The Author as Gardener: No. 54 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Central Park, New York City

“One occupation, one point of view, above all others, is naturally his, that of a gardener; watching, preserving, tending and caring for growing things, especially flowers and fruit.  All through his plays he thinks most easily and readily of human life and action in the terms of a gardener … it is ever present in Shakespeare’s thought and imagination, so that nearly all his characters share in it.” – Caroline Spurgeon, Shakespeare’s Imagery and what it tells us, 1935

At age twelve in 1562, after a childhood in the Essex countryside, Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford became a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in the custody of chief minister William Cecil, the future Lord Burghley, living at Cecil House for the next nine years.

An illustration from Walter Crane’s 1906 book Flowers from Shakespeare’s Garden: a Posy from the Plays

“One of the chief features of Cecil House was its garden.  The grounds in which the house stood  must have covered many acres, and were more extensive than those of any of the other private homes in Westminster.  John Gerard, well known as the author of Herbal, or General History of Plants (1597), was for twenty years Sir William Cecil’s gardener [1577-1598]; and Sir William himself evidently took a great pride in his garden … Cecil imbued his sons and the royal wards under his charge with his own keenness in horticulture.” – B. M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford 1550-1604 from contemporary documents, 1928

Number 54 of 100 Reasons to believe that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is that he was uniquely positioned to assume the point of view — as well as the love and knowledge of seeds, plants, flowers and trees — possessed by the gardener.  We might imagine the teenage royal ward strolling through the great Cecil gardens, examining and smelling the flowers and learning their names and characteristics — the kind of education that “Shakespeare” must have had.

John Gerard’s landmark book (1597)

“Gardens were laid out on three sides of the mansion [Cecil’s country seat of Theobalds, which Oxford knew well] by the horticulturalist John Gerard … Trees and shrubs seen rarely if at all in Britain were imported from abroad.  The gardens were widely known in Europe.” – Charlton Ogburn Jr., The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & the Reality, 1984

O, what pity is it
That he [the king] had not so trimm’d and dress’d his land
As we this garden! We at time of year
Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit-trees,
Lest, being over-proud in sap and blood,
With too much riches it confound itself:
Had he done so to great and growing men,
They might have lived to bear and he to taste
Their fruits of duty: superfluous branches
We lop away, that bearing boughs may live:
Had he done so, himself had borne the crown,
Which waste of idle hours hath quite thrown down.

— The Gardener in Richard II, 3.4

Central Park, New York City

The gardener sows the seeds, whereof flowers do grow,

And others yet do gather them, that took less pain I know.

So I the pleasant grape have pulled from the vine,

And yet I languish in great thirst, while others drink the wine.

Edward de Vere, The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576

O thou weed,

Who art so lovely fair and smell’st so sweet

That the sense aches at thee…

When I have plucked the rose,

I cannot give it vital growth again,

It must needs wither: I’ll smell it on the tree.

John Gerard, 1545-1612

Othello, 4.2 and 5.2.

“What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit unto another?  What doth avail the rose unless another took pleasure in the smell?  Why should this tree be accounted better than that tree, but for the goodness of his fruit?  Why should this vine be better than that vine, unless it brought forth a better grape than the other?  Why should this rose be better esteemed than that rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other rose?  And so it is in all other things as well as in man.” – Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, prefatory letter to Cardanus’ Comfort (1573)

“Shakespeare’s Imagery” by Caroline Spurgeon, 1935

The laboring man that tills the fertile soil

And reaps the harvest fruit, hath not indeed

The gain but pain, and if for all his toil

He gets the straw, the Lord will have the seed.

The machete fine falls not unto his share,

On coarset cheat, his hungry stomach feeds.

The landlord doth possess the finest fare,

He pulls the flowers, the other plucks but weeds.

– The Earl of  Oxenforde to the reader (of Cardanus’ Comfort by Thomas Bedingfield, 1573)

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great, great point Hank. This has always been a conundrum to me. Its true that William of Stratford lived partly a rural middle class existence but its my understanding that by 12 his father’s financial troubles would have overcome any leisure time around gardening. Tom Reedy once commented foolishly “there were a lot of flower boxes in London”.

    We know so much about the author’s interests. It is such a pity the dishonesty of the life having no match for those interests. (Like tennis)
    That Oxford’s life matches up so well, along with the biographical echoes all over the canon, it is disingenuous to say the least to not explore further the Oxford- Shakespeare relationship.

    Cardanus Comforte and the Bedingfield letter by itself should be enough. it is so dense with parallels and influence (first use of murder in the figurative, 20 years before first attribution to Shakespeare, a motif he loved and used 8% of the time he used the term murder.

    Sobran, for all his craziness, did great work on this one.

    • Thanks again, Ken. And I know that you are particularly aware of the “quality” of these links, that is, these aspects of life (from flowers to ships etc) were absorbed into his being somehow and could be used as metaphors whenever he chose to reach for them, but never in any studied way. It’s way beyond the superficial argument that is thrown back at us.

  2. Great post Hank, keep us updated.

    -Samudaworth Tree Service

    • Sure will, thanks, and continue to keep those trees healthy!

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