No. 51 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford = “Shakespeare”: He Was Steeped in the Military Knowledge to be Found in the Plays

“Warfare is everywhere in Shakespeare, and the military action in many of Shakespeare’s plays, and the military imagery in all his plays and poems show that he possessed an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of warfare, both ancient and modern.”

The Elizabethan army in Ireland

The above comes from Charles Edelman, author of Shakespeare’s Military Language: A Dictionary (2000), which provides what the publisher calls “a comprehensive account of Shakespeare’s portrayal of military life, tactics and technology and explores how the plays comment upon military incidents and personalities of the Elizabethan era.”

I don’t know how orthodox biographers imagine William Shakspere of Stratford accumulating all that “extraordinarily detailed knowledge” of warfare and military matters.  Perhaps they see him acquiring it through automatic assimilation, by which all intricacies are miraculously absorbed into the very fiber of his being and translated into the dialogue of characters in his plays.

“Shakespeare expresses the courtier-soldier’s point of view too clearly and naturally and displays far too familiar a grasp of military methods, objectives and colloquialisms not to have acquired this knowledge through serious study – plus firsthand experience – of the arts of war,” Oxfordian scholar Charles Wisner Barrell wrote in 1945.  “No such study and experience can be documented in the career of the Stratford native.”

(At issue is “information” as opposed to innate genius – knowledge “communicated or received concerning particular facts or circumstances,” as my dictionary puts it, or “gained through study, research, instruction, experience.”   The great author’s information about military life was acquired; and he appears to draw upon his wealth of information not in any calculated way but spontaneously, during the white heat of composition, using it for various purposes the way an artist will mix paints on his canvas.)

On and on come the military terms in the plays, as in 2 Henry IV,  for example, with words such as alarum, ancient, archer, beacon, beaver, besonian, blank, bounce, bullet, Caesar’s thrasonical brag, caliver, captain, chamber, charge, cavalier, chivalry, coat, corporal … well, you get the point.

When Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford is perceived as the author, there’s no need for miracles.  “In every outstanding instance of specialized knowledge,” Barrell noted, “Oxford’s personal familiarity with the subject can be categorically documented; and this is particularly true in respect to ‘Shakespeare’s’ fund of military information.”

Oxford unquestionably acquired information about “military life, tactics and technology” in ways such as these:

Horatio Vere

*  Oxford’s cousins Horatio and Francis Vere, known as the “Fighting Veres” for their exploits as soldiers, may have been the models for the soldiers Horatio and Francisco in Hamlet.

Francis Vere (1560-1609)

Also Oxford’s brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby, devoted his life to the political and military service of Queen Elizabeth.

*  When the Northern Rebellion of powerful Catholic earls began in November 1569, Oxford at nineteen requested military service, which was granted in the spring of 1570, when he served under his great friend the Earl of Sussex.

Hume Castle

The chief action he would have seen was the siege of Hume Castle, whose defenders surrendered to avoid further bombardment.

(The episode calls to mind the siege of Harfleur by Henry V.)

*  Oxford was champion of his first tournament at the Whitehall Tiltyard, in May 1571, performing “far above expectation of the world” in front of Queen Elizabeth and the royal court.  He blazed his way “with fiery energy,” contemporary Giles Fletcher wrote, summoning “a mimicry of war” as he “controls his foaming steed with a light rein, and armed with a long spear rides to the encounter … Bravo, valiant youth!  ‘Tis thus that martial spirits pass through their apprenticeship in war … The country sees in thee both a leader pre-eminent in war, and a skillful man-at-arms…”

(A decade later, in January 1581, Oxford prevailed as champion of his second and final such tournament.)

*  In August 1572 he played the starring role in the staged military battle at Warwick Castle (see Reason No. 50), leading 200 armed soldiers of one fortified position against those of another; and the contemporary account of this extravagant and realistic entertainment supplied the kind of military terms to appear later in the “Shakespeare” plays:  “battering pieces … chambers … mortar pieces … assaults … calivers … arquebuses …”

*  An important book published 1579, entitled The Defense of Militaire Profession.  Wherein is eloquently shewed the due commendation of Martiall prowess, and plainly proved how necessary the exercise of Armes is for this our age, by was dedicated by its author, Geffrey Gates, “To the Right honorable Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford.”  The publisher, John Harrison, would later issue Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594, thereby introducing “William Shakespeare” by way of their dedications to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

*  On June 25, 1585, Oxford wrote to William Cecil Lord Burghley asking for a loan to help in his suit for a military command in the Netherlands in England’s impending war with Spain.  At one point he launched into a particularly Shakespearean string of military metaphors, writing, “For, being now almost at a point to taste that good which her Majesty shall determine, yet am I as one that hath long besieged a fort and not able to compass the end or reap the fruit of his travail, being forced to levy his siege for want of munition.”  (Emphasis added.)

(That word “munition” was not too common at the time, but “Shakespeare” used it more than once, as when Gloucester in 1 Henry VI declares, “I’ll to the Tower with all the haste I can/ To view the artillery and munition.”)

*  Later that summer, Oxford at thirty-five was commissioned to command a company of horse in the Low Countries.  “Five or six thousand English soldiers have arrived in Flanders with the Earl of Oxford and Colonel Norris,” came one report in September.  A month later, however, the Queen inexplicably commanded Oxford to return home and sent as his replacement the Earl of Leicester, who, having maneuvered his way into replacing Oxford, would proceed to disgrace himself by his behavior in Holland.

*  Oxford was reported among the many “honorable personages” in the summer of 1588 who “were suddenly embarked, committing themselves unto the present chance of war” once the mighty Spanish armada had arrived for its mission to crush England.  Apparently Oxford’s ship was disabled, because he went directly for his armour, and even his enemy Leicester reported that “he seems most willing to hazard his life in this quarrel.”

How did “Shakespeare” acquire his military knowledge?  The answer is Reason 51 to believe Edward de Vere was the great author.

No. 50 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: He Was Court Impressario & Master Showman: The Staged Military Battle at Warwick Castle in 1572

We now reach No. 50 of 100 Reasons to believe that Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford wrote the works of “William Shakespeare.”  Half the journey is over!  Thanks to you, dear reader, for checking in and being a part of it.

Warwick Castle

This reason involves an elaborate entertainment in the form of a mock military battle in the summer of 1572 at Warwick Castle between two armies, one under Oxford’s command.

I have often thought that “Shakespeare,” if alive in our own time, would become not only a poet and playwright but also a screenwriter and director on a grand scale, similar to modern greats such as David Lean or Steven Spielberg or Francis Ford Coppola.  He would seize the chance to make the most of our advances in the technology and art of filmmaking.

When Edward de Vere emerges from the shadows of history, the curtain will rise on not only the hidden genius who adopted the pen name “Shakespeare” at age forty-three in 1593, but also on the great impresario who, unknown to the public, was the primary force behind the extraordinary pageant of entertainments for Queen Elizabeth and her royal court.

An ariel view of Warwick Castle…

Along with the outpouring of plays, performed in the relative privacy of that privileged audience, were spectacular public entertainments such as the mock battle at Warwick Castle.

Let us follow the account of a contemporary chronicler, with my occasional italicizations for emphasis:

“Be it remembered that in the year of our Lord 1572, and in the fourteenth year of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth, the twelfth day of August in the said year, it pleased our said Sovereign Lady to visit this borough of Warwick in person…”

On summer progress with the court, she arrived in great splendor as all the chief citizens assembled on their knees outside the town to greet her.

Cover of “The Queen’s Progress: An Elizabethan Alphabet” by Celeste Davidson Mannis

“Her Majesty in her coach, accompanied with the Lady of Warwick in the same coach … the Lord Burghley, lately made Lord Treasurer of England, the Earl of Sussex, lately made Lord Chamberlain to Her Majesty, the Lord Howard of Effingham, lately made Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England…”

By now Oxford was Burghley’s son-in-law.  His close friends Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex and Charles Howard, Earl of Effingham, were charged with ensuring that plays were performed at court – a duty they would carry out until Sussex’s death in 1583.

The Queen spent a week in the Warwick area and on Sunday 18 August “it pleased her to have the country people resorting to see her dance in the Court of the Castle … which thing, as it pleased well the country people, so it seemed Her Majesty was much delighted and made very merry.”

In the evening after supper came the mock battle, which, among other things, was an exercise in theatrical realism.

Elizabeth and the court first saw a fort, commanded by Fulke Greville, “made of slender timber covered with canvas.”  Inside were “divers persons to serve the soldiers; and therefore so many harnesses as might be gotten within the town … wherewith men were armed and appointed to cast out fireworks, as squibs * and balls of fire.

Fulke Greville (1554-1628)

“Against that fort was another castle-wise prepared of like strength, whereof was governor the Earl of Oxford, a lusty gentleman, with a lusty band of gentlemen.

“Between these forts, or against them, were placed certain battering pieces, to the number of twelve or fourteen, brought from London, and twelve fair chambers, or mortar pieces, brought also from the Tower … These pieces and chambers were by trains fired, and so made a great noise, as though it had been a sore assault …

Arquebus or Harquebus

The Earl of Oxford and his soldiers, to the number of two hundred, with calivers and arquebusses, ** likewise gave divers assaults; they in the fort shooting again, and casting out divers fires, terrible to those that have not been in like experiences, valiant to such as delighted therein, and indeed strange to them that understood it not.

“For the wild fire falling into the river Avon would for a time lie still, and then again rise and fly abroad, casting forth many flashes and flames, whereat the Queen’s Majesty took great pleasure…

[This seems to be as close to one of our own war movies as the 16th century could get!]

“At the last, when it was appointed that the over-throwing of the fort should be, a dragon flying, casting out huge flames and squibs, lighted up the fort, and so set fire thereon, to the subversion thereof; but whether by negligence or otherwise, it happened that a ball of fire fell on a house at the end of the bridge…

An engraving of Warwick Castle, 1729

“And no small marvel it was that so little harm was done, for the fire balls and squibs cast up did fly quite over the Castle, and into the midst of the town; falling down some on the houses, some in courts … and some in the street … Four houses in the town and suburbs were on fire at once, whereof one had a ball come through both sides, and made a hole as big as a man’s head, and did no more harm.”

A man and his wife were sleeping in the house that got hit with the fire ball, but Oxford and Greville ran over and, after some difficulty, rescued the couple.  Next morning the Queen and her courtiers gave the man more than twenty-five pounds to cover the loss of their home.

Such high drama on a grand scale is exactly what we might expect to find “Shakespeare” creating as a young man, more than two decades before his adoption of that pen name.   We might well expect to find that, in addition to becoming the greatest writer of the English language, the great poet-dramatist was also a master showman.

[The contemporary chronicle was in Black Book of Warwick, printed in Bibliotecha Topographica Britannica, vol. iv., and reprinte by B. M. Ward in his 1928 biography The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604, From Contemporary Documents.]

* Squib – a firework in the form of a tube or ball filled with powder that burns with a hissing noise until it ends with a slight explosion.

** Arquebus (Harquebus) – a simple form of musket, i.e., a small-caliber long gun operated by a matchlock or wheel-lock mechanism with a piece of burning cord igniting the priming powder in the pan, which in turn ignites the main charge in the barrel.  It dates from about 1400.

Reason 49 to Conclude that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: His Pervasive Presence in the Plays

This reason to believe Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” follows from the previous one, about the pervasive presence of Queen Elizabeth in the plays.  The focus now is on the pervasive presence of the author himself.   The material here does not prove that the Earl of Oxford wrote these works, but it does add to the overwhelming evidence that he did.   A continued gaze through an Oxfordian lens brings a completely different picture into focus, one that feels like truth.

In a debate in New York City a Stratfordian opponent complained that I was trying to “take away” his personal conception of Hamlet, by suggesting the Prince is a mirror reflection of Oxford.  I replied that it’s the other way around, that knowing who created Hamlet can only enhance our appreciation in every way.  It certainly can’t detract from it!

Hamlet the character is not strictly autobiographical.  That idea is foolish on its face.  The author used various pieces of his own nature and experiences in life and grafted them onto various outside elements including classical sources, some of which served as templates.  The mirror image is not literal.  After mixing all the elements, he breathed life into a new creature of his imagination.  It’s no wonder Hamlet seems to be as alive, even more alive, than anyone in real life.

Here, again, the topic is quantity.  Aspects of Oxford’s own personality and life make their appearances in play after play, in the form of characters who reveal themselves as creations of the artist Edward de Vere.

In some cases Oxford apparently splits himself into two separate characters embodying opposite sides of his own nature, such as Valentine and Proteus in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Valentine is virtuous and endowed with noble qualities, while Proteus is viewed as “perjured, false and disloyal,” according to Silvia [Elizabeth].   In fact the Queen of England held both views of the Earl of Oxford, who, as a truth-teller, freely expresses his divided nature.

Another instance of splitting himself into two characters can be seen in his portraits in Measure for Measure of the noble and kind Duke versus the less-than-virtuous Angelo; and in As You Like It we can see Oxford expressing the melancholy side of his nature through Jacques, while Touchstone the former courtier is the poet who plays the fool with a scathing wit as well as a profound wisdom:  “When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead that a great reckoning in a little room.”

Here’s just a partial list of characters that seem, in various ways, to reflect Edward de Vere:

  1. Angelo …………………………… Measure for Measure
  2. Antonio …………………………. The Merchant of Venice
  3. Benedick ……………………….. Much Ado About Nothing
  4. Berowne ……………………….. Love’s Labours Lost 
  5. Bertram …………………………. All’s Well That Ends Well
  6. Duke ………………………………. Measure for Measure
  7. Philip the Bastard …………… King John
  8. Fenton …………………………….The Merry Wives of Windsor
  9. Feste the Clown ………………. Twelfth Night
  10. Hamlet ……………………………. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
  11. Jacques …………………………… As You Like It
  12. King Lear …………………………. King Lear
  13. Othello ……………………………. Othello
  14. Pericles ……………………………. Pericles
  15. Posthumous ……………………. Cymbeline
  16. Prospero …………………………. The Tempest
  17. Proteus ……………………………. The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  18. Romeo …………………………….. Romeo and Juliet
  19. Timon ………………………………. Timon of Athens
  20. Troilus ……………………………… Troilus and Cressida
  21. Valentine …………………………. The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Philip the Bastard or Faulconbridge in King John offers a terrific view of Edward de Vere as a high-spirited young courtier, full of merry mischief and zeal for military combat and glory.  Although King John is a play of royal history, Philip is the author’s own creation.  Oxford [who had been called a bastard when he was thirteen] would have relished the chance to let his Bastard dominate the play and even conclude it with nationalistic gusto:

This England never did, nor never shall,

Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,

But when it first did help to wound itself.

Now these her princes are come home again,

Come the three corners of the world in arms,

And we shall shock them.  Nought shall make us rue,

If England to itself do rest but true.

That word “true” is often a tipoff that Oxford, whose motto was Nothing Truer than Truth, is representing some aspect of himself through the character.  “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription,” he wrote to Robert Cecil, “for truth is truth, though never so old” – and consider, for example, this speech by Troilus:

True swains in love shall in the world to come

Approve their truths by Troilus: when their rhymes,

Full of protest, of oath and big compare,

Want similes, truth tired with iteration,

As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,

As sun to day, as turtle to her mate,

As iron to adamant, as earth to the center,

Yet, after all comparisons of truth,

As truth’s authentic author to be cited,

“As true as Troilus” shall crown up the verse,

And sanctify the numbers.

[The “numbers” are verses, as in Sonnet 17:  “If I could write the beauty of your eyes,/ And in fresh numbers number all your graces.”]

By bringing plays to the royal court, Oxford played the part of the Jester.  Olivia [Elizabeth] in Twelfth Night calls Feste [Oxford] a clown or “fool” who is “allowed” to run off at the mouth and make sport of others:  “There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail” — the Queen’s personal playwright can scold or rant all he wants.  So long as she shields him with the royal protection, no one dares to accuse him of slander.

Imagine the ticket she gave him to use his powers, as a master of hilarious, merciless satire, to aim at those who deserved the roasting!

This single Reason to believe that Oxford was “Shakespeare” could fill up a thousand pages, so I’ll stop right here and conclude with this thought:  A few characters resembling aspects of Edward de Vere might be deemed a coincidence, but the sheer quantity of them indicates that much more is at work.

Reason 48 to Believe the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: The Many Characters Reflecting Queen Elizabeth

What are the chances of William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon creating allegorical portraits of Queen Elizabeth I of England?  What are the chances he dared to depict this female ruler, an absolute monarch so intensely proud and protective of her public image, in accurate but often harshly negative detail?

Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford had known Her Majesty from at least 1561, when he was eleven and she was twenty-eight.  The following year he became her first royal ward, in the custody of her chief minister William Cecil, and she became his official mother.  He reached his majority in 1571, entering the House of Lords and quickly enjoying the greatest royal favor at Court.  He had a front-row seat for one of the most sensational tragicomedies in world history – the Golden Age of Elizabeth!

Given that he was also a poet and dramatist, what are the chances of him creating allegorical portraits of the great Virgin Queen?

Scholars of the traditional Bard have fleetingly glimpsed such portraits of Elizabeth in the plays, but for them the full picture is out of focus and blurry.  It’s impossible to see clearly with the wrong author in mind.  Knowledge of the true author creates a lens through which vital aspects of the works become wondrously clear.  Much of what was obscure becomes obvious.

Venus (In the Botticelli painting): Goddess of Love and Beauty, with whom Queen Elizabeth was associated

Through an Oxfordian lens the Shakespeare plays contain quite a few female characters that appear to reflect Elizabeth I of England.

Once the Earl of Oxford is viewed as the author, it becomes clear that he was obsessed with his sovereign mistress and that he was constantly grappling with the extremes of her strengths and weaknesses.

Here are eight of his female characters appearing to represent her:

  1. Cleopatra ………………… Antony and Cleopatra
  2. Cressida ………………….. Troilus and Cressida
  3. Gertrude …………………. Hamlet
  4. Olivia ………………………. Twelfth Night
  5. Portia ………………………. The Merchant of Venice
  6. Rosalind …………………… Romeo and Juliet
  7. Silvia ………………………… The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  8. Titania ……………………… A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, is most often mentioned in connection with Elizabeth, mainly because Oberon describes Cupid’s vain attempt to ensnare “a fair vestal throned by the west.” Many other aspects of Titania reflect Elizabeth, but the point of Reason 48 is the sheer quantity of such characters that Oxfordians have observed.  The female characters reveal many sides (good and bad) of that extraordinary woman who ruled England for nearly forty-five years; and some of the portraits could have been drawn only by an artist who had experienced them “up close and personal.”

An image of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt on an ancient coin

*  For an accurate view of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the biographical and historical framework of the earliest versions must be moved back in time from the mid-1590’s to the early 1580’s.  In that perspective, it’s possible to see the love affair between Queen Titania and Bottom as depicting the courtship of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon during the so-called French Match.

*  In Twelfth Night, the portrait of Elizabeth as Olivia stands beside Malvolio as a caricature of Sir Christopher Haton, the Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard.

* Elizabeth banished Oxford from Court after discovering his affair with Anne Vavasour, who gave birth to his illegitimate child; and we can hear Oxford speaking of his Queen as Silvia in Valentine’s words:

And why not death rather than living torment?
To die is to be banish’d from myself;
And Silvia is myself: banish’d from her
Is self from self: a deadly banishment!

*  The vows of constancy made by Troilus to Cressida reflect those Oxford had to make to the Queen when his Court banishment ended in 1583 and old Roger Manners reported, “The Earl of Oxford came into her [Elizabeth’s] presence, and after some bitter words and speeches, in the end all sins are forgiven.” 

Elizabeth I of England, a potrait

* To the Elizabethans it must have been obvious that Shakespeare modeled Cleopatra on Elizabeth, who appears to have modeled herself on the Queen of Egypt.

Turning to the poems and sonnets, we find more aspects of Queen Elizabeth through the Oxfordian lens.  She was the queen of Love and Beauty, like Venus; she was the chaste queen, like Lucrece [she had it both ways]; she was the Phoenix; and so on!

  1. Venus ………………………….. Venus and Adonis
  2. Lucrece ………………………… The Rape of Lucrece
  3. Phoenix ……………………….. The Phoenix and the Turtle
  4. Woman ………………………… A Lover’s Complaint
  5. Mistress (Dark Lady) …….. Shake-speares Sonnets

In some cases Oxford appears to use male characters to reflect the Queen:

  1. King Cymbeline of Britain ………. Cymbeline
  2. King Richard II of England ………. Richard II

I’m sure Elizabeth would have seen herself (or aspects of herself) in each of these characters.  Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, must have delighted her.  Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, would have sent her into a fury [and we might wonder if she ever attended a performance of Hamlet].

The Queen definitely recognized the unflattering portrait of herself in the character of Richard II, a weak monarch led astray by flattering counselors.  Several months after the failed Essex Rebellion of February 8, 1601, which had been preceded by a special performance  of the Shakespeare play, Elizabeth turned to her in-house historian William Lambarde and said, “I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?”

Before the gifted and perceptive K.C. Ligon died in 2009, she had begun to build an entire blog site entitled Shakespeare and Elizabeth, and I urge you to check it out.

An Oxfordian Journal — Chapter 10: “Okay … Now I Get It!”

In that summer of 1987 my new Boston friend Charles Boyle sent me copies of pages from Charlton Ogburn Jr.’s book The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984).  I brought them to a crowded breakfast place near the docks in Portland Maine and placed them on the counter next to my coffee, not yet realizing that I might look back on this occasion as an important personal event.

That was the Question….

One page described how Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, returning across the English Channel from his Continental tour, had been waylaid and nearly killed by pirates.  During the crossing “his ship was set upon and captured by Dutch pirates,” Ogburn reported.  The French ambassador said the earl was “stripped to his shirt and escaped with his life only because a Scotsman had recognized him.”

I recalled Hamlet going through a very similar experience while bound for England.  As he writes to Horatio, “A pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase” and captured his ship.  After boarding, however, the pirates “dealt with me like thieves of mercy” and set him free.

Okay, I thought, so maybe Shakespeare heard about Oxford’s brush with pirates.  Maybe he heard it at the Mermaid Tavern or down at the docks on the Thames.  Maybe that inspired him to have Hamlet stopped by pirates and then set free by the same men, who became “thieves of mercy.”

The next page contained a letter from Oxford’s wife, Anne Cecil, begging him to believe she had been faithful.  Anne wrote of hearing “your Lordship is entered into misliking of me without any cause in deed or thought.”

“I beseech you in the name of God, which knoweth all my thoughts and love towards you,” she wrote to him, “let me know the truth of your meaning towards me; upon what cause you are moved to continue me in this misery.”  She ended with a plea that he “not be led still to detain me in calamity without some probable cause, whereof, I appeal to God, I am utterly innocent.”

Now I thought of Ophelia (in Hamlet) and Desdemona (in Othello).  I thought of Desdemona pleading with Othello to believe in her innocence.

Finally several pages contained a Chronology of the Principals in the Case of William Shakespeare.  This was a timeline running down separate columns for “Edward de Vere” and “William Shakespeare” [the author’s name on printed poems or plays] and “William Shakspere” [the Stratford man, with no evidence connecting him to the poems or plays].  The timeline began in 1550, the reported year of Oxford’s birth, and proceeded down each of seventeen pages until it came to the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.

I was struck by the comparisons of events occurring in the same time frame for each category; for example:

* In 1564, when the Stratford man is born, the fourteen-year-old Oxford is receiving an honorary degree from Cambridge University; and under the same roof at Cecil House, his Uncle Arthur Golding is translating Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which will become known as the favorite source of Shakespeare.  (Young Oxford is undoubtedly doing the translation himself.)

* In 1583, when the Stratford man is nineteen and his daughter Susanna is being baptized, thirty-three-year-old Oxford is transferring the lease of Blackfriars Playhouse to playwright John Lyly, his private secretary, whose work will become known as a major source used by Shakespeare.  (The truth is exactly opposite, with Oxford being the inspiration behind all of Lyly’s work.)

* In 1598, when William Shakspere is being listed in Stratford as hoarding grain during the famine, Love’s Labour’s Lost is being printed and advertised as “newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespeare,” indicating it was originally written much earlier.

Okay … now I get it!

If Oxford was the great poet-dramatist, there had been an entire “back story” starting in the 1560’s and proceeding all through the 1570’s and 1580’s, before “William Shakespeare” appeared in the 1590’s, when Oxford was in his forties.  The preceding decades of his life had been the invisible underside of a proverbial iceberg; the most important part of the Shakespeare story had already happened before “William Shakespeare” first appeared in print in 1593.

The academic world has been turning a blind eye to the most crucial aspects of its subject matter.  The scholars have been looking at the phenomenon of Shakespeare solely in terms of its results, while totally ignoring its birth and development.

The Shakespeare biographers have been trying to stitch together two separate and unrelated timelines – one tracking the printed name “Shakespeare,” and another one tracking the utterly unrelated life of Shakspere – to create a single story.

And that story, clearly enough, is pure bunk!


Chapter One: Acting in “Othello” in College and Having No Clue about a Shakespeare Authorship Question

Chapter Two: When Prince Hamlet Became My Friend and Soul Mate

Chapter Three: Realizing that Hamlet is Drawn from the Author’s Psyche

Chapter Four: Searching for Shakespeare’s Creative Process

Chapter Five: Plunging into the Strangely Elusive Life of Shakespeare

Chapter Six: Shakespeare’s “Dramatic Remoteness” from Himself

Chapter Seven: “A Life” of Shakespeare: Portrait of a Ghost

Chapter Eight: The Fragile Stratfordian Universe

Chapter Nine: What if You Found that Shakespeare was Someone Else?”

Published in: on September 10, 2012 at 1:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Reason 47 to Realize that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: Spenser’s Rhyming Match Between “Willie” (Oxford) and “Perigot” (Sidney) in 1579 and Its Connection to “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

This reason why Edward, Earl of Oxford must have been “Shakespeare” is related to the previous one, concerning Edmund Spenser’s description of “our pleasant Willy” in 1591.

A page of “The Shepherd’s Calendar” by Edmund Spenser, 1579, written in honor of Queen Elizabeth

Now we glance back in time to his first mention of “Willie” the poet, which occurred in The Shepherd’s Calendar of 1579, when Oxford was twenty-nine and a recognized poet (but had stopped signing his poems in 1576), whereas William Shakspere of Stratford was just fifteen.

Sir Philip Sidney and his younger brother Sir Robert Sidney, from a painting by Mark Garrard at the Sidney ancestrial home of Penshurst Palace, Kent

Spenser depicted a “rhyming match” between two poets “Willie” and “Perigot” – a thinly disguised spoof on the rivalry in 1579 between the leaders of England’s two literary factions — Lord Oxford, head of the Euphuists, and Sir Philip Sidney, head of the Areopagus.  The two men were also on opposite political sides; in general, Oxford was more liberal while Sidney leaned to the Puritan camp; and they became embroiled that year in an infamous “quarrel” (shouting match) on the Greenwich Palace tennis court, while members of the visiting French delegation had a front-row seat, watching from their private-gallery windows.

(The delegation had come to England to negotiate the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon, which Sidney opposed and Oxford publicly championed — though Oxford apparently knew, along with Lord Burghley, that the French match was a big charade on her Majesty’s part.)

Oxford held Sidney in contempt for his plagiarism of other writer’s work; and for that reason he hated the contemporary praise that Sidney received but didn’t deserve.  On the royal tennis court, the earl scornfully glared at Sidney and shouted: “Puppy!”  

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) – from the Miniature by Isaac Oliver at Windsor Castle

“In respect,” Sidney retorted, “all the world knows that puppies are gotten by dogs, and children by men!” 

Oxford stood silent, allowing the unintended implication to resound within the courtyard of the palace – the implication that Sidney, a puppy, was begotten by a dog!  Then after some further sharp words, Sir Philip “led the way abruptly out of the Tennis-Court,” as Fulke Greville recorded in his adoring homage Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney, written during 1610-14 but not published until 1652.

Sidney’s Areopagus (Romanticists) aimed to “reform” English poetry by instituting “certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse,” as Spenser wrote to Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey.  Their objective, B. M. Ward wrote in his documentary biography of Oxford in 1928, was to “reclothe the old stories of knighthood and chivalry as to render them more vivid and applicable to their own times.”

Oxford and his Euphuists viewed laws and rules of literature as made to be broken (a view that “Shakespeare” would share, adding to the evidence they were one and the same); and their aim was to refine and enrich the English language — as Ward wrote, “It was the magic of words and the imagery of sentences that appealed to them.”

(Ward also observed that, regardless of how much Sidney irked Oxford, “There is nothing essentially antagonistic in these two points of view; neither can live without the other.”  These men were “pioneers,” with Oxford and Sidney mutually providing each other with “the necessary stimulus without which no human achievement can be attained.”)

Philip Sidney would die in the Battle of Zutphen in September 1586 at age thirty-one, adding to his popular image as a heroic courtier and soldier

Probably the most notable example of the Oxford-Sidney literary rivalry is their pair of epigrams, Oxford’s beginning with “Were I a king I might command content” and Sidney’s verse, in reply, beginning with “Wert thou a king, yet not command content.”  (See full texts below within Looney’s remarks.)

Spenser in his Shepherd’s Calendar of 1579 opens the contest this way:

WILLIE (Oxford): Tell me, Perigot, what shall be the game,

Wherefore with mine thou dare thy music match?

Or been thy bagpipes run far out of frame?

Or hath the cramp thy joints benumbed with ache?

PERIGOT (Sidney):  Ah!  Willie, when the heart is ill assayed,

How can bagpipe or joints be well a-apaid?

The exchange continues through a succession of stanzas and grows into a wild volley of contrapuntal rhyming, such as:

PERIGOT (Sidney): It fell upon a holy eve,

WILLIE (Oxfod): Hey, ho, holiday!

PERIGOT (Sidney): When holy fathers were wont to shrieve.

WILLIE (Oxford): Now ‘ginneth the roundelay!

And, for example:

PERIGOT (Sidney): Sitting upon a hill so high,

WILLIE (Oxford): Hey, ho, the high hill!

PERIGOT (Sidney): The while my flock did feed thereby.

WILLIE (Oxford): The while the shepherd self did spill!

Here, I submit, we have Edmund Spenser describing a significant chapter in the development of the great author who would call himself “Shakespeare” some fourteen years later in 1593.  And the lines he assigned to “Willie” can be described as “Shakespearean” (even though this was 1579, when Shakspere of Stratford was fifteen), as when Feste the Clown in Twelfth Night sings with the same “hey, ho” and back-and-forth rhyming:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But this reason also involves the crucial issue of dating, with the example of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a “pleasant conceited comedie” first published in 1598, with a title page advertising it as “newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere.” Orthodox scholars (given the Stratford man’s chronology) need to have it written circa 1592-1596, but the evidence suggests a much earlier date, that is, by some fifteen years.

In January 1579, several months before Spenser introduced “Willie” and “Perigot,” the Court of Elizabeth was entertained by the double bill of A Maske of Amazones and A Maske of Knights, which Oxfordians view as the first version of Love’s Labour’s Lost – an extremely sophisticated court comedy in which Berowne is an unmistakable self-portrait of Edward de Vere and Boyet (“little boy,” echoing “puppy”) is an unmistakable portrait of Philip Sidney.

Love’s Labour is full of the same contrapuntal jousting in which Oxford and Sidney were engaged during the late 1570’s.  It appears to be all in fun, but finally the author moves in for the attack upon Boyet/Sidney, accusing him of stealing from the works of others:

This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons peas,

And utters it again when God doth please.

Imagine this accusation coming from the stage in front of the entire royal court, with Sidney himself in that privileged audience!

[Three centuries later Sidney Lee would point out that “the majority of Sidney’s efforts” had been inspired by Petrarch, Ronsard and Desportes, while he passed off “almost verbatim translations from the French” as if they were his own.]

In my view this is all wonderful history of which students have been deprived for generation after generation during the past two or three centuries.  Wearing the blinders of traditional mythology, orthodox scholars do not (and dare not) even look at it.  One day, however, those blinders will come off, and the world will be much richer for its ability to learn the true story.

The above material owes much to the work of past Oxfordians such as Eva Turner Clark, Ruth Miller, Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn, and Charlton Ogburn Jr.  But let me share with you some of the same stuff as put forth originally by John Thomas Looney in his breakthrough book “Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, in 1920:

The quarrel with Sidney, in which he [Oxford] stung his adversary with the single word “puppy,” is one of the few details recorded of his life about the court in the early years of this period. The story of the quarrel is variously told, differing in so much as this, that one account speaks of Sidney playing tennis when Oxford intruded, whilst another records that Oxford was playing when Sidney strolled in. In whichever way the story is told it must needs be so as to reflect discredit upon Oxford and credit upon his antagonist. The chief contemporary authority for the details, however, appears to be Fulke Greville, and when it is remembered that Greville was the life-long friend of Sidney, and that when he died, as Lord Brooke, he left instructions that this friendship should be recorded upon his tombstone, we can hardly regard him as an impartial authority.

One particular of this antagonism is, however, relevant to our present enquiry and must be narrated. Oxford had written some lines (again the familiar six-lined stanza) which are spoken of by two writers as specially “melancholy.”  They may be so, but they are certainly not more melancholy than many passages in “Shakespeare’s,” sonnets, and are quite in harmony with that substratum of melancholy which has been traced in the Shakespeare plays.

Oxford’s stanza:

“Were I a king I might command content,
Were I obscure unknown would be my cares,
And were I dead no thoughts should me torment,
Nor words, nor wrongs, nor love, nor hate, nor fears.
A doubtful choice of three things one to crave,
A kingdom or a cottage or a grave.”

Melancholy or not, the Shakespeare student will have no difficulty in recognizing in this single stanza several marks of the master craftsman.  To this Sidney had replied… 

“Wert thou a king, yet not command content,
Since empire none thy mind could yet suffice,
Wert thou obscure, still cares would thee torment;
But wert thou dead all care and sorrow dies.
An easy choice of three things one to crave,
No kingdom nor a cottage but a grave.”

… It will be observed that the “sensible reply” contains no really inventive composition. It is a mere schoolboy parody, formed by twisting the words and phrases of the original stanza into an affront.  Had it been an inventive composition it would have contained more matter than Sidney ever compressed into an equal space. Between two intimate friends it might have been tolerated as a harmless piece of banter.  Between two antagonists it lacked even the justification of original wit.  And if, as one writer suggests, this matter led up to the tennis-court quarrel, considering the whole of the circumstances, including age and personal relationships, Oxford’s retort of “puppy” was possibly less outrageous, and certainly more original than Sidney’s verse had been.  Sidney’s uncle, Leicester, upon whose influence at court the young man (then twenty-four years old) largely depended, admits having to “bear a hand over him as a forward young man,” so that one less interested in him might be expected to express the same idea more emphatically. The personal attack, it must be observed, had, in this instance at any rate, come first from Sidney. As in other cases one gets the impression of Oxford not being a man given to initiating quarrels, but capable of being roused, and when attacked, striking back with unmistakable vigor.

The story of the tennis-court quarrel is one of the few particulars about Oxford that have become current. Indeed, one very interesting history of English literature mentions the incident, and ignores the fact that the earl was at all concerned with literature. Now, considering the prominence given to this story, it almost appears as if “Shakespeare,” in “Hamlet,” had intended to furnish a clue to his identity when he represents Polonius dragging in a reference to young men “falling out at tennis.”

If our identification of Oxford and Harvey with Berowne and Holofernes be accepted, an interesting point for future investigation will be the identification of other contemporaries with other characters in the play; and in view of Oxford’s relationship with Sidney we shall probably be justified in regarding Boyet as a satirized representation of Philip Sidney; not, of course, the Philip Sidney that tradition has preserved, but Sidney as Oxford saw him. For, compared with the genius of Shakespeare, no competent judge would hesitate to pronounce Sidney a mediocrity. If to this we add Dean Church’s admission that “Sidney was not without his full share of that affectation which was then thought refinement,” it is not difficult to connect him with Boyet, the ladies’ man, whom Berowne satirizes in Act V, Scene 2:

“Why this is he
That kiss’d away his hand in courtesy;
This is the ape of form, monsieur the nice,
That, when he plays at tables, chides the dice
In honourable terms; nay, he can sing
A mean most meanly; and, in ushering,
Mend him who can: the ladies call him sweet.
The stairs as he treads on them kiss his feet.
This is the flower that smiles on every one,
To show his teeth as white as whale’s bone;
And consciences that will not die in debt,
Pay him the, due of honey-tongued Boyet.”

The last two lines are somewhat puzzling apart from any special application. Applied to Sidney, however, they become very pointed from the fact that he died so deeply in debt as to delay his public funeral; his creditors being unwilling to accept the arrangements proposed to them. The difficulties were only overcome by his father-in-law Walsingham, who had a special political interest in the public funeral, advancing £6,000…

[Looney gives examples of Sidney copying from De Vere, such as:

De Vere (Dialogue on Desire): 
What fruits have lovers, for their pains?
Their ladies, if they true remain,
A good reward for true desire.
What was thy meat and daily food?
What hadst thou then to drink?
Unfeigned lover’s tears.

Sidney (Shepherd’s Dialogue):
What wages mayest thou have?
Her heavenly looks which more and more
Do give me cause to crave.
What food is that she gives?
Tear’s drink, sorrow’s meat.

…When, moreover, we find Sidney presenting at a pastoral show at Wilton a dialogue, which is obvious plagiarism from Spenser and De Vere, we can understand Berowne saying of Boyet, in the lines immediately preceding those quoted:

“This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons pease,
And utters it again when God doth please.”

…A certain degree of rivalry between artists, in any department of art, may be quite consistent with mutual respect. But when one happens to be “a forward young man” guilty of petty pilfering from his rival, one can understand the rival’s point of view when he protests:

“He is wit’s pedlar, and retails his wares
At wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs,
And we that sell by gross, the Lord doth know
Have not the grace to grace it with such show.”
(L. L. L. Act V, Scene 2.)

The above lines, from the great author known as “Shakespeare,” had their roots in the real life and experience of Edward de Vere; it is that life, and that experience, which we find vibrating within his poems and plays.

Reason No. 46 (Part Two): A Clarification about “Our Pleasant Willy”

The Red Crosse Knight of Holinesse in Spenser’s “The Faire Queene” (1590)

Some readers of this blog have been understandably confused by Reason 46 involving Edmund Spenser’s depiction of “our Pleasant Willy” in The Teares of the Muses, published in 1591.  Was I saying that Spenser’s use of the name “Willy” in 1591 had anything to do with the printed name “William Shakespeare” to appear for the first time two years later in 1593?  The answer is:

“I don’t know.  What I do know is that Spenser first used ‘Willie’ for Oxford in 1579, which will be the topic of Reason 47, further confirming that his ‘Willy’ in 1591 was also a name Spenser gave to Oxford.  What counts in both cases is the description of Willie or Willy, not the name itself — unless these were nicknames that writers used for Oxford, but there’s no documented evidence of that.  The description, which certainly fits ‘Shakespeare,’ also fits Oxford and can only apply to him.   Additionally open to question is whether, two years later, Oxford adopted the pseudonym ‘William’ because he had been known as ‘Willie’ or ‘Willy.’  We’d only be guessing about that.  It is certainly possible.”    

If anyone has any further question or comment about this, please let us know.

Reason No. 46 Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare: Edmund Spenser’s Lament in 1590 for “Our Pleasant Willy” Who Was “Dead of Late”

In 1590 the poet Edmund Spenser published the first books of The Fairie Queene and then in 1591 The Teares of the Muses.  In the latter poem, nine goddesses bemoaned the current state of the arts, despite the fact that just two years earlier, the great renaissance of English literature and drama had reached the zenith of its glory — just in time for England’s defeat of Spain’s invasion by armada, in the summer of 1588.  Now, at the start of a new decade, Spenser was warning that the renaissance had ended.

(The English government, having used the wartime services of writers working under the patronage of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, promptly forgot them.  Lord Burghley, father-in-law of Oxford, began to pressure the earl financially; as a result, many writers who depended upon him fell to the wayside.  Lyly, his private secretary, was out of a job; Kyd was tortured to death on the rack; Watson had died in 1590; Greene would die in 1592; Marlowe would be murdered in 1593; Lodge left England — and so  forth, so that future scholars would conclude that “Shakespeare,” upon the appearance of that name in 1593, “had the field to himself.”)

One of Spenser’s laments in Teares is delivered by the goddess Thalia, Muse of Comedy, who wails over the public withdrawal of a specific poet-dramatist who has been “learning’s treasure” delivering “comic sock” to audiences at his plays:

Where be the sweete delights of Learning’s treasure,       
That wont with comick sock to beautefie
The painted theaters, and fill with pleasure
The listners eyes, and eares with melodie,
In which I late was wont to raine as queene,
And maske in mirth with graces well beseene?           

O, all is gone! and all that goodly glee,
Which wont to be the glorie of gay wits,
Is layd abed, and no where now to see;
And in her roome unseemly Sorrow sits,
With hollow browes and greisly countenaunce               
Marring my joyous gentle dalliance.

Oxford had been bringing plays to Court and the private Blackfriars Playhouse during the 1570’s and 1580’s.  (The evidence also shows he was supplying the Queen’s Men with plays for its traveling troupes during the 1580’s.)  William Webbe in A Discourse of English Poetry (1586) wrote, “I may not omit the deserved commendations of many honourable and noble Lords and Gentlemen in Her Majesty’s Court, which, in the rare devices of poetry, have been and yet are most skillful; among whom the right honourable Earl of Oxford may challenge to himself the title of most excellent among the rest.”  

The same praise was given to him in The Arte of English Poesie (1589), when the anonymous author* praised Court poets “who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman Edward Earl of Oxford,” declaring elsewhere in the same pages, “For Tragedy Lord Buckhurst and Master Ferrys do deserve the highest praise: the Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty’s Chapel** for Comedy and Enterlude.”

* The author of Arte has been identified variously as George Puttenham and Lord Lumley, but the evidence actually points to Oxford himself as the author.

** Richard Edwards had died more than two decades earlier, in 1566, when Oxford was sixteen.  Certainly they had worked together during 1563-66, and it may well be that the teenage Oxford, not Edwards, had written Damon and Pithias (1564) and Palamon and Arcyte (1566), the latter a “lost” play thought to be a source of The Two Noble Kinsmen as by Shakespeare.

(Other evidence makes clear that Spenser and Oxford were well acquainted and even had worked together.  Spenser certainly knew in 1590 that Edward de Vere had abruptly withdrawn from public life and, in that sense, was “dead of late.”)

Continuing her lament in Spenser’s poem, Thalia declares:

And he, the man whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter* under mimick shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all ioy and iolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent**.

[* Counter – counterfeit.]
[** Drent – drowned.]

Instead thereof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scornfull Follie with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in rymes of shameles ribaudrie
Without regard, or due decorum kept;
Each idle wit at will presumes to make*,
And doth the learneds taske upon him take.

[* Make – write poetry.]

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streames of honnie and sweete nectar flowe,
Scorning the boldnes of such base-borne men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himselfe to mockerie to sell.

There was only one man in Elizabethan England who held the mirror up to Nature with such scathingly accurate imitations of Truth that his audiences roared with laughter and swooned with delight.

“We should be convinced that by ‘our pleasant Willy,’ Spenser meant William Shakespeare,” Nicholas Rowe wrote in his Some Account of the Life of the bard in 1709, explaining that “such a character as he gives could belong to no other dramatist of the time.”

Spenser’s description has also presented an insurmountable problem, however, given that William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon, the bard of tradition, had barely begun his alleged career in 1591.  In no way could he have withdrawn from writing for the stage, nor could he have been “dead of late” or “sitting in idle cell.”  

But such was precisely the case with 40-year-old Edward de Vere, who had become a virtual recluse by 1591 – and, in the Oxfordian view, had begun revising his previous stage works, which would be published under the “Shakespeare” pen name.  In that view he was “idle” only in terms of writing more original works for the public; otherwise he was hard at work, alone, transmuting that prior work into literary and dramatic masterpieces that would live for all time.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that, as a much younger man in 1576, Oxford had published a signed poem in The Paradise of Dainty Devices concluding he “never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.” ***

And what about Spenser’s statement that “our pleasant Willy” was “Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,” reflecting the attitude of a high-born nobleman?  At a time when class distinctions were extremely rigid, the commoner William Shakspere of Warwickshire could never fit that description — unless he was scorning the boldness of such men as himself!  Otherwise it expresses exactly the view of proud Edward de Vere, Lord Great Chamberlain of England, the highest-ranking earl of Queen Elizabeth’s realm.

“The Faire Queene” by Spenser (1590) and his Dedication to Queen Elizabeth

One of Spenser’s seventeen dedicatory verses to noble individuals in The Fairie Queen of 1590 was to Oxford, whom he praised directly and personally as a poet, in unusual language that called attention to:

… the love which thou dost bear

To th’Heliconian imps [the Muses] and they to thee,

They unto thee, and thou to them, most dear.

Spenser was publicly writing to Edward de Vere, calling him the poet most loved by the Muses, adding:

Dear as thou art unto thyself, so love

That loves and honors thee; as doth behoove.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. translated those lines as Spenser telling Oxford:

“As dear as you are to yourself, so are you to me, who loves and honors you, as it behooves me to.”

The bafflement over the identity of “our pleasant Willy” will be cleared up quickly once the “experts” realize that Spenser was referring to the great author who was not, after all, William Shakspere, but that same Earl of Oxford who was “most dear” to the Muses — and who would soon adopt the pen name “William Shakespeare.”

*** See the entire poem as printed by J. T. Looney in his Poems of Edward de Vere in 1921.

*** Spenser’s dedicatory verse to Oxford:


RECEIVE, most noble Lord, in gentle gree

  The unripe fruit of an unready wit,
  Which by thy countenaunce doth crave to bee
  Defended from foule Envies poisnous bit:
Which so to doe may thee right well befit,
  Sith th’ antique glory of thine auncestry
  Under a shady vele is therein writ,
  And eke thine owne long living memory,
Succeeding them in true nobility;
  And also for the love which thou doest beare
  To th’ Heliconian ymps, and they to thee,
  They unto thee, and thou to them, most deare.
Deare as thou art unto thy selfe, so love
That loves and honours thee, as doth behove.
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