Number 40 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “William Shakespeare” — Evidence that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Originated in the Early 1580’s as a Masque about Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon

A multi-faceted reason to view Edward de Vere Lord Oxford as “Shakespeare” involves the time frame.  To put it simply, most or all of the Shakespeare works were originally created ten or more years earlier than we have been told.

Oliver Chris & Judi Dench as Bottom and Titania in Peter Hall’s 2010 production at the Rose Theatre, Kingston

For example, studies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream reveal that its first version was a court masque parodying the farcical French Match of 1578 to 1581, when marriage negotiations between Queen Elizabeth (Queen Titania) and the Duke of Alencon (Bottom, disguised as an ass) were in full swing – but, alas, Will Shakspere was only seventeen in 1581, still very much in Stratford and not yet married, forcing orthodox scholars to date the original composition of the Dream to no earlier than 1594!

One result is that few if any books about Shakespeare mention anything about a relationship between that masterful romantic comedy and the French Match involving Elizabeth and Alencon.

The initial appearance of the name “William Shakespeare” was on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton in 1593.  This alone is a problem for the mainstream scholars, because it means that the very first publication by the young man from Stratford was a highly sophisticated, cultured narrative poem, one of the best ever written in England, yet he’d been in London just five years or even less.

Orthodox scholars, trying to fit the original writing of the Dream to the contours of Will of Stratford’s life, place the start of his composition in the very next year, 1594.  But was our struggling young playwright creating A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the public playhouse?  No, folks, no such apprenticeship for him, and not according to “the almost universally held belief among critics that the play was written for a private performance, clearly a part of the festivities attendant upon an aristocratic wedding,” writes Oscar Campbell in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966).

Elizabeth Vere (1575-1627), who married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby on 26 January1595 at Greenwich Palace, where a new version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” may have been performed during the festivities

“The only existing text,” Dr. Campbell tells us, “is the version of the comedy designed to be presented in the great hall of an Elizabethan gentleman’s country house, or possibly at the Court, on an occasion at which Queen Elizabeth may have been present … [Virtually all scholars acknowledge Queen Titania as a portrait of Elizabeth] …

“Many weddings of the nobility solemnized about the years 1594-1596 have been suggested as the occasion for which the play was written.  One considered most likely by many historians is that of Elizabeth de Vere, the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, to the Earl of Derby, which took place on January 26, 1595.”

Greenwich Palace, where the wedding of Lady Elizabeth Vere and the Earl of Derby took place

Now, let’s get this straight … a young man from Stratford upon Avon, near the start of his London career as a playwright, designs a play not for the public theater, but, instead, for a private wedding of the nobility.  He includes a major female character, Queen Titania, representing Elizabeth Tudor, and has her fall in love on stage with an ass!  Moreover the play is performed in front of that same female monarch, who is known for her extreme vanity, and for the amusement of her full court at Greenwich Palace!

Was it impossible?  Well, I’d say miraculous.

But let’s remove the constricting timeline of the Stratford fellow’s life and look at some of the perfectly logical evidence that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece that evolved through two or three or more of the author’s revisions, according to changing circumstances over more than a dozen years, from the Alencon affair reaching its climax in 1581 to a wedding of the nobility at Court in 1595.

“Tips of the iceberg” keep appearing to indicate the presence of this “hidden” history of the play; and Dr. Campbell is honest enough to mention some of these anomalies, as when he writes: “Certain textual inconsistencies indicate that the play as we have it has been revised, and that the lines which deal with the fantasy form only one of two textual layers.” [My emphasis]

The easiest way to eliminate the mystery is to realize that the first version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was an Elizabethan version of a Saturday Night Live skit, written by thirty-year-old Oxford in 1580.  At the time he was still in the highest favor of Elizabeth (though not for long); he and John Lyly, his private secretary and stage manager, were presenting plays for aristocrats at the private Blackfriars playhouse and for Her Majesty at Court.  The earl had been personally involved in the often-ludicrous Alencon affair, even to the point of twice refusing in 1578 to obey the Queen’s command to dance for the French diplomats, who had come to England to negotiate terms of the royal marriage.

Hercule Francois, Duke of Anjou and Alencon (1555-1584)

Oxford was “identified” as Shakespeare in 1920 by J. Thomas Looney.  It took hardly more than a decade for Eva Turner Clark in 1931 to suggest in her Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays that earl had the Dream performed as a masque (probably for the Blackfriars audience, poking fun at both Elizabeth and Alencon) in 1581, before presenting it in some more complete form for the Queen during the Christmas season of 1584 at Court.  Then he would have revised the play yet again, a decade later in the mid-1590’s, for its performance during the Greenwich festivities for his daughter’s marriage to the Earl of Derby.

In the play, Titania courts Bottom while he wears his ass’s head.  Bottom repeatedly refers to “monsieur,” a comical reference to Alencon, who would not yield to the pressures on him to leave England, just as Bottom says: “I see their knavery; this is to make an ass of me; to fright me, if they could.  But I will not stir from this place …!”  [It must have been hilarious.]

“My Oberon!” cries Titania.  “What visions have I seen!  Methought I was enamored of an ass!”

When Alencon finally left the country in early 1582, writes Clark, “he realized that his dream of being Elizabeth’s consort and sovereign of England had come to an end, just as Bottom’s dream of a life in fairyland.”

I recommend an essay by Dr. Roger Stritmatter entitled On the Chronology and Performance Venue of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dreame’ in the 2006 edition of The Oxfordian, and to look up the work of Dr. Earl Showerman on this subject as well as others.  There is much, much more to Reason No. 40 to believe it was Oxford who adopted the “Shakespeare” pen name at age forty-three in 1593.

[A footnote: Oxford had been publicly in favor of the Alencon match, along with William Cecil Lord Burghley, the Queen’s chief minister – both realizing that the prolonged affair would keep France from an alliance with Spain and give England time to prepare for the inevitable Spanish invasion by armada.  In private, Oxford was surely against the match.]

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Powerful essay. Thank you.

  2. Looking forward to sixty more !

    • Thanks, David! Onward!


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