“The Living Record” – 11

We are nearing the end of the ninth decade since J. T. Looney in 1920 identified the true “Shakespeare” as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604); and despite a ton of research with overwhelming evidence in its support, the so-called Oxfordian theory has failed to reach anything like a general audience.  Most folks still think we must be snobs or conspiracy nuts or both, as well as screwballs.

Most have probably bought into the line that, since Oxford died in 1604, he could not have produced the “Shakespeare” plays that were (supposedly) written after then.  Well,  sure, some things were probably inserted in various plays after Oxford died; but the idea that “Shakespeare” kept writing up until about 1611 is based on the fact that William Shakspere of Stratford continued to live until 1616 — and surely he could not have stopped writing for more than a decade!

Of course, this is begging the question — assuming the truth of the very point being raised!

The standard biography has it that, in about 1612, after howling the tortured lines of King Lear, tearing them from his soul, he calmly put down his pen and retired.  He dropped the creative life and set about putting his business affairs and properties in order and, without caring a jot that half (eighteen) of his plays had not yet been printed, he lived quietly during the next four years without writing another word until his death.

Does that sound right?  Not to me.  I’d think that the author of those amazing poems and plays would be trying to improve and polish his writings right up until his last breath.  And I’d say that’s exactly what Oxford did, putting the last touches on Hamlet, which was published in its full authorized version just months after the earl had died in June of 1604.

Most people have also bought into the line that, since we have the plays themselves, what does it matter who wrote them?  Well, doesn’t it matter that we know who wrote The Sun Also Rises or Long Day’s Journey into Night or The Glass Menagerie?  Doesn’t it matter that we know about the lives of Ernest Hemingway and Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams?  Doesn’t this knowledge deepen and expand our perception of their works?

I don’t really think I need to answer these rhetorical questions, except to express the hope that we can still value knowing the truth, if only just for the sake of knowing it.

So, if the Oxford theory is true, why has it so utterly failed to gain popular support?  One answer in my view is that most people are discouraged at the outset from looking into the matter for themselves.  So they seldom if ever read about Oxford’s life and his documented relationship to the Shakespeare works — such as the fact, for example, that John Lyly, whose writings in the 1580’s are among Shakespeare’s recognized contemporary sources, was Oxford’s longtime private secretary and stage manager.

At the very least, therefore, Edward de Vere and “William Shakespeare” were linked to each other indirectly through John Lyly.

So I think people are generally turned away by the jeers and taunts that are based (in my view) on false impressions of Oxfordians and the Oxford theory itself, plus general lack of information.  How is it, for example, that those who love the character of Hamlet could not be interested in the character and life of Edward de Vere, one of Shakespeare’s own contemporaries, a great peer of the realm whose interests and relationships and actions are virtually a mirror image of those of the Prince of Denmark?

Hamlet is engaged to the chief minister’s daughter, Ophelia; Oxford was married to the chief minister’s daughter, Anne Cecil.  Hamlet causes a play to be performed at Court in front of the monarch; Oxford had play companies performing at Court in front of Queen Elizabeth.  Hamlet deliberately puts on an “antic disposition” to disguise his real thoughts and feelings; Oxford wrote lines actually suggesting the very same thing, such as, “I am not as I seem to be,/ For when I smile, I am not glad,” and throughout his life he was an eccentric, mysterious figure  like Hamlet.

How is it that most teachers and students can avoid looking into the history of this Hamlet-like earl who was regarded as “best for comedy” and “most excellent” among poets in the 1580’s leading to the abrupt appearance of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s?  Doesn’t it stand to reason that the author was drawing at least somewhat upon his own life’s experience?

I think there’s another, more important reason why the Oxford theory hasn’t caught on with the crowd: the failure to offer a plausible motive for his use of a pen name, along with a plausible explanation for how and why the truth could have been covered up so completely.  Oxfordians have been unable to agree on the “story” of what created the Shakespeare authorship mystery in the first place and of what sustained it.

In the fall of 1998, after a decade of studying the Sonnets, I had concluded that the story must involve royal politics – that it’s about the existence of an unacknowledged prince who deserved by blood to succeed his mother,  Elizabeth, the legendary Virgin Queen.  I had agreed with the basic premise of Percy Allen in the 1930’s and of Dorothy & Charlton Ogburn in the 1950’s that Oxford was the father of Elizabeth’s child raised as Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, to whom “Shakespeare” publicly pledged his love and duty.

But I, too, had been unable to discover the basic story.

The truth, I strongly felt, was in the Sonnets.  Try as I might, however, it seemed impossible to “read” the 154 verses correctly and to learn what the author had set down by means of some kind of special language.  And while I was struggling to find that language, the Oxford movement itself was (as it still is) completely divided on the true nature of the Sonnets.  One half agreed that there was a “royal” story with Oxford writing to Southampton as his son by the Queen; the other half felt that Oxford recorded a homosexual relationship between him and Southampton (and that this was the source of the “disgrace” and “shame” he expressed in the Sonnets).

Two very different stories!  Edward de Vere had the “means” and the “opportunity” to write the Sonnets (as the prosecutors would put it), but Oxfordians could not agree about his “motive” for writing them.

Two very different histories!  I felt then, as I do now, that support for Oxford as “Shakespeare” will come eventually not from the English and Drama departments but, instead, from the History department.  Take a look at any history book about the Elizabethan reign and you will see that “Shakespeare” (if he’s mentioned at all) is never a flesh-and-blood person, but, rather, a disembodied voice speaking and commenting on real events through the lines of his literary and dramatic creations.  The historians have very little to lose by finding the truth, but literary scholars and teachers (who support the traditional Shakespeare of Stratford) must feel, deep down, that they have just about everything to lose.

In the next chapter I’ll explain why I feel the Sonnets have nothing to do with a gay relationship between Oxford and Southampton the Fair Youth; and why the verses are not even recording a “love story” involving the two men with a so-called Dark Lady.  I’ll give my reasons and then continue my account of discovering the Monument Theory of the language, structure and contents of the Sonnets, involving a “royal story” that emerged within a context I had never expected.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 30, 2008 at 3:41 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Greatly enjoyed your article, and very much looking forward to the next where you finally reveal the truth about things. Thought you might enjoy my narrative poem on the topic entitled “The Man Who Wrote Shakespeare“.

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