“The Living Record” – 1

Here is the opening installment of a book, to be written at this site, recording my own pathway into the Shakespeare sonnets that led to my edition THE MONUMENT.  The working title of this new book is THE LIVING RECORD, based on the poet’s declaration in Sonnet 55:

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.

Hypothesis: The Sonnets contain the “Smoking Gun” of Shakespearean authorship

After more than a decade of trying to comprehend SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS (1609), I decided to make one more try.  My goal had been to learn whether the one hundred and fifty-four consecutively numbered verses were written with a special language to conceal, yet also reveal, a true story.

I had already arrived at many conclusions about various facets of the Sonnets and these would come into play.  At the same time, however, I wanted to proceed in an orderly and logical way from one observation to the next, building up a series of hypotheses to see where they might lead.  My criterion for success was to find not only the structure, language and story (assuming these existed), but also some completely new information about the man known to us as William Shakespeare.

This time all the right elements emerged.  It happened while I was in San Francisco in November 1998 for the annual conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, a group dedicated to the theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) had been the true author.  The case had been made with “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920 by British schoolmaster John Thomas Looney, but some eighty years later the Oxfordian movement was still marginal at best.  Researchers continued to find new evidence for De Vere’s authorship, but they had yet to find a “smoking gun” (such as a page of Hamlet in his handwriting) to prove the case for him.

My feeling was that the answer must exist within the autobiographical Sonnets.  Here the poet adopted the personal pronoun “I” – not for a character in a play, but using his own voice to tell his own story.  In my view Oxford had used this amazing sonnet sequence to record the truth for posterity, explaining why he had buried his identity permanently (i.e., for some generations to come after his death) behind the “Shakespeare” pen name.

So the first hypothesis was that Edward de Vere himself had supplied the “smoking gun” of the Shakespeare Authorship Mystery by recording his story for those of us here and now, as we come up to the year 2009 and the four hundredth anniversary of the first printing of SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS in 1609.  The big question, which I set about trying to answer first, was how to find this indisputable truth that he would have left behind.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 30, 2008 at 10:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Long Foreground…of “Shakespeare”

It’s now some twenty years ago since I first read J. Thomas Looney’s SHAKESPEARE IDENTIFIED (1920), setting forth his theory that the world’s greatest poet-dramatist had been the Hamlet-like nobleman Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604); and I can still recall the moment when I came to the following paragraph, paused, looked up, did some thinking, looked back down and read it over again:

When in 1855 Walt Whitman gave to the world his Leaves of Grass, Emerson greeted the work and its writer in these words: “I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed . . . I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere.” This concluding surmise was merely common sense, and, as the world now knows, perfectly true. What is wanted is to apply the same principle and the same common sense to work of a higher order, and to recognize that if by the year 1592, by which time we are assured that the stream of Shakespearean drama was in full flood, Shakespeare was manifesting an exceptional facility in the production of works that were at once great literature and great stage plays, there had been “a long foreground somewhere.”

Yes, of course!  But in fact the traditional story had been unable to supply any such foreground in terms of the poet’s formative years.  There had never been any evidence of youthful apprenticeship or literary growth leading up to the sudden appearance in 1593 of the printed name “William Shakespeare” on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton.  Here was a highly cultured and sophisticated narrative poem, produced by an accomplished artist of tremendous talent and skill, striding onto the printed page as if dropped from the sky.

Where was any paper trail of early work?  Of  trial-and-error?  Where was the long foreground of learning, of life experience, of interaction with other writers?  Otherwise, regardless of whether or not this writer was a genius, we have been force-fed into accepting a miracle.

Well, as the evidence for Oxford’s authorship of all the “Shakespeare” works has steadily grown, showing that he had written all the plays in their earliest versions before 1590, orthodox scholars have been trying to push the writing career of Stratford Will back and back and further back in time.  They have rather desperately needed to create such a foreground for him to compete with Oxford’s documented involvement in literature and the stage up to age forty-three in 1593, by which time he had become a reclusive figure who, Looney argued, must have been “storing, elaborating, and steadily perfecting his productions before issuing them anonymously and under the “Shakespeare” pen name in that decade.

To cite just one example, it should be clear to anyone using common sense that the mature dramatist who wrote 1and 2 Henry IV and Henry V for the public playhouse in the 1590’s was the very same man who, back in his earlier days of apprenticeship, had written The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth — a youthful, high-spirited play that serves as a veritable template for the masterful later works.  In fact the orthodox scholar Seymour M. Pitcher risked his own reputation by issuing a book in 1961 entitled The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of The Famous Victories.  As far as I know, members of the Stratfordian club seldom mention Pitcher’s highly persuasive argument, although I’ll bet many of them privately consult it.

The trouble is that it’s quite unlikely Stratford Will created any such youthful template for the mature Henry plays to come later.  So how does James Shapiro deal with this dilemma in 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005)?  Well, see, Will of Stratford had previously acted in the early youthful work and he had memorized it and then, folks, he plundered it for scene after scene to use in Henry IV and Henry V!

“Shakespeare knew it intimately,” Shapiro writes, referring to Famous Victories, and he “went back to it repeatedly, ransacking it for episodes” to use in the Henry plays.  He ransacked it, searching for lines and scenes to filch, the way an enemy is said to “ransack the town.”  The fact that Famous Victories was not published until 1598 gives Shapiro a bit of a hurdle to overcome, leading him to his postulation that the Bard carried out his wholesale literary theft (i.e., plagiarism) from memory.  The great dramatist displays his “easy familiarity” with the earlier-written play because he had “regularly acted in it” back in the 1580s.

Those are the previously “lost” years of Shakespearean biography, but they are being “found” by scholars increasingly hungry for substance.  So now we have Will of Stratford acting in Famous Victories for the Queen’s Men by 1586, when he was all of twenty-two (a statement for which there is no foundation, that is, a pure fiction); and rather than laboring to find his own voice, Young Will was memorizing scenes for  ransacking as a future dramatist! Yes, Shapiro writes, in the 1590’s this same young playwright set about “lifting everything from the highway robbery scene that opens The First Part of Henry the Fourth to the wooing of Kate that ends Henry the Fifth.”

Are readers taking this stuff seriously?

In The Queen’s Men and their Plays (1998), authors Scott McMillin and Sally MacLean conclude that four of the nine extant plays of the Queen’s Men during the 1580’s were later turned into six plays of Shakespeare.  To cope with this even larger problem, they decide that the great dramatist actually rewrote the earlier plays.  And Eric Sams has coped with it by suggesting that Shakespeare himself wrote not only Famous Victories, but, also, early plays such as The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard III and the True Chronicle History of King Leir along with many other old anonymous plays including a “lost” Hamlet – all of which he shaped into his later plays with similar titles.

Far more logical and plausible is the view that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford had written Famous Victories by age twenty-four in 1574 and had it performed that December at the Court of Elizabeth; and that he revised and expanded and re-worked his own youthful play over the ensuing years – the years of his own long foreground – to finally bring forth the enduring dramatic literature known as1 and 2 Henry IV and Henry V as by Shakespeare.

But, of course, the Oxfordian view cannot overcome the Stratfordian argument with sheer logic or common sense.  This is a struggle against a kind of religion – a set of traditional beliefs so deeply held that it may well have developed its own DNA.  The Stratford gene!

The Emperor has no…

If this authorship stuff wasn’t so important, for reasons such as getting the true history straight, you could die laughing.  I am speaking of the attempts of Shakespeare biographers who write from the “traditional” or “orthodox” or “Stratfordian” viewpoint, such as Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World (2004) and James Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005) – two of the latest efforts, in this case from Harvard and Columbia, in a long line going back and back to the eighteenth century.

Let us imagine,” Greenblatt begins his first chapter, and so begins a fresh attempt to breathe life into a set of facts related to (1) the documentary record of the businessman William of Stratford and (2) the record of the illustrious printed Shakespeare name in reference to the great poet-dramatist.  These two very different elements are conflated, merged or fused into a single entity, woven together, and then pumped with the author’s personal inspiration and, yes, imagination: “Let us imagine that Shakespeare found himself from boyhood fascinated by language…

A pretty safe guess!  The reasoning is circular: the Shakespeare works are filled with thousands of words, twice the vocabulary of the poet John Milton, profoundly affecting the development of the English tongue, so the man who wrote them must have been “fascinated by language.” No kidding!  And as Greenblatt puts it, while there is no proof that “Shakespeare” attended the Stratford grammar school, he “almost certainly” went there as a boy, because “where else would he have acquired his education?” (p. 19)

Where else?  Well, if the boy happened to be Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, then he had studied with the best private tutors from age four, graduating with honorary degrees from Cambridge and Oxford at fourteen and sixteen, before studying law at Gray’s Inn and later (at age 20) joining the military campaign against the Catholic northern earls.  Arriving at Court the next year, 1571, this young man wrote his eloquent Latin introduction to a translation (from Italian into Latin) of Castiglione’sThe Courtier (an acknowledged source of Hamlet), in which he praises the skill of the translator (one of his former Cambridge tutors):

“Whatever is heard in the mouths of men in casual talk and in society, whether apt and candid, or villainous and shameful, that he has set down in so natural a manner that it seems to be acted before our very eyes.”

(And can’t you hear Prince Hamlet reminding the players that their purpose is “to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”?) ”

“Again to the credit of the translator of so great a work, a writer too who is no mean orator,” young Oxford continues in his 1572 introduction to The Courtier, “must be added a new glory of language.”

Yes, I put that stirring phrase in bold italics!  A young man standing at the threshold of the great renaissance of English literature and drama to come in the 1570’s and 1580’s, a Hamlet-like figure who will become a central figure of that renaissance, leading to the sudden first appearance in 1593 of “Shakespeare” on the printed page – here he is, speaking “from the Royal Court,” as he puts it, blazoning the arrival of this very renaissance!

In 1572 the boy from Stratford is eight years old.  He will be sixteen in 1580, when John Lyly dedicates the novel Euphues his England to 30-year-old Edward de Vere Lord Oxford, thanking him for his help, and when the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge writes to Oxford’s father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghely (the acknowledged model for Polonius in Hamlet) that the earl’s acting company be allowed to “show their cunning in several plays already practiced by them before the Queen’s Majesty” – here is biographical material for which we have no need to “imagine” a young Shakespeare who is “fascinated by language.”

No, just by looking at the facts of Edward de Vere’s life, his writings, his letters, the tributes to him, on and on, we can see clearly why the academic establishment is worried.  We can see why we have been treated to so many recent attempts to breath life into the legendary (and ghostly) figure of tradition.  To put it simply, the Oxfordian biography is so filled with real life that the effort to keep propping up the Stratford man must be getting tougher and tougher.

This effort has become so difficult that Shapiro accuses Shakespeare in 1599 of  “ransacking” an earlier play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth for episodes to use in writing 1 Henry IV and Henry V – in so many words, our beloved dramatist is accused of being a plagiarist.  We’ll continue later with this aspect of the increasingly desperate, shrill attempts to convince rational thinkers that the emperor from Stratford is in fact wearing clothes.  No, no, compared with the fully dressed Oxford their man is stark naked!  Or, if you will, an empty suit!

They have only two choices – fight or flight.  With Shapiro working on a book about the authorship, apparently the former mode is still in play.  Well, as they say, let’s get it on…

Published in: Uncategorized on November 26, 2008 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

James Shapiro & Shakespeare Authorship

James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), attended my performance of SHAKE-SPEARE’S TREASON at the Globe in London on Thursday night November 20th.  Mr. Shapiro is working on a book about the Shakespeare authorship question and has been doing some research at Brunel University, which has a new MA program in that field.

He has written to me privately to say he enjoyed the show but left before we had a chance to speak because his policy is to avoid discussing the authorship topic – at least, I assume, during his process of research and writing.  I wish him well!  He’s a very good writer and, yes, his research is also good.  But – but – we intend to show how he would do so much better if he realized that the true author of the “Shakespeare” works was not that fellow from Stratford, but, rather, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).

Yep, we’re going to keep up with him and not let him off the hook when we think he’s wrong!  In the preface of his book on the year 1599, on page xvii, he states that “we don’t know very much about what kind of friend or lover or person Shakespeare was.”  Hmmm!  How is it we know so much about the character of Ben Jonson but not that of the creator of Prince Hamlet?  How is it that we have not a single account by anyone of any personal encounter with the flesh-and-blood man known as Shakespeare?  How is it that we have not a single personal letter written by him?  How could he not have written many, many letters to various friends and none of them have kept a single scrap?

This lack of knowledge about “Shakespeare” author has “opened the door to those who deny that Shakespeare wrote his plays,” Shapiro writes.  No, no, no, we must correct this kind of statement here and now, folks.  No one denies that Shakespeare wrote his plays!  The point is that “Shakespeare” was a pen name.  No one denies that the man who used that name (as a printed signature) did most certainly write those plays!  The whole point is that “Shakespeare” and the traditionally assumed author from Stratford upon Avon are two separate entities – one entity a glorious pen name suggesting a warrior shaking his spear (the spear of his pen!), and the other entity a very real man who was a money lender, grain dealer, property owner and apparent Globe shareholder.

So the statement by Mr. Shapiro, made by many others before him, simply begs the question; that is, it assumes the truth of the very point being raised!  It assumes, at the start, that “Shakespeare” was in fact the man from Stratford, when in fact that’s the very assumption whose truth is being questioned!

This lack of information about “Shakespeare,” writes Shapiro, has led the deniers to attribute the plays instead to “Christopher Marlowe or Francis Bacon, or the latest candidate, the Earl of Oxford.”  And, he continues, “It’s unfortunate, because even if we don’t know much about his personality, we know a great deal about Shakespeare’s career as a writer” – whoa, whoa, there!  The author’s “career as a writer” is in fact the career of the printed name of Shakespeare, not of the man from Stratford!  Here again Shapiro, like so many others before him, is begging the question – big time!

Sure we know a great deal about the printed name (which, I argue, is a pen name), but that’s a separate subject and it has no physical body attached to it. What we do know about William of Stratford has nothing to do with any kind of writing, much less the greatest writing of the English language.  That set of documents is also a separate subject.

If we’re going to discuss the authorship question with any degree of honesty, let’s try to avoid such circular reasoning.  That’s an old trick; it may even be used unconsciously, and not deliberately, for all I know.  But as others have done before me, I point it out.  I raise a penalty flag.  I mean, come on, no court of law would allow it for a second.

More on all of this soon enough.

Published in: Uncategorized on November 25, 2008 at 12:52 pm  Comments (2)  


Mark Anderson’s book is a literary biography….of course!

And Now those Links…

Our first post on this blog, several hours ago, included links that failed to link; so here we go again, this time, we hope, inserted correctly:

SHAKE-SPEARE’S TREASONThe True Story of King Henry IX, Last of the Tudors: by Hank Whittemore and Ted Story, our one-man show presenting the story preserved in the Sonnets for posterity.

THE MONUMENTShake-Speare’s Sonnets by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, my 900-page edition that reveals the structure, language and story of the 154 consecutively numbered verses.


CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY – Portland, Oregon – where Dr. Daniel Wright hosts the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference each April and heads up the new Shakespeare Research Study Centre.

BRUNEL UNIVERSITY – London – the home of a new Shakespeare Authorship Studies MA program headed by Dr. William Leahy.

SHAKESPEARE BY ANOTHER NAME – The literary autobiography of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who adopted the “Shakespeare” pen name, by Mark Anderson

Maybe the above links will actually link this time.  If not, we’ll keep trying.  Meanwhile there are many more websites to be listed on this blog as we go along.  Already it should be clear that the authorship question surrounding Shakespeare is serious.  But guess what – the matter will be taken up and settled, we predict, not by the Literature and Drama departments but by the History Department!  Why?  Because the folks committed to finding true history don’t have so much at stake that will prevent them from puncturing the Shakespeare-of-Stratford legend.  They will be the ones to accept the true history and put the record straight.  And we mean to help them get on with it.

Cheers from Hank

“Shake-Speare’s Treason” at the Globe and Cambridge

We arrived back from England last night.  My co-writer and director Ted Story and I flew back from a great trip to London and Cambridge, where I performed our 90-minute one-man show SHAKE-SPEARE’S TREASON (www.shakespearestreason.com) on Thursday night (20 November) at Shakespeare’s Globe as part of the 2008 Silberrad Memorial Lectures on the Shakespeare Authorship Question, inspired and guided by Tony Award winner Mark Rylance, former artistic director of the Globe.  Introducing the show was my friend and colleague Charles Beauclerk (http://www.whowroteshakespeare.com/Bio%20page.htm), whose writings and lectures continue to inspire a growing audience.  His original and powerful voice will is destined for greatness and I look forward eagerly to see his new book on Shakespeare in print by the end of 2009.

We wrote the script of “Treason” based on my book on the Sonnets entitled THE MONUMENT (www.shakespearesmonument.com), as a way of bringing the story of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare” to the general public.  Our theme, briefly stated, is that Oxford wrote the Sonnets to preserve “the living record” of Henry Wriothesely Earl of Southampton within a “monument” of verse for “eyes not yet created in posterity” (you and I).

This record expressed through the poetry is nothing less than the dangerous political story of Southampton as Oxford’s son by Queen Elizabeth the First and her rightful heir by blood who should have become Henry IX of England.  Within the main body of the Sonnets is a 100-verse diary of events (Sonnets 27 to 126) starting with the failed Essex Rebellion of 8 February 1601 and continuing through the more than two years of Southampton’s imprisonment until the death of the Queen and the accession of King James, followed by the earl’s release from the Tower.

Host for the night at the Globe was Dr. William Leahy of Brunel University, who leads the university’s Shakespeare Authorship MA program.(http://www.brunel.ac.uk/courses/pg/cdata/s/Shakespeare+Authorship+Studies+MA).  My thanks to Bill Leahy for guiding the evening.

Traveling for the event all the way from the west coast of the USA was Dr. Daniel Wright of Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, who hosts the annual Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in April and heads up the upcoming new Shakespeare Authorship Research Study Centre to be housed in a brand new facility (http://www.authorshipstudies.org/).  Dan introduced the show on two successive nights in Cambridge University (Friday and Saturday, 21-22 November) at the Bateman Auditorium of Gonville and Caius College next to Trinity College and St. John’s College, the latter where Edward de Vere was enrolled as a youngster who would receive an honorary degree in 1564 at age fourteen.  And now my thanks to Dan Wright for making this effort and giving the great introductions.

The Cambridge shows were arranged by the indefatigable Dorna Bewley of Cambridge, for which Ted and I will always be grateful.

More on the whole experience soon.  And hey, this blog is just beginning, and it’s not going to pull any punches as we go along.  For example, I’m finally going to start answering objections from other Oxfordians to THE MONUMENT, starting with those published by my friend Mark Anderson in his terrific but ultimately disappointing book SHAKESPEARE BY ANOTHER NAME (http://shakespearebyanothername.com/).  So stay tuned!  We’ve just begun!

Best wishes from Hank

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