Reason No. 9 Why “Shakespeare” was Edward de Vere seventeenth Earl of Oxford: “I AM THAT I AM”:

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM’: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” — Exodus, 3.14

To my knowledge only two individuals during the Elizabethan age declared in writing, “I AM THAT I AM,” and apparently they did so within identical contexts: the author of Shakespeare’s sonnets and Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford.

William Cecil Lord Burghley & His Mule

After composing a letter to his father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley on 30 October 1584, Edward de Vere signed off in his own hand.  Then he added a postscript bitterly protesting the chief minister’s attempts to use his own servants to spy on him.   He set forth the facts and continued (with my emphases):

“But I pray, my Lord, leave that course, for I mean not to be your ward nor your child.  I serve her Majesty, and I AM THAT I AM, and by alliance near to your Lordship, but free, and scorn to be offered that injury to think I am so weak of government as to be ruled by servants, or not able to govern myself.  If your Lordship take and follow this course, you deceive yourself, and make me take another course than yet I have not thought of.  Wherefore these shall be to desire your Lordship, if that I may make account of your friendship, that you will leave that course as hurtful to us both.”

(When Oxford warns, “If your Lordship take and follow this course, you … make me take another course than yet I have not thought of,” it appears that he anticipates King Lear’s outburst against his two selfish daughters, “I will do such things – what they are yet I know not; but they shall be the terrors of the earth.” – 2.4.280)

The other personal use of I AM THAT I AM occurs in Sonnet 121, which follows here with my emphases on SPIES as well as I AM THAT I AM; and can’t you feel the same mind at work?  The same protest … the same angry, accusing voice?

Sonnet 121

Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,

When not to be receives reproach of being,

And the just pleasure lost, which is so deemed,

Not by our feeling, but by others’ seeing.

For why should others’ false adulterate eyes

Give salutation to my sportive blood?

Or on my frailties why are frailer SPIES,

Which in their wills count bad what I think good?

No, I AM THAT I AM, and they that level

At my abuses reckon up their own.

I may be straight though they themselves be bevel;

By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown;

Unless this general evil they maintain:

All men are bad and in their badness reign

Dissertation on Oxford’s Geneva Bible by Dr. Roger Stritmatter

God’s words to Moses “I AM THAT I AM” are in the Geneva Bible, a gilt-edged copy of which Edward de Vere had purchased in 1569/70 from William Seres, stationer; and thanks to the landmark studies by Dr. Roger Stritmatter of that same copy, held by the Folger Library in Washington, D.C., we can be sure that the earl was intimately acquainted with its passages.  To put it bluntly, both Oxford and “Shakespeare” were biblical experts – one more reason why, in our view, they were one and the same.

Referring to the likelihood that Oxford’s postscript and Sonnet 121 were written virtually at the same time in response to the same situation, Percy Allen wrote in 1930: “So forcible, individual, and wholly characteristic an expression … is a very strong piece of corroborative evidence.” *

Sonnet 121 is positioned within Sonnets 107 to 126 — a sequence which, as expressed in The Monument, uses one sonnet per day from Sonnet 107 (Southampton’s release from the Tower on 10 April 1603) to Sonnet 125 (Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on 28 April 1603) and Sonnet 126 (the “envoy” of farewell).  This sequence is a thundering “movement” concluding the fair youth series to/about Southampton, but in no way does it preclude Oxford having originally written Sonnet 121 at the time he wrote the 1584 postscript; the likelihood is that he pulled out this old verse to use in the final construction of his “monument” for Southampton.

Here is my take on Sonnet 121 as it appears in The Monument:


Sonnet 121
24 April 1603

Oxford records his commitment to the truth rather than to false appearances.  He repeats the words of God to Moses in the Bible – I AM THAT I AM – in echo of a postscript to Lord
Burghley in 1584, when Southampton was ten years old:  “I serve her Majesty, and
I am that I am.”  In reality, as father to a rightful king, he should be Elizabeth’s consort on the throne and, therefore, a king or god on earth entitled to use God’s words of self-description. Oxford here recalls his own postscript, related to “spies” working for Burghley and poking into his personal affairs.  Nearing the end of his diary, he also sums up his own life to be preserved in this monument.


“It’s better to be vicious that to be thought vicious” – Tucker; VILE = wicked; criminal; in this case, treasonous; “That I was of a strange and vile nature” – Oxford, in a memo circa 1601-1602, Cecil Papers 146.19; Chiljan, 72; quoting false charges against him; ‘TIS BETTER, etc. = Oxford would rather have the genuine guilt for his son’s crime than merely to be deemed guilty without making any sacrifice for him; “This vile traitor, Somerset” – 1 Henry IV, 4.3.33; TO BE = echoing Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, with “not to be” in line 2 below; indicating that he is undoubtedly revising Hamlet (Q2 of 1604) by now; ESTEEMED = deemed in the eyes of others, recalling the theme of Sonnet 29, line 14:  “Then I scorn to change my state with kings”


WHEN NOT TO BE, etc. = when not actually wicked but blamed for being such; NOT TO BE = the other half of “To be or not to be,” the soliloquy of Hamlet, its full version to be published in the next year, 1604.


JUST = legal; the word “just” is on Oxford’s mind in this final Fair Youth sequence: “Just to the time, not with the time exchanged” – Sonnet 109, line 7; “And on the just proof surmise accumulate” – Sonnet 117, line 10; and it was on his mind near the end of the Dark Lady series, when Elizabeth was in her final eclipse: “Who taught me how to make me love thee more,/ The more I hear and see just cause of hate?” – Sonnet 150, lines 9-10; JUST PLEASURE = the happiness Oxford derives from having made a legal bargain for his son; also, for Southampton’s  “royal pleasure”; DEEMED = judged; “The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem/ For that sweet odor which doth in it live” – Sonnet 54, lines 3-4


NOT, etc. = “Not in our opinion, but in the view of others” – Booth; Oxford and Southampton
do not agree with the loss of the throne, but that was arranged by others, i.e., Cecil and James; and the truth is that Southampton should have succeeded; OTHERS’ SEEING = the “others” see only the dark guilt of Southampton, and are unaware of or refuse to see (or take into account) his royal blood; in effect, they are blind and see only “darkness which the blind do see” – Sonnet 27, line 8


FALSE = opposite of True, related to Oxford; also “false” related to treason as in “false traitor”; ADULTERATE = counterfeit; not truthful or real; FALSE ADULTERATE EYES = the false view of others that Southampton is a traitor; “I am thy King, and thou a false-heart traitor” – 2 Henry VI, 5.1.143; also, the false view that he is not a king by blood; “Why should false painting
imitate his cheek” – Sonnet 67, line 5; “Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue” – Sonnet 138, line 7, referring to Elizabeth; 6 GIVE SALUTATION TO MY SPORTIVE BLOOD?

SALUTATION = (“And in his private plot be we the first to salute our rightful sovereign with honor of his birthright to the crown” – 2 Henry VI, 2.2.5961; “Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths, even in the presence of the crowned king” – 1 Henry IV, 3.2.53-54); Oxford giving salutation to Southampton as a king; MY SPORTIVE BLOOD = i.e., Oxford’s reckless blood that is also part of Southampton’s reckless blood; echoing the royal blood of his son; “And that fresh
which youngly thou bestow’st” – Sonnet 11, line 3


OR ON MY FRAILTIES, etc. = why do weaker people look on my weaknesses; “Frailty, thy  name is woman!” – Hamlet, 1.2.152, another indication that Oxford is revising that play at this time (see lines 1-2 and 8); FRAILER = lack of royal blood, i.e., less royal than my son, i.e., Robert Cecil, but even King James is less royal by blood than Southampton; SPIES = William and Robert Cecil both relied heavily on spies to assist them in running the government; recalling the spies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, hired by Polonius-Burghley.

William Cecil Lord Burghley with his son and successor Robert Cecil, who both used networks of spies and informants


WILLS = royal wills; the royal will of James; a play on “Will” Shakespeare; COUNT BAD WHAT I THINK GOOD = add up his royalty as nothing good or genuine = “To leave for nothing all thy sum of good” – Sonnet 109, line 12; “For there is nothing either good or bad but thinking
makes it so” – Hamlet, 2.2.250-251; COUNT = as in praying upon the Rosary beads: “Nothing, sweet boy, but yet like prayers divine,/ I must each day say o’er the very same,/ Counting no
old thing old, thou mine, I thine” – Sonnet 108, lines 5-7; referring to the accounting of Southampton’s royal blood; “What acceptable Audit can’st thou leave?” – Sonnet 4, line 12; “Her Audit (though delayed) answered must be,/ And her Quietus is to render thee” – Sonnet 126


I AM THAT I AM = “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM” – Exodus, 3.14; I am myself alone – Richard in 3 Henry VI, 5.6.83; “you alone are you” and “you are you
– Oxford to Southampton, speaking to his royal son as king or god on earth, in Sonnet 84

"I serve her Majesty..."

“I serve Her Majesty, and I am that I am, and by alliance near to your Lordship, but free, and scorn to be offered that injury to think I am so weak of government as to be ruled by servants, or not able to govern myself.  If your Lordship take and follow this course, you deceive yourself, and make me take another course than yet I have not thought of.”

– Oxford writing to his father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England, on October 30, 1584 – in a postscript in his own hand, when Southampton was ten years old and a ward of the Queen in Burghley’s custody.  Oxford was complaining about Burghley planting servants to spy on him (see “spies” in line 7 above); and in passing he angrily (and indirectly) reminded him that he, Oxford, was the father of a royal son and virtually a king entitled to be Elizabeth’s king-consort.

“Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago. In following him I follow but myself: Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty but seeming so, for my peculiar end, for when my outward action doth demonstrate the native act and figure of my heart in complement extern, ‘tis not long after but I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at: I am not what I am” – Othello, 1.1.56-64

I am not as I seem to be,

For when I smile I am not glad:

A thrall although you count me free,

I, most in mirth, most pensive sad.

I smile to shade my bitter spite…

– Oxford poem, signed E. O. The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576

O that you were yourself, but love you are

No longer yours than you yourself here live

Sonnet 13, lines 1-2

(In the above lines, Oxford is reminding Southampton that he is no longer what he appears to be; i.e., he is a royal prince who cannot be himself in public)

This is I, Hamlet the Dane!

Hamlet, 5.2.255, the prince asserting his identity and independence

LEVEL = aim; “the direction in which a missive weapon is aimed” – Dowden; “The harlot king
is quite beyond mine arm, out of the blank and level of my brain” – The Winter’s Tale, 2.3.6


AT MY ABUSES, etc. = at my deceptions; “Is it some abuse?”– Hamlet, 4.7.49; RECKON UP THEIR OWN = add up their own lies; recalling “reckoning time” of Sonnet 115, line 5


BEVEL = heraldic for crooked; alluding to Oxford’s brother-in-law, the hunchbacked Robert Cecil, and his crooked physical figure


RANK = despicable, foul, festering, large, grievous, bloated, serious, growing ever worse; “O, my offense is rank” – Hamlet, 3.3.36, King Claudius to himself; “Things rank and gross in nature possess it merely” – Hamlet, 1.2.136, the Prince, speaking of the world and specifically the state of
Denmark; the terrible, sinful thoughts of others who have deprived Southampton of his claim; but Oxford must stay silent; suggesting high rank or office; ranked in battle order


UNLESS, etc. = unless they admit their evil openly and generally; unless they want to make the
following general argument:


ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for OneALL MEN ARE BAD = Southampton is as “bad” or guilty as all men; but this is ironic, sarcastic; earlier, in the Dark Lady series, Oxford wrote to the still-living Elizabeth in desperate anger: “Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,/ Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be” – Sonnet 140, lines 11-12

Southampton commissioned this portrait of himself in the Tower after his release by King James in April 1603.

“Why, then, ‘tis none to you; for there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so” – Hamlet, 2.2.250

AND IN THEIR BADNESS REIGN = and he “reigns” as King; (i.e., Oxford standing the whole
picture on its head, reverting back to line 1; so it’s better to be a real king, i.e., one with true rights, than just to be esteemed as one; and if his son is regarded as un-royal, then he should “reign” as king anyway); the new ruler is King James, along with Robert Cecil; and they are reigning over England in all their evil or badness; REIGN = the final word of the sonnet, emphasizing the true nature of the verse as political and related to the issue of whose reign  it should be.

“Save her alone, who yet on th’earth doth reign …” – Oxford poem, The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576, referring to Queen Elizabeth

* The Case for Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare” by Percy Allen, 1930

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  1. —————————————————–
    Masonic Royal Arch Degree, Ritual and Secrets Exposed & Revealed

    The Royal Arch degree catechism asks, “Are you a Royal Arch Mason?”

    To which the reply is made, ” *I AM THAT I AM* ”

    Captain of the Host reads verses 13 & 14
    . of the third chapter of Exodus:
    “And Moses said unto God, Behold! when I come unto the children
    of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath
    sent me unto you, end they shall say to me, What is his name?
    . What shall I say to them?
    “And God said unto Moses, *I AM THAT I AM* : and thus thou shalt
    say unto the children of Israel, *I AM* hath sent me unto you.”
    We were directed to use the words, *I AM THAT I AM* as a pass-word.
    Principal Sojourner–We will go up.
    Companions, you will follow me; our password is, *I AM THAT I AM*
    . Francis Bacon, _Novum Organum_ , Bk I, Aph.120.

    <<Existence, or pure Being, is the divine Word. It simply is.
    The cabalistic formula for this is the expression, *I AM*.
    Just as the image of sound is its *ECHO*, so the image of
    existence is the knowledge of that existence self-consciousness,
    in other words. There are two basic types of consciousness:
    INNOCENT or pure consciousness that contains the wisdom but
    doesn't yet know it, and self-consciousness or self-knowledge
    that does know. Pure consciousness is associated with the pure
    but INNOCENT intelligence-the intelligence of the HEART which
    has the capacity to know the wisdom that exists within it as its
    life or being, but as yet is ignorant of it and what it means.

    We might say, 'Oh, but I knew that already!' HowEVER, the reality
    is that we did not know it before, as such, and yet we had the
    TRUTH of it already in our HEARTs. We needed something, howEVER,
    to wake it up and bring it to our mind as knowledge of that TRUTH.

    The cabalistic NAME for this knowledge, image or *ECHO* is *ThaT*:
    hence the complete formula or god-NAME for both the
    Holy Trinity and the SON of God is *I AM THAT I AM*
    In HEBREW this is rendered by 'AHIH Asher AHIH'.

    AHIH refers to 'the Living God' ( *I AM* ), the parent of *ThaT*
    When the possibility of time and change, or gradual unfolding,
    is brought into the equation, the formula becomes 'I AM all
    that hath been, and that is, and that shall be'. The god-NAME
    signifying this unfolding state of divinity is JHVH, meaning
    'He who was, is, and is to come'. This is essentially the
    NAME of the 'Image' or 'SON' of God, known as the 'great NAME'
    or *REVEaling NAME* , from which is derived the more personal
    NAME of Jehoshua or Jesus, the Messiah or Christ. The idea of
    the unfolding nature of this revelation or knowledge of God
    is embodied in the story of the two main appearances of the
    Christ: first as the shepherd, then secondly as the king.
    Messiah means 'king'.
    The shepherd is not a king, but one day he will be.

    • Thanks, Art. Looks like I threw you a meatball pitch:-)

  2. Edward de Vere could have been playing the “Royal Card” or even the “God Card” by using the phrase “I am that I am” but that seems a little arrogant, IMO.

    I would much prefer to think that he was playing the “Masonic distress signal Card.”

    Thank you, Hank, for your great generosity in allowing me to play Devil’s Advocate in these matters

    • You’re quite welcome, Art. If we think Oxford was playing either card, imagine the trouble scholars have had with Will of Stratford using God’s words to Moses in reference to himself. R. M. Alden wrote in 1916 of Will’s use of I AM THAT I AM: “All Shakespeare says is, ‘I have an independent standard of character, and where others do not find theirs fitting it, the crookedness may be theirs’ – and that is obviously all it means.” Editor Stephen Booth has a bit of a fit over it: “One cannot be other than sympathetic with Alden’s irritation at efforts to read the Biblical echo as a solemn assumption of divine authority, but, though the statement MEANS no more than Alden says it does, the echo is unmistakably present and does make the speaker sound smug, presumptuous, and stupid.” Well, now. Booth might feel differently about it if he imagined the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England using I AM THAT I AM to William Cecil Lord Burghley, whom he regards as a commoner despite his rank, in angry protest against the chief minister’s meddling. But I love your Masonic distress signal Card — can it be so?

  3. “I Am that I Am” = “I Will Be What I Will Be”

    Per the Wikipedia article “I Am that I Am”:

    “I Am that I Am (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, ehyeh ašer ehyeh [ehˈje aˈʃer ehˈje]) is a traditional common English translation (JPS among others) of the response God used in the Hebrew Bible when Moses asked for his name (Exodus 3:14). It is one of the most famous verses in the Torah. Hayah means “to be” or “to become” in Hebrew; “ehyeh” is the root word derived from “Hayah” and is to be translated in English Bibles as “I will be” (or “I will become”), for example, at Exodus 3:14. Ehyeh asher ehyeh literally translates as “I Will Be What I Will Be” or “I Will Become What I Will Become”, according to accurate translation of the Hebrew language. However, in the great majority of English Bibles, in particular the King James Version, this phrase is rendered as I Am That I Am” which is originally derived from Roman Catholic tradition, although evidently inaccurate.”

  4. See also “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”

    Marlowe’s play *Doctor Faustus* (written ca. 1590; published 1604):

    FAUSTUS: [Reads.]

    Si peccasse negamus, fallimur, et nulla est in nobis veritas;

    If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and
    there’s no truth in us. Why, then, belike we must sin, and so
    consequently die:
    Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
    What doctrine call you this, Che sera, sera,
    What will be, shall be? Divinity, adieu!
    These metaphysics of magicians,
    And necromantic books are heavenly;
    Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters;
    Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires. (I.i)

  5. […] Yet there was that I AM THAT I AM line in his letter to Burghley, making Oxford the only other Elizabethan we know of besides Shakespeare to take God’s line of self-identification to Moses during the burning bush incident and apply it to himself. […]

  6. […] or “I am” which totalled 21, equaling the number of threes contained in Acts II through V, Oxfordians have noted that Oxford and Shakespeare both used the phrase “I am that I am”, a translation of the name “which He himself signified to Moses”, in strikingly similar […]

  7. Hi, thank you for the blog and work put into it. The letter October 30, 1584 that Oxford wrote I am that I am, where is that letter housed? I can not find it on line at Hatfield house?

    • Chris, sorry to be so late — I am not sure if I’ve seen the handwritten original. It’s in Landsdowne MSS. 42, No. 39, and apparently
      in Feuillerat’s “John Lyly” (1910; 1968)

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