Was “Shakespeare” a Copycat? Thief? Plagiarist? THE QUEEN’S MEN: No. 12 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” – Part One

"The Queen's Men and their Plays" by McMillin and MacLean, 1998

In 1583, as Philip of Spain prepared to invade and conquer England, the British government created a new acting company as part of Secret Service activities including wartime propaganda to promote patriotic loyalty and unity.  This new troupe, Queen Elizabeth’s Men, was formed at the express command of the monarch.  Drawing the best actors from existing companies, it became the dominant theatrical group in the crucial years leading to England’s victory in 1588 over the Spanish armada.

Although printed in 1594, "The True Tragedy of Richard the Third" was performed by the Queen's Men in the 1580's. Did "Shakespeare" steal it for his play "Richard III"? Or was the real author, Edward de Vere, building upon his own previous work?

During that period the Queen’s Men performed what were, by all appearances and by all logic, early versions of royal history plays by Shakespeare.  “The plots of no fewer than six of Shakespeare’s known plays are closely related to the plots of plays performed by the Queen’s Men,” according to Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean inThe Queen’s Men and their Plays (1998).

Did "Shakespeare" use this early anonymous play for "1 Henry IV," "2 Henry IV" and "Henry V" Or was "The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth" his own youthful play?

The known plays in this category are The Troublesome Reign of King John, repeated by Shakespeare “virtually scene for scene” in King JohnThe True Tragedy of Richard III and King Leir, whose stories are fully covered by Shakespeare in his Richard III and King Lear; and The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, which forms the entire foundation for the material that Shakespeare covers in 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V.

The problem, however, is lack of any evidence that Shakspere of Stratford was a member of this prestigious acting company.  The likelihood is that he was still back home in Warwickshire when his twins were born in February of 1585, when he was twenty years old.  In other words, the existence of early Shakespeare plays performed by the Queen’s company in the 1580’s presents a major problem for the official biography.  You might say it blows it apart.

By tradition the “Lost Years” of the Stratford man begin in 1585 and continue until Robert Greene supposedly alludes to him in the fall of 1592.  By then, for the legendary story to be plausible, he has somehow firmly established himself in London as an actor who is already prominent enough as a playwright to provoke Greene’s jealousy and ire.

But this is pure fantasy.  “Documentary evidence as to Shakespeare’s whereabouts and activities from 1585 to 1592 is totally lacking,” Oscar James Campbell writes in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966), adding that “nothing can be confirmed” about the Stratford man’s life in that period.

Traditional biographers have had a terrible time trying to explain how “Shakespeare” was anonymously writing early versions of his plays for Her Majesty’s company in the 1580’s.  Some have suggested he must have joined as an actor and memorized the anonymous plays; then in the 1590’s, they propose, he drew upon his memory to plunder the plots, characters, scenes and even the lines of those stage works, which would mean that the greatest writer of the English language must have also been the most successful plagiarist in history!

"The True Chronicle History of King Leir" was performed by the Queen's Men in the 1580's (but published in 1605) and transformed by "Shakespeare" into "King Lear"


As a mature dramatist in the 1590’s, McMillin and MacLean declare, Shakespeare set about “rewriting a sizeable portion” of the repertory of the Queen’s Men.   “Four of nine extant plays were turned into six Shakespeare plays, in an act of appropriation extensive enough to make us think it could have occurred from the inside.  Shakespeare knew the plays of this company better than those of any company but his own, and the long-standing speculation that he may have begun his career with the Queen’s Men seems to us the most likely possibility.”  (And this leads them to think he must have recalled these works from acting in them during the 1580’s.)

"The Case for Shakespeare's Authorship of 'The Famous Victories'" by Dr. Seymour M. Pitcher, 1961

But some few scholars have bravely stated the far more realistic conclusion that Shakespeare himself wrote those earlier versions of his own plays.   In 1961, for example, Dr. Seymour M. Pitcher at Harpur College in New York wrote an impressively argued book The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth”.

That early play serves as a veritable blueprint for Shakespeare’s later trilogy about Prince Hal becoming the great Henry the Fifth who leads the English to victory at Agincourt.   Every single scene in Famous Victories is repeated (and in the same order) by Shakespeare, who must have written the earlier version when he was “a spirited and genial apprentice dramatist,” Dr. Pitcher concluded, adding it “may have been his first play.”

Orthodox scholars have ignored Dr. Pitcher’s suggestion, because it requires Shakspere to join the Crown’s prestigious acting company too early to be plausible.  Fresh from his life in the market town ninety miles from London, age twenty in 1584, he turns out plays of English royal history about monarchs such as King John, Richard Third, Henry Fourth and Henry Fifth – a miraculous example of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, if there ever was one.

A study of The True Tragedy of Richard the Third “reveals the high probability that it was Shakespeare himself who wrote that anonymous play,” according to the highly respected Oxfordian scholar Ramon Jimenez, “and that his Richard III was his major revision of one of his earliest attempts at playwriting.”

The scholar Ramon Jimenez, speaking at an authorship conference on the Campus of Concordia University in Portland OR

There are also “significant links” between the anonymous play about Richard the Third and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford “that add to the evidence that he was the actual author of the Shakespeare canon.”

Furthermore, Jimenez states, “The evidence suggests that the anonymous play was performed for an aristocratic audience, possibly including Queen Elizabeth herself, in the early 1560’s, when de Vere was between thirteen and fifteen years old.”

In the second part of Reason No. 12 we’ll take a look at the Earl of Oxford’s activities in relation to the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s and the likelihood that he was contributing those anonymous, early versions of plays  which he himself would revise later, for eventual publication under the “Shakespeare” pen name.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. My book is now past “The Paradise of Dainty Devices.”

    I have drawn a relation, among others, between song nº 71 (signed “L.Vaux”)
    and Sonnet 153 as you interpret it in “The Monument.”

    If you read them together with the “History of Dan Bartholmew Bath”
    from “A Hundreth Sundry Flowers” (“The Poesies of Gascoigne”),
    you will see it was the same man talking and singing his pipe.
    Dan Bartholmew’s “Farewell” when he left Bath is sonnet 153’s first draft.

    Song nº 71 from “Paradise…” signed by “L.Vaux” says:

    How can that flower but fade, and sone decaie,
    That alwaies is with darke clouds ouer ronne.
    Is this a life, naie death you maie it call,
    That feeles eche paine, and knoweth no ioye at all.

    “Paradise…” was published in 1576:
    and the songs of sorrow and anguish are not from 1566
    as the “publisher” says. My scepticism made me suspicious
    about it.

  2. How can that flower but fade, and SONE decaie…

    Is similar to the verses preceding those in song nº 71 of “The Paradise..”:

    How can the tree but wast, and wither awaie,
    That hath not sometyme comfort of the Sonne:

    “Sonne” and “Sun” is plain to see.

    Moving on…

  3. When I try to read the third part of #11 it links me to a Word Press Login…..?

    • Thanks. I’ll check it out and get back here.

      Now it works, giving you that post plus more. I guess links can disappear:-) Much appreciated.

  4. […] As an English minor in college, I’d just like to point out that, while neither Poe nor Shakespeare used curse words like modern artists, one married his 13-year-old cousin and the other was most likely a plagiarist. […]

    • Are you equating marriage to a 13 year old cousin with plagiarism? I would say the latter charge against Shakespeare is yet another way of “dumbing-down” the great author in order to fit him into the traditional Stratfordian paradigm.


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