“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.)

players

* 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.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Your view on Lyly’s works being Oxford’s should be taken into consideration by all Oxfordians. *Endymion* is Oxford’s pleading to his mother the Queen to recognise him, to wake him up! Great entry.

    • Thanks, Ricardo! You know, I love the play Campaspe….

      • Another curious play to study would be “The Spanish Tragedy”. This play. I think, is been in a wrong way atribbuted to Thomas Kyd. After all, his authorship to the play was only talked in 1612, and before this date the play was performanced and appeared in print under anonymaty.

        But it’s style is too diferente from Kyd. Critics had said this style is superior. At the same time, the play is similar to Hamlet. Maybe too many…

        If Hamlet be Oxford, Ofelia Anne Cecil, Polonius William Cecil, Leartes Robert Cecil, Gertrude Elizabeth, Francis Francis de Vere, Horatio Horace de Vere, Claudius Robert Dudley and Edward Seymour and King Hamlet John de Vere and Thomas Seymour, then is some connection between this characters to those of “The Spanish Tragedy”?

      • Francisco, I think you will have to tell us:-) since you obviously have done your homework! The general feeling has been that Kyd did not write Spanish Tragedy — also that he and Marlowe shared a room provided by their “lord” who was probably Oxford. Much speculation but on good grounds.

  2. Then give me a little more of time. It’s more easy to identify the characters of “The Spanish Tragedy” as those of real life when Philip II of Spain was about to be the new king of Portugal (with this, we may date the play to 1581) than to identify they with those of Hamlet.

    Though we have references around the play to the begin of the Spanish dinasty in Portugal’s Crown, some characters are in many ways similars to those of Hamlet. For example, we have both Horatios in the plays but they are very differents. In Hamlet, Horatio is Hamlet’s best friend. In Spanish Tragedy, he his son of Hieronimo (the main character), best friend of Andrea (the ghost who pleads for revenge). His death is the main motive to Hieronimo’s revenge. But I think if ever Horace de Vere is Hamlet’s Horatio; and Spanish Tragedy’s Horatio is Southampton. Though he was yet a child in 1581, the hanged Horatio could be the “murdered” of Southampton’s right to be Elizabeth’s heir.

    Well, give me more time 😛


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