Part Two of Reason No. 30 to Conclude that Oxford was “Shakespeare” — His Reaction in Words to the St. Bartholomew’s Day 1572 Massacre of Huguenots in France

The nearly fifty surviving letters Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford wrote to William Cecil Lord Treasurer  Burghley and his son, Principal Secretary Robert Cecil, are mostly about business matters, but in every line he spontaneously revealed himself as the most likely author of Shakespeare’s poems, plays and sonnets.

The contemporary artist Francois Dubois (b. 1529) painted this Huguenot view of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572

Take, for example, his letter written in September 1572, after the Elizabethan Court received shocking and frightening news of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris a few weeks earlier:  Admiral Coligny of France and thousands of his fellow Huguenots (French Protestants) had been slain; and Lord Oxford, 22, wrote an emotional letter to Lord Burghley, architect of the still-fragile Protestant Reformation in England:

“I would to God your Lordship would let me understand some of your news which here doth ring dolefully in the ears of every man, of the murder of the Admiral of France, and a great number of noble men and worthy gentlemen, and such as greatly in their lifetimes honoured the Queen’s majesty our mistress, on whose tragedies we have an number of French Aeneases in this city, that tell of their own overthrows with tears falling from their eyes, a piteous thing to hear but a cruel and far more grievous thing we must deem it them to see.  All rumours here are but confused, of those troops that are escaped from Paris, and Rouen, where Monsieur [the Ducke of Alencon] hath also been; and like a vesper Sicilianus, as they say, that cruelty spreads all over France …

Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard De Coligny (1519-1572), slain by an assassin

“And since the world is so full of treasons and vile instruments, daily to attempt new and unlooked-for things, good my Lord, I shall affectionately and heartily desire your Lordship to be careful both of yourself and of her Majesty…

“And think if the Admiral in France was a eyesore or beam in the eyes of the papists, that the Lord Treasurer of England is a block and a crossbar in their way, whose remove they will never stick to attempt, seeing they have prevailed so well in others.  This estate hath depended on you a great while as all the world doth judge, and now  all men’s eyes, not being occupied any more on those lost lords, are as it were on a sudden bent and fixed on you, as a singular hope and pillar whereto the religion hath to lean.”

The above passages, spilled from Edward de Vere’s pen in the heat of the moment, is “Shakespearean” in dozens of ways.  In the Comments section for Part One of this post, for example, Ken Kaplan points out Oxford’s use of “hendiadys” [hen-dee-ah-dis] when he refers to the Lord Treasurer as the “hope and pillar” of the state; and in fact Shakespeare uses literally hundreds of hendiadys such as when Prince Hamlet, in his “to be or not to be” soliloquy, refers to the “whips and scorns” of time.

[“Hendiadys” — a figure of speech in which a complex idea is expressed by two words connected by a conjunction.   Modern examples would be “nice and warm” or “good and loud.”  Each pair represents a single concept, but often the second noun or adjective unpacks the meaning of the first — the way Oxford’s second word (“pillar”) expands on his first word (“hope”).]

Painting focused on the killing of Admiral Coligny by Franz Hogenberg (c. 1540- c. 1590)

A brilliantly cogent essay on Oxford-Shakespeare poetry and prose styles is “Appendix N” of Roger Stritmatter’s 2001 University of Massachusetts PhD dissertation on Edward de Vere’s 1568-70 Geneva bible and its handwritten annotations pointing to themes and passages in the Shakespeare works.  Dr. Stritmatter notes that in Oxford’s account of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre there are many hendiadys (or similar kinds of conjunctions) such as “noble men and worthy gentlemen” … “a cruel and far more grievous thing” … “treasons and vile instruments” … “new and unlooked-for things” … “a eyesore or a beam” … “a block or a crossbar” … “bent and fixed” … “hope and pillar” — and more.

Oxford’s letter “reads like a sketch for a Shakespeare history play,” Dr. Stritmatter writes. “Envisioning the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre as a contemporary tragedy, shadowed by the allegorical precedent of Aeneas’ tragic exile from burning Troy, it paints a picture of the mise en scene in which the tragedy unfolds.  Appealing in alternating schema to senses of both sight and sound, it supplies a potent witness to Oxford’s powers of demonstratio, the literary figure by which ‘we apprehend [things] as though before our eyes.’  The iterated appeal to sight, and the organs of sight, could not be more ‘Shakespearean’: like the audience listening to Ophelia’s superlative portrait of the mad Hamlet (2.1.85-99), we are made to see ‘French Aeneases that tell of their overthrows with tears falling from their eyes.’  De Vere’s technique is precisely the same as that of ‘Shakespeare’…”

This is great stuff!  Can you feel the enthusiasm beneath Dr. Stritmatter’s measured statements?  I believe it’s because he still marvels at the power of Oxford’s (and Shakespeare’s) ability to create with words.

William Plumer Fowler observes in Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters that the earl “slips into his tragic Shakespearean metaphor” of “French Aeneases” with remarkable ease, adding that “Aeneas, the hero of Vergil’s great epic, is mentioned as many as twenty-eight times by Shakespeare.”  Moreover his mention of the cruelty that “like a vesper Sicilianus … spreads all over France” refers to the murder of eight thousand French in Sicily three centuries earlier, a massacre that also had started during a pageant.  “It is noteworthy that Shakespeare too shows the same familiarity as Oxford’s with the vesper Sicilianus and its pageant,” Fowler writes, citing Antony’s warning in Antony and Cleopatra (4.13.3) that “Thou has seen these signs; they are black [ominous] vesper’s pageants.”

When Oxford laments that “the world is so full of treasons and vile instruments,” he appears to coin a phrase that “Shakespeare” will use later in Cymbeline (3.4.72) when Pisanio cries out, “Hence, vile instrument!”

His characterization of Admiral Coligny as “an eyesore or beam in the eyes of the papists” [his Catholic slayers] will be echoed in The Taming of the Shrew (3.2.101) when Baptista refers to “an eye-sore to our solemn festival” and when Tarquin in The Rape of Lucrece (205) says, “Yea, though I die, the scandal will survive, and be an eye-sore in my golden coat.”  And, for example, Gloucester in 1 Henry VI (1.1.10) will echo Oxford’s words when he says, “His brandish’d sword did blind men with his beams.”

“This most interesting early specimen” of Oxford’s letters, Fowler writes, “with “its multiplicity of parallelisms” and “such distinctive metaphors as ‘eye-sore,’ ‘beam,’ ‘block,’ and ‘crossbar'” serves to corroborate “that the Earl of Oxford, rather than the man from Stratford, was the true ‘Shakespeare,’ and that these letters of Oxford are really ‘Shakespeare’s,’ the name by which the talented dramatist will always be known.  Coincidence in the use of common phrases of speech can explain some parallelisms, but not any such tidal wave of them.”

We’ll take another look at Oxford’s letters in part three, wrapping up this reason to believe he was Shakespeare.

[Background Image: “The Two Henries” – Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford; and Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton – circa 1619]

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hank,

    Just want your opinion. Great piece. On the Fellowship site I am, promoting Roe’s book. I said Oxford displayed a keen interest in Italy. Reedy quoted from Oxford’s letter to Burghley that

    “”Your lordship seems desirous to know how I like Italy, what is my intention in travel, and when I mean to return. For my liking of Italy, my lord I am glad I have seen it, and I care not ever to see it any more:unless it be to serve my prince or my country.”

    I responded

    “Apparently he was known and publicly teased as the “Italianate Englishman”, brought into translation from the Italian two of the more significant philosophical and cultural works of the time, and you give me a pro forma letter to Burghley? Which could have been written for many reasons. Or why the references are so intimate, not grandstanding like Jonson. We can speculate all day long.

    I think you can do better than that.

    BTW, the main issue with Roe is that the author seems to have been there, whoever he was.

    Please provide some personal evidence of Will of Stratford’s travel to or interest in Italy.

    Oh, there is none.

    Why is it we have_abundant_ evidence for Jonson’s research into Venice and NOTHING ANYWHERE for Shakespeare?

    Let’s see, Oxford hated Italy, Shakespeare loved it. Oxford loved Burghley and was always open and authentic with him in all his affairs(which btw, the letters are in edited form as to amount.)Shakespeare loathed Burghley and crucified him soon after his death in the play which has become his most famous, but somehow escaped both the censors and imperial and/or Cecil family wrath.

    Sounds good to me. At least Oxford WENT to Italy. Again, Roe’s point is the author did also.

    If Shakespeare can be as extraordinarily mercurial in life vis a vis his art, then dear Tom, I think Oxford might deserve similar latitude (assuming the letter expressed his true and complete feelings to Burghley, which may or may not be true.)

    The detail of the street routes in Florence and the knowledge of the “City” woven into the dialogue (similar to the landing in Padua in TOS), among other things, is what impressed me about AWEW. I don’t think they had Map Quest, Google Maps, or GPS in those days.

    As I remember an HLAS post of yours, you said Shakespeare’s Italy was totally of his imagination. (Or something close to that.) I’ll get the exact quote if you need it.

    Glad you’re reading the book. Wonder if Bob or Webb have looked at it?”

    Just wonder at your response to Oxford’s (sic) dislike of Italy. My thoughts are that given he left his wife to go to the continent and spent most of his time in Italy, he would be loathe to send back any effusive praise in any way of that land.

    Your thoughts?

    Ken

    • Hi Ken – thanks, and very good response to Reedy. It’s difficult even trying to get inside Oxford’s head, not to mention that there are many aspects of his life that are unknown or unexplained. Much as in the case of Hamlet, perhaps, from the points of view of all around him except probably Horatio. Each pair of eyes views him differently. I’m not alone, for example, in thinking Oxford had certain missions to accomplish while on the continent, and his communications with Burghley may have carried more meanings than meets our eye. Some of his movements are unknown. Was he indicating some intentions to Burghley? Otherwise it is all too easy to stand apart from this subject matter and spend time spotting various soft spots — or seeking silver bullets to blast holes in the Oxford case. We should thank him, I suppose, for keeping us on our toes. But as you say, the main issue is that the guy was there. Best regards.

  2. LeFranc made similar claims for Derby. I’d like to look at those comparisons. Have you ever looked at some of those and compared to Oxford and Fowler?


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