Number 37 of 100 Reasons Why Oxford was “Shakespeare” — “Mark the Music!”

This reason why Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” can be expressed in a single word … Music!

CD available at
and at music

(And below is a scholar’s observation in 1916 about Elizabethan musical history, which, in my view, serves to rule out William of Stratford as the great author.)

Only a man with music flowing in his veins would give Lorenzo his famous lines to Jessica in The Merchant of Venice (5.1):

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears.  Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony…

Music is pervasive in Shakespeare’s plays and poems; some 170 passages introduce the words “music” or “musical” or “musician.”

Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold!

There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.

Such harmony is in immortal souls…

Shakespeare uses “sing” in various forms no less than 247 times.  Some forty passages deal with musical instruments.

Available at Music

[Enter Musicians]

Come, ho, and wake Diana with a hymn!

With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear

And draw her home with music…

Shakespeare includes or alludes to the texts of well over a hundred songs.  In addition to the numerous stage directions for music and sound effects, his dramatic and poetical work is permeated by specific references to more than 300 musical terms.

[Play Music]

The man that hath no music in himself

Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds

Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils:

The motions of his spirit are dull as night

And his affections dark as Erebus.

Let no such man be trusted.  Mark the music!

Edward de Vere was associated with music from his teenage years at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, before he arrived at Court in 1571, age twenty-one, and quickly gained the highest favor of Queen Elizabeth, becoming her dance partner and performing for her on the lute and the virginals.

Early on he had become associated with Richard Edwards, Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, who is credited with compiling The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576) – which includes at least eight of Oxford’s early poems that appear to also be lyrics for songs.   Oxford had a company of adult actors and one of choir boys, who sang as well as performed stage works (at the private Blackfriars Playhouse and the royal court); and records of the 1580’s indicate he patronized a traveling company “The Earl of Oxford’s Musicians.”

Oxford was the patron of John Farmer, the celebrated madrigalist; and from about 1572 onward he was involved in musical activities at Court with the composer William Byrd, one of the very greatest musicians that England has produced; and it appears he was Byrd’s patron as well.  The earl’s own accomplishments in the field were praised by professional musicians.

While preparing this post I stumbled upon an extraordinary fact in Shakespeare’s England: An Account of the Life & Manners of His Age (1916).  In the chapter on music, W. Barclay Squire reports that Shakespeare “is far in advance of his contemporaries” in terms of musical references, although his education in that field, “wherever it was acquired,” had been “strictly on the lines of the polyphonic school” — a musical teaching that all parts of a composition must fit equally into the whole, as expressed in Richard II (5.5.):

Music, do I hear?

Ha, ha!  Keep time.  How sour sweet music is

When time is broke and no proportion kept!

Such a passage, Squire observes, “cannot be understood without some knowledge of the elaborate system of proportions inherited by Elizabethan composers from the earlier English school,” but here comes the extraordinary aspect:  It seems “remarkable,” he continues, “that the musical terms of the plays should be so consistently those of the old school of polyphony.”  And why?  Because, during the last half of the 1590’s, a new style of musical arrangement replaced the old one, yet the great dramatist was apparently unaware of it!  “This change dates from about the year 1597,” Squire writes, unable to conceal his bafflement, “yet in all the plays which Shakespeare produced from then until the performance of The Tempest in 1611, no allusion to the ‘new music’ can be discovered.”

Well … this would be baffling indeed if the author had been William of Stratford, who, within the traditional time frame, still had the best part of his career in front of him and surely would have incorporated the “new school” of music into his plays.   But in the Oxfordian view, Edward de Vere had finished writing the early, basic versions of all his plays (including The Tempest) by 1589 – which would quickly and easily explain why “Shakespeare” failed to embrace a musical revolution that began so much later, in 1597!

Next: Oxford’s relationships with the Elizabethan musical giants William Byrd and John Farmer…

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Hank,
    Congratulations. What a fantastic find! Shakespeare’s musical accomplishments have always been underplayed by Stratfordians but this discovery completely blows any explanation of theirs re his musical references in the plays out of the water PLUS most decisively pushes the Canon back up to 10+ years earlier, well before the capabilities of their grammar schoolboy.

    Lee Cramond

    btw. You might want to change that date from the 1990’s to the 1590’s.

  2. Great stuff, Hankl. The passage from MOV you quote seems directly inspired by Ficino’s concept of the music of the spheres and reflects Neo-Platonic sspirituality. For a taste of music dedicated to, inspired by, and quite possibly performed by the Earl of oxfod, readers could obtain a copy of My Lord of Oxenford’s Maske, a cd of Oxfordian music recorded by the duo for lute, Mignarda, who performed at the Ashland Authorship conferences in 2005 and again in 2010.

    • Earl, thanks for the info and for reminding me to include My Lord of Oxenford’s Maske in upcoming music posts. It’s a fascinating subject and amazing to begin to realize the full extent of Oxford’s involvement in musical development. The traditional view has forced scholars to limit “Shakespeare” in virtually all ways, and this is surely one of them.

  3. …And Christopher Wang’s dissertation on Oxford’s seeming creation of the English Madrigal.
    I think “composer” Thomas Weelkes is another “Shaxsper”. His music is by turns sublime and hilarious- sometimes simultaneously so.
    I’m a cellist/singer recording a collection of this obscure material.
    Very fun, very exciting.

    Wang’s paper:

    • Thanks — interesting about Weelkes. Share any other thoughts etc you’d like. Glad you’re having fun with it. Can we get access to [Wang’s] paper? You must know Michael Delahoyde…

      • Hi- I’m creating a show based on Weelkes’ music and the authorship connections. Would love to send you some material.
        Beautiful music, pictures & ideas.

      • Sure. You can send to me at P.O. Box 549, Nyack NY 10960
        Thanks and best wishes

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