“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.

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