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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20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am now sponsoring Tom Weedy, ABD, to answer this nonsense, Whittemore!

    “Shake his spear indeed.”

    This is pure deconstructionist gamesmanship, playing with words to make them say something they don’t say, if I ever read any.

    Those who want to read some FACTs about Shakespeare, Shakespeare himself, here they are:

    Good day to you, Sir.”

    • Yes, sir, we have been reading your FACTS and finding them formidable indeed. However I may call upon Dr. Stritmatter, if I can find him, to help us out over here. We are traveling but plan to soon highlight your laundry list of logical and straightforward certainties, so that we may then either charge forward in confidence or wave a white flag. Don’t bet on the latter! (I went to school with a Tom Weedy who still thought the earth was flat. Same guy?)

  2. My Dear Mr. Hank,

    Regarding your note “Check out Professor Michael Delahoyde’s comparison of Harvey’s description of Oxford as Achilles to this passage in Lucrece (1594) by “Shakespeare”…” may I add a further notation:

    Check out Edward de Vere’s footnote #1 regarding Lucrece (1594) by “Shakespeare” at

    Much obliged for the use of your blog as a free williamboard.

    K. Witted

    • Any ol’ time, for you. Will check it out. Thanks.

  3. I am now taking responsibility for my own sponsorship from the above PSI, to answer this nonsense, Whittemore!

    “Shake his spear indeed.”

    This is pure deconstructionist gamesmanship, playing with words to make them say something they don’t say, if I ever read any.

    Those who want to read some FACTs about Shakespeare, Shakespeare himself, here they are:

    Good day to you, Sir.”

    • I urge all readers to get thee to the above mentioned blogsite. After all, fair is fair.

  4. “Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear;
    who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again?”
    Alexander the Great also
    “envisioned himself as the new Achilles.”

    Alexander should bring to mind both:

    1) FLUELLEN’s *ALEXANDER the Pig* and

    2) HAMLET’s noble *DUST of ALEXANDER*
    *PULVERE* : DUST (Danish, Latin)
    *POLVERE* : DUST (Italian)


    • It seems that Oxford presented himself as Alexander, at least to his followers.

  5. Hello Hank

    I’m happy to follow your work and insights in all these matters. My copy of the Monument is well read. Now I have a question about sonnet 13 (sorry, it’s a little bit off the shaked spear topic). Since I’m not english I don’t really feel the difference between the two forms ‘you’ and ‘thou’. Now when we arrive at the 13th sonnet we’ve had 12 poems with ‘thou’, and now suddenly in no. 13 it changes to ‘you’. What is the real distinction here, I mean what is the poet trying to say? When I count all forms, ‘you’, ‘your’, and ‘yours’ it’s all in all 17 (probably not a coincidence with this guy?), but what does the change from ‘thou’ to ‘you’ really mean? Had it been the same message with ‘thou’ here as well?

    Mikael Kjellgren, Sweden

    • It’s a question many have asked and I have yet to hear a definitive answer on it. I am traveling now and need to get back to you later with specifics. Meanwhile — on the one hand, it seems the “you” is more personal and the “thou” is perhaps more formal, even colder; on the other hand, I believe there are instances where the ‘you’ and ‘thou” are used to the same person in the same sonnet, which would mean that they are interchangeable (in the Sonnets, at least) and that Oxford uses one or the other at times just because it fits the rhythm etc. At one point I concluded there is no real significance to whether he uses one or the other. But will get back to you with more when I return home. Meanwhile others may have more light to shed. Thanks for the question – Hank

      • Hank

        After sending my post I found an interesting essay on the topic in Crystal & Crystal’s ‘Shakespeare’s Words’. It actually says the opposite and it gives me a theory. I’d like to share it:

        The article says THOU was singular and YOU plural in Old English. Later (13th cent.) YOU became also a more formal singular used by inferiors to superiors or by children to parents (as in french VOUS). THOU (french TU) was more informal and indicating more equal social status. Shakespeare uses this all the time, e.g. Horatio says: – At your service (friend to prince) and Hamlet says: -Thou art e’en as just a man (prince to friend). A lot of interesting examples follow e.g. Benedick who changes between the forms in conversation with Beatrice (using THOU when he tries intimacy and then changes back to YOU when failed).

        According to this, could it be a possibility that Oxford by suddenly using an almost manic number of YOUs in Sonnet 13 thereby wants to show that he regards himself as inferior to Southampton, as a way of showing his duty to his royal son?


      • I think the latter may well be the case. Thanks for checking; I think I got it backwards! Sonnet 13 is incredible, amazing — reminiscent of “I am that I am” of Sonnet 121 and the Bible, not to mention Oxford’s use of the phrase in his letter to Burghley in 1584. “You are you.” Will catch up to this when back from traveling. Best, Hank

  6. Sir Walter Raliegh was a poet and went to Oxford at the same time as Gabriel Harvey and Shakespeare.

    • Thanks. From Wikipedia on Raleigh: “In 1568 or 1572, Raleigh was registered as an undergraduate at Oriel College, Oxford but does not seem to have taken up residence. In 1575, he was registered at the Middle Temple. At his trial in 1603, he stated that he had never studied law. His life between these two dates is uncertain but in his History of the World Raleigh claimed to be an eye-witness at the Battle of Moncontour (3 October 1569) in France.[5] In 1575 or 1576 Raleigh returned to England.” Edward de Vere received an honorary degree from Oxford in 1566, then went on to Gray’s Inn for law etc.

  7. Seems only fair to provide the actual Latin and let scholars make up their own minds about your “evidence” surely?

  8. Well, submitting the original Latin “tela vibrat” to the adjudication of Google Translate (not the greatest authority but not, I think you’ll agree biased one way or the other on Shakespeare authorship), I get “shoots arrows” which, to be fair seems an awful lot more appropriate for someone’s countenance to do that shake a spear (what do you shake it with, your nose?). As in, the point is twaddle. Feel free to try it for yourself.

    • Yeah, I have to admit it. The thing is weak on the Oxfordian side and I would not want to defend it — well, not being a Latin scholar, etc., I couldn’t if I wanted to. It’s a point well taken. Do you think the whole of Harvey’s address is worth the point, though? [By the way, “shoots arrows” is pretty weird, too:-) Thanks for the comment.

      • On the other hand, though not to argue it, I was reminded of Ben Jonson’s eulogy to Shakespeare in the First Folio — doesn’t it seem to echo Harvey’s address to Oxford? He refers to Greece and Rome, to Apollo and Mercury, etc., and “the race of Shakespeare’s mind, and manners brightly shines/ In his well turned and true filed lines/ In each of which he seems to shake a Lance/ As brandished at the eyes of ignorance.” Well … anyway, Oxford was a spear-shaking champion of the tiltyard on two occasions, 1571 and 1581, so the spear-shaking imagery wouldn’t be off the mark in that regard. Anyway, I had just thought of Jonson’s imagery, again metaphorical — not literal, in any case….

  9. There’s no spear shaking in the tilt yards and none in the English army either, where pikes were preferred. And, in Harvey’s 1578 address, the odds are stacked in favour Oxford having a ‘feeble pen’ rather than a ‘shaking spear’. He was certainly scornful of the Earl when he next wrote about him in 1580.

  10. […] VULTUS TELA VIBRAT – “Your countenance shakes spears” (1572) […]

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