2011 – The Big Year for Edward de Vere?

Happy New Year!  Many of my friends and colleagues (I include myself) in the “Oxfordian” world are starting to feel that this is going to be the “big year” for us — that is, for those of us who have concluded that Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) was the true author of the works printed under the name — the pen name, that is — of William Shakespeare.

Why has this ridiculously optimistic feeling come over us?  Well, let’s see…

First and foremost is that producer-director Roland Emmerich’s feature film Anonymous is set to open in theaters this fall — on Friday, September 23, 2011.  Here’s the idea of Oxford as “Shakespeare” finally on the big screen — for the first time in the ninety-one years since the earl was “identified” in 1920 (by British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney) as the greatest writer of the English language.

Film director Roland Emmerich on the set of "Anonymous," due in theaters in September

Whatever any critic will say about this film, or however any individual viewer reacts to it, or to what extent it does or does not come close to the true history, is beside the point — which is simply that the Shakespeare Authorship Question itself will finally be brought out of hiding … out of the dark cave of censorship and suppression … into the daylight where everybody can see it and evaluate the subject for themselves.

You think this might be a bit of hyperbole?  A little over the top?  Well, when my friend Charles Boyle introduced me to the topic in 1987, I was stunned to hear about it.  Even though I’d gone through the University of Notre Dame in the Theater Department and the Great Books Program, no one had ever even mentioned that there might be a Shakespeare problem, much less that there had been a real-life eccentric, mysterious individual at the Court of Elizabeth the First who could have served as the model for Prince Hamlet.

Mark Rylance as Hamlet

How could not one of my professors or play directors have ever mentioned this to me?  Even if they thought the whole subject was nonsense, why wouldn’t they bring it up?  I ran to the public library (in Portland, Maine, where I lived at the time) and discovered to my shock that right there were at least a dozen books questioning the traditional attribution of Shakespearean authorship — and some fascinating books putting forth the theory that Edward de Vere was the true poet and playwright.

How could I not have known this before?  Over the ensuing years I would discover that many others had experienced the same wonderment — intelligent, educated, well-read men and women who had gone through more than half their lives without an inkling that William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon (1564-1616) might not have been the writer known as William Shakespeare.

I recalled having played the part of Laertes in our production of Hamlet at Notre Dame, and how I’d stood in the wings watching and listening to the late great actor Richard Kavanaugh playing the lead role — and I remembered a specific moment when I heard these lines spoken by the Prince to his young girlfriend Ophelia:

“I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.  I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.  What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?”

Right then it struck me that this was very candid stuff, and very modern in terms of the protagonist of a play, the so-called hero, being so self-critical.  More than that, within those words or behind them seemed to be the voice of the author himself, this great dramatist about whose identity and life I had never given any thought whatsoever!

And a few minutes later, during a break in rehearsals, I walked onto the stage and asked co-director Fred Syberg, “What do we know about Shakespeare?”

“Well,” Fred replied, “he was a guy who went to London and became an actor and started writing plays.  That’s about it.”

Uh-hunh, I thought.  Okay.  Sureand then pushed that little kernel of curiosity back into its cave, back into that darkness where it continued to be hidden from most of the world….

I’ll be back here soon, to continue the subject of why many Oxfordians feel that 2011 is going to be “the big one” for the Shakespeare Authorship Question … a year different from all the other years.  As Bette Davis tells the folks as Margo Channing at the party in All About Eve:  “Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night!”

The Asbourne Portrait of "Shakespeare"

The so-called Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare (note the skull, as in the picture of Hamlet above) “was first brought to light by Clement Usill Kingston in 1847. The painting bore the date 1611 and purported to show William Shakespeare at the age of 47. Subsequently, it was widely reproduced during the 19th century, having entered the canon of Shakespeare portraits.  The identity of the artist is unknown.  It was subsequently altered to cater to
public demand for more pictures of the bard, and conform to 19th century ideas of Shakespeare.  In 1940, Charles Wisner Barrell made a searching investigation of the portrait using modern technologies and concluded the painting was a retouched portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Art historian William Pressly, who catalogued the Folger’s paintings, and directed the 1988 restoration of the work, states that the controversy surrounding the sitter’s identity was resolved in 1979, when restorative work on the painting revealed conclusively that it had been begun as a portrait of Sir Hugh Hamersley.  [Well, now … “conclusively”? – Hmmm– H.W.] The Folger Library dates the painting to 1612, and while stating that most researchers identify the painting’s subject as Sir Hugh Hamersley, notes that some Oxfordians contend it depicts Edward de Vere. It currently hangs in the Folger Shakespeare Library.”  (From Wikipedia – emphases added)

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I would like to think that “Anonymous” will move the debate forward, but I’m afraid it will be given the “JFK” treatment by the media (ridicule, dismissal, distortion, death at the box office, etc.) and might even set back the cause. I hope I’m wrong because I would be thrilled if there were any sort of breakthrough.

    • Howard, thanks for weighing in. I am sure that your fears are justified. At the same time, I believe your hopes are also justified. My view begins with the fact that the prevailing attitudes could hardly be worse than they are right now. And it’s a given that this movie — any movie that goes against the powerful Shakespeare legend, I’d say — will be ridiculed, dismissed and so on. It’s a given. So I vote for the ridicule to be voiced as loudly as possible, if only to get the subject matter out in the open, thereby allowing a new generation to explore this subject matter. In that case students today will comprise the very first generation to have such an opportunity — an opportunity that was denied to all the other generations. This is the first step of any revolution; getting the cat out of the bag. I would add that many Oxfordians today seem to feel they have some kind of territorial rights over the subject matter and worry to death that the “wrong” information will be given to the world — wrong in their view, in any case. Well, the news is that there are no territorial rights and all the various topics and theories explored by Oxfordians in the past 90 years will be hashed over yet again and again by the new generations. And I predict that the topic will explode into books, blogs, papers, films, videos, on and on, for fifty years to come, until some new overall consensus is reached. And in that future people will look back at the old paradigm and wonder how in hell anyone could have bought it! What fun. Anyway, thanks again, Howard, and happy new year — Hank

      • Happy New Year to you as well. With dedicated, courageous people like yourself bringing light to a murky subject, I have confidence that truth will ultimately prevail.

  2. With so much lead time prior to the premiere of the film, I would hope that Oxfordians will be prepared with “letters to the editor” in order to control some of the aftershock. If Joseph Sobran is correct in assuming that de Vere’s bi-sexuality had something to do with the decision by his in-laws to suppress his legacy, then I can’t help but feel that the case for Oxford will be greatly increased, at least in terms of sheer numbers, once the gay and lesbian community see the airbrushing of Oxford from his rightful place in history as an affront to his sexuality, not just his libertine ways in general. Without meaning to generalize, some of Oxford’s greatest proponents, in terms of potential, are amongst those writers, critics, and dramatists who support gay rights. The question needs to step outside itself, as the Oxfordian position is held mostly by semi-retired intellectuals. It needs to seep down into the general population to become more than what it is at present. A HBO series playing off the movie would be a good thing, something to keep it in the news once the film has come and gone.

    • Good to hear from you. Joe thought that Oxford (and Southampton) suffered from “disgrace” and “shame” over having committed the crime of sodomy. My take on that is so different that it’s not easy to express it in a sentence — but, to try, I’ll just say that I believe the “disgrace” and “shame” suffered by Oxford is that of a father who could not prevent his royal son from committing the crime of high treason. Other proponents of the bi-sexual explanation are less concerned with that aspect and make their case along the lines you suggest. Again, however, I believe the “airbrushing of Oxford from his rightful place in history” was connected to his relationship with the Queen and his fatherhood of her son and rightful heir to the throne. Once the Tudor dynasty was over and the Stuarts were in charge, any of this buried history would have been suppressed at all costs, and anyone wanting to stay out of trouble would have gone along with the suppression. “History is written by the winners.” Anyway, you have a solid point to make and I look forward to the day when the whole issue can be discussed openly in schools and colleges and everywhere else. Cheers from Hank

  3. The movie is a major step for oxfordians. It couldn’t be worse than it is now, for ignorance is the worst thing a theory can have for its development. Publicity first of all. Attention. Big horns. Alarum.

    The good thing is that the movie is centered in the Essex rebellion and the critical years of the royal succesion. Politics. People love politics. You don’t need to read Shake-speare’s strange dramas to talk about elizabethan politics. After seeing the film people will ask the right question, the great historical question all shakespearian orthodox critics have dismissed until now: why was Southampton not executed if he participated in the rebellion and was the dear friend and shadow of Essex? The Southampton and Shake-speares Sonnets Wikipedia entries will be on fire in no time. I have no doubt that Mr. Whittemore’s books will sell like donuts in a school during the break.

  4. I’ve submitted my oxfordian essay on Dido to Brief Chronicles, and they informed me that I might as well post it in my website for other critics’ consideration during the process of admission by the editors.

    Could I ask you your opinion about my submitted essay posted on my blog at
    shakespearemelodijo.blogspot.com? Your insights may help me inform the editors about any new insights that are lost to me. Thank you.

  5. I’ve submitted my oxfordian essay on Dido to Brief Chronicles, and they informed me that I might as well post it in my website for other critics’ consideration during the process of admission by the editors.

    Could I ask you your opinion about my submitted essay posted on my blog at

    Your insights may help me inform the editors about any new insights that are lost to me. Thank you.

    • Congratulations on writing and submitting your essay! I’ll certainly download it from your website and offer you any suggestions that occur to me. Thanks for sharing it with us. Best from Hank

  6. Thanks. Hahaha…

    I’m working hard, real hard in this fascinating truth. “Doctor Faustus” is next. Considering its obscurity, it is going to take me more than “Dido” to figure it out.
    Thank you again.

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