Reason No. 8 — Gabriel Harvey’s Amazing Address to the Earl of Oxford: “Thy Countenance Shakes a Spear!”

These hundred reasons why I believe Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” now  include the scholar Gabriel Harvey’s Latin address to the earl during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Cambridge University in July of 1578:

“Thy countenance shakes a spear!”

That declaration is from the translation of Harvey’s address by B.M. Ward in The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) from Contemporary Documents, published in 1928.  Now, I’m well aware that defenders of the Stratford faith might want to counter with a less “Shakespeare” – sounding translation of “Thy countenance shakes a spear,” such as, let’s say:

“Your facial expression brandishes a long wooden shaft with a sharp-pointed head!”

Yeah, sure… [But seriously, see this on the topic by the late Andy Hannas]

A Representation of Gabriel Harvey (left) and his literary "enemy" Thomas Nashe

Oxford had met Harvey a decade or so earlier.   According to Harvey the earl had been “in the prime of his gallantest youth” when he had “bestowed Angels [funds] upon me in Christ’s College in Cambridge, and otherwise vouchsafed me many gracious favors.”

“It is evident that a genuine friendship between the Earl and Harvey sprang up as a result of their early acquaintance,” Ward writes, “and it is equally evident that literature must have been the common ground on which they met. “

Gabriel Harvey was quite a character.  His role is complicated and I’m not getting into it here, but I would like to suggest that he’s a key to the whole Oxford-Shakespeare story.

I think Harvey understood from the get-go that Edward de Vere was a literary genius; I think that from those earlier Cambridge days onward he was obsessed with the earl and that, when “Shakespeare” appeared on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton in 1593, he knew very well it was Oxford using a pen name.

Actually I believe the two men (who were about the same age) worked together behind the scenes in ways that may yet become clear…

Harvey's address was printed in "Gratulationis Valdinensis Liber Quartus" (The Fourth Book of Walden Rejoicing) in September 1578

Elizabeth was accompanied at Audley End in July 1578 by the whole Court including Oxford as Lord Great Chamberlain, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Philip Sidney.  Harvey delivered a Latin speech to each of these courtiers, but his address to Oxford was startling when, for example, he urged him to “throw away the insignificant pen” and honor his noble heritage by becoming a military leader in preparations for the inevitable war against Spain.

“O great-hearted one, strong in thy mind and thy fiery will, thou wilt conquer thyself, thou wilt conquer others; thy glory will spread out in all directions beyond the Arctic Ocean; and England will put thee to the test and prove thee to be a native-born Achilles.

“Do thou but go forward boldly and without hesitation: Mars will obey thee, Hermes will be thy messenger, Pallas striking her shield with her spear shaft will attend thee, thine own breast and courageous heart will instruct thee.

“For a long time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts!

“English poetical measures have been sung by thee long enough!

“Let that Courtly Epistle – more polished even than the writings of Castiglione himself – witness how greatly thou dost excel in letters.*

“I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the Muses of France and Italy, but has learned the manners of many men, and the arts of foreign countries.

Audley End, 1603

“It was not for nothing that Sturmius himself was visited by thee; neither in France, Italy, nor Germany are any such cultivated and polished men.

“O thou hero worthy of renown, throw away the insignificant pen, throw away the bloodless books, and writings that serve no useful purpose; now must the sword be brought into play, now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear and to handle great engines of war…

“In thy breast is noble blood, Courage animates thy brow, Mars lives in thy tongue, Minerva strengthens thy right hand, Bellona reigns in thy body, within thee burns the fire of Mars.

“Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear; who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again?” **

B. M. Ward observes that Harvey was revealing the indisputable fact that Edward de Vere “was well known to have written a great number of poems both in Latin and English, the majority in the latter tongue.”

The amount of his known poetry by then, however, “is quite incompatible with Harvey’s description of the Earl’s poetical output.  It is therefore evident that he must have been privileged to read Oxford’s poems in manuscript – a privilege that must also have been extended to others in the Court, because Harvey makes no secret of their existence in his open address.

“These facts are important and confirm what we are told by other and no less credible witnesses than Harvey that Lord Oxford stood supreme amongst his contemporary poets and dramatists.”

Achilles, Greek hero of the Trojan War

Fifteen years later the “Shakespeare” name appeared for the first time.  If we had put forth the hypothesis that the author was Edward de Vere using a pen name, imagine then coming upon this public address to him back in 1578…

Given that we are talking about the greatest writer of the English language, isn’t Harvey’s description of Oxford exactly what we should expect to find?

  • Harvey is referring to Oxford’s elegant preface “To the Reader” of Bartholomew Clerke’s translation of The Courtier from Italian to Latin in 1571.  [See Reason No. 3 and Reason No. 4]

**   Check out Professor Michael Delahoyde’s comparison of Harvey’s description of Oxford as Achilles to this passage in Lucrece (1594) by “Shakespeare”:

For much imaginary work was there,

Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,

That for Achilles’ image stood his spear,

Grip’d in an armed hand, himself behind

Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind…

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