No. 27 of 100 Reasons to Believe Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: the Powerful Link in the Person of Anthony Munday

No. 27 of 100 reasons to believe that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” focuses upon Anthony Munday (1553-1633), the actor-printer-writer-translator and anti-Catholic spy who signed himself “Servant to the Right Honourable  the Earl of Oxenford.”  We begin with information from The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966), edited by Oscar James Campbell:

Facsimile of a manuscript page of "Sir Thomas More" -- original draft by Anthony Munday -- showing "Hand D" thought to be an addition by Shakespeare

Shakespeare contributed an addition to the play Sir Thomas More (1592), the first draft of which had been written by Anthony Munday.

Shakespeare found incidents and ideas for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594) from the play John a Kent by Anthony Munday.

Shakespeare wrote parts of  The Merchant of Venice (1596) by drawing upon the long prose romance Zelanto, or The Fountain of Fame by Anthony Munday.

Shakespeare got his general plot outline for Much Ado About Nothing (1598) from Fedele and Fortunio, an Italian play adapted by Anthony Munday.

Shakespeare received inspiration for the idyllic green world of the forest in As You Like It (1599) from a play about Robin Hood by Anthony Munday.

In the traditional view it appears that during the 1590’s the Bard grabbed stuff from Munday whenever he wanted … but the reality, I suggest, was the other way around.  Munday was one of many writers who, in the 1570’s and 1580’s, served as secretaries to Oxford and benefited from his reckless generosity (with money, work space, inspiration and instruction) as they developed the English renaissance of literature and drama.  And I suggest that in the next decade Oxford adopted “Shakespeare” as a pen name on works containing those same ideas, plots and characters that he himself had originated and had shared with Munday and other writers under his wing.

In the Print Shop

The son of a London draper, Munday had been an actor, most likely in Oxford’s boy company and then in his adult troupe.  In 1576 he became an apprentice to John Allde, the stationer, whose son, Edward Allde, would later print several Shakespeare quartos.

Two years later Munday journeyed to Rome “to see strange countries and learn foreign languages,” but it seems he was also “a spy sent to report on the English Jesuit College in Rome.”

He returned to England by 1579, when he “may have become an actor again, with the Earl of Oxford’s company,” and that year he published The Mirror of Mutability, dedicating it to his patron and even including the following poem to him:

E xcept I should in friendship seem ingrate,
D enying duty, whereto I am bound;
W ith letting slip your Honour’s worthy state,
A t all assays, which I have noble found.
R ight well I might refrain to handle pen:
D enouncing aye the company of men
D own, dire despair, let courage come in place,
E xalt his fame whom Honour doth embrace
V irtue hath aye adorn’d your valiant heart,
E xampl’d by your deeds of lasting fame:
R egarding such as take God Mars his part
E ach where by proof, in honour and in name.

Munday referred to Oxford’s “courteous and gentle perusing” of his writings.  As B.M. Ward noted, Oxford was “no ordinary patron” since he was “willing to give both his time and attention to manuscripts submitted to him, and could be relied on to make suggestions and offer advice.”

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Also in his dedication Munday told Oxford that he “looked forward to “the day when as conquerors we may peacefully resume our delightful literary discussions” — a reference to “the rivalry between the Euphuists and the Romanticists,” Ward noted, adding it showed how Munday and his fellows “were all looking to their leader in this literary warfare.”

Philip Sidney

Oxford and his Euphuists aimed to refine and enrich the English language, believing in the magic of words and the power of imagery, while Philip Sidney and the Romanticists wanted to retell old stories of knighthood to make them more accessible.

[But I believe that Munday also meant they’d be “conquerors” in a political-religious sense; see Hess statements below.]

In 1580 Munday dedicated his novel Zelauto, The Fountain of Fame to Oxford, praising “the rare virtues of your noble mind” and declaring that “among all the brave books which have been bestowed [upon you], these my little labours contain so much faithful zeal to your welfare as [all] others whatsoever.”  He also wrote that the book was “Given for a friendly entertainment to Euphues” – revealing, in effect, that the character of Euphues stood for Oxford himself.

Munday's tract "A Discoverie of Edmund Campion..."

Munday was one of the chief witnesses against Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest who was hanged, drawn and quartered on December 1, 1581; and part of his savage tract A Discoverie of Edmund Campion and his Confederates was read aloud from the scaffold at Tyburn.  His political services against Catholics were rewarded in 1584, when he received the post of Messenger to Her Majesty’s Chamber.

In his 1588 dedication of Palmerin d’Olivia, Pt. 2, a translation, Munday spoke of Oxford’s “special knowledge” of foreign languages and referred to his master’s “precious virtues, which makes him generally beloved” and of “mine own duty, which nothing but death can discharge.”  [Only the 1616 reprint containing this information is extant.]

Oxford died in 1604, but Munday would never forget his master; in 1619 he dedicated all three parts of a new edition of his Primaleon of Greece to Henry de Vere, the eighteenth Earl of Oxford, and spoke of “having served that noble Earl your father of famous and desertful memory” and of “your honourable father’s matchless virtues.”

In my view the Oxford-Munday relationship to “Shakespeare” is a powerful reason to conclude that Edward de Vere was the greatest writer of the English language.  But there’s much more…

I feel strongly that Ron Hess in his trilogy The Dark Side of Shakespeare (the first two books issued in 2002 and 2003) has pieced together an extraordinarily complex but convincing argument that Anthony Munday was the “Publishing Shepherd” of what Hess calls the “Shakespeare Enterprise” — a matter upon which he expands in the planned third volume.  [See his website here.]

Volume II of the Ron Hess trilogy

In the first place I agree with Hess that Oxford himself had sent Munday to spy on Catholics in Rome.  I think that Edward de Vere had a working relationship with his father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister, and spymaster Francis Walsingham, in a role that Hess describes this way:

“In my opinion Oxford’s ‘office’ was to worm his way into the confidence of Catholic nobles ‘of the blood royal,’ foreign and domestic, some of them his close relatives … to determine if plotting against the realm was afoot, and then to gather evidence to be used in their undoing” – which, of course, was what happened when Oxford in December1580 accused his erstwhile associates Henry Howard and Charles Arundel of treasonous activities against the Queen and State (which were inextricable).

In an appendix of Volume II, Hess promises that his next book will deal even more thoroughly with Anthony Munday’s publishing history, so that “it becomes clear Munday’s publication projects go ‘hand-in-glove’ alongside of many Shakespeare projects.”  He will “strongly suggest if not prove that Munday essentially shepherded Oxford and Shakespeare-related projects to their known conclusions all the way from 1577 or 78 until well after Munday’s 1633 death.”

Munday lived to age eighty and “stayed incredibly active right up to the end,” Hess writes, “apparently participating in major Shakespeare-related projects all the way through the 1619 beginnings of the F1 project [First Folio], the printing of F1 itself in 1623, and then the preparation for and printing of F2 in 1632; plus, a few of his unfinished projects appeared years and decades after his death, generating Shakespeare- and Oxford-related works well into the second half of the 17th century…”

Noting that Munday was “a unique man who walked loudly, wrote with a big stick, and yet followed his master in moving like a ghost,” Hess cites Munday’s translation of Palladine of England as an attempt to identify Oxford as “Spear-shaker.”  Given that Edward de Vere had fashioned himself before the Queen as “the Knight of the Tree of the Sunne” [see also Barrell on this], Hess asks rhetorically of Munday and his role:

“Then who might have fancied himself to be the squire of such a ‘Paladin of England’?  What heroic things might have such a squire attempted?  What might he have done within his master’s lifetime to assure the praise he believed his master deserved?  What might he have done to secure such praise after his master’s death?”

I recommend a look at the work Ron Hess has already done  — and for more in-depth answers … stay tuned!

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. If John Finnis and Patrick Martin are correct, that The Phoenix & the Turtle is about Anne Line, a Catholic executed at Tyburn in 1601 (“Another Turn for the Turtle: Shakespeare’s Intercession for Love’s Martyr” 5220 Times Literary Supplement, 18 April 2003) – we have to reassess Oxford’s religious views at the time, whatever he may have done twenty years before.

    • Thanks — I’ll look it up.

  2. How do we reconcile this

    ““In my opinion Oxford’s ‘office’ was to worm his way into the confidence of Catholic nobles ‘of the blood royal,’ foreign and domestic, some of them his close relatives … to determine if plotting against the realm was afoot, and then to gather evidence to be used in their undoing” – which, of course, was what happened when Oxford in December1580 accused his erstwhile associates Henry Howard and Charles Arundel of treasonous activities against the Queen and State (which were inextricable).”

    with this

    Richard Desper’s brilliant deconstruction of Shakespeare’s savage defense of Campion and attack on the crown so adroitly placed in Twelfth Night that it slid completely under the radar, except for those knowledgeable souls who were aware the author was to be read for his views as well as his works watched on stage, especially those written for the “wiser sort” (like the Inns of the Court-I’m convinced Q-2 and Folio of Hamlet were never meant for public stage.)


    • Hi Ken. First I want to mention that I’ve not forgotten to respond to your other comment, the one about Golding etc. Meanwhile I agree with the above, that it’s a contradiction, but perhaps that’s a reflection of the man Shakespeare, in my view Oxford, whose works are filled with the contradictions and paradoxes of human existence. I see it as the same man who voted to condemn Mary Stuart yet wrote the “quality of mercy” speech for Portia in The Merchant of Venice. And while the statement of Ron Hess, quoted about Oxford’s “office” (perhaps not a term used for that at the time) may be true, about his commitment to the state, it would not contradict his negative reaction to the treatment of Campion. Might it be somewhat like those who protest against government policies (Vietnam, etc.) yet profess complete loyalty to the U.S. and a willingness to fight and die for the country? Maybe this answer is too glib, but I don’t think all is what it seems here:-)

  3. I agree Hank that not being there, the compexities of human emotion and belief are often difficult to fathom. Reading Roe. Amazing. What is more amazing is how the Strats are seemingly avoiding it. Aside from blockbusters like “Duke of Oaks”, the specificity of the entrance to Padua makes it extremely unlikely the author got his knowledge from “conversation” or “research”.

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