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.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Whittemore, what do you think about a theory that says: Edward de Vere penned Philip Sidney’s works? I used to believe that Oxford wrote, at least, “Astrophel and Stella” and that Stella was Elizabeth I. But now I start to have my doubts. Will you help me?

    • I will surely help if I can. Need a little time, given the holidays, and so on. I have many radical thoughts about Spenser, and not sure about Sidney or what you ask. I must study it. And, too, I must look at what you write about Watson. Sonnet 135?

      Meanwhile can you elaborate on the biblical aspect of parentheses as metaphor for End of Time and Judgment Day? How fitting this would be. Of course I don’t rule out any of the suggestions, from the three of us (Hello, Sandy), because Oxford could hardly do anything with less than two or three meanings or layers. I had not heard this before about the parentheses.

      • Whittemore, I make an error: it wasn’t Sonnet 135 but Sonnet 138 :P. Remeber when I said that it may have been wrote in 1575? I think it was wrote along with “Fears of Fancy”.

        When I talked about a theory on that Sonnet 126 parentheses are connected with the biblical sense of the End of Time, I was making reference to a theory I read in a baconian site. I am a little connect to marlovian and baconian sites and blogs on Shakespeare’s Authorship.

        As a believer in Prince Tudor Theory Part II and Group Theory, I thought studying the visions of the followers of the most plausible candidates to Shakespeare’s Authorship would help me in my search of truth. And this are my conclusions:

        – Baconians prefer to follow esoterism and to believe that Francis Bacon was very ocultist as a Grand Mason and Rosicrucian. Then I read of an opinion that the parentheses in Sonnet 126 have a biblibcal and apocalyptic meaning. I can’t remember in what site I saw this but I think it was in sirbacon.org;

        – Marlovian are like Stratfordian: they live in some I can call “lies”. It is most evident that whoever was the author(s) of Shakespeare, he/she/they was/were alived after “Venus and Adonis” was published. They believe and talk on things that they dream to have happend like Marlowe faked his own death. I already read in a marlovian blog that he, after his death, MAY have fled to Italy then and in the same page (remember that we are talking on one author, the one of the blog) a phrase says that Marlowe fled to France. Strange in fact;

        – Oxfordians take they reason from reality and not ocultism and that why I am a little oxfordian thought the colaboration of a group in shakespearean works is evident to me;

        I hope I have answered you, Whittemore 🙂


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