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!

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