Reason No. 19 to Believe Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”: The Families of Hamlet and Oxford as Mirror Reflections

One of the most obvious links in the chain of evidence that connects Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford to “Shakespeare” is the similarity of Hamlet’s and Oxford’s family relationships.  In fact this reason to believe that Oxford wrote the play Hamlet, as well as all the other Shakespeare works, is so clear that I’ve kept putting it aside as being too obvious or too easy.   Well, I might as well get it over with, so here’s Reason No. 19 in all its simple clarity…

Queen Gertrude as played by Glenn Close

Queen Gertrude in the play is the mother of Prince Hamlet, while Queen Elizabeth in real life was the official mother of Lord Oxford.  [At age twelve in 1562 he became the first of eight royal wards during her reign.]

Polonius as played by Eric Porter

Lord Chamberlain Polonius is the chief adviser to Queen Gertrude, while William Cecil Lord Treasurer Burghley was the chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth.  [He held the post from the Queen’s accession in November 1558 until his death in August 1598, when his second son, Principal Secretary Robert Cecil, officially took over his father’s unique role behind the throne.]

Hamlet is engaged to young Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, while in real life Oxford became engaged to fifteen-year-old Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley.   [Oxford and Anne were married in December 1571 when he was twenty-one and she had turned fifteen.]

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham Carter

Ophelia’s older brother Laertes goes off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress for his father, Polonius, who recites those “precepts” to him as guidance, while in real life Anne Cecil’s eldest brother Thomas Cecil went off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress for his father, Burghley, who wrote him long letters full of wise “precepts” as guidance.  [In the final act of the play, in my view, Laertes becomes the second son, Robert Cecil.]


THE LINE-UP (again):

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark – Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England

Gertrude, Queen of Denmark – Elizabeth, Queen of England

Polonius, Chief Minister to Queen Gertrude – Burghley, Chief Minister to Queen Elizabeth

Ophelia, daughter of Polonius – Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley

Laertes, son of Polonius – Thomas and Robert Cecil, sons of Burghley

And, for example:

Horatio Vere (1565-1635), cousin of Edward de Vere; with his brother Francis they were "The Fighting Veres"

Horatio, favorite friend of Hamlet – Horatio Vere, favorite cousin of Oxford

Francisco, a soldier – Francis Vere, soldier and cousin of Oxford

[Oh, yes – and Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet’s father and married his mother the Queen, appears to reflect Queen Elizabeth’s lover Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whom Oxford may have suspected of having caused the death of his own father.]

So in this most autobiographical of Shakespeare’s plays, we find the protagonist in virtually the same web of family relationships at Court as that in which Edward de Vere is to be found in the contemporary history.  Traditional scholars may ask rhetorically, “Well, now, you’re not claiming this as proof that Oxford wrote Hamlet, are you?”

“No, of course not,” I might reply, “but doesn’t this give you a little queasy feeling in the gut?  I mean, don’t you have the slightest tremor of doubt that Will of Stratford could have or would have written such a play?  And do you think this mirror image of family relationships can be mere coincidence?”

James Shapiro argues in Contested Will [p. 177] that “such claims about representing on the public stage some of the most powerful figures in the realm betray a shallow grasp of Elizabethan dramatic censorship.”  J. Thomas Looney, who in 1920 first suggested Oxford as Shakespeare, “didn’t understand that Edmund Tilney, the Master of the Revels, whose job it was to read and approve all dramatic scripts before they were publicly performed, would have lost his job – and most likely his nose and ears, if not his head, had he approved a play that so transparently ridiculed privy councilors past and present,” Shapiro adds.

Well, in the play itself the author may have supplied one answer to that argument, when Polonius at the top of Act 3, Scene 4, speaking of Hamlet, tells Queen Gertrude: “He will come straight.  Look you lay home to him.  Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with, and that your Grace hath screened and stood between much heat and him.”  (My emphasis)

In other words, Polonius-Burghley reminds Gertrude-Elizabeth that Hamlet-Oxford has taken too many liberties, unbearably so, but nonetheless the Queen has protected him from “much heat” and/or reprisals by government officials [such as Tilney] as well as by his enemies at court.

Shapiro is right, however, in one respect: the playwright surely would have lost his head … if he had really been Shakspere of Stratford!

Lilian Winstanley in Hamlet and the Scottish Succession (1921) writes on p. 122 about Polonius-Burghley and the use of spies:

“Intercepted letters and the employment of spies were, then, a quite conspicuous and notorious part of Cecil’s statecraft, and they are certainly made especially characteristic of Shakespeare’s Polonius. Polonius intercepts the letters from Hamlet to his daughter; he appropriates Hamlet’s most intimate correspondence, carries it to the king, and discusses it without a moment’s shame or hesitation: he and the king play the eaves­dropper during Hamlet’s interview with Ophelia: he himself spies upon Hamlet’s interview with his mother. It is impossible not to see that these things are made both futile and hateful in Polonius, and they were precisely the things that were detested in Cecil….”

Quite a couple of families, eh?

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  1. And who is Fortinbras…? James I of Scotland.


    Why Southampton is not included…? Could he be an image of Fortinbras or Horatio…?

    And what about the Tudor’s coat of arms at the top of the first page in the Q1604…? Is that the answer why de Vere was not tried and sentenced to death for his literary liberties. He was royal, like his son Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, whose sentence of death was not fulfilled when Essex’s, in the same conditions, was…?

    In “The Massacre at Paris” you have a king Henry, the last of the Valois, transferring the crown to another house, the Bourbon. Critics have said the work deals with the massacre at Paris in 1572, but they forget that this tragedy has its climax on the disappearance of a royal line.

    Henry Wriothesley was in the same position as a Tudor…?

    Even the mother of Henry III, Catherine de’ Medici, says to him in the work (going against all odds): “You are changeling, not my son.” Who is the female Henry remembers above all when he is dying…?

    “I die, Navarre; come bear me to my sepulchre.
    Salute the Queen of England in my name,
    And tell her, Henry dies her faithful friend.”

    “The Massacre at Paris” was produced in 1593, same year of “Venus and Adonis.” Nice coincidence…?

    Wikipedia informs us:

    “The Lord Strange’s Men acted a play titled The Tragedy of the Guise, thought to be Marlowe’s play, on Jan. 26, 1593. The Admiral’s Men performed The Guise or The Massacre ten times between June 21 and Sept. 27, 1594. The Diary of Philip Henslowe (…) indicates that Henslowe planned a revival of the play in 1602, possibly in a revised version. A possible revision may have something to do with the surprising number of Shakespearean borrowings and paraphrases in the text.”

    Was not Henry (Wriothesley) in the Tower in 1602…?
    Could have been the goal of the revision to ask the Queen to have mercy on this Henry, his “faithful friend” and the last of a royal dinasty…?

    • This is powerful stuff and very important. I do hope your work is communicated far and wide. In my view Hamlet becomes both Oxford and Southampton, gradually more the latter, within Act Five of the full play. It seems that Oxford must have rewritten much of the act after the rebellion, probably not finishing until after the succession and Southampton had received his royal pardon from Fortinbras-King James. Laertes is no longer Thomas Cecil but now Robert Cecil, from whom the pardon-deal had to have been made.

      In scene 2 of act five Hamlet-Oxford speaks of having had “a kind of fighting that would not let me sleep,” allegorically referring to the failed rebellion of Feb 8, 1601, with Southampton now in prison. This is the same passage wherein he speaks of “a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will” — HEW perhaps referring to Southampton, as in Sonnet 20 — and soon he is talking of “the grinding of the axe” — the execution of Essex, the death sentence of Southampton — “my head should be struck off,” Hamlet-Southampton continues. Hamlet then actually speaks metaphorically of having written a play! “They had begun the play; I sat me down; devised a new commission; wrote it fair” — FAIR for the fairest creature, Southampton, in Sonnet 1 and the fair friend of more. He speaks of the commission — tribunal of the trial — and how the monarch “should the bearers put to sudden death” — and finally he talks of “the changeling never known” — Southampton having been a changeling boy.

      So in effect he encapsulates an entire history — “And a man’s life’s no more than to say ‘one'” — ONE for Southampton’s motto One for All, All for One, and I could go on, including the “special providence in the fall of a sparrow” (Elizabeth had been known as the sparrow — according a footnote I read in the text of Campaspe) …. and I’ll end this with the famous speech of Hamlet (Oxford-Southampton) to Laertes (Robert Cecil): “Give me your PARDON, sir. I have done you wrong; but PARDON’t, as you are a gentleman.” (Oxford blames himself for the rebellion as much as Southampton — and that was all aimed at removing and possibly killing Cecil.) …. ending with “I have shot the arrow o’er the house and hurt my brother.” (Cecil having been Oxford’s brother-in-law whom he called brother. And just for a little laugh, here, if you look in the Folio it’s “shot the arrow o’er the house and hurt my Mother.”) What was the “house” — House of Tudor?

      Anyway thanks for the material again on Massacre at Paris. Seems you’ve struck a rich vein there….

  2. Wow…, thanks for your analysis.

    I will need it for the end of my book.

    I hope to have it translated into English by the end of this year.
    The book will be published in Spanish this September.

    Thanks again. Keep on rolling…

  3. Hank: shall we assume, then, that you believe Elizabeth I was Oxford’s mother?
    Plenty of interesting material in Mark Alexander’s PowerPoint presentation, but I agree with the view that some things don’t fit well into a PowerPoint format.

    • John, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to make a case that Oxford was the son of Elizabeth and Seymour, born in late 1548, but there’s also evidence that contradicts that case. I’ve concentrated on the Sonnets, which tell me that Oxford thought of Southampton as his royal son by the Queen, and I’ve found more evidence in support of it, while the supposedly contradictory evidence tends to evaporate when looked at closely. Needless to say the upcoming movie “Anonymous” has created havoc within the Oxfordian community even before we’ve had a chance to see it. The so-called “double incest” theme should make my Monument theory sound rather conventional at this point:-)

      In any case Elizabeth was the official mother of the eight royal wards, of which Oxford and Southampton were the first and the last respectively. If Oxford projects himself through Hamlet, and Hamlet is the son of the Queen, it would be wise for us to keep that in mind. What’s truly incredible is the intensity of the Hamlet-Gertrude scene of act three, scene four, in which he commands her: “Come, come, and sit you down, you shall not budge! You go not till I set you up a glass where you may see the inmost part of you.” It’s an amazingly intense scene and I believe that intensity is matched by many of the dark lady sonnets in which Oxford addresses Elizabeth.

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. Great work. Can you point to where you may have discussed the circumstances of the death of the father of Edward de Vere?

  5. Thanks, that’s suggestive.

    As long as I have your ear – I’ve been out of the loop the last couple years (on the identity issue, which I don’t regard as a question at this late point, and haven’t ever since first looking into it a decade ago) – have any new books on de Vere come out recently, or are any scheduled to come out?

    • Sorry for the delay — I had meant to get back earlier. What is the most recent book you know of? We could start from there. Looking forward, the big bombshell book will be that of the late Richard Roe, “The Shakespeare Guide to Italy” — from Harper Collins —
      It’s due Oct 26 and promises to rock the Stratfordian world as few books have done. Right before the movie!

      • Ogburn’s Mysterious William Shakespeare is the most comprehensive book on the subject that I recall. I’ve read a lot online. I’m wondering if there is a more comprehensive book than MWS?

  6. Dear Hank

    I would love to hear your response to Diana Price’s criticism of the PrinceTudor theory as presented in her article here:

    Click to access price.pdf

    /Mikael Kjellgren, Gothenburg Sweden

    • I’m glad you asked! We have a conference coming up at Concordia University in Portland Oregon starting September 6:
      And on Sept 7 we’ll be attending the first of the premiers of the movie “Anonymous” from Roland Emmerich —
      So I’ve been planning to bring out some written materials, such as a response to the PT criticisms such as the one from Diana Price. So I might as well start that response right here on the blog. Probably I’ll do it point by point but first in brief fashion, so there can be an overview of the responses up front, then more details and documents as backup.
      Look for the start of this on the blog….and thanks!

      • Great, I’m looking forward to that. I found Price’s article the first with some sort of substance so I will hang around here to see your response. Sorry Portland for me is wrong side of the planet, would have been interesting though.


  7. Look here and tell me what you think.

    Chapman says in the continuation of “Hero and Leander” (Sestiad VI, v. 137-147):

    O sweet Leander, thy large worth I hide
    In a short grave; ill-favored storms must chide
    Thy sacred favor: I in floods of ink
    Must drown thy graces, which white papers drink,
    Even as thy beauties did the foul black seas.
    I must describe the hell of thy disease,
    That heaven did merit; yet I needs must see
    Our painted fools and cockhorse peasantry
    Still, still usurp, with long lives, loves, and lust,
    The seas of Virtue, cutting short as dust
    Her dear-bought issue.

    You have the idea of usurpation, concealment, floods of ink (i.e. of works) drowning Leander’s graces, the painted fools and cockhorse peasantry just like Shakspere of Stratford, and Virtue, pointing to Vere.

    Relate those verses to the ones about Oxford in “The Revenge of Bussy d’ Ambois.”

  8. So my question is–and yes, I’m Anti-Stratfordian, so before you try to convert me I’m already there–so my question is, why would Edward de Vere make his life and the characters of Hamlet so similar? He wanted to keep his identity secret, correct? Why didn’t the aristocrats notice the similarities?

    • Thanks for the question. (You have an interesting blog.) I’ll put the question to some of my authorship brethren and see how they respond. There are different possible answers from different vantage points. In the first place he began by writing skits and plays that were intended along the lines of “roasts” of today, when friends and those in our circle, friend and foe alike, gather together in private and make uproarious fun of each other. Such it was in the rarefied circle of the court. Some knew the writer, some not, but it didn’t much matter. If it did matter, well, Edward de Vere had some powerful permission from the queen to let it all hang out. He made fun of himself as well as others. Burghley tells Hamlet the queen has stood between much heat and him — protected him, as Olivia protects Feste the allowed fool.

      Most of those early comedies were left unprinted till the folio of 1623. Hamlet may have been performed at court or Blackfriars in the early 1580’s, for a strictly “private” audience, and in public by the end of that decade, but Oxford’s name was never on it and even Meres in 1598 did not mention it. Time goes by. I can’t recall the names of the screenwriters of the last ten movies I saw. And in those days there was little communication except by word of mouth, most of which never survives.

      Meanwhile Oxford used his personal experience as much as he used the book sources. A combination. And in the much later revisions, near the end of his life, it seems he was madly inserting things to preserve his identity, despite and because of the fact he was being obliterated from the record books — except for whatever Robert Cecil decided. But there are many unanswered questions, in my mind — for example, why don’t we have more of his letters to friends etc outside of England? Maybe we haven’t looked hard enough to find them? Maybe people got rid of them? Or why didn’t someone leave behind just one little scrap saying Oxford wrote Hamlet etc? In some ways they did do that, by inserting clues. Imagine the situation when the Russian underground used Aesopian language to communicate with each other.

      Well, I’ll send out a query (to a group called elizaforum) and let you know what if anything they say.

      Keep up the writing.

      • Thanks for taking the time to reply to this. It seems like a very reasonable explanation.

      • You’re very welcome. Thanks for giving some of us the chance to think about it and respond. [It’s not that we haven’t thought about it before, but the nature of the subject seems to be that it’s virtually endless, full of surprises and food for discussion.] Anyway, today I am putting up the responses I’ve gotten from Oxfordians — three, at this point — on the main blog.

  9. How about Christopher Sly? Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare becoming desperate from stresses of wife and family still living with parents, short on finances,takes to regular drinking at a local ale house not too close to home. Drunk and disorderly picked up under a bush by passing Lord (Oxford) taken to London with the players as company extra!

    • Well, now, there you go… Thanks!

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