No. 30 of 100 Reasons why Oxford was “Shakespeare” — His Letters Contain Thousands of Correspondences to Thoughts and Phrases in the Poems and Plays Part One

William Plumer Fowler was president of the solidly orthodox Shakespeare Club of Boston in 1960 when it “came as a shock to me, after over half a century spent in the mistaken traditional belief, to at last realize that the true author was not the Stratfordian William Shakespeare, but someone else.”

After assuming the presidency of the Club for the second time in 1972, he spent an additional year of investigation before finally becoming “convinced beyond any doubt” that Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford had written the great works.

Another dozen years later, on Christmas eve of 1984 at his home in New Hampshire, he completed the preface for his 900-page masterwork Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters.   Fowler had chosen thirty-seven of some fifty letters, written by the earl between 1563 and 1603, to demonstrate how they contain “consistent correspondences (averaging over two to a line) in nearly every phrase to the thought and phraseology of Shakespeare’s plays and poems.”

Part of an autograph letter from Oxford to Robert Cecil (his "Brother" or former brother-in-law) in July 1600

“The letters “speak for themselves,” Fowler writes, adding they “offer convincing documentary evidence of their being those of the true poet Shakespeare, as distinct from the Stratford William Shaksper of similar name.  They are far more than just Oxford’s letters,” he concluded. “They are Shakespeare’s.”

Among the thousands of correspondences is a statement from Oxford to William Cecil Lord Burghley in July 1581, after his release from the Tower following some dramatic events: after accusing his Catholic cousins Henry Howard and Charles Arundel of engaging in treasonable correspondence with Spain, they retaliated with vicious counter-charges.  They also revealed his affair with Anne Vavasour, a Queen’s Maid of Honor, who gave birth to his illegitimate infant son (Edward Vere).  She and the baby, as well as Oxford, were summarily committed to the Tower for two months.

“But the world is so cunning,” he wrote to Burghley, “as of a shadow they can make a substance, and of a likelihood a truth.”

Plato's Cave - where shadows, projected on a wall, are mistaken for substance and truth

“This shadow-substance antithesis harks back to Plato’s Socratic dialogue in the Seventh book of The Republic,” Fowler writes, “about the shadows cast by a candle in a cave, and is a favorite of Shakespeare’s, unfolded again and again, in the repeated portrayal of what Dr. Herbert R. Coursen Jr. terms ‘Shakespeare’s great theme – the discrepancy between appearance and reality’.”

In Richard II, for example, Bushy tries to calm the Queen’s anxiety over Richard’s departure for Ireland: “Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows, which show like grief itself, but are not so … So your sweet Majesty, looking awry upon your lord’s departure, finds shapes of grief more than himself to wail, which, look’d on as it is, is naught but shadows of what it is not.” (2.2.14-23)

The metaphor is intensified after Richard surrenders his crown to Bolingbroke:

Bolingbroke: “The shadow of your sorrow hath destroyed the shadow of your face.”
King Richard: “Say that again. The shadow of my sorrow! Ha! Let’s see. ‘Tis very true, my grief lies all within. And these external manners of laments are merely shadows to the unseen grief that swells with silence in the tortured soul. There lies the substance…

“So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised/ Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give,” the author writes in Sonnet 37, and he begins number 53: “What is your substance, whereof are you made,/ That millions of strange shadows on you tend?”

Oxford’s statement that “the world is so cunning as of a shadow they can make a substance and of a likelihood a truth” appears in reverse order in The Merchant of Venice when Bassanio talks about “the seeming truth which cunning times put on to entrap the wisest” (3.2.100) — and in The Phoenix and Turtle, simply put: “Truth may seem, but cannot be.”

Oxford wrote to Robert Cecil on May 7, 1603, some six weeks after the death of Queen Elizabeth, and at one point he echoed his motto Vero Nihil Verius (“Nothing Truer than Truth”) in this striking passage:  “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription, for truth is truth though never so old, and time cannot make that false which was once true.

These ringing words “are mirrored many times by the dramatist Shakespeare,” Fowler writes, “most notably in Measure for Measure (5.1.45) where the entire thought is duplicated by Isabella: “For truth is truth to the end of reckoning.” And in Troilus and Cressida (3.2.106), to name just one other example: “What truth can speak truest, not truer than Troilus.”

He wrote in that same letter to Cecil, “Nothing adorns a king more than Justice, nor in anything doth a king more resemble God than in justice,” and Fowler observes: “Here we have a fine variant of Portia’s immortal words in The Merchant of Venice (4.1.188-196) but with the emphasis placed on ‘Justice’ itself,” rather than on Mercy, of which Portia states: ‘It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,/ It is an attribute to God himself,/ And earthly power doth then show likest God’s/ When mercy seasons justice.'”

Oxford's father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England, on his mule

Edward de Vere was only twenty-two in 1572 when the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in France shocked the Elizabethan Court as tens of thousands of Huguenots (Protestants) were slain.  In an emotional letter he told Burghley:

“This estate hath depended on you a great while as all the world doth judge” – a statement, Fowler notes, “anticipating with arresting closeness both Shakespeare’s words and thought” in two scenes of Hamlet:

(1) Laertes, warning his sister Ophelia against getting too involved with Prince Hamlet because of his high position, tells her: “He may not, as unvalued persons do, carve for himself, for on his choice depends the safety and health of this whole state.” (1.3.20)

(2) King Claudius gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern their commission to escort Hamlet to England, telling them, “The terms of our estate may not endure hazard so near us,” and Rosencrantz remarks: “The single and peculiar life is bound … to keep itself from noyance; but much more that spirit upon whose weal depends and rests and lives of many.”

We’ll continue later with Part Two of Reason No. 30…

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for bringing attention to Fowler’s important book. Let’s hope it will soon be available as a Google Book, so all of us can refer to it more easily.

  2. Perhaps you are going to include it in part two, but Oxford’s use of hendiadys in the play most used of them by Shakespeare in which the stoic philosophy and language and image of the most famous speech in all of English literature (To be or not to be), from a book Oxford birthed into English is amazingly powerful. In the letter from France, Oxford, who thought in metaphor (as did Shakespeare), wrote of “French Aeneas’ weeping” and called Burghley the “Hope and Pillar”. Like the “Whips and scorns of time”.

    Also Stritmatter pointed out in his dissertation Oxford’s letter concerning the 1000 pound grant. To Falstaff from the Chief Justice, “Not a penny, not a penny, you are too impatient to bear crosses” pointing to the Biblical passage between Jesus and the rich man,. (“come follow me and take up the cross). Stritmatter demonstrates “The (chief Justice’s) harsh medicine _reverses_ the real life complaint of Devere, in his Danvers Escheat letter to Robert Cecil that he is obliged to “earnestly solicit her (Majesty) for the report, which I should not have needed to do **if gospel had been put in the mouth of of the Lord Chief Justice and the Attorney””**. Shakespeare has “put gospel in the mouth of the Lord Chief Justice”.

    This is little known but one of the most striking parallels I have seen in the entire debate.

    Ken

  3. Certainly intriguing, I would like forward to more posts about Shakespeare and the Oxford letters. Does an annotated version of the letters exist?

    • I like your website and hope students are flocking to it. To repeat what’s in the blog – the closest thing to an annotated edition of Oxford’s letters is “Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters” (1986) by William Plumer Fowler. It’s nearly 900 pages and I see at Amazon that it’s still priced at 67 dollars — http://www.amazon.com/Shakespeare-Revealed-Oxfords-Letters-William/dp/0914339125 Fowler goes through each line of the letters a finds similar expressions and usages in the Shakespeare works, many quite startling. Not much has been done in the way of comparing the letters of other poets and playwrights, however, so it’s not airtight. By the same token we have no personal or private letters written by William of Stratford. I recommend Fowler’s work if you enjoy that kind of thing. I find it very pleasurable, and it’s a way of absorbing more of Shakespeare’s (and Oxford’s) distinctive style.

      • Thank you, that was extremely helpful.

        I also appreciate you taking the time to look at my site. There are a few more features in the works, including a blog. You already noticed I will be authoring educational pieces for students. If someday you consider writing a guest post, it would be a honor.

        I look forward to your future posts. I continue to save snippets for an article I would like to write considering the question of authorship. The goal is to create a more visual info-graphic or timeline that presents the facts in an easily accessible way.

      • Glad it’s helpful. If you find some particular topic or angle you’d like me to address, sure, I’d love to write something. Let me know any time.


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