Stanley Wells on “Shakespeare” and the Earl of Southampton

It was great to read about the new claim of authenticity for yet another portrait of the Bard — a claim supported by “the world’s foremost expert on Shakespeare,” yes, Stanley Wells, as reported 8 March 2009 in the Sunday Times of London.  The portrait had been in the possession of the Cobbe family, represented currently by Alec Cobbe, an art restorer:


(The Answer:   “No!  Of course not!  Are you kidding?”)

But for us the most thrilling news was (1) that Wells and Cobbe will also claim that the portrait initially belonged to the Third Earl of Southampton and (2) that they’re “writing a book on Southampton and Shakespeare.”

The Young Earl of Southampton

The Young Earl of Southampton

This is terrific news in our view because there’s not a  sliver of any connection between William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon and Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton.  None!  And now, in advance, even without knowing anything more about the new book by Wells and Cobbe, we look forward to showing how it fails to make any such connection. Yes, we know this in advance!

The rest, as Hamlet might say, is conjecture…

Mrs. Charlotte Stopes, who spent eight years in research for her Life of Henry Third Earl of Southampton in 1922, felt her own life had been a failure because she’d been unable to find proof of any connection between him and Shakespeare.  [Her splendid biography can be found online in full from the Library of the University of California – Irvine.]

The name “William Shakespeare” arrived in print as the signature to the dedication of Venus and Adonis (1593) to 19-year-old Southampton; and it appeared the next year on the dedication of Lucrece to the same earl; but never again did the great poet-playwright dedicate anything to anyone else, thereby linking Southampton to “Shakespeare” uniquely and for all time.

This connection between the two men is the single most important element in any biography of Shakespeare, but no one who holds onto the Stratfordian myth can take it any further.

There is no way the Stratford man could have written the intensely personal, intimate Sonnets to a great peer of the realm such as Southampton.  No way. No actor or poet could have scolded such a peer for refusing to marry and beget an heir of his blood; and no way could any commoner have written to the haughty young lord:  “Make thee another self for love of me.”

Nope!  No way!

Southampton would have run through him with his sword!

So, within the traditional context, the relationship between the author and the earl begins and ends with those dedications — until we realize that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford adopted “William Shakespeare” as a pen name in order to publicly support Southampton, his unacknowledged son by Queen Elizabeth, in the power struggle during the 1590’s for control over the coming succession.

Oxford extended the pen name to be used on revised versions of  plays he had previously written (in the 1570’s and 1580’s) for Blackfriars and the Court — plays newly issued as by “Shake-speare,” the popular writer who had dedicated his work to Southampton.  

The pen name was political; it was all about royal politics and succession to the throne, as reflected by the plays of English royal history. And the political use of “Shakespeare” culminated in the special performance at the Globe Playhouse of Richard II on the eve of the failed Essex Rebellion, of which Southampton was co-leader.

Once the Stratford man is replaced by Edward de Vere, the door opens to a wealth of biographical and historical material.  For example, both Oxford and Southampton (a generation apart) were royal wards of the Queen raised in the custody of William Cecil Lord Burghley; and Oxford was the senior judge at the 1601 trial of Essex and Southampton, when he and the other peers were forced to render a unanimous guilty verdict.

So we look forward to the book by Wells and Cobbe about the Stratford man and Southampton, viewing it as yet another opportunity for us to point out the utter lack of evidence for any such relationship; and, by contrast, viewing it as another chance to further demonstrate the Earl of Oxford’s extraordinary record in the Sonnets of his father-son relationship with Lord Southampton, and, too, his record of Southampton’s “true rights” to succeed Elizabeth as King Henry IX of England:

“And your true rights be termed a Poet’s rage…”
Sonnet 17

Published in: Uncategorized on March 9, 2009 at 4:51 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. I refer you to C. Spurgeon’s authoritative research, published in “Shakespeare’s Imagery.” She compares the images used by a number of Elizabethan authors — including Marlowe and Ben Jonson — and Edward de Vere — to the images which are most prevelant in Shakespeare’s plays. She points out that the poems attributed to de Vere are vastly inferior to those of Wm.Shakespeare. She definitively defeats the laughable idea that de Vere could have written Shakespeare’s sonnets or plays.

    • Thanks for this comment. I certainly know of the Spurgeon book and know it’s highly regarded. I promise to read through it again and give a response. There are some Oxfordian responses generally — his poetry is youthful stuff, published when he was 26 but written much earlier, even in his teens; his poems were written as songs; and finally, here is that long foreground missing from Stratfordian biography, i.e., the apprenticeship work. I will give you some examples of how Oxford’s poetry foreshadows the later Shakespeare work — use of the same words, use of similar clusters of words; use of the same themes, etc.

      But I would rather you cite some examples of what you mean and, too, I’d rather be fully open to what you have concluded with obvious sincerity, which I respect.

      Here is one Oxford poem (actually “song”), which you probably know:

      If women could be fair and yet not fond
      [song lyrics]

      (Woman’s Changeableness)

      If women could be fair and yet not fond,
      Or that their love were firm not fickle, still,
      I would not marvel that they make men bond,
      By service long to purchase their good will;
      But when I see how frail those creatures are,
      I muse that men forget themselves so far.

      To mark the choice they make, and how they change,
      How oft from Phoebus do they flee to Pan,
      Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,
      These gentle birds that fly from man to man;
      Who would not scorn and shake them from the fist
      And let them fly fair fools which way they list.

      Yet for disport we fawn and flatter both,
      To pass the time when nothing else can please,
      And train them to our lure with subtle oath,
      Till, weary of their wiles, ourselves we ease;
      And then we say when we their fancy try,
      To play with fools, O what a fool was I.
      Finis. Earle of Oxenforde.

  2. […] the rest of the “rest of this story” is that Wells and Cobbe are working together to publish a new book on Shakespeare and Southampton sometime next […]

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