The Earl of Oxford, Man of the Theater – Part Three of Reason 66 Why he was “Shakespeare”

Taking an “aerial view” of Edward de Vere’s connections to the stage reveals a map of the terrain with a single major thoroughfare running through the landscape.  This unbroken line consists of the life spans of the three major acting companies linked one to the other in three successive chapters:

Chapter One: Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1573-1583)

Chapter Two: Queen Elizabeth’s Men (1583-1593)

Chapter Three: Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1594-1603)

actorsUpon the death of Queen Elizabeth on March 24, 1603 and the succession of King James, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men.   Here is the basic story up to 1603 according to the three chapters:

Chapter One: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1573-1583)

During the 1570’s until 1583 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men under the Earl of Sussex brought play after play to the royal court, indicated by the keepers of the records.  Many of these were identified by Eva Turner Clarke in 1931 as early versions of dramatic works destined to be revised and issued, under new titles, as the works of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s.

Ms. Clarke supported her identifications with extraordinary scholarship, linking events of contemporary history to characters and scenes in the Shakespeare plays.  She often noticed the different stages of revision within a given play – the way archaeologists can “read history” by the fossils or the rings within a tree trunk.  Given Edward de Vere’s intense involvement with writers and play companies, along with his great friendship with Lord Sussex, I believe that Ms. Clarke must have been largely correct: many of the first versions of future “Shakespeare” plays were initially performed for Elizabeth at Court by the Lord Chamberlain’s men under Sussex.

Chapter Two: Queen Elizabeth’s Men (1583-1593)    

Sussex died in June 1583 and that fall the Queen’s Men were formed with a dozen of the best actors from the different other companies.  Oxford lent his secretary John Lyly as stage manager and coach for performances at court; but then the Queen’s Men, often with two separate troupes, traveled around the countryside – often performing plays of royal history, geared to rousing patriotic fervor as England prepared for invasion by Philip of Spain and his armada.

Early version of Shakespeare's play of King John, performed by the Queen's Men in the 1580's

Early version of Shakespeare’s play of King John, performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s

Now that scholars are becoming more aware that early versions of Shakespearean history plays were performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s, with titles that would remain quite similar, the next logical step is to see that Edward de Vere – despite his involvement in companies under his own name – was actively behind first the Chamberlain’s Men under Sussex and then behind the Queen’s Men under the patronage of Her Majesty and Francis Walsingham of the secret service.

[Oxford’s extraordinary annual grant of a thousand pounds, begun in June 1586, was drawn from the government treasury with the same formula used for the secret service, bringing him into close alignment with the Queen’s Men from that angle as well.]

Chapter Three: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1594-1603)

The new Lord Chamberlain’s company gave its first performances at court in the Christmas season of 1594.  It would become known to us as “Shakespeare’s Company,” given that its actors gave the initial performances of the vast majority of the Shakespearean plays.

In government records for March 1595, actors Richard Burbage and Will Kempe along with “William Shakespeare” are listed as payees of the new Chamberlain’s Men — collecting payment for those court performances the previous December.  The inclusion of “Shakespeare” in that record is highly suspicious, however, since the name had just been introduced as a poet in the dedications of Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594) to Southampton, and because the name would never again be listed a payee for the Chamberlain’s Men.

The playhouse known as the Curtain

The playhouse known as the Curtain

[After the succession of 1603 and the creation of the King’s Men, we have another story.  I believe that once King James took the throne, with Robert Cecil retaining his power behind the monarch, the government made a feeble attempt to indicate Shakespeare as an actor with the company.]

The Lord Chamberlain was Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, followed by his son George Carey, Lord Hunsdon – but these were nominal figures when it came to the running of the company.  The logical conclusion is that Oxford himself was the guiding hand of “Shakespeare’s Company” – not because of his title of Lord Great Chamberlain, but, rather, because this new group was an extension of the previous companies, first under Chamberlain Sussex and then the Queen’s Men, with Oxford having used them as the primary vehicles for his plays.

This perspective on the history requires taking that aerial view and connecting the dots to see the larger picture – which is, to put it simply, that Edward de Vere was the guiding hand behind the three great acting companies of the Elizabethan reign, all three of which were linked together to produce (1) the renaissance of English literature and drama in the 1570’s and 1580’s, followed by (2) the phenomenon of the Shakespeare works in the 1590’s.

Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s, put on some of the most dangerously political plays of the reign, yet it never got in trouble with officialdom.  Quite obviously it was receiving protection from on high.  In the 1590’s the government was moving rapidly to take control of the theater – by limiting the play companies in London to two, by restricting the use of playhouses for the drama to two, and by exercising increasingly heavy censorship that led, for example, to the bonfire of books in 1599.

It was Shakespeare’s company, also, that performed Richard II at the Globe on February 7, 1601, for conspirators of the Essex Rebellion, which erupted the following morning – yet the actors were let go after cursory questioning and the author was never summoned at all.

globe more

Meanwhile Oxford had withdrawn entirely from court life after 1590.  Remarrying in 1591, he and his new Countess (Elizabeth Trentham) moved to the village of Stoke Newington, just north of Shoreditch – the center of the London theater scene, where the Curtain playhouse would become the premier venue of Shakespeare’s Company.

“Thus we see him moving quite close to the ‘Shakespeare’ work, but never in it,” J.T. Looney wrote in 1920, describing a man who had become virtually invisible – and yet a man who, in the view here, was singularly responsible for the eruption of the Shakespearean plays in public performance, igniting the explosion of theatrical activity that remains a grand chapter, perhaps the grandest of all, in the history of the stage.

Edward de Vere emerged briefly from his retirement to serve as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal at the trial of Essex and Southampton on February 19, 1601.  He had no choice but to join the twenty-four other peers in finding both earls guilty of high treason and condemning them to death.  Essex was beheaded six days later; but Southampton, the “fair youth” of the Shakespeare sonnets, unofficially had his sentence reduced to life in prison and, two years later, in April 1603, King James granted him his freedom with a royal pardon.

Meanwhile the adult acting troupe under Oxford’s own name, which was mainly a touring group, had merged with Worcester’s company in 1602.  Even the aging Queen Elizabeth became involved in this new, expanded company, and ordered the Lord Mayor of London to allow them to play at their favorite Boar’s Head tavern.  “In August of that year the united company was acting at the Rose under Henslowe,” wrote B.M. Ward in 1928, “and among the actors we find the names of William Kempe and Thomas Haywood, the playwright.”

Will Kempe!  This was the same man listed back in 1595 as a payee of the new Lord Chamberlain’s Men, with Richard Burbage and “William Shakespeare” — and now as the Elizabethan reign draws to its close, Kempe is acting in the company patronized by the earls of Worchester and … Oxford!

I’d say that’s a fitting way to conclude this attempt to “connect the dots” and glimpse a larger picture.  All along, just beneath the surface, or standing in the wings, we find the figure of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a man of the theater all his life.

“A Life in the Theater” – Part Two of Reason 66 Why the Earl of Oxford = “Shakespeare”

“But if Her Majesty, in regard of my youth, time, and fortune spent in her Court, and her favors and promises which drew me on without any mistrust, the more to presume in mine own expenses…” — Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford to Principal Secretary Robert Cecil, 2 February 1601

What follows might be viewed as a kind of connect-the-dots picture, the final view of which is much larger than the sum of these individual parts:

devere* Edward de Vere began his theatrical life when he was a child.  Although he spent much of his boyhood in the 1550’s at the home of his tutor Thomas Smith, the great Cambridge scholar, home was Castle Hedingham in Essex, especially during the Christmas season when his father’s acting company came to put on plays.  He would have mingled with the players, watching them rehearse and always learning.

* Queen Elizabeth and her Court visited Hedingham for five days in August 1561, when Edward was eleven and Oxford’s men contributed to the royal entertainment.  The boy had a close-up view of her responses – laughter, frowns, other reactions – and experienced the power of theater to gain her attention, stir her emotions and even affect her policies.  Court members also watched, to see how to best please the Queen or avoid offending her.

(These early experiences would have sent young Edward on the very course he took, until he would eventually bring his own players and plays to perform for the Queen.)

Queen E 1* John de Vere died in 1562 and Edward went to London as the first royal ward of the Queen in the custody of William Cecil.  The year before, Elizabeth and Cecil had appointed Richard Edwards as Master of the Chapel Royal.  The privilege of entertaining her Majesty with plays was mostly that of the Choir Boys of not only the Chapel but, also, the Children of Paul’s, of Westminster and of Windsor.  Oxford and Edwards are recorded as fellow playwrights; The Arte of English Poesie of 1589 cites “the Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty’s Chapel” as deserving of “the highest praise” for “Comedy and Enterlude.”

* Edward joined Elizabeth on her 1564 progress to Cambridge, where she attended Aulularia by Plautus, Dido by Edward Haliwell and Ezechia by Nicholas Udall.  That fall Damon and Pythias, credited to Edwards, was performed at Court; and at Oxford in 1566 the Queen attended Palaemon and Arcyte, a “lost” play also credited to Edwards and known as a source for The Two Noble Kinsmen.  (Most likely young Oxford co-wrote both plays credited to Edwards, who died in fall 1566, or he wrote them himself.  In any case, theatrical events were part of his world and the productions were usually connected to the Queen, who clearly loved plays and had an insatiable demand for them.  To communicate with her Majesty, there was no better means than the stage.)


* In 1567 he was admitted to Gray’s inn, where George Gascoigne was studying for the bar and writing plays acted by the Gentlemen of the Inn – The Supposes, a translation from the Italian of Ariosto, said to be the first “prose play” in English (and a source for The Taming of the Shrew); and Jocasta, from Euripides, the first adaptation of a Greek play to the English stage.  Stephanie Caruana and Elisabeth Sears argue in Oxford’s Revenge (1989) that it was Oxford who wrote The Supposes, which contained seeds of his own Euphuist movement of the 1580’s, while anticipating aspects of The Comedy of Errors as performed in the 1590’s.

* In Italy during 1575, Oxford came into close contact with the comedia dell’arte, which, in turn, would greatly influence the Shakespearean plays; and the first public playhouse in England, the Theatre, was opened soon after his return the following year.

* In January 1577 new plays for the Queen included “The historie of Error” performed by the Paul’s Boys at Hampton Court – possibly an early version of The Comedy of Errors.  And in February at Whitehall the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed “The historie of the Solitaire knight” – possibly an early version of Timon of Athens.   The Lord Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household was Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, a generation older than Oxford and his supporter at Court.  Oxford had served under him in the 1570 military campaign against the rebellion of Catholic earls; and they were allied against Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who had been Elizabeth’s lover in the 1560’s.  Sussex took particular interest in Court productions, personally selecting the plays and superintending rehearsals.

* Eva Turner Clarke in Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare Plays (1931) argued that early versions of all the Shakespeare plays were penned before 1589.  Her list included: “The historye of Titus and Gisippus” (Titus Andronicus?), Whitehall Palace (Feb 1577), performed by the Paul’s Boys; “An history of the crueltie of A Stepmother” (Cymbeline?), Richmond Palace (Dec 1578) by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men;  “A Morrall of the marryage of Mynde and Measure (The Taming of the Shrew?), Richmond (Jan 1579) by the Paul’s Boys; “The historie of the Rape of the second Helene” (All’s Well That Ends Well?), Richmond (Jan 1579) … and also in 1579, possible early versions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, before the list continues through the 1580’s.

more actors

* By 1579 Oxford was employing John Lyly, Anthony Munday, Robert Greene and many others (the so-called University Wits, most writing plays).  The Earl of Warwick’s actors transferred to Oxford’s service, with Lyly as manager, and the amalgamated company performed at Court in January 1580.  In April two of his actors were temporarily jailed for “frays committed upon certain Gentlemen of the Inns of Court” at the Theatre.  In June 1580 a plague outbreak forced Cambridge and Oxford to cancel highly anticipated productions by Oxford’s Men.

* Oxford was financing an adult company, a boy’s company and a troupe of musicians.  In 1583 he saved the private Blackfriars Playhouse by purchasing the sublease and transferring it to Lyly, so the choir boys could continue rehearsing there before performing at Court; but Sir William More recovered possession of the property in 1584, shutting down Blackfriars as a playhouse.  (Oxford sold forty-seven pieces of land between 1576 and 1584, thirteen of them in 1580; and by 1583 his household had been reduced to four servants.)

* Sussex had died in June 1583 and the Queen’s Company was quickly instigated by Francis Walsingham, head of the government secret service.  (Actors were valuable informants and plays served as powerful vehicles for propaganda, given that war with Spain was becoming official.)  Her Majesty’s adult company was formed with twelve of the best actors from all companies, including Oxford’s; and Lyly, whom he still employed, apparently served as stage manager and acting coach.

* Meanwhile the nature of Lyly’s comedies performed at Court demanded that it was Oxford who wrote them, perhaps initially by dictation.  No ordinary playwright, for example, would have dared to present Sapho and Phao, a thinly veiled allegory representing the love affair of Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon.  And logic dictates that the song lyrics for these plays were also Oxford’s.  (All the quartos were published anonymously and the lyrics were never printed during Lyly’s lifetime, indicating he could not claim them as his own.)  The play Endymion, credited to Lyly, actually focuses on Oxford and Elizabeth.

* Several plays performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s would be revised under similar titles as by “Shakespeare.”  These include, for example, The Famous Victories of Henry V, The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard III, The True Chronicle History of King Leir and more.  Some of the plays helped to rouse national unity contributing to the defeat of the Spanish Armada in the summer of 1588.  After that, the Queen’s company became less important (playing in the countryside) and Edward de Vere went underground (remaining virtually invisible for the rest of his life, except for his appearance at the trial of Essex and Southampton on 19 February 1601) – with “Shakespeare” arriving in 1593, instantly becoming England’s most popular poet, and in 1598 becoming known as the top playwright of the new Lord Chamberlain’s Men that had been formed in 1594.

Part three of this Reason to conclude that Oxford was “Shakespeare” will try to briefly convey his enormous theatrical life, which existed just beneath the surface of these “dots” that now need to be connected to form the real picture.

No. 66 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere = “Shakespeare”: Part One: He Was a Man of the Theater All His Life

“You are welcome, masters!  Welcome, all! – I am glad to see thee well – Welcome, good friends – O, old friend!  … Masters, you are all welcome! We’ll e’en to’t like French falconers, fly at anything we see.  We’ll have a speech straight.  Come give us a taste of your quality, come a passionate speech!”

Hamlet_play_scene_croppedHamlet loves the players and is first to greet them as they arrive at the castle to perform at Denmark’s royal court.  The prince is overjoyed to see these actors, who are old friends, many of whom he has known since he was a boy.

And it’s a given that the author who wrote those lines was a man of the theater.  The stage was in his bones.  He was at home with plays and players in their magical world.  He made it his business to learn everything he could about the theater, down to the details of entrances, exits, costume changes, musical interludes, sound effects, laughter, tears, fact, fiction – a mix of talents and skills and hard work in service of the powerful art of bringing stories to life on stage through actions and, above all, the power of words.

actors again

But what was the nature of “Shakespeare’s” involvement in the theater?  Was he, as the orthodox scholar tells us, in the same position as the actors who arrive at the court? Was his love of the stage, as we are told, from the perspective of the common players who receive Hamlet’s greeting?  If the writer of this play was one of those actors, as orthodox tradition would have it, would he express his love for his own colleagues through the prince’s point of view?

Isn’t it far more likely that the author himself was of high rank, and that Hamlet’s greeting to the players is a mirror of his own relationship to them?  That the author himself was accustomed to dealing with actors from the lofty heights of a prince?  That the author wrote Hamlet’s lines to the players based on his own experience, using his own sophisticated voice expressing simultaneous affection and condescension?

Castle Hedingham -- an interior view

Castle Hedingham — an interior view

“Shakespeare” and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford lived in the world of the theater; and this fact is Reason No. 66 to conclude they were one and the same.  But unlike the conjectural flights of Stratfordian biography, all pieces of information about the earl’s connection to the stage are documented facts; and for Oxford, it began when he was a young boy and his father’s company of players — who traveled the countryside in summer, performing in courtyards and inns –arrived at the castle for the winter season to provide entertainment for the long cold evenings.

In the graveyard Hamlet learns that the skull in his hands was that of the King’s jester, Yorick, whom the prince had known during his boyhood.  The jester used to give him rollicking piggyback rides filled with laughter; and the memory is engraved in Hamlet’s mind and heart:

Olivier as Hamlet, with the skull of the jester

Olivier as Hamlet, with the skull of the jester

“Alas, poor Yorick!  I knew him, Horatio – a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy!  He hath borne me on his back a thousand times!” 

Edward de Vere most certainly recalled those evenings warmed by flames in the great stone fireplace while the guests of the castle sat around the long table, all keeling over with laughter, as the prince recalls while speaking to Yorick’s skull:

“Where be your gibes now, your gambols, your songs, your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?”

Part two of this Reason will look at the basic facts showing that Oxford, just as we would expect to find about the author of Hamlet, was a “man of the theater” from the beginning to the end of his life.

A Further Comment on Oxford’s Choice of Poetry (the Sonnets) to Carry His Message to Readers in the Future

Here is an additional comment related to the previous blog post about David Gontar’s insight, in his new book Hamlet Made Simple,  into the reason for the existence of the Sonnets:

In that post I failed to emphasize Professor Gontar’s statement, “By electing to employ the medium of poetry, which well the poet knew would be perused by later generations, strata of broader significance were entailed.”   Within this statement is perhaps the best answer to the question, “Why did Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford use poetry (sonnets) as a means of preserving a true story for posterity?”

Southampton in the Tower(8 Feb 1601 - 10 April 1603)

Southampton in the Tower
(8 Feb 1601 – 10 April 1603)

The answer is that, if his truth were to have any chance of surviving, it would need to be conveyed within the most deeply felt lines of which Oxford was capable of producing.  He knew the power of poetry, of great poetry, and knew it has the potential to live forever; and it does seem that he believed he was achieving such poetical heights, as when he wrote the following sonnet — which, I contend, could be written only to a prince:

Sonnet 55

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of Princes shall out-live this powerful rhyme,

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues over-turn,    

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.

‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth!  Your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

So, till the judgment that your self arise,

You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.

In the act of communicating this promise to Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton, during the younger man’s first forty days (February-March 1601) in the Tower of London, the Earl of Oxford, father of Southampton, was also revealing his intentions to those of us who might read those lines in the future.  He made the same promise to Southampton in Sonnet 81:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,

When all the breathers of this world are dead.

You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen!)

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Come to think of it, the above lines express the reason for the existence of this blog site.

Why the Earl of Oxford Used Poetry (the Sonnets) to Preserve His Truth for Future Generations

In putting up a blog about the new book Hamlet Made  Simple and Other Essays by David P. Gontar, and quoting some of his favorable comments about my book The Monument, I overlooked the very next paragraph, which, in my view, is one of the most beautiful statements explaining why Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford would have chosen to use poetry — and in particular, the sonnet form — to embody the truth for posterity.  The paragraph, following the author’s praise of The Monument as a means of understanding the Shakespearean sonnet sequence, is this:

Hamlet-Made-Simple-and-Other-Essays“The challenge after studying Mr. Whittemore’s book will be, of course, not what the sonnets meant immediately to their author, but what they may be for us today.  Secret messages serving a practical design could always have been conveyed by the use of ciphers rather than poetry.  The choice of the latter is thus significant.  It is the business of the cryptogram to transmit information, not to illuminate or inspire.  By electing to employ the medium of poetry, which well the poet knew would be perused by later generations, strata of broader significance were entailed.  Acquiring a firmer impression of the historical utility and import of the sonnets, then, wipes away some but not all of the readings that have been given over the past four centuries.  The art of fathoming the sonnets will remain what it has been always, a navigation between the shores of literalism and transcendence.” 

The way I’ve tried to describe this theme is that Oxford used the poetical lines of the Sonnets to create a double image, one in which, for example, “beauty” can mean everything it has always meant, and more, while simultaneously referring to Queen Elizabeth and/or her royal blood.  Both images are at work and we need not eliminate one at the expense of the other.

One thing that intrigues me about this concept is that there’s nothing secret about “beauty” referring to the Queen; rather, we have been told over and over for at least a century and a half that the word “beauty” is to be taken literally, and only on the literal level, as referring to “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind,” as my Random House Dictionary puts it.

Could it be that “beauty’s Rose” in Sonnet 1 signifies not only a flower but, also, the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose?  Could it be that “ever the same” in Sonnet 76 signifies not only what it usually means, but, also, Queen Elizabeth, given that “Ever the Same” was how Her Majesty herself wrote her motto Semper Eadem in English on her correspondence?

Of course it could be so.  Furthermore, if the poet was Edward de Vere, who had enjoyed the highest favor of Elizabeth at the royal court, it could not have been otherwise; that is, the Earl of Oxford could not have written “ever the same” without deliberately referring to the Queen.

I am continuing to enjoy Professor Gontar’s various essays, which are written with great care, precision and depth; and I highly recommend his book, especially to readers who like being surprised by new insights.  I can say this already — after reading his title essay “Hamlet Made Simple,” I will never be able to view that great play in the same way as before; my conception of what’s going on in Hamlet has been forever altered.

No. 65 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: the Plays Were Revised to Become Masterworks of Dramatic Literature

He who casts to write a living line must sweat (Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muse’s anvil: turn the same
(And himself with it) that he thinks to frame;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn,
For a good Poet’s made as well as born,
And such wert thou.

Ben Jonson’s eulogy to Shakespeare — The First Folio, 1623

This reason why Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” flows from the previous one, centering on his death in 1604.  It is one of the most important reasons, yet also among the least noticed – the fact that most of the plays are also masterworks of dramatic literature – works that the author has written and rewritten, over long stretches of time, for carefully attentive readers.  Most of the plays can be fully appreciated only when, in addition to being attended in the playhouse, they are read and re-read.  By the same token, to comprehend how they were produced in final form requires a viewpoint wholly opposite from that of Stratfordian tradition.

The still-current image is that of a man busily engaged in his acting career, with its nonstop pressures of memorizing, rehearsing and performing, while also lending money, buying property, dealing in grain and litigating over petty debts.  Simultaneously he is writing to produce, one after the other, popular plays earning profits at the box office.  He keeps on meeting new commercial demands, leaving each work to be printed as it had been delivered or performed.

[Love's labour's lost]  A pleasant conceited comedie called, LouThis traditional conception continues to be promoted by the established authorities, even in the face of growing challenges based on huge anomalies.  For example, Love’s Labour’s Lost was first printed in 1598, amid the great issuance of Shakespeare plays, as “Newly corrected and augmented” – indicating an author who, in fact, did have the necessary time to make such revisions.  And in 1604 the second quarto of Hamlet was “Newly imprinted and enlarged to almost as much again as it was, according to the true and perfect copy” – resulting in a playing time of five hours, as opposed to the two-hour limit of the Elizabethan playhouse (because of the need for daylight).

Such anomalies should make it obvious that the author was deliberately expanding his stage-plays into more detailed and deeper works of literature, for current and future readers.  Within the Stratfordian view of the author’s motivations and activities, however, such careful and loving attention to the printed versions of his plays simply doesn’t fit.

Only a difficult “mental revolution” will overturn the Stratfordian view, as J.T. Looney wrote in Shakespeare Identified nearly a century ago in 1920 – referring to what Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) would famously call a “paradigm shift,” whereby the same facts are able to be viewed within a new framework, revealing an entirely different picture.  The fact that most Shakespearean plays are towering works of literature (pounded upon the “anvil” that Ben Jonson mentions above) is one more example of the proverbial elephant in the living room.

Hamlet 2ndQuartoCover2It appears that Looney, while examining Edward de Vere’s life, experienced his own “mental revolution” that changed the way he viewed the writing of the plays.  Below are sections of his pages that are often overlooked but, I believe, deserve to be highlighted – a view of the final dozen years of Oxford’s life until his recorded death in 1604:

“In 1592 he is placed in comfortable circumstances. He is just forty-two years of age and therefore entering upon the period of the true maturity of his powers.  He has behind him a poetic and a dramatic record of a most exceptional character. His poems are by far the most Shakespearean in quality and form of any of that time.  His dramatic record places him in the forefront of play writers.  

Then a silence of twelve years … of comfort and seclusion [which] exactly corresponds to the period of the amazing outpouring of the great Shakespearean dramas. Unless, therefore, we are to imagine the complete stultification of every taste and interest he had hitherto shown, he must have been, on any theory of Shakespearean authorship, one of the most interested spectators of this culmination of Elizabethan literature, and he himself the natural connecting link between it and the past.  Yet never for one moment does he appear in it all … So far as these momentous happenings in his own peculiar domain are concerned, he might have been supposed to have been already dead.”

Continuing on this path, Looney starts to change the picture:

“One of the greatest obstacles to the acceptance of our theory of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays will be a certain established conception of the mode in which they were produced and issued; a conception which arose of necessity out of the old theory … [and] demands a difficult revolution in mental attitude.” 

[We need to] “look at the facts that have been established respecting the issuing of the plays in the light of the quality and content of the work” [and] “determine whether the work is suggestive of a hasty enforced production amid a multiplicity of other activities, or of painstaking concentration of mind on the part of a writer relieved from material and other anxieties.” 

The choice is whether the author was one who was “living as it were ‘from hand to mouth’ in the production of his dramas” or “one who began the issue [printing of quartos] with large reserves [of manuscript texts] already in hand.”

No less than twelve plays were printed for the first time between 1597 and 1604, when Oxford died, Looney noted, adding: “If he had done nothing more than write the twelve new plays, even supposing they had been mere ephemeral things intended only for the stage, the achievement would have been extraordinary. When, however, we turn from quantity to the consideration of literary quality, it is difficult to understand how such an accomplishment could ever have been credited….

“It is much more reasonable, then, to suppose that what was actually happening … was the speeding up of the finishing-off process, as though the writer were either acting under a premonition that his end was approaching, or the time had now arrived for giving to the world a literature at which he had been working during the whole of his previous life. Everything suggests the rushing out of supplies from a large accumulated stock…

“Certainly the last seven or eight years of De Vere’s life are, according to the orthodox dating, marked by an extraordinary output of Shakespeare’s plays, whilst his death marks an equally striking arrest in the issuing, printing and reprinting of these dramas.

“The above considerations ought to prepare us for a complete break-up of the seriatim conception of the creation of the “Shakespeare” dramas [that is, the idea they were written one upon the other in a row]. We have labored the point because of the difficulty of the mental revolution involved.

“If we assume an author who for ten or twelve years [1576-1588] had been actively occupied with theatre work; whose great wealth had been spent ungrudgingly upon it, engaging talented and educated men to assist him and to relieve him of much of the drudgery of theatre management; thus leaving him free to concentrate his distinctive powers upon the literary part of the work; then, with the literary capital he had thus amassed, beginning another period of fourteen to sixteen years of comparative quiet and seclusion, in which to give a higher finish to plays already written, as well, possibly, as to produce new works, the whole aspect of the issue of this literature becomes changed…

“Edward de Vere was by this time able to bring to the task, on the one hand these stores of dramas which are supposed to have perished [or been “lost”], and on the other hand the maturity of his own mental powers, as well as poetic gifts of a high order that had been amply exercised. Contrasted with the Stratfordian view or any other theory of authorship yet propounded, the supposition that Edward de Vere is ‘Shakespeare’ places the appearance of this literature for the first time within the category of natural and human achievements.

“Everything points to “Shakespeare” being given to storing, elaborating, and steadily perfecting his productions before issuing them, when his mind was bent on producing something worthy of his powers.  Love’s Labour’s Lost, which is placed somewhere between 1590 and 1592, was not issued in its final form until 1598, and every line of it bears marks of most careful and exacting revision. Hamlet, too, there is evidence, underwent similar treatment.

How it could ever have been believed that the finished lines of Shakespeare were the rapid and enforced production of a man immersed in many affairs will probably be one of the wonders of the future. Everything bespeaks the loving and leisurely revision of a writer free from all external pressure; and this, combined with the amazing rapidity of issue, confirms the impression of ‘a long foreground somewhere’ [early versions written before “Shakespeare” appeared in the 1590’s]

“The fact is that his matchless lines, crowded with matter and intellectual refinements, demand not only maturity of mind in the auditor, but a willingness to turn again and again to the same passages, the significance of which expands with every enlargement of life’s experiences. This is one reason why, in order to enjoy fully the best contents of a play of Shakespeare’s on the stage, it is necessary first to have read it; and the more familiar one is with it beforehand the greater becomes the intellectual enjoyment, if the play is at all capably handled…

“Though the writer’s first aim may have been to produce a perfect drama for stage purposes, in the course of his labors, by dint of infinite pains and the nature of his own genius, he produced a literature which has overshadowed the stage-play…

We feel justified in claiming then that the best of the dramas passed through two distinct phases, being originally stage-plays — doubtless of a high literary quality — which were subsequently transformed into the supreme literature of the nation. We further claim that the man who had the capacity to do this had the intelligence to know exactly what he was doing; and having created this literature he was not likely to have become so indifferent to its fate as he is represented by the Stratfordian tradition.”

I have reprinted much more from a single source than usual, yet after much cutting I hope I haven’t weakened Looney’s argument.  In any case, it is offered here as Reason No. 65.

Reason No. 64 Why the Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare: The Pivotal Year for Play Publications is also the Year of His Recorded Death — 1604

The official record indicates that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford died at fifty-four on June 24, 1604, and it just so happens that within the span of three decades (1594-1623) when first-time “Shakespeare” play publications occurred, 1604 is the pivotal year.

Hamlet 2ndQuartoCover2

Given the hypothesis that Oxford was the true author, a logical prediction is that upon his death in 1604 we should see some significant changes or events in the history of the play printings, and in fact that is precisely what we find; such as:

*  The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke comes off the press in 1604 in its most nearly full version, evidently from the author’s own manuscript.

*  After that printing the great issuance of authoritative Shakespeare plays abruptly ends, leaving eighteen plays unpublished for nearly twenty years.

*  In the Christmas season of 1604-05, the Court of King James holds an unprecedented festival of seven Shakespeare plays celebrating the marriage of Oxford’s daughter Susan de Vere.

*  In 1604 the King’s Men, formerly the Chamberlain’s Men (“Shakespeare’s company”), having gone without problems since its inception in 1594, suddenly has trouble with the authorities.

*  The businessman William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon lodges in 1604 with Mountjoy, a maker of women’s headdresses — the last indication of him as living in London.

*  Traditional biographies conjecture Shakespeare’s acting career ends in 1604, when he returns home to Stratford.

Thirteen Shakespearean plays were printed during 1594-1600.  The six published during 1594-97 were anonymous; the name first appeared in 1598, when the great issuance of dramatic works truly began, but after 1600 the floodgates swung shut — a temporarily hiatus, for perhaps three years.  The reason, J. T. Looney offers in Shakespeare Identified of 1920, was that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, dedicatee of the 1593-94 poems, was imprisoned in early 1601 for his role in the failed Essex Rebellion. 

“All publication of proper literary versions of the plays stopped immediately,” Looney noted, adding it seems that although “the complete issue of the plays had been decided upon and begun,” Southampton’s entrance into the Tower “interfered with the plans.” 

(Added Looney:  “There is much to support the view that Henry Wriothesley acted as intermediary between the Earl of Oxford and those who were staging and publishing the dramas.”)

After Southampton’s liberation in April 1603, the corrupt Hamlet Q1 was published; then upon Oxford’s death in 1604 came Hamlet Q2, twice as long.  [In 1608-09 a brief flurry of printings included King Lear, Pericles and Troilus and Cressida, but these were not from the author’s manuscripts.]  With Hamlet Q2 in 1604, all authoritative printings of yet-unpublished plays ceased for eighteen years until Othello (1622) and, finally, the First Folio (1623) with exactly half of its thirty-six plays published for the first time.

 “We have a flood of Shakespearean plays being published authentically right up to the death of Edward de Vere,” Looney wrote, referring to Hamlet Q2 of 1604, “then a sudden stop, and nothing more published with any appearance of proper authorization for nearly twenty years, although the reputed author was alive and active during twelve of these years.”

In November 1604, less than five months after Oxford’s death, the unprecedented Court festival of plays began with Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  The wedding of Oxford’s daughter and Philip Herbert took place on December 27, with Measure for Measure performed the day before and The Comedy of Errors the day after.  The Shakespearean productions at the Royal Court continued in January with Love’s Labour’s Lost (hosted by Southampton) and Henry V, followed in February by two performances of The Merchant of Venice.

From an Oxfordian viewpoint this Shakespearean festival surrounding the marriage of Susan de Vere is a silent tribute to her father, the recently departed dramatist!

Meanwhile traditional Shakespeare biographies presume that, just at the moment of Oxford’s death, the author’s conjectured acting career came to an end.  “We suppose Shakespeare to have ceased to act in the summer of 1604,” reports the 1913 Irving edition of the Complete Works, following a statement by the National Encyclopedia in the nineteenth century that “there is no doubt he never meant to return to London, except for business visits, after 1604.”

Remarkably enough the Irving edition goes on to report a crisis in the affairs of Shakespeare’s acting troupe after 1604:  “No sooner had our great dramatist ceased to take part in public performances of the King’s players, than the company appears to have thrown off the restraint by which it had been unusually controlled ever since its formation, and to have produced plays which were objectionable to the Court … Shakespeare, from his abilities, station, and experience, must have possessed great influence with the body at large, and due deference, we may readily believe, was shown to his knowledge and judgment in the selection and acceptance of plays.”  (My emphasis)

(I believe the Irving editors are correct, but with only one possible explanation — that it was Edward de Vere who had the “abilities, station and experience” to guide the Shakespeare company in its choice of plays and, as well, to protect it from the authorities.)    

So the great outpouring of Shakespeare publications in quarto culminated in 1604, the year of Oxford’s death, with the authentic version of Hamlet, the tragedy viewed generally as the author’s supreme dramatic achievement; and as Looney concluded:  “The last words of Hamlet may almost be accepted as Oxford’s dying words”–

Horatio, I am dead;

Thou livest; report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied…

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity awhile,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story…

The rest is silence.

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