  Even the ladies took part in this hypothetical tournament.”

The Doctor who gave the tirade…

The book included an example of such a long and hilarious “tirade”:

“I found myself ambassador of my illustrious country of Bologna at the court of the Emperor Polidor of Trebizond, and attending the great tournament celebrating his marriage to Irene, Empress of Constantinople.  Present were many great worthies: Basil, King of Zelconda; Doralba, Princess of Dacia; Arcont, vaivode of Moldavia; Arileus, heir of Denmark; Isuf, Pasha of Aleppo; Fatima, Sultan of Persia; Elmond, Milord of Oxford…” (Emphasis added)

Here in a book published in Naples at the end of the seventeenth century was an apparent reference to Edward de Vere, mentioned by his earldom title as “Milord of Oxfort,” within the speech of a stock character in a performed skit of the Commedia dell’arte!  Altrocchi continues:

“With his outgoing nature, his innate acting ability which would later manifest itself so impressively before the Queen, would he have consorted in friendly fashion with the finest improvisators in the world?  Otherwise, why was he given a place in the doctor’s exuberant oration?  Wouldn’t it have been known that he was a tournament champion in 1571 in England at the young age of twenty-one?  Wasn’t Graziano paying him a form of personal tribute as an honored guest?”

The Doctor – an illustration of his costume

The “Doctor” in his tirade says that “Milord of Oxfort” rode a faun-colored horse named Ultramarine  (“Beyond the Sea”) and wore a violet-colored costume while carrying a large sword.

“In this Tirata,” Altrocchi reported, “Milord of Oxfort, amusingly enough, tilted against Alvilda, Countess of Edemburg, who was mounted on a dapplegray, and was armed with a Frankish lance while robed in lemon color.  In the end, Edward and Alvilda, alas, threw one another simultaneously off their horses, both landing face down in the dust!”

She concludes that Oxford was “well and very companionably known” at presentations of the Commedia dell’arte while in Venice for many weeks during 1575.” He was “recognized as being a good sport as a well as a good sportsman,” not to mention having “so resilient a sense of humor that he could be introduced into a skit and, with impunity, be described as meeting a woman in tilt and being unhorsed and rolled to the ground with her in the encounter!”

Oxford undoubtedly witnessed many Commedia performances.  He may have watched this skit in which the actor playing Doctor Graziano, knowing he was in the audience, suddenly paid him a public tribute by improvising a “tirade” that included him by name. How fitting it was for such a compliment to be made, directly and openly, to the great playwright and comic genius who, nearly two decades later in 1593, would adopt the pen name “Shakespeare” as the author of at least a dozen plays bursting with influences from that same Commedia dell’arte!

In Othello … Annotated from an Oxfordian Perspective, editors Ren Draya and Richard Whalen comment on the surprising evidence that even this painful tragedy is strongly influenced by Commedia dell’arte.  They indicate, for example, how the opening of the play can be “played for laughs and probably should be” — with Iago (the scheming Zanni of the Commedia skits) and Roderigo (the witless, rejected suitor) waking up Brabantio (the foolish, old Pantalone) to taunt him with lewd suggestions that his daughter, Desdemona (the innocent), is having sex with Othello in a bestial way after they have eloped. A slice of raucous, obscene comedy, opening a tragic drama of jealousy and rage!

[This post is a revised version of no. 41, as edited by Alex McNeil for 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), in which it now appears as Reason 46.]

“Bottom’s Dream”: Re-posting No. 40 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

A multifaceted reason to view Oxford as “Shakespeare” involves the time frame within which the works were created. Most, if not all, of the Shakespeare works were originally written ten or more years earlier than generally supposed.

Oliver Chris & Judi Dench as Bottom and Titania in Peter Hall’s 2010 production at the Rose Theatre, Kingston

Studies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, reveal that its first version may have been a court masque parodying the farcical French Match (1578-1581), when marriage negotiations between Elizabeth (as Queen Titania) and Hercule Francois de France, the Duke of Alencon (in the character of Bottom, disguised as an ass) were in full swing. But Shakespere was only seventeen in 1581, still very much in Stratford and not yet married, leading most scholars to date the original composition of the Dream no earlier than 1594.

One result of that myopia is that few, if any, books about Shakespeare have anything to say about a connection between that masterful romantic comedy and the French Match.

The fact that “William Shakespeare” first appeared as a writer in 1593 is a problem for the mainstream scholars all by itself. It means the very first publication by the young man from Stratford was a highly sophisticated, cultured narrative poem, one of the best ever written in England.

The orthodox view requires the original writing of Dream to fit within the dates of Shakspere’s life, forcing most scholars to place the start of its composition in 1594. Really?  Was our struggling young playwright creating A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the public playhouse? No. “The almost universally held belief among critics” is that the play “was written for a private performance, clearly a part of the festivities attendant upon an aristocratic wedding,” writes Oscar Campbell in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966), who also states:

“The only existing text is the version of the comedy designed to be presented in the great hall of an Elizabethan gentleman’s country house, or possibly at the court, on an occasion at which Queen Elizabeth may have been present … [Virtually all scholars acknowledge Queen Titania as a portrait of Elizabeth] … Many weddings of the nobility solemnized about the years 1594-1596 have been suggested as the occasion for which the play was written.  One considered most likely by many historians is that of Elizabeth de Vere, the daughter of the earl of Oxford, to the earl of Derby, which took place on January 26, 1595.”

Greenwich Palace, where the wedding of Lady Elizabeth Vere and the Earl of Derby took place

Now, let’s get this straight: a young man from Stratford-upon-Avon, a commoner near the start of his London career as an actor-playwright, creates a play not for the public theater, but for a private wedding of the nobility.  He includes a major female character, Queen Titania, representing Elizabeth Tudor, and has her fall in love with an ass!  Moreover the play is performed in front of that same female monarch, who is known for her extreme vanity, along with the full court at Greenwich Palace!

If we remove the constricting timeline of the Stratford fellow’s life, it becomes possible to look clearly at the evidence of the Dream as a masterpiece that was revised two or three times, according to changing circumstances, over more than a dozen years, from the Alencon affair that reached its climax in 1581 to a wedding at court in 1595. “Tips of the iceberg” keep appearing to indicate this “hidden” history of the play, and Campbell is honest enough to mention some of these anomalies, as when he writes: “Certain textual inconsistencies indicate that the play as we have it has been revised, and that the lines which deal with the fantasy form only one of two textual layers” (emphasis added).

The easiest way to eliminate the mystery is to realize that the first text of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was an Elizabethan version of a Saturday Night Live skit, written by thirty-year-old Oxford in 1580. He was then still in the highest favor of Elizabeth (though not for long); he and John Lyly were presenting plays for aristocrats at the private Blackfriars and at court. Eva Turner Clark suggests that the earl produced Dream as a masque (probably for the Blackfriars audience, poking fun at both Elizabeth and Alencon) in 1581, before presenting it in a more complete form for the queen during the Christmas season of 1584. Then he would have revised the play again in 1590s, for performance during the Greenwich festivities celebrating his daughter’s marriage to the earl of Derby.

Titania courts Bottom while he wears his ass’s head.  Bottom repeatedly refers to “monsieur,” a comical (and mispronounced) reference to Alencon, who would not yield to the pressures on him to leave England, just as Bottom says: “I see their knavery; this is to make an ass of me; to fright me, if they could.  But I will not stir from this place … !” (3.3) And Titania cries: “My Oberon! What visions have I seen!  Methought I was enamored of an ass!” (4.1)

When Alencon finally left the country in early 1582, writes Clark, “he realized that his dream of being Elizabeth’s consort and sovereign of England had come to an end, just as Bottom’s dream of a life in fairyland had ended.”

[The above post is the version as edited by Alex McNeil for 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), in which it now appears as Reason 67.]

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[Oxford was publicly in favor of the Alencon match, along with William Cecil Lord Burghley, the Queen’s chief minister – both realizing that the prolonged “love affair” would keep France from an alliance with Spain and give England time to prepare for the inevitable Spanish invasion by Armada.  In private, Oxford was surely against the match.]

 

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