Happy New Year from Walt Whitman! His Views on the Shakespeare and the Matter of Authorship

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), the great American poet, essayist and journalist, held some strong views when it came to Shakespeare and the authorship question.  Here are just some of his remarks, with thanks to the Shakespeare Fellowship for its online posting of the article Walt Whitman on Shakespeare (1992) by Paul A. Nelson, MD.

waltwhitman olderOn Shakespeare’s History Plays:

“Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic cast, its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the ‘wolfish earls’ so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendent and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded history.”

On Shakespeare’s Greatness:

“But, after all, Shakespeare, the author Shakespeare, whoever he was, was a great man: much was summed up in him — much  — yes, a whole age and more: he gave reflection to a certain social estate quite important enough to be studied: he was a master artist, in a way –not in all ways, for he often fell down in his own wreckage: but taking him for all in all he is one of the fixed figures -will always have to be reckoned with.”

iwhitmw001p1On Will Shaksper of Stratford:

“It is remarkable how little is known of Shaksper the actor as a person and how much less is known of the person Shakespeare of the plays. The record is almost a blank- it has no substance whatever: scarcely anything that is said of him is authorized.”

On Shakespeare’s Legal Mind:

“Did you ever notice  how much the law is involved with the plays?  Long before I heard of any characteristic turns, the sure touch, the invisible potent hand, of the lawyer — of a lawyer, yes: not a mere attorney-at-law but a mind capable of taking the law in its largest scope, penetrating even its origins: not a pettifogger, perhaps even technically in its detail defective — but a big intellect of great grasp.  I go with you fellows when you say no to Shaksper.”

whitman youngOn the Authorship Question:

“The typical literary man is no more able to examine this question dispassionately than a priest is to pass on objection to the doctrine of the atonement, hell, heaven — not a bit more able…”

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Why was “Shakespeare” Anonymous for so Long? Explanation, Anyone?

Titus Andronicus, 1594        (Anonymous)

Titus Andronicus, 1594
(Anonymous)

When the author “William Shakespeare” was just starting on his career as poet and playwright in the early 1590s, by tradition he was supposedly working as an actor learning lines and rehearsing and, of course, performing.  It’s a wonder he had time to eat, much less read the hundreds of books from which he would draw information and ideas for his writings!

In any case, in the early 1590’s he was apparently trying to make a name for himself; and sure enough, his two narrative poems (Venus and Adonis in 1593 and Lucrece in 1594) were instant bestsellers.  They both carried his name – not on the cover pages but inside, as printed signatures of the dedications to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton – and so, by the end of 1593, his name was made.

Henry_VI_pt_2_quarto

Why did “William Shakespeare” fail to appear anywhere on the early publications of his plays?  His name was prominent, so surely he could have insisted upon it; moreover, the publishers themselves would have been eager to use his name to promote sales.  I don’t think the Stratfordians have any convincing explanations.

My view is that Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, had already written the earlier versions of these plays by 1589.  Now, in the 1590s, he was unloading them.  And having attached his pen name “Shakespeare” to Southampton, speaking to him in language that a nobleman would use only to address a royal prince, he must have promised William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England, to keep his pen name off the printed copies of his plays.

Henry_VI_pt_3_quartoWhen Lord Burghley died in August 1598, the agreement abruptly ended. Now Oxford — helping to promote Southampton, from behind the scenes — faced the cunning Robert Cecil; and that fall he saw to it that twelve of his “Shakespeare” plays were listed in Palladis Tamia by Francis Meres.  In terms of the struggle to control the inevitable succession to the Queen, the gloves were off.  Now quartos of the plays began appearing under the Shakespeare name (which was often hyphenated as “Shake-speare”).  Before that, however, seven play publications up to 1598 had been issued without any name attached to them:

  Titus Andronicus (1594); 2 Henry the Sixth – “The First Part of the Contention…” (1594); 3 Henry the Sixth – “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York…” (1595); Richard the Third (1597); Romeo and Juliet Q1 (1597); Richard the Second (1597); 1 Henry the Fourth (1598)…

Why would young Will Shakspere of Stratford turn out these plays and have them published without his name on them?  Why, given his popularity as a poet from 1593 onward, would publishers keep his name off these plays?  Here, as they say, is another dog that failed to bark…

Richardthird 1597

romeo-and-juliet-1597 good

Richard II quarto 1597 no Shakespeare name

Henry_IV_1_title_page

The Sea and Seamanship: No. 61 of 100 Reasons Why Edward, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

tempest shipwreckIt’s been nearly fifty years since Lt. Commander Alexander Falconer, a naval officer during World War Two and a professional sailor steeped in the history of seamanship and navigation, published two books that were largely ignored at the time: Shakespeare and the Sea (1964) and A Glossary of Shakespeare’s Sea and Naval Terms including Gunnery (1965).

Falconer brought his firsthand knowledge and experience to bear on an investigation of Shakespeare’s use of seafaring terms and situations involving the sea.  His conclusion was that the great author brought with him detailed, accurate knowledge of naval matters and was well-informed about storms, shipwrecks, pirates, voyages of exploration, navigation:

“The manning and running of royal ships … duties of officers and seamen … strategy and the principles of sea warfare, gunnery, grappling and boarding are all known to him; so, too, are the main types of ship, their build, rigging, masts, sails, anchors and cables.  The sea itself in its varied working, tides, waves, currents, storms and calms, never goes out of his work.”

Writing about the opening scene of The Tempest, when the ship is wrecked in a storm, Falconer noted Shakespeare’s care for details and that he “has not only worked out a series of maneuvers, but has made exact use of the professional language of seamanship.”

A ship of the Spanish armada, 1588

Ships of the Spanish armada, 1588

This year the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a “shipwreck trilogy” of Shakespeare plays:  The Tempest, Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors.  In reaction, Charles Spencer of The Telegraph noted that “although there were books on navigation in Shakespeare’s time, nothing on seamanship was published until later.”  In any case, Falconer believed that the Bard’s knowledge in this area could not have come from books alone.

“Most current scholarship fails to note the sophistication of Shakespeare’s maritime imagination,” writes Dan Brayton in Shakespeare’s Ocean (2012), noting “the extraordinary degree [in the poems and plays] to which human lives are connected with the sea, or the remarkable specificity of his descriptions of marine phenomena.”

The great author’s exact use of naval and maritime language, along with his intimate knowledge of the sea and seamanship, cannot be explained by anything in the documented life of William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon (1564-1616).  It’s sheer fantasy to think he might have been a sailor during his “lost” years (presumably in the 1580’s), just as it’s wishful thinking to imagine he was a schoolteacher or a law clerk or whatever else during that time.

Perhaps scholars generally fail to notice the bard’s experience at sea precisely because they know the Stratford man never once left dry land. When one assumes that it’s impossible for something to exist, it becomes quite easy to ignore it.

The Oxfordian scholar Paul Altrocchi puts it this way: “Closed minds automatically blockade new information which conflicts with their own beliefs, preventing highly persuasive evidence from entering their brains for evaluation.  Oxfordians believe with conviction that Stratfordianism represents a classic example of the common human tendency to stick tenaciously with conventional wisdom, preventing much more logical and coherent newer theories and facts from being given a fair hearing.”

When we turn to look at the life of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), however, there is no need to imagine his experience with the sea and no reason to ignore the vast knowledge of the sea to be found in the poems and plays.  No. 61 of 100 Reasons to conclude that Oxford was “Shakespeare” is that the earl did have such maritime experience.

Oxford at twenty-two in September 1572 wrote to William Cecil Lord Burghley, in reaction to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in France, offering to help defend England in any way that he could.  “If there be any setting forth to sea, to which service I bear most affection,” he wrote, “I shall desire your Lordship to give me and get me that favor…”

A 16th-century map of Venice

A 16th-century map of Venice

Oxford traveled extensively by ship or boat.  He crossed the Channel to France in 1575 and would have taken many boat trips on the then-existing canals and other waterways between Italian cities, making his home base at Venice.  In Shakespeare by Another Name, author Mark Anderson notes Oxford’s letter to Burghley saying he would “bestow two or three months to see Constantinople and some part of Greece.”

In Venice the earl lived in the heart of a community of Greeks who traveled to and from their native country.  “The 1,100-mile, fifteen-day voyage to Athens would have followed the Adriatic currents down the Illyrian (now Croatian) coastline,” Anderson writes.  Oxford would have made such a journey by means of a Venetian galley ship; and, in fact, it would be reported in the autumn of 1575 that Oxford had hurt his knee in a Venetian galley.  Oxford was stopped by pirates and nearly killed [as Hamlet would be] in the Channel in April 1576, while returning to England.

Martin Frobisher  (1536/9-1594)

Martin Frobisher
(1536/9-1594)

He crossed by ship over to the Netherlands in 1585, on a military mission, and this time pirates stopped the vessel carrying his belongings and apparently they stole everything on board.  The earl had invested (disastrously) in Martin Frobisher’s voyages to discover the Northwest Passage to China, so he would have learned about the various aspects of the navigation involved.  He was well acquainted with Dr. John Dee, who was intimately involved in developing Frobisher’s navigational routes.

Moreover Oxford had his own ship, the Edward Bonaventure, which he contributed to Captain Edward Fenton’s expedition in 1582 to the Spanish Main.  (The Spanish rebuffed the little fleet, so the earl’s investment did not pay off.)  Then in June 1588, with the Armada on its way, Oxford prepared to take the Bonaventure into battle.  Although the English soundly defeated the great Spanish fleet, it appears that Oxford’s ship became disabled.

In the following year, a poem apparently by Oxford’s private secretary John Lyly envisioned the earl standing on the hatch-cover of the Bonaventure, literally breathing fire instilled within him by Pallas, the spear-shaker: “De Vere … like warlike Mars upon the hatches stands./ His tusked Boar ‘gan foam for inward ire/ While Pallas filled his breast with fire.”

Shakespeare and the Sea was reviewed in the autumn 1965 edition of the Shakesperean Authorship Review by I.L.M. McGeoch, who observed:

“Professor Falconer points out that whereas many educated Elizabethans understood the art of navigation – in those happy days art was science, and science was art – only those who actually served at sea could acquire a profound knowledge of the practice of seamanship and the correct meaning and use of the terms proper to the working of ships.  That Shakespeare possessed such a profound knowledge is instanced many times.”

He offered a line from King John (4.2.23) as an example of “inspired accuracy of allusion seasoned with wit” by Shakespeare: “And like a shifted wind unto a sail, it makes the course of thoughts to fetch about.”

“Tacking is to bring a ship’s head to lie the other way,” McGeoch noted.  “True.  And ‘to fetch about’ is synonymous with ‘to tack’; but subtler still is the reference to ‘course,’ which is not only the direction in which a ship is heading, but also the name given to the principal sail on any mast of a square-rigged ship.  The essence of tacking, therefore, is to bring the wind onto the other side of the sail, or ‘course,’ and the necessary re-trimming of the sail is assisted by the wind blowing upon it from the side appropriate to the new tack.”

“Not knowing that Edward de Vere wrote the great plays of Shakespeare makes it impossible to understand many of the allusions and subtleties within every play,” Dr. Altrocchi writes, adding that such impossibility “deprives the audience of much of a play’s texture so richly spun” by the author.

The Prince Tudor Aspect of “Famous Victories”: Part Two of Reason No. 60 to Believe Oxford = “Shakespeare”

Another aspect of The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth is the way it fits into the Southampton Prince Tudor (PT) theory that Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton was the natural son of Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford and Elizabeth I of England.  In the view of this theory from here, Southampton would have been born in May or June 1574.

"The Case for Shakespeare's Authorship of 'The Famous Victories' by S.M. Pitcher, 1961

“The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of ‘The Famous Victories'” by Pitcher, 1961

And in that context, if in fact Famous Victories was presented before the Queen during the Christmas season of 1574, some major aspects of the play are both explained and transformed.

This context immediately explains the prominence in Famous Victories of the Eleventh Earl of Oxford (1385-1487), while it also explains the constant and repetitive and even obsessive references to Hal, the future King Henry V of England, as “the young prince.”

The Prince Tudor theory holds that almost immediately after Elizabeth gave birth to a son in May or June 1574, she had him hidden away (eventually to be raised in the Southampton household):

Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine

With all triumphant splendor on my brow,

But out alack, he was but one hour mine,

The region cloud hath masked him from me now.  (Sonnet 33)

And what if Oxford wrote the play to remind Elizabeth that she had a royal child, an heir of her blood to succeed her, and to warn her not to abandon this unacknowledged young prince?  What if he wanted to lessen her fears, while reminding her that very possibly her son would grow into a great monarch like Henry the Fifth?  If so, he might well have created Famous Victories for the Queen in 1574, when he was twenty-four.

Kenneth Branaugh as Henry the Fifth

Kenneth Branaugh as Henry the Fifth

The play (printed first in 1598 but written decades earlier) presents King Henry IV as the sitting monarch, with whom Queen Elizabeth would identify.  Also she would view the king’s son, Prince Hal, as her own son, the future third Earl of Southampton.  And, of course, she would see the Earl of Oxford as Edward de Vere himself.

Oxford: If it please your Grace, here is my lord your son that cometh to speak with you.  He saith he must, and will, speak with you.

King: Who?  My son Harry?

Oxford: Ay, if it please your Majesty…

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, knowing of Elizabeth’s fear that any natural heir would pose a threat to her, depicts Prince Hal coming upon the King with a dagger in his hand, intending to kill him.  When the King sees this, he is overcome with fear and grief:

King: Come, my son; come on, in God’s name!  I know wherefore thy coming is.  Oh, my son, my son!  What cause hath ever been that thou shouldst forsake me … Oh, my son, thou knowest that these doings will end thy father’s days … I tell thee, my son, that there is never a needle in thy cloak but it is a prick to my heart, and never an eyelet-hole but it is a hole to my soul; and wherefore thou bringest that dagger in thy hand I know not, but by conjecture.

But then young Prince Hal undergoes an instant turnaround:

Prince: [Aside] My conscience accuseth me.  [To the King] Most sovereign lord, and well-beloved father, to answer first to the last point, that is, whereas you conjecture that this hand and this dagger shall be armed against your life, no!  Know, my beloved father, far be the thoughts of your son – “son,” said I?  An unworthy son for so good a father! But far be the thoughts of any such pretended mischief.  And I most humbly render it [Giving him the dagger, kneeling] to your Majesty’s hand.  And live, my lord and sovereign, for ever! … “

This speech goes on and on in the same vein, with the Prince begging over and over for the King’s mercy and pardon, while pledging his loyalty even above his life.  If this is indeed intended for Elizabeth, we can imagine her now leaning forward to hear the King’s response, which is what Oxford hopes would be her response as well:

King: Stand up, my son; and do not think thy father but at the request of thee, my son, I will pardon thee.  And God bless thee, and make thee his servant.

Prince: Thanks, good my lord.  And no doubt but this day, even this day, I am born new again.

Oxford has symbolically presented the Queen’s own son on the stage, making him “born new again” as if replaying the birth of Elizabeth’s own son several months earlier.

But when the King falls asleep, Prince Hal believes that he’s dead; and assuming that he is now the new monarch, he removes the crown from his father’s head and exits.  Here, right on the stage in front of her, is Queen Elizabeth’s worst nightmare!  And when the King wakes up and feels his head, he blurts out, “The crown taken away!  Good my Lord of Oxford, go see who hath done this deed!”

In other words, Edward de Vere is telling Elizabeth that he’s the one upon whom she can rely, to make sure the crown is not taken from her (by their son) before she dies.  And sure enough, Lord Oxford returns with Hal, saying, “Here, if it please your Grace, is my lord the young Prince with the crown.”

If the Queen had given birth to Oxford’s own son, her argument would have been precisely that she should never acknowledge him, because he would try to take her crown before she died – perhaps while she was old and dying.  And if she had made that argument to Oxford, well, then, here was his answer in return, in Famous Victories – “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you!”

An extraordinary aspect of this play is that the King, representing Elizabeth, actually goes on to hand over the crown to the young Prince:  “But come near, my son, and let me put thee in possession whilst I live, that none deprive thee of it after my death.”  And the Prince, taking the crown, replies:  “Well may I take it at your Majesty’s hands – but it shall never touch my head so long as you live.” 

In this way Oxford has used the stage hoping to “catch the conscience” of the Queen, even to the point of showing that she could acknowledge their own son without fear.  And the monarch of the play tells the Earl of Oxford that “my son will be as warlike and victorious a prince as ever reigned in England.”

And indeed the Queen will now watch the youthful Prince Hal growing into the mature King Henry the Fifth who leads his English nation to glory.

When it comes time for Oxford to expand Famous Victories into 1 & 2 Henry IV and Henry V as by Shakespeare, he will no longer represent himself in the character of his ancestor the eleventh Earl of Oxford (who disappears completely).  Instead, Oxford will create the full fictional character of Sir John Falstaff to represent himself on stage, so that it’s Falstaff [Oxford] who becomes the “father” of Hal [Southampton]; and in 1 Henry IV they play-act by reversing the father-son roles:

PRINCE   Dost thou speak like a king? Do thou stand for me, and   I’ll play my father.
FALSTAFF   Depose me? If thou dost it half so gravely, so majestically,   both in word and matter, hang me up by the heels for a rabbit-sucker or a   poulter’s hare.
PRINCE   Well, here I am set.
FALSTAFF   And here I stand: judge, my masters.
PRINCE   Now, Harry, whence come you?
FALSTAFF   My noble lord, from Eastcheap.
PRINCE   The complaints I hear of thee are grievous.
FALSTAFF   ‘Sblood, my lord, they are false…
PRINCE   Swearest thou, ungracious boy? Henceforth ne’er look on   me.

The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth is transformed when viewed as Oxford’s allegorical plea to Queen Elizabeth to recognize their son so she will have an heir of her blood to succeed her.  If such was the case, it would be difficult to find any greater personal motivation to write not only the early play but, later, the Henry IV and Henry V trilogy as well.

A Note on the “100 Reasons” — Having Reached No. 60, We’ve Got Just 40 More to Go…

Yes, we have reached No. 60 of the 100 reasons why the Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare.  When the series was launched as part of this blog, I thought it would be a snap – you know, write a paragraph for each “reason” and the whole thing would go quickly.

graphic-vere-horse-latin-slogan

Well, it turns out that each “reason” has given me an opportunity to revisit the research and, quite often, to find new aspects of the case for Edward de Vere’s authorship.  And the individual posts have run an average of a thousand words apiece, often much longer and in two or three parts.

Thanks to all who have posted comments along the way!

The first “reason” of the series was published back on February 23, 2011, nearly two year ago!

However long it will it take to complete the next forty, I know I’ll continue to enjoy the process.

And I hope you enjoy it, too.

“Vero Nihil Verius” — Nothing Truer than Truth!

(I should add that with this post Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog has reached 300 posts overall.)

“The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth” — Number 60 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

HenryV

One of my favorite movies is the 1989 production of Shakespeare’s Henry V starring Kenneth Branaugh, who also directed.  His portrayal of the English king who led his “band of brothers” to victory over the French army – at the Battle of Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day of October 25, 1415 – remains, for me, electrifying and powerfully moving.

One reason I feel this way is because, throughout the movie, it seems I can hear the voice of Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford.   We have Oxford’s letters in his own hand, under his own name, and there’s a real correspondence between that voice and the one that comes through Shakespeare’s lines.  We have no such letters (or any writings) from Mr. Shakspere of Stratford.

But this reason to believe Oxford was the great author involves The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, printed first in 1598 but part of the repertoire of the Queen’s Men back in the 1580’s – written by an obviously youthful, anonymous dramatist, but also a veritable template or blueprint for the later trilogy of “Shakespeare” plays 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V.

agincourt-3Virtually everything in Famous Victories is repeated (and then refined and expanded) in the Shakespearean plays of the latter 1590’s, forcing orthodox scholars to wonder whether “Shakespeare” was a shameless plagiarist!  But isn’t it far more likely that the real author wrote Famous Victories at a younger age, before re-working it to create his Henry trilogy?

Dr. Seymour Pitcher, a Stratfordian professor of English literature at the State University of New York, published a book in 1961 entitled The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of “The Famous Victories” – declaring that this youthful work “is not at all unworthy of Shakespeare as a spirited and genial apprentice dramatist.”

agincourt2The play is “a clatter of events, its quick narrative interspersed with light and raucous comedy.  Comical-historical it surely is, but, in its hybrid form, sufficiently self-consistent in tone.  Sketchy and sometimes banal, it is gusty and flaunting.  At best, it has poignancy in characterization and phrase.  How else should we expect Shakespeare to have begun?”

Dr. Pitcher suggested that this must have been the Bard’s first play, written when he was in his early twenties; and most Oxfordians would agree, although the scholar Ramon Jiminez has concluded that Edward de Vere may well have written Famous Victories in his teens.

(Whatever the case, there’s no evidence that William Shakspere of Stratford could have penned Famous Victories in his twenties — or at any other time, for that matter! — while the young Edward de Vere was uniquely qualified to have written it.)

It was B.M. Ward who, in 1928, concluded that Oxford wrote Famous Victories at age twenty-four in 1574.  One of his reasons was that the play comically refers to the involvement of Prince Hal (the future King Henry V) in a robbery on Gad’s Hill, just a year after Oxford’s own men had been involved in such a robbery (or prank) in the very same place.  Ward concluded that the earl presented the play at Court before Queen Elizabeth during the Christmas season of 1574.

famousvictorieshenry5titlepage.jpg“One can scarcely read The Famous Victories and not see in the skimpy little prose-play an early, comparatively amateurish exercise on the themes that would later come to magnificent flower in the Shakespearean dramas,” wrote Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare.”

Ogborn cited a speech by the newly crowned King Henry V in the earlier play, in response to the belittling gift from the French Dauphin of tennis balls:

“My Lord Prince Dauphin is very pleasant with me!  But tell him instead of balls of leather we will toss him balls of brass and iron – yea, such balls as never were tossed in France…”

And this same material, reworked in the Shakespearean play of Henry the Fifth, becomes a masterful speech that begins:

“We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;/ His present and your pains we thank you for:/ When we have match’d our rackets to these balls,/ We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set/ Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard…”

An extraordinarily prominent character in the earlier Famous Victories is Richard de Vere, the eleventh Earl of Oxford (1385-1417), but in 1 & 2 Henry IV and Henry V by “Shakespeare” the earl disappears entirely.   As Ogburn noted, this “initial inflation and later eradication of Oxford’s part” is a sign of something telltale and important.  Once the author is viewed as Edward de Vere, it becomes clear that continuing to give such prominence to an ancestor would have jeopardized his own anonymity.

So this is No. 60 of 100 reasons to conclude that Oxford was the great author.

Dr. John Dee + Prospero = No. 59 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford = “Shakespeare”

“It is almost certain that William Shakespeare modeled the character of Prospero in The Tempest on the career of John Dee, the Elizabethan magus.” Britannica Online Encyclopedia

“Queen Elizabeth’s philosopher, the white magician Doctor Dee, is defended in Prospero, the good and learned conjurer, who had managed to transport his valuable library to the island.” – Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age

Dr. John Dee (1527-1608)

Dr. John Dee
(1527-1608)

The mathematician and astrologer Dr. John Dee was enlisted by Elizabeth Tudor to name a day and time for her coronation when the stars would be favorable (January 15, 1559), after which he became a scientific and medical adviser to the Queen.  A natural philosopher and student of the occult, his name is also associated with astronomy, alchemy and other forms of “secret” experimentation.  He became a celebrated leader of the Elizabethan renaissance, helping to expand the boundaries of knowledge on all fronts.  With degrees from Cambridge and studies under the top cartographers in Europe, Dee led the navigational planning for several English voyages of exploration.

At one point, defending against charges of witchcraft and sorcery, Dee listed many who had helped him, citing in particular “the honorable the Earl of Oxford, his favorable letters, anno 1570” – when Edward de Vere Lord Oxford was twenty years old and about to become the highest-ranking earl at the Court of Elizabeth, who would quickly elevate him to the status of royal favorite.

“We may conjecture that it was in 1570 that Oxford studied astrology under Dr. Dee,” B.M. Ward wrote in his 1928 documentary biography.  “We shall meet these two [Dee and Oxford] again later, working together as ‘adventurers’ or speculators in Martin Frobisher’s attempts to find a North-West Passage to China and the East Indies.”

Dr. John Dee and Queen Elizabeth

Dr. John Dee and Queen Elizabeth

Oxford’s links to Dr. Dee, along with his deep interest in all aspects of Dee’s work, is yet another piece of evidence pointing to his authorship of the poems, plays and sonnets attributed to William Shakespeare.

In 1584 a Frenchman and member of Oxford’s household, John Soowthern, dedicated a pamphlet of poems entitled Pandora to the earl.  His tribute asserted that Edward de Vere’s knowledge of the “seven turning flames of the sky” (planets, through astrology) was unrivaled; that his reading of “the antique” (classical and ancient history) was unsurpassed; that he had “greater knowledge” of “the tongues” (languages) than anyone; and that his understanding of “sounds” that lead students to love music was “sooner” (quicker) than anyone else’s:

For who marketh better than he

The seven turning flames of the sky?

Or hath read more of the antique;

Hath greater knowledge of the tongues?

Or understandeth sooner the sounds

Of the learner to love music?

Prospero as played by Michael Winters

Prospero as played by Michael Winters

This might as well be a description of the man who wrote The Tempest!  [It’s a description of an extraordinarily knowledgeable man, which perfectly fits “Shakespeare” until the defenders of the Stratfordian faith try to “dumb down” the author to fit their man’s meager biography.]  And it’s no coincidence that scholars have not only seen Prospero as based on Dee, but, also, viewed Prospero as the dramatist’s self-portrait.  Once that window opens, the evidence leads to both Prospero and “Shakespeare” in the person of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Oxford’s familiarity with “planetary influences” is “probably attributable to acquaintance with Dee,” writes Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious Shakespeare, “as is likewise the knowledge of astronomy claimed by the poet of The Sonnets.” In regard to the latter, here are some examples of the poet’s easy, personal identification with both astronomy and alchemy:

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,

And yet methinks I have Astronomy – Sonnet 14

Or whether shall I say mine eye saith true,

And that your love taught it this Alchemy? – Sonnet 114

Dr. Dee got into trouble when his delving into the supernatural led to necromancy, the magic or “black art” practiced by witches or sorcerers who allegedly communicated with the dead by conjuring their spirits.  The Stratfordian scholar Alan Nelson, in his deliberately negative biography of Oxford entitled Monstrous Adversary, includes an entire chapter called Necromancer – detailing charges by the earl’s enemies that he had engaged in various conjurations, such as “that he had often times copulation with a female spirit in Sir George Howard’s house at Greenwich.”

Christopher Plummer as Prospero

Christopher Plummer as Prospero

The irony of Nelson’s charge is that it not only serves to portray Oxford as similar to both John Dee and Prospero, but aligns him with the authors of what Nelson himself calls “a long string of necromantic stage-plays” starting in the 1570’s.  One such play was John a Kent by Anthony Munday, who was Oxford’s servant; and another was Friar Bacon and Friar Bungary by Robert Greene, who dedicated Greene’s Card of Fancy in 1584 to Oxford, calling him “a worthy favorer and fosterer of learning” who had “forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.”

In 1577 Oxford and Dr. Dee both became “adventurers” for financiers of Frobisher’s third expedition to find a sea route along the northern coast of America to Cathay (China) – the fabled Northwest Passage.  In fact Oxford became the largest single investor, sinking three thousand pounds, only to lose it all, which may explain Prince Hamlet’s metaphor in his remark: “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw” (i.e., he’s mad only on certain occasions, the way he was when he invested so much in that expedition to the north-north-west).

One of Dr. Dee's charts of his own birth, found among his papers

One of Dr. Dee’s charts of his own birth, found among his papers

A play before the Queen by the Paul’s Boys on December 9, 1577 appears to have been a version of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, in which the character of Lord Cerimon seems to be a blend of Oxford (preferring honor and wisdom above his noble rank and wealth) and Dr. Dee (whose “secret arts” included alleged knowledge of properties within metals and stones):

‘Tis known I ever

Have studied physic, through which secret art

By turning o’er authorities, I have,

Together with my practice, made familiar

To me and to my aid the blest infusions

That dwells in vegetives, in metals, stones…

Through an Oxfordian lens The Tempest probably originated in the bleak period during Christmas 1580 to June 1583, when the Queen had banished Oxford from Court and he suffered from exile (unfairly, the way Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, suffers in the play).  But Oxford would have revised and added scenes over the next two decades, especially near the end of his life in 1604, when the greatest writer of the English language makes his final exit through Prospero — begging us to forgive him for his faults, to pray for him and to set him free from the prison of his coming oblivion:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own…

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please.  Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.

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