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

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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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Hank!

    Today I received an email, and I learned that there’s a society doubting Shakespeare, but I don’t find your name on their list:


    Are they a completely different group from the Oxfordians? Are they ‘friends or enemies’? 🙂

    • They are certainly friends. The Coalition wisely does not take a position as to who the author was, the idea being to first demonstrate the flaws in the current paradigm and gathering more and more doubters. I am a complete supporter of this work, begun and led by John Shahan, and my signature can be found here –
      Thanks for asking!

  2. Hank, I’ve been reading the Sonnets extensively (learning by heart as many as I only can) and in between I’d read your comments and explanations in The Monument. If you don’t mind, I will write my ‘discoveries’ which I don’t find there, and which might as well be incorrect 🙂 In Sonnet 65 at the line: ‘But sad mortality o’ersways their power’ the word oversway might be a scornful reference to Robert Cecil, ‘the limping sway’ just in the next Sonnet.

    • That’s great, Sandy, congratulations! The “sway” in “o’ersway” refers both to the “sway of kings,” or of power itself, and to the “sway” of Cecil as he walks with that “limping sway” of the next sonnet, 66. And I am positive that this is deliberate on Oxford’s part. Thanks — I’ll add it to my notes with full credit to you! (When a new edition is done.) (But do I know your last name?)

      • Hank, I’m really moved by your reply, thank you.
        My name is Sándor Szabó. My friends call me Sanyi, and as I’m a guy, Sandy is a not too appropriate english alias 🙂
        In the meantime John, the head of the above-mentioned society answered, as I tried to subscribe two times 🙂 And very kindly he informed me about their goals. I’ve learned that you are real friends, and that he doesn’t support the Prince Tudor theory 🙂 But you surely know that.

  3. Hank, In your attempts to have us believe Prospero is based on Dr Dee, you refer to de Vere’s letters of 1570 supporting him. But you omit the reasons for de Vere’s interest in necromancy.

    de Vere is independently reported to have boasted at table that he:-

    Often copulated with a female spirit and that he had conjured and spoken with the devil.

    Why don’t you mention this? it’s a bit shocking to think of the great author as a practising satanist.

    • Hi Mike — well, I suppose I should have mentioned it. Of course, the earl was boasting, as you say, and probably rambling on in some hilarious manner. If he was serious, well, I would have to do some research about copulating with spirits and speaking with the devil. Was Dee into that?
      In any case, these were charges by Howard or Arundel, whom he had accused of treason. They were reporting what he had told them during what probably had been drinking bouts… but, as you say, I might well have mentioned it! Hank

  4. Hank, please could also explain why Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford is never mentioned in Dr Dee’s extensive and detailed diary of events and people in his life. As England’s most prominent earl and a student of Dee, you’d have thought there would have been a mention.

    Dee tells us that Elizabeth 1st popped around, as did Sir Phillip Sydney. But absolutely nothing about the man you claim used Dee as a model for Prospero. A bit odd don’t you think?


  5. vincent bridges- suggested shakespeare appeared in john dee’s diary under the name francis garland- whose dates in the diary correspond to shakespeare’s missing dates- the tempest being the storm dee conjured from the 7 hills of prague to take out the spanish armada (enemies shipwrecked on the coast of island britain- by a fabricated storm – the meteorology of that storm from the north sea- clearly anomalous..

  6. Hi Hank, Alexander Waugh concludes in his recent videos about the dedication to the Sonnets, that John Dee is responsible for the several cypher texts that it contains.

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