The Shakespeare Fellowship Responds to “Shakespeare Beyond Doubt”

Below is an initial response by the Shakespeare Fellowship, one of the two major Oxfordian organizations in the U.S., to the publication next month of a new book, Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  (The same link to this response is among other links on this blog site.)

But first, I’d like to say to the holders of the traditional Stratfordian fantasy: “BEYOND DOUBT?  ARE YOU KIDDING!!??” and then shout out the window to the wind, “&%$@**&#*@!&&!!!!!” and then, finally, and calmly, recall a famous quote from Arthur Schopenhauer:

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed.  Second, it is  violently opposed.  Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

We have now arrived at the second stage … with just one more to go!

beyond doubt


The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust recently released its book Shakespeare Beyond Doubt in an attempt to prove that there is “no doubt” that William Shakspere of Stratford wrote the works of “William Shakespeare.” But while over 70 documents exist about the Stratford man that were created during his life, not one of them identifies him as a writer of any kind. A businessman, yes, an occasional money lender, part owner of a theatre company who may have acted some small parts, yes, but not a writer. No manuscript of a poem or play in his hand survives, not even a letter! There is no evidence that William Shakspere, the man from Stratford, ever owned a book, was ever paid for writing, or was referred to as a writer by anyone during his life or immediately after his death. The First Folio, which was published seven years after his death, was the first document to attempt to connect “William Shakespeare” with Mr. Shakspere.

The monument as sketched in 1634

The monument as sketched in 1634

The monument to Shakespeare in the Trinity Church in Stratford now shows a writer with a quill pen in his hand; but it does not look the same as the one erected in the early 1600s. A sketch by a reputable artist in 1634 shows a man with a drooping moustache holding a wool or grain sack, but no pen, no paper, no writing surface. In short, the “authorship” of the man from Stratford has all the earmarks of a hoax designed to hide the real author’s identity.

But why would the real author have hidden his identity? Because it was dangerous to write under one’s own name in those days. One could be imprisoned or tortured, or worse, if his writings displeased the authorities. Pen names and anonymity were common. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt fails to produce any new evidence in favor of the Stratford man or to answer the many weaknesses in the Stratfordian theory. For more on the doubts about Shakspere, see the Declaration of Reasonable Doubt or read Diana Price’s Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography or the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition’s rebuttal to the SBT: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt? Exposing an Industry in Denial, due to be published May 31, 2013.

The grain sack is now a writing pillow and lo, he's a writer

The grain sack is now a writing pillow and lo, he’s a writer

The Shakespeare Fellowship believes that there is a large body of circumstantial evidence indicating that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was the real author of the plays. Oxford used the “pen name” William Shakespeare because it was not considered appropriate for a nobleman to write plays for the public stage. Shakespeare Beyond Doubt, in a chapter by Professor Alan Nelson, tries unsuccessfully to rebut the Oxfordian thesis. Nelson’s chapter is deviously one-sided. What he leaves out is as important as what he leaves in. Nelson tries to paint Oxford as an irascible, erratic character, but what does this have to do with whether he was the writer known as “Shakespeare”? Oxfordians claim that Oxford was a great writer—not a saint—and admit that he had an artist’s temperamental, mercurial personality.

Indeed, the character flaws that Nelson alleges are actually evidence of Oxford’s connections to the works of “Shakespeare.” Nelson comes dangerously close to admitting this: he claims at one point that Oxford was “apparently” homosexual (or bisexual) and later links this to the homoerotic overtones of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, many of which were written to a fair young man, thought to be the Earl of Southampton. Traditional scholars are stumped when trying to explain how William of Stratford, a commoner, could have had the gall to write such intimate poetry to a nobleman, but an older nobleman might have easily gotten away with it.

Nelson points out that Oxford, when he was a young man, killed a cook and escaped a murder charge on the finding that the cook “committed suicide” by deliberately running on the young earl’s sword. Oxford would eventually use this as self-parody in Hamlet, where one of the Gravediggers attempts to talk about a person committing suicide in self-defense. Brutus in Julius Caesar also commits suicide by running on a sword.

Nelson criticizes Oxford for his extravagant lifestyle, but Nelson doesn’t mention that this behavior is mirrored in the plot of Timon of Athens. Oxford was also, admittedly, estranged from his wife for some time, thinking she had been unfaithful to him. This became fodder for Hamlet’s estrangement from Ophelia and Othello’s distrust toward Desdemona.  Oxford’s wife was rumored to have gotten him back by using a “bed trick”—that is, making him think he was being led into the dark bedchamber of another woman, when actually it was his own wife’s room. Such “bed tricks” are used in two Shakespeare plays—Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well.

Edward de Vere Motto Nothing truer than Truth

Edward de Vere Motto
Nothing truer than Truth

Nelson tells us that Meres and Bodenham listed Oxford and Shakespeare as separate people, but if Oxford was hiding his identity behind the pen name “Shakespeare,” why should we think that Meres and Bodenham would know that they were the same person? Nelson doesn’t mention that George Puttenham wrote in 1589 that “Noblemen . . . have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman Edward Earl of Oxford.”

Nelson asserts that the Queen gave Oxford an annuity of £1,000 “in exchange for his good behaviour,” but it is entirely speculation on Nelson’s part that this was the reason for the generous annuity. Could it have been a reward for his writing plays that supported the Tudor claim to the throne?

Nelson argues that Oxford couldn’t have written The Tempest because Oxford died in 1604 and the play refers to the 1609 wreck of the Sea-Venture off the coast of Bermuda. Some scholars believe, based on imagery and word choices in the The Tempest, that it was influenced by William Strachey’s account of that 1609 shipwreck. But shipwrecks near Bermuda, an island surrounded by reefs, were common. In fact, one occurred in 1595, when Oxford was still alive. Furthermore, scholars who have carefully studied the imagery in The Tempest have found much earlier sources than Strachey’s account that Shakespeare might have drawn on. See Dating the Tempest on this website. Thus, there is no reason to believe that the author of The Tempest had to have read Strachey’s account. In fact, Strachey’s account was not actually published until 1625, long after the Stratford man was dead, so Stratfordians are left to speculate, based on no supporting evidence, that Shakspere somehow had access to Strachey’s manuscript.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, 1575, at 25

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, 1575, at 25

Nelson claims that Oxfordians “fantasize” that Oxford left drafts of plays that were published after his death. But anyone who believes that William of Stratford was the real Shakespeare must also indulge in such “fantasies.” About half of Shakespeare’s plays were never published or performed until the First Folio appeared—seven years after the Stratford man died. If he indeed made his living as a playwright, why would he have withheld half of his output from publication or performance during his lifetime? Such a practice seems more consistent with a nobleman who wrote for his own purposes and couldn’t allow his name to be connected to his writings.

Both Stratfordians and Oxfordians have long noted that Polonius in Hamlet appears to be a satire on Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s power-behind-the-throne. Oxford knew Burghley well. Burghley became Oxford’s guardian when Oxford’s father died. Later, Oxford married Burghley’s daughter, Anne Cecil. Lord Burghley wrote out a set of rules for his household that includes maxims such as, “Towards thy superiors be humble yet generous; with thine equals familiar yet respective.” As Polonius says to Laertes, “Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.” Burghley’s rules were not published until 1618, long after Hamlet was published. The scene in which Polonius sends Reynaldo to spy on his son Laertes increases the similarity to Burghley, who maintained a network of spies. The name “Polonius” may have come from two of Burghley’s nicknames, “Polus” and “Pondus.” In the first edition of Hamlet, the character’s name was “Corambis”—perhaps a pun on Burghley’s Latin motto, “Cor unum, via una,” which means “One heart, one way.”

Just as Hamlet was captured by pirates and left naked on the shore of Denmark, Oxford was captured by pirates and left naked on the shore of England. In 1573, Oxford, who was a patron of the arts, wrote a preface to an English translation of Cardanus Comfort, a book of consoling advice that likely influenced Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy.

Nelson, however, makes a tortured attempt to dissociate Hamlet from the facts of Oxford’s life: Oxford was twelve when his father died, whereas Hamlet was an adult when he lost his father; Oxford married Burghley’s daughter, whereas Hamlet rejected Ophelia and consigned her to a nunnery. One half-expects Nelson to add that Oxford didn’t stab Lord Burghley while he was hiding behind an arras. Nelson’s analysis insults the reader’s intelligence. While writers often use real-life people and situations as raw material for their creations, they always transform their materials into something new, mixing fiction with real life to create a higher reality. For example, while we know that Charles Dickens was writing somewhat autobiographically in David Copperfield, the novel does not follow Dickens’s life in all respects. Any college English major understands this. It is surprising that Nelson, an English professor, doesn’t.

Finally, Nelson insists that Oxford couldn’t have been Shakespeare because Oxford, as owner of his own theatre troupe, would never have let the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a “rival” theatre company, perform his plays. Nelson’s theory rests on the unfounded assumption that noblemen’s companies competed jealously against each other, like commercial companies, and never shared their works. Yet this assumption is refuted by the title page of the 1594 First Quarto edition of Titus Andronicus. (Like all “Shakespeare” plays published before 1598, it is anonymous, i.e., no author is named on the title page.) The title page states that the play is “as it was played” by the servants of the Earls of Derby, Pembroke, and Sussex. This shows that various noblemen might have worked together and shared plays rather than jealously guarding them. Incidentally, the Earl of Derby was Oxford’s son-in-law. The Earl of Pembroke was the brother of another of Oxford’s sons-in-law. And the Earl of Sussex’s family had close political ties to Oxford. If the Earl of Oxford was indeed the author of Titus Andronicus, why wouldn’t he have shared his play with other noblemen, especially his family and friends?

This short response to Shakespeare Beyond Doubt barely scratches the surface of the Oxford theory. For more, read The Case for Oxford Revisited; Mark Anderson’s Shakespeare by Another Name; Richard Whalen’s Shakespeare: Who Was He?; or Joseph Sobran’s Alias Shakespeare

A Guest Paper on “Cymbeline” & Queen Elizabeth’s Monarchy by Mildred Sexton

While on the subject of the play Cymbeline, I’d like to share an essay by Oxfordian researcher Mildred Sexton.  Although the paper was completed by 1997, her insights and themes are every bit as important and striking today.




By Mildred L.B. Sexton


Injustice to faithful subjects is the driving force behind the author’s efforts to council Queen Elizabeth regarding the strengths and weaknesses of her monarchy. He used the medium of drama, with its allegory, metaphor and imagery to paint powerful pictures for the Queen and members of her court about matters important to her monarchy and to their own lives as well.  It was his hope to make an impact upon specific events and consequently upon State policy.  This was a common practice of playwrights of the time, and in order to understand the plays, we must seat ourselves among the members of the Court audience and try to know and understand what they knew and how they felt.

"Cymbeline" - printed first in the 1623 folio

“Cymbeline” – printed first in the 1623 folio

In the Renaissance, it was the practice to reach back into the past for important works of antiquity and to apply Christian moral principles to them for use in contemporary life. This is exactly what the author did with Cymbeline.  He reached back into early British history to the reign of an ancient king who came to power at the time of the birth of Christ.  He intertwined this religious association with mythological as well as biblical references.  These references were used as metaphors in his instructions to the Queen and her subjects about the ancient values of true monarchy so desperately needed at the current time.  He also used great elements of symbolism about the current condition of Church/State policy which carried so powerful a message to the Queen and the Court that the play was revived during King James’ reign when a situation of similar import was occurring.

The solution of the authorship question revealing Edward de Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford, to be the true author of the Shake-Speare works has provided answers to the many of the questions which have puzzled play goers and scholars alike.  The trick, now, is to realize that Oxford’s Court audience would have understood these plays.  What do we need to know that they knew?

First of all, we need to know that Elizabethans were steeped in knowledge of the Bible, Greek and Roman history, literature, myths and legends.  We must learn to recognize subtle references to the works of the Roman poet, Ovid and to Greek mythology.  The audience also knew their ancient British history, myths and legends as well as astrology, magic and superstition.  They didn’t just think about them occasionally.  All of these elements were part of their everyday lives.  It is not like that with us.  We have to expand our knowledge and make a real adjustment in our thinking if we are going to have a chance at understanding.

In order to begin to grasp the full meaning of this play we must perceive its chronological position in the canon and pinpoint the contemporary period on which the author focused.  We need to know that Cymbeline was originally a very early play, the original version probably written in the author’s teen-age years.  This is indicated by the use of the characters from the old Morality plays, Virtue and Vice, the True Church and the False Church.  In Cymbeline, Oxford transformed the latter to represent the true Church of England and Catholicism, the false church of Rome and the Pope.

The author’s limited use of imagery also indicates that this is an early play.  We clearly see his imagery growing and blossoming in his later works to be the miracle of the ages.  The use of soliloquies of minor characters to merely forward or explain the action is another early technique.  The internalizing of thoughts and emotions was to come later as he matured in his craft.  The crude use of the vision scene and the soothsayer would be handled much more smoothly in Hamlet, for instance, Macbeth or Julius Caesar.

It is possible to speculate from the rather idealized relationship between Imogen and Postumus, that the original version of this play was written before the author had experienced such feelings himself.  He seems to be taking a view learned from others at this stage of his development as a writer.  In his later works, relationships between lovers would seem to come from his own personal experiences.

It has become obvious that the play was reworked, with topical references inserted over a long period of time, even after Oxford’s death.  For instance, we hear the word “fury” calling to mind the Spanish Fury, the Roman Catholic fanaticism of the massacre at Antwerp in 1576.  The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 is reflected in the defeat of the Romans in the play.  In the spirit of the Renaissance, the author uses these allegorical references to orient the audience and reflect upon events in Elizabeth’s monarchy.  We can see that to be aware of even these few metaphorical associations, we need to acquaint ourselves with the code of allegory and metaphor used by all of the writers of the day which the Court audience understood but has escaped us until now.


In listening to this play, we need to know that one of the myths which the British believed – it wasn’t true, but they believed it and held it in emotional regard – was that Britain was founded by the Trojan, Bruté.  Bruté’s wife was Imogen.  Bruté’s grand sire was Postumus.  Since the names are the same, but the relationships are different in the play, it must be understood that this is merely symbolism representing the origins of the British people.  Oxford wanted his audience to reflect back upon the strengths of the ancient monarchies and compare them to what was going on at the current time.

Like every good playwright, Oxford tells us what the play is going to be about in the first scene.  Here we learn that Posthumus has been banished, unjustly, for treason.  Oxford’s audience was in the midst of a Church/State controversy beginning with the Counter Reformation dating from 1572.  The current crisis involved Elizabeth’s position as both Head of State and Head of the Church.  In Cymbeline’s time he was the undisputed head of both Church and State.  At this particular time in Elizabeth’s reign, Catholics recognized the Pope as Head of the Church, and therein lies the rub.  If a citizen didn’t recognize the Queen as Head of the Church, then it follows that he didn’t acknowledge her as Head of the State, and that was considered treason!  Elizabeth’s monarchy was continually threatened by plots for her overthrow by the Catholic powers of France and Spain supported by English Catholic sympathizers.  She felt she had no other choice but to weed out troublemakers.   Consequently, Catholics were subjected to questioning worse than the Spanish Inquisition, and the verdict was invariably treason which carried horrendous penalties.

Oxford had turned toward Catholicism, it is believed, during his trip to Italy in the mid-1570’s. We recognize him in the character of Posthumus, who after being unjustly banished from court goes to Rome. Oxford’s audience understood that, metaphorically, this meant that Posthumus had gone over the Roman Catholic Church.  At the time of a revision of this play in the early 1580’s Oxford had unwittingly become involved in a political plot of the Catholic sympathizers Lord Henry Howard, Philip earl of Arundel and Robert Southwell.  These three, without Oxford’s knowledge, plotted with France and Spain to land troops in England, murder Elizabeth and put the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.   When Oxford found out, he immediately informed the Queen, who went into such a state of terror that she threw him and the other three into the Tower until she could sort it all out.  Oxford was finally exonerated, but Elizabeth sent him from her court.   He was so terribly hurt by being banished in the face of having saved her life, and in consequence her monarchy, that he poured it all out in Postumus’ and Belarius’ speeches about injustice, introducing this as his main theme.

This was such a traumatic event for Oxford that he wrote the sad song about “Friendship remembered not” in As You Like It and portrayed the three real villains as Don John (Henry Howard), Borachio and Conrad (Arundel and Southwell) in Much Ado About Nothing.   The character, Hero, suffers the same fate as Oxford of having been plotted against and not believed.   Playwriting continually offered a form of expiation for the misunderstood nobleman.

It is important to remember that although the events of the play as well as those of Elizabeth’s reign occurred against the background of the religio/political conflict, Oxford focused upon a much deeper level of concern, namely, the right of the individual to have his own thoughts and beliefs.  This had been the focus of the argument of those who were accused of treason for their religious beliefs.  Their lawyers argued that thoughts were “private property” and as such were protected by law.  Oxford believed deeply in the rights of the individual and presented this message time and time again in the plays.  In Cymbeline, he felt that an additional message must be made clear to the Queen.  This was that, although her subjects might entertain different thoughts and beliefs, she must believe in their unassailable loyalty to the crown, no matter what those beliefs might be.  This is the argument in the final scene of the play where all come together to support the monarch.  Such a message would not have been lost on Elizabeth during this time of grave doubts about the loyalties of those around her.


As was mentioned at the outset, this play contains great layers of symbolism.  Modern playgoers must practice the skills of handling symbolism at which Oxford’s audience was so very adept.  They found completely comprehensible, situations which we find ridiculous because we are seeing them as involving individual characters rather than ideas.  We are especially taxed by this play.  However, our enjoyment is increased ten-fold when we are able to make the shift, and see the symbolism begin to emerge from those speeches which seem the most puzzling.

As we listen to the play, we are charmed by the Boccaccio tale of the devoted couple caught up in the evils that surround them, which occupies the beginning of the play.  Imogen is one of Oxford’s most beloved heroines.  However, she is too good to be true, and we soon see her become, through the constant biblical references, a symbol of the ancient True Church beset by the actions of the False Church or, in Oxford’s time, the Church of Rome.  Oxford’s audience would have followed her trials with the same sympathy that we feel.  However, because of their cultural background, they would have felt the undercurrents of the religious, moral and political messages.

So, now we come to understand that the play is operating on two levels at once. Not only is Imogen the faithful wife, but her trials also represent the trials of the True Church of scripture. The symbolic characters representing instruments of the False Church, the Catholic Church viewed as the antichrist, are introduced in quick succession.  These characters are identified as instruments of Satan by standard characteristics well known to Oxford’s audience through the old Morality plays.  These include poisons, magic, dissembling, lying, deceit, having bodies of filth and foul smells and the use of disguises.

Catherine de Medici        1519 - 1589

Catherine de Medici
1519 – 1589

The first of these characters exhibiting the requisite attributes is, of course, the queen.  Keep in mind that the author is presenting his ideas on several levels at once.  On the contemporary political level the evil queen parodies the French Catholic queen Catherine de Medici with HER poisons, HER plot to gain the throne of England by marrying HER son to Elizabeth.  And so the association is made with the audience.

Francis, Duc d'Alencon          1555-1584

Francis, Duc d’Alencon

Next we are introduced to the despicable Cloten, the queen’s son.  He is a parody of Catherine’s son, François, Duc d’Alençon, seen by many courtiers as the antichrist with the tell-tale characteristics.  The character’s name suggests a clot of clay or dirt. His attendants tell him that his shirt smells so foul. He uses the disguise of Postumus’ clothes to try to trick Imogen and Guiderius.  All fit Satan’s profile.

And finally Iachimo – little Iago – who lies and dissembles with Postumus and Imogen.  We hear him use the word “religion” shortly before he, an instrument of Satan, uses the word “covenant” in making the pact with the unwitting Postumus.  Oxford makes a pact with the devil when he gets involved with Howard and Arundel.

So now we see that Oxford has asked his audience to contemplate the fate of the true apostolic church of primitive British history as a symbol of the situation in Elizabeth’s monarchy beset by the various manifestations of the antichrist. The false church of Rome in the play points to the French Catholic faction under Catherine and Alençon, and the Spanish Catholic forces are suggested by the Romans of the play, Augustus Caesar/ Philip of Spain, and the ambassador, Lucius/ the Spanish ambassador Mendoza.


As the play progresses, Postumus/Oxford, our true and faithful knight, has become disillusioned through the machinations of the character Iachimo.  In the meantime Imogen is being revealed more and more as the True Church of the Bible as she succumbs to the misleading contents of Postumus’ letter and begins, like the Church wandering in the wilderness, her journey toward Milford Haven.  Here, the setting is a far western part of Wales where the ancient kings reigned and where the ancient Christian Church had arisen. This allies the association of the setting in the minds of the audience with the other symbols in the play.

 Later in history, Milford Haven would be the landing place for Henry Tudor to make his move to conquer Richard III and establish the Tudor dynasty of which Elizabeth was the reigning heir.  It was also here that Philip of Spain had just recently planned to land troops to lay siege to Elizabeth’s throne.  Writing about this event in the form of allegory, Oxford has the Romans of the play landing at Milford Haven to launch their attack upon Cymbeline’s forces.  Milford Haven is revealed as highly symbolic to Oxford’s audience, so the metaphor was powerful at many levels, the ancient and the contemporary, the political and the religious.

So – we see Imogen wandering toward Milford Haven and the longed for reunion with her husband, but she finally almost gives up as Postumus servant, Pisanio, tells her of her husband’s orders for her death.  Asking Pisanio to kill her, she uses the term “lamb” from the Bible suggesting the sacrificial lamb.  We now begin to recognize the biblical references which come straight out of the Book of Revelation.  In this Book of the Bible, the True Church is confronted by the Whore of Babylon and other antichrist monsters just as Imogen is set upon by the machinations of the queen, Cloten and Iachimo.

When Pisanio relents, Imogen finds her way to the cave of Belarius and Cymbeline’s sons where she is repeatedly referred to as an “angel”, as the figure of the Church is called in the scriptures.  Oxford has again tied the religious to the secular by introducing Imogen, the Church, to the characters of Cymbeline’s sons, Guiderius and Arviragus who represent the succession to the monarchy.

Oxford gives these boys additional names from Greek mythology, Polydore and Cadwal.  It is important for us to know at the outset what the Court audience knew, and they knew who Polydore and Cadwal were and were well aware of their significance to the symbolism of the play.

Polydore was the first son of Priam!   Remember Priam, King of Troy, made so much of by Hamlet?  Polydore had been sent to Thrace for safe-keeping, Priam desiring that he be, to quote Albion’s England* (1589), “ the conservor and restoration of his house and empire” *.  Belarius had taken the boys into hiding for the same reason – the preservation and restoration of the monarchy once Cymbeline realized his kingly duties to his faithful subjects. This is a symbolic message to Elizabeth that she must see the light about the importance of recognizing and protecting the rights and integrity of the individual from persecution for his own private thoughts and beliefs

Cadwal, or Cadwallader, the Welshman, was the last king of the ancient Britons.  So, we have Britain’s mythic roots in the Troy legend reaching through the reign of Cymbeline up to Cadwallader in 633.  The audience would now see that the author is asking them to consider the whole of the ancient monarchies as a symbol of Elizabeth’s roots and the symbol to which the Elizabethans should be looking for answers during these troubled times.  This is the Renaissance practice of applying the lessons of the past to the present.

In the Book of Revelation, the champion of the True Church slays the dragon figure of the False Church and throws the body into the lake of fire and brimstone.  In the play, the figure of the antichrist, Cloten, challenges Guiderius, heir to the throne, the symbol of the head of both Church and State, trying to trick him by wearing the clothes of the virtuous subject, Postumus.  Guiderius is not fooled and immediately strikes off his head throwing it into the creek behind the rock (the Rock of Ages, the Church).  He strikes off the head of the antichrist, the False Church, symbolically to Oxford’s audience, the Catholic faith.

With Imogen’s arrival at the cave, we learn that Belarius is another character which Oxford has created to speak his message.  The whole third scene of Act III contains Oxford’s own personal words about the evils of Court life and the injustice of his present situation:

My fault being nothing, as I have told you oft,

But that two villains (Howard and Arundel), whose false oaths prevailed

Before my perfect honor, swore to Cymbeline (Elizabeth)

I was confederate with the Romans (Catholics), So followed my banishment.     (3.3.58-69)

This speaks of the slander of Oxford to the Queen perpetrated by Howard and Arundel, and shows us that additions were made in the early 1580’s when the Jesuit plot devised by Spain and France to murder Elizabeth and seize the throne for Mary Stuart was revealed to the Queen by Oxford.  Until we know the history of the moment which was so important to the author, it is impossible to understand why this speech was ever put in.  Oxford was so stung by the whole mess that he simply could not stop himself from dwelling upon it.

In his soliloquy, Belarius/Oxford expounds upon his most important theme, that of the rights of the individual which were alluded to earlier.  Because we see Belarius again many years later mirrored in the character of Kent in Lear saying much the same thing, we must realize that this continued to be a theme of great importance to Oxford.

Hearing Cymbeline refer to him as “a banish’d traitor” (a parallel to Posthumus’ situation at the beginning of the play) Belarius replies, “banish’d man,/I know not how a traitor”.  Although he, speaking Oxford’s thoughts, has not been believed and respected by the Crown, he still remains the faithful subject.

Belarius has secreted the heirs to the throne in the safety of the wilderness until Cymbeline comes to his senses about the responsibilities of monarchy.  Oxford gives Belarius the vision to see that he must preserve the ancient traditions of kingship in the face of a monarch who cannot see clearly and gets too closely involved with dangerous enemies.  Even Imogen, symbolizing the Church, cannot distinguish the headless body of Cloten/Satan from that of Posthumus, who is symbolically, Elizabeth’s virtuous, true subject, Oxford.  This is a message to Elizabeth that she is not recognizing the danger in her disguised enemies, France and Spain, just as Cymbeline fails to recognize the danger in his queen.  Most of all Elizabeth is not recognizing the value of the undying loyalty of her true subject, Oxford.

At the end of the play, when the issue comes down to the defense of king and country against the Romans, Belarius and the boys, as well as the returning Posthumus, are shown to be well aware of their duty.  Oxford states through Belarius that it is “every subject’s duty to come actively to the support of the monarch especially when that subject has reasons to hold back and thus distance himself from the cause on which the king is seeking unanimity,” # – in Oxford’s time, the Catholic problem.

Oxford quickly resolved all of the conflicts in the play with the “pillar and vine” theme representing the ideal State/Church relationship, the pillar of the monarchy supporting and controlling the clinging vine of the Church.  The reconciliation of Postumus and Imogen also intertwines these symbols along with the universal theme of forgiveness for the repentance.

It is curious that Cymbeline was revived and reworked in 1609; many authorities see the hand of Chapman and perhaps others.  At this time there was a tremendous paper war being waged regarding the “Oath of Allegiance” controversy.  King James had tried to impose this oath upon Catholics to force them to swear allegiance to him, and in so doing renounce the Pope’s authority as Head of the Church with the right to depose a monarch.  This was the same controversy revisited from Elizabeth’s reign.

Oxford’s original position, expounded upon by Belarius, was centered upon the rights of the individual to have his own private thoughts and beliefs while remaining unassailably loyal to the monarch.  Those opposing James’ actions found a fitting vehicle to resurrect in a similar crisis.  Oxford’s message lived on after his death as it does today.

* – William Warner, The First and Second Parts of Albion’s England (1589)

# – Donna Hamilton, Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England. University Press of Kentucky. 1992


© Copyright, M. B. Sexton, St. Louis, MO, 1997

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Why would “Shakespeare” write the flawed play “Cymbeline” at the end of his career? The answer is that he didn’t – Instead, it appears to be one of Oxford’s earliest works … and it’s Reason No. 69 why he was the author

Cymbeline, King of Britaine was one of the eighteen plays in the First Folio of 1623 that had not previously been published.  It was placed at the end, as the final entry in the book; and orthodox scholars figure that Will Shakspere of Stratford must have written it a few years before 1611, when someone described a performance.  Their problem, however, has been trying to explain why Cymbeline appears to be the work of a younger playwright still learning his craft.

Cymbeline-Shakespeare-William-9781903436028“His old skill in uniting a number of narrative strands to form one master plot seems to have deserted him,” Oscar James Campbell wrote in 1966, but the criticism had begun much earlier – as when, for example, Samuel Johnson blustered in 1765:  “To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and too gross for aggravation.”

“No one will rank Cymbeline with the greater plays,” Harley Granville-Barker wrote in Prefaces to Shakespeare, 1927-1947.  “It is not conceived greatly, it is full of imperfections.  But it has merits all its own; and one turns to it from Othello, or King Lear, or Antony and Cleopatra, as one turns from a masterly painting to, say, a fine piece of tapestry, from commanding beauty to more recondite charm.”

If these gentlemen could have dropped their late dating of Cymbeline, they would have recognized that this play had preceded those masterpieces of literary and dramatic maturity.  They would have seen that it contains flashes of greatness-to-come while providing “what is wholly absent in traditional biographies of the Bard: evidence of youthful endeavor, the elusive juvenilia,”as Kevin Gilvary writes in Dating Shakespeare’s Plays.

Eva Turner Clark suggested in 1930 that Cymbeline was “no other than the Court drama of December 28, 1578, listed on that date in the Court Revels as The Cruelty of a Stepmother” – which takes us back more than thirty years to when Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford was twenty-eight and becoming intensely involved with playwrights, play companies and plays.

Oxford had returned to England a few years earlier after traveling to Italy.  In 1571 he had married the daughter of William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England and the man by whom he had been brought up as a royal ward.  In Italy he learned his wife was pregnant and that there were rumors she had been unfaithful.  Upon his return to England in 1576 he angrily refused to acknowledge his wife or the baby daughter.  In 1581 he was sent to the Tower, after confessing his conversion to Catholicism, but later was released and reconciled with Burghley and his wife.

The Cruelty of a Stepmother of 1578 appears to have been an early version of a play that Oxford revised in 1582 into Cymbeline (with final revisions in about 1590).  And here is Gilvary’s account of the play’s tragic-comic story of Posthumous:

“Cymbeline describes the travels of a youth to Italy; a youth brought up by the most powerful man in the country, whose daughter he married; a youth who, while away in Italy, is persuaded that his wife has been unfaithful and whom he wishes dead; a youth whose spiritual sympathies are with Rome; a youth imprisoned on his return for loyalties to Rome; a youth who later sought and received forgiveness from his maligned wife and his outraged father-in-law.”

Sounds familiar!

The Greek Translation Dedicated to Oxford in  1569

The Greek Translation Dedicated to Oxford in

An important source of Cymbeline is the romance Aethiopica or An Aethiopian History as translated from the Greek of Herliodorus in 1569 by Thomas Underdowne, who dedicated it to Edward de Vere.  The earl was then nineteen and apparently going beyond good taste in “matters of learning,” as Underdowne put it, explaining that for a nobleman “to be too much addicted that way, I think it is not good.”  It appears, however, that Oxford was very much addicted to learning.

“Close examination reveals that Cymbeline was probably influenced by the Aethiopica and was perhaps even a conscious imitation of that of that romance,” writes C. Gesner in Shakespeare and the Greek Romance (1970).  The translation of this Greek romance dedicated to Oxford was reprinted in 1577, when he may well have decided to use its story for a play.  He also would have used the first edition of Raphael Holinshed’s The Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1577, wherein all the source material for Cymbeline was available to him.

But there’s much more evidence that Cymbeline originated from Oxford’s pen in 1578 — for example, the bizarre chapter of the Elizabethan reign during the 1570s when the Queen carried on a long courtship with Hercule Francois, Duke of Alencon of France – an episode providing perfect contemporary stuff for a political allegory, which will be the next Reason to believe Edward de Vere wrote the works of “Shakespeare.”

Did Oxford Have Sonnets Delivered to Southampton in the Tower? The Evidence is Yes — And that Southampton Used Them to Write His Poem to the Queen

Here is evidence that Edward de Vere seventeenth Earl of Oxford was able to send some of his Shakespearean sonnets into the Tower prison room of Henry Wriothesley third Earl of Southampton to help him write his poem to Queen Elizabeth, pleading to be spared from execution.  Included at the end is a modern-English text of the poem indicating key words that also appear in the Sonnets.  This paper was delivered recently to the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in Portland, Oregon.   

The Southampton Tower Poem

Hank Whittemore

In February or March of 1601 the Earl of Southampton wrote a poem from the Tower of London, to Queen Elizabeth, begging for her mercy.  And in this paper I would like to present strong evidence that in the Tower he received some of the private Shakespearean sonnets from Oxford that helped him in the composition of his poem to the Queen.

The Tower

The Tower

He had been imprisoned on the night of February 8, 1601 after the so-called Rebellion had failed; he and Essex stood trial eleven days later; both were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be executed.  Essex was beheaded six days later, on the morning of February twenty-fifth; and then Southampton languished in his prison room waiting to be executed.Southampton wrote his poem to Elizabeth during the next three or four weeks, until around the twentieth of March, when he was unexpectedly spared the death penalty.   His sentence was quietly commuted to perpetual imprisonment – not only quietly, but secretly, because no official record of the reprieve has ever been found.

His poem written in the Tower was discovered by Lara Crowley, assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University, and printed in the winter 2011 issue of English Literary Renaissance.  Professor Crowley found the poem in the British Library, in a collection of miscellaneous folios prepared in the 1620’s or ‘30’s.  It was preserved in the form of a scribal copy, entitled “The Earl of Southampton prisoner, and condemned, to Queen Elizabeth.”  The seventy-four lines consist of thirty-seven rhymed couplets in Iambic pentameter – same as the Shakespeare sonnets, five feet or 10 beats per line; and same as the six rhymed couplets of the envoy to the fair youth series, Sonnet 126.  It’s the only poem Southampton is known to have written.

Professor Crowley calls it a “verse letter” to the Queen – in other words, even though it’s a literary work, it is nonetheless nonfictional and functional – intended as a means of communication and persuasion.  Crowley also refers to it as a “heartfelt plea” by Henry Wriothesley for his life.  She focuses on several key issues:

Southampton's was reduced to "Mr." in the Tower and "the late" earl

Southampton was reduced to “Mr.” and “the late” earl in the Tower

One is the authenticity of the poem.  In this regard she cites certain details within the poem that would be known only to Southampton himself and just a few others – the prison doctor, the Lieutenant of the Tower and Secretary Robert Cecil.  Also favoring authenticity is that Southampton wrote several letters to the Privy Council, as well as one to Cecil – and many of the key words in the poem are also employed in these letters.

A second issue is the question whether Southampton wrote the poem all by himself or with someone’s help.  Is it even possible, Crowley wonders, that some more “practiced” poet wrote it for him?  Could such help have come from Mr. Shakespeare?  Highly improbable, given the restricted access to Southampton, but she puts forth the question and lets it float out there.

A third matter is the literary quality of the poem.  Crowley notes the work is “unpolished” – but then we might predict that from a man expecting to face the executioner’s axe at any moment.  Unpolished though it may be, she writes, “the poem proves lyrical, powerful and persuasive.”

           Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Most important to Crowley is that the poem triggers a historical question: Why was Southampton spared?  There must have been a concrete reason; but there is nothing in the record, from the government or from anywhere else, with an explanation of what happened.  The professor dismisses any idea that Cecil was moved to save Southampton out of sympathy.   At this point he had the power – apparently even over Elizabeth – to make, or not make, this decision – and if he did spare a convicted traitor, he would have demanded something that he dearly wanted in return.

Of course, what he dearly wanted now was to bring James of Scotland to the throne.  At stake was Cecil’s own position of power and even his life; and now he faced a long, uncertain time of waiting for the Queen to die, during which time he had to conduct a secret and even treasonous correspondence with James that her Majesty might discover at any moment. It would take more than two years – a time of almost unbearable tension for Robert Cecil – and the question, given these high stakes, is what he might have demanded and gotten in return for sparing Southampton’s life.

The Southampton Tower Poem was of interest to me right away, because I realized it could have some bearing upon the theory of the Shakespeare sonnets as expressed in my edition The Monument.  A central aspect of the theory is that on the night of the failed rebellion, Edward de Vere began to write a string of sonnets – a sequence that he ultimately arranged in correspondence with each day (or night, if you will) until Southampton was either executed or given a reprieve. Oxford knew that Southampton’s fate would be determined sooner than later; in fact it took approximately forty days and forty nights until the reprieve; and in my view, no matter what the precise number of days, Oxford deliberately lined up exactly forty sonnets from number 27 to number 66.

I believe he made it forty to correspond with the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, as in the Gospel of Matthew; and part of the evidence for this conjecture is in Sonnet 76, where he points to that very section of the Gospel:

“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights … And when the tempter came to him … he answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God’” – Matthew, 4.4

And in rather blatant correspondence, Oxford writes:

“That every word doth almost tell my name, showing their birth, and where they did proceed” – Sonnet 76

Now if those forty sonnets correspond with the forty days from the eighth of February 1601 to the nineteenth of March, we then have Southampton in the Tower during the very same time, waiting to learn his fate – and we know that in those days and nights he wrote his letters to the Council and to Cecil and, also, his poem to Elizabeth, pleading for mercy.  So if the theory of forty sonnets (27 to 66) during that time is correct, we should be able to predict that we’ll find some relationship between Oxford’s sonnets to Southampton and Southampton’s poem to the Queen.

First, a few markers:

 “When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past” – Sonnet 30

Given the premise that the sonnet is written just when Oxford is summoned to the sessions or treason trial, it would seem to be extraordinary corroboration.

Thy adverse party is thy Advocate – Sonnet 35

“Your (legal) opponent is also your (legal) defender.” – Duncan-Jones, editor

“Thy adverse party is thy advocate” would seem to describe Oxford’s role on the tribunal at the trial, having to be Southampton’s adverse party by voting to find him guilty and sentence him to death, but also promising to work behind the scenes as his advocate or legal defender.

To my knowledge, this is the only explanation of that line in terms of linking it to a specific historical and biographical event – the trial, and Oxford’s role on the tribunal – and also in terms of its accuracy and precision as a recognized legal reference.  And the line serves to suggest that Oxford had some way of helping Southampton – helping him write those letters to the Council, not only with words but with substance – and that he may have urged Southampton to plead with Elizabeth through poetry.  It would be logical to infer that in playing his role as advocate or defense counsel, Oxford either helped him write the poem, or at least suggested its themes if not its words.

Essex wrote a much longer poem to Elizabeth from the Tower, during the few days between the trial and his execution.  In that case, however, it was absolutely necessary for Cecil to destroy Essex by sending him to his death; therefore I would think it fairly certain that he made sure Elizabeth never did see the Essex poem.  In Oxford’s case, however, the proposition here is that he made a deal with Cecil, which included supporting the succession of King James … not to mention severing his relationship to “Shakespeare” and any connection to Southampton.  In return Cecil would make it possible for Oxford to help Southampton gain a reprieve.   And given the likelihood that Oxford advised Southampton to write a poem to her Majesty, the question is how he might have helped him — which brings us to another marker, this one in Sonnet 45, when Oxford refers to:

Those swift messengers returned from thee,

Who even but now come back again assured

Of thy fair health, recounting it to me.  – Sonnet 45

There are two topics here – one, he appears to be referring to messengers on horseback riding back and forth between Oxford’s home in Hackney and the Tower – and this may well indicate that he’s been able to get copies of sonnets delivered to Southampton. This, in my view, is quite in the realm of the possible and even the probable – first because of Oxford’s high rank and seeming ability to get away with so much, apparently because the Queen protected him; second because John Peyton, Lieutenant of the Tower, had been appointed by Cecil back in 1598, and owed his allegiance to him; and third because if Oxford made a deal with Cecil, it was in the Secretary’s best interest to enable such communication between Oxford and Southampton, so Oxford could play his part by helping him.  And this would include the proposition – the hypothesis, at this point – that as part of such communication, copies of the sonnets got into Southampton’s possession in the Tower.

The other part of these two lines is the clear reference to Southampton’s health.  He had fevers and swellings in his legs and other parts of his body, but he was being treated and apparently his health was improving.  In his poem to the Queen, Southampton refers specifically to his leg problem.

I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed …

And it turns out that within Southampton’s Tower poem, as predicted, there’s a strong correspondence with Oxford’s Shakespearean sonnets.

At least forty-seven key words in the Shakespearean sonnets also appear in Southampton’s poem, of which the following twenty-four words might be emphasized:

Blood, Buried, Cancel, Condemned, Crimes, Dead, Die, Faults, Grave, Grief, Ill, Liberty, Loss, Mercy, Offenses, Pardon, Power, Princes, Prison, Sorrow, Stain, Tears, Tombs…

There are at least four distinct themes shared by both the Sonnets and the Southampton poem.   

1.      Crime – Fault – Offence – Ill Deed

2.      Grief – Loss – Sorrow – Tears

3.      Prison – Death – Tomb – Buried

4.      Plea/Beg – Mercy – Pardon – Liberty

First, the Crime or Fault or Offence

“The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

  To him that bears the strong offence’s cross.” – Sonnet 34

“I beg liberty to cancel old offences

  Better go ten such voyages than once offend

  The majesty of a Prince, where all things end” (Southampton)

“All men make faults, and even I in this” – Sonnet 35

“Where faults weigh down the scale” – (Southampton)

 “To you it doth belong

  Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

“Let grace so…

  Swim above all my crimes” – (Southampton)

Second, the expressions of grief and loss and sorrow:

 “But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,

 And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger” – Sonnet 28

 Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been

  On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:

  My face which grief plowed…” (Southampton)

 “Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss” – Sonnet 34

 “And I with eating do no more engross

 Than one that plays small game after great loss” (Southampton)

And also in this category, here’s a comparison:

 “To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face” – Sonnet 34

 “And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie

 Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry” (Southampton)

A third category is Southampton as a prisoner condemned to be executed and feeling buried alive.  And here I think is an amazing comparison — Oxford in my view pictures Southampton and his friends in prison, who are not yet executed, but existing unseen in the darkness of coming death – and he weeps while picturing Southampton himself as a living grave.

“Then can I drown an eye (un-used to flow)

  For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night

  How many a holy and obsequious tear

  Hath dear religious love stolen from mine eye…

  Thou art the grave where buried love doth live…” – Sonnets 30 & 31 

Southampton, in turn, pictures the prison itself as a grave or tomb, in which he is buried alive, and legally dead, that is, found guilty of treason and condemned to death.

“While I yet breathe, and sense and motion have

  (For this a prison differs from a grave),

  Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go

  As one may, sith say the dead walk so.

  There I am buried quick: hence one may draw

  I am religious because dead in law.” (Southampton)

 And a fourth area of comparison involves the Queen’s singular ability to grant a pardon.

“The imprisoned absence of your liberty

  To you it doth belong

  Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

 “Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee

  But with new merits, I beg liberty

  If faults were not, how could great Princes then

  Approach so near God in pardoning men?” (Southampton)

We know Oxford’s concept of the monarch being able to substitute mercy for justice – as he would write to Cecil later, about King James (but really about any monarch): “Nothing adorns a king more than justice, nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice, which is the head of all virtue…”  Southampton expresses the same idea by writing that “mercy” is an “antidote to justice” — mercy as a remedy to ensure the right kind of justice.

Wisdom and valor common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice… (Southampton)

He associates the Queen with the miracle worker who cured Naaman’s condition, and he mentions the River Jordan, thereby linking Elizabeth with Christ, the ultimate exemplar of mercy.

Had I the leprosy of Naaman,

Your mercy hath the same effects as Jordan. (Southampton)

The vast majority of these key words, within these basic categories, fall not only within those first forty sonnets numbered 27 to 66, but, moreover, virtually all the key words from the Shakespeare sonnets used by Southampton come from the first twenty of them.  And most of those words are found within the first ten – within the sequence of Sonnets 27 to 36 – and the key words from these sonnets are also used by Southampton in his poem to the Queen:

SONNETS 27 to 36:

Sonnet 28 – SORROWS, GRIEF



Sonnet 32 – DEATH, DIED




Sonnet 36 – BLOTS (i.e., STAIN)

The proposition is that upon the night of the failed rebellion, Edward de Vere began to write and compile sonnets that would ultimately correspond with the days of waiting to see if Southampton would live or die by execution.  The further proposition is that Oxford, while trying to work a deal with Cecil to save Southampton’s life, was able to send messages – including some of these sonnets – to Southampton in the Tower.

Now, with the existence of a poem that Southampton himself wrote to the Queen, the added proposition is that he drew upon Oxford’s sonnets for words, concepts or themes as well as inspiration.  And given the preponderance of such words and themes within the forty sonnets 27 to 66, covering those forty days, the further proposition is that Southampton drew mainly from these particular sonnets, which, as a practical matter, would have been delivered to him in the Tower before any of the others. 

I suggest that what we have here amounts to very near certainty, if not absolute proof, that the real-life context of these Shakespearean sonnets is in fact the plight of Southampton in prison after the failed Essex Rebellion and his desperate need for a reprieve from the Queen; and I must add that – in this context of time and circumstance – Queen Elizabeth becomes, without question, the so-called Dark Lady of Sonnets 127 to 152, wherein we find:

“Straight in her heart did mercy come”(Sonnet 145)

Following is a modern-English version of the Southampton Tower Poem (February-March 1601).  Emphasized are key words that also appear (in one form or another) within the Shakespearean Sonnets 27 to 126.

The Earl of Southampton Prisoner, and Condemned, to Queen Elizabeth:

Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee

But with new merits, I beg liberty 

To cancel old offences; let grace so

(As oil all liquor else will overflow)

Swim above all my crimes.  In lawn, a stain

Well taken forth may be made serve again.

Perseverance in ill is all the ill.  The horses may,

That stumbled in the morn, go well all day.

If faults were not, how could great Princes then

Approach so near God, in pardoning men?

Wisdom and valor, common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice, and will,

Like a true blood-stone, keep their bleeding still.

Where faults weigh down the scale, one grain of this

Will make it wise, until the beam it kiss.

Had I the leprosy of Naaman,

Your mercy hath the same effects as Jordan.

As surgeons cut and take from the sound part

That which is rotten, and beyond all art

Of healing, see (which time hath since revealed),

Limbs have been cut which might else have been healed.

While I yet breath and sense and motion have

(For this a prison differs from a grave),

Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go

As one may, sith say the dead walk so.

There I am buried quick: hence one may draw

I am religious because dead in law.

One of the old Anchorites, by me may be expressed:

A vial hath more room laid in a chest:

Prisoners condemned, like fish within shells lie

Cleaving to walls, which when they’re opened, die:

So they, when taken forth, unless a pardon     

(As a worm takes a bullet from a gun)

Take them from thence, and so deceive the sprights

Of people, curious after rueful sights.

Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been

On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:

My face which grief plowed, and mine eyes when they

Stand full like two nine-holes, where at boys play

And so their fires went out like Iron hot

And put into the forge, and then is not

And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie

Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry:

Mine arms like hammers to an anvil go

Upon my breast: now lamed with beating so

Stand as clock-hammers, which strike once an hour

Without such intermission they want power.

I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed

Like one, whose stock being spent give over trade.

And I with eating do no more engross

Than one that plays small game after great loss                                              

Is like to get his own: or then a pit

With shovels emptied, and hath spoons to fill it.

And so sleep visits me, when night’s half spent

As one, that means nothing but complement.

Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;

And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear:

With less than half these miseries, a man

Might have twice shot the Straits of Magellan;

Better go ten such voyages than once offend

The Majesty of a Prince, where all things end

And begin: why whose sacred prerogative

He as he list, we as we ought live.

All mankind lives to serve a few: the throne

(To which all bow) is sewed to by each one.

Life, which I now beg, wer’t to proceed

From else whoso’er, I’d first choose to bleed

But now, the cause, why life I do implore

Is that I think you worthy to give more.

The light of your countenance, and that same

Morning of the Court favor, where at all aim,

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,      

For my tears have already worn these stones

A Paper on the “Rival Poet” of the Sonnets as Oxford’s Pen Name or Persona: “Shakespeare”

Following is the text of a 4,000-word paper on “The Rival Poet” of the Sonnets, which I delivered at the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference last week at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon — the point being that the Earl of Oxford’s own rival in relation to Southampton was “Shakespeare,” his own pen name or persona:

I realize the phrase “paradigm shift” is a cliché – but the fact is that we are involved in what Looney in 1920 called a difficult, but necessary, “mental revolution”.   Part of it is a rejection of the Stratford conception, but the real fun begins with a compelling replacement.  Oxford is such a good fit that we keep finding new evidence in support, and new explanations for things that have been problematic.

 Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

The works themselves never change; what does change, through an Oxfordian lens, is our perception of them – and often the picture is turned upside down in quite unexpected ways.With Oxford as the model, it’s as if a light is turned on, and we’re exploring in ways that can’t even occur to someone still looking from the same old angle.  It’s as if we’re putting on new eyeglasses that allow us to “see” differently.

So we face the need for many other mental revolutions, spinning off from the main one.  And in the process, we still have to shake off some of that old baggage, in the form of deeply ingrained assumptions, based on the old model.  But it’s not easy.  It’s our nature to hold on to previous assumptions and viewpoints and beliefs as long as possible.   Which brings me to my topic – the so-called Rival Poet series of the Sonnets – generally viewed as numbers 78 to 86.

The Stratfordian model forced us to see this series in just one way – namely that other writers or poets, but mainly one particular poet who towers above all the others, is stealing the attentions and affections of the fair youth.  When Looney expressed his agreement that the younger man was the Earl of Southampton, he quoted from the rival series itself – from Sonnet 81, about “your name” achieving immortal life – and from what he called the companion sonnet, 82, in which Oxford refers to his own “dedicated words” or public dedications to Southampton.

Southampton in the   Tower 1601-1603

Southampton in the Tower 1601-1603

Stratfordians have postulated many rivals – Barnes, Chapman, Chaucer, Daniel, Davies, Davison, Drayton, Florio, Golding, Greene, Griffin, Harvey, Jonson, Kyd, Lyly, Markham, Marlowe, Martston, Nashe, Peele, Spenser, the Italian Tasso, Watson.  Oxfordians have come up with some overlaps, such as Chapman and Marlowe … but adding the likes of Raleigh and the Earl of Essex.  The senior Ogburns thought it was both Chapman and Marlowe.  Ogburn Jr. took no position.  He referred to the rival as “one other poet, whose identity I must leave to the contention of more confident minds.”  The late Peter Moore made a well-researched and detailed case for Essex.

Unfortunately, as the Stratfordians have taught us, all the best scholarship in the world is of utterly no help if our basic premises are incorrect.

Using the Stratfordian model, the rival must be some other individual who wrote poetry and who publicly used Southampton’s name:

“Knowing a better spirit doth use your name” – 80

My argument here is that the Oxfordian model opens the way to an entirely new way of looking at the same series – a view of the rival as NONE of those individuals and who is not actually a person but, instead, a persona.   In this paper I hope to show that the rival series contains Oxford’s own testimony about the authorship – a grand, poetic, profoundly emotional statement of his dying to the world, and also of his resurrection as a spirit breathing life into the poetical and dramatic luminary known as Shakespeare.

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" - 1593 - CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

Dedication of “Venus and Adonis” to Southampton – 1593

The Stratfordian view gave no reason to look for any kind of authorship statement anywhere, much less in the so-called rival series.   The Stratfordian view precluded any authorship question or solution.  But Oxfordians contend precisely that Oxford has split himself into two separate entities – on the one hand, he’s Edward de Vere, writing privately in the sonnets; on the other hand, he’s “Shakespeare,” the name on the page and the mythic figure of a Super Poet shaking the spear of his pen.

At the outset we picture Oxford living a double life.  We picture the blotting-out or expunging of his true identity and its replacement by a rival identity.  We were led to take it for granted that the rival must be some real individual; but from Looney onward we have understood Oxford as having created his own rival – initially in the form of a pen name or pseudonym, which then takes the form of a supposedly real character or player on the world stage.

A good question is: If not for the Stratfordian baggage, would we have postulated a rival in the first place?  I think we would have known automatically that Oxford is referring to his alter ego … the other aspect of himself … whom he had named William Shakespeare.  It’s “Shakespeare” who signs the dedications to Southampton that continue to appear in new editions.  It’s “Shakespeare” who gets all the credit.

But there’s much more to it than that.  The clear testimony of the sonnets is that Oxford is fading away … becoming invisible.  And that he is making a Christ-like sacrifice to redeem Southampton’s sins or crimes, by taking them upon his own shoulders – offering his own identity as ransom, so the younger man may survive and live for as long as men can breathe or eyes can see.

So shall those blots that do with me remain

Without thy help be borne by me alone. (36)

To guard the lawful reasons on thy part (49)

I (my sovereign) watch the clock for you (57)

In Sonnets 78 to 86 he’s talking about other writers who have dedicated works to Southampton, and praised him, but he means writers in general, whereas he is also and primarily speaking of his own invention or creation, which he inhabits as a spirit.  By the end of this series, he will consider himself dead to the world and his ghost, his spirit, now lives within the assumed persona of Shakespeare.  He leads up to the sequence by making clear that his coming death to the world revolves around Henry Wriothesley – his need to help and protect him.  He’s not dying in a vacuum, but in relation to Southampton:

When I perhaps compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse. – 71

After my death, dear love, forget me quite. -72

My name be buried where my body is,

And live no more to shame nor me nor you. – 72

Each line of Oxford’s obliteration is linked to concern for Southampton.

The rival series begins with 78:

As EVERY Alien pen hath got my use,

And under thee their posey doth disperse – 78

“Every Alien Pen” refers to other poets, but it’s mainly E. Ver’s pen name, Shakespeare, which is alien — not his real identity.

But now my gracious numbers are decayed,

And my sick Muse doth give an other place – 79

“I yield to Shakespeare …  I step aside and let him take my place, as I decay and disappear.”

O how I faint when I of you do write,

Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,

And in the praise thereof spends all his might

To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame – 80

This is not hyperbole.  His fainting is an act of losing consciousness or the ability to speak or write.   He also faints by feinting, or deceiving – like the feint of a skilled fencer – by assuming an appearance or making a feint to conceal his real identity.  He faints by becoming weaker, feebler … less visible.  But in the first line of Sonnet 80 Oxford is crying out to say, directly:  “I am the one who is writing to you and using your name.  “I am fainting in the process because, while I write of you, I am vanishing into the confines of my creation or invention.  I am undergoing a metamorphosis.   I am doing this to myself, feeding my spirit to Shakespeare, so the more I write through him, the more I lose my identity … and the faster I die to the world.  It is through my own spirit that Shakespeare uses your name, and it’s because of his power – ironically the power I give to him — that I am tongue-tied, silent, and no longer able to write publicly about you.”

To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame – 80

And art made tongue-tied by authority – 66

And strength by limping sway disabled – 66

Back in Sonnet 66, his art was made tongue-tied “by authority.”  And that’s very specific – he or his art is censored, suppressed; and the force keeping him silent is authority or officialdom, the government.  (In King John he writes “Your sovereign greatness and authority,” speaking of the monarch.)  So “Shakespeare” the pen name is the agent of authority.

And here the door starts opening to a larger and more important story than merely Oxford disappearing for no reason.  The government – in the person of the limping, swaying Robert Cecil – is using Oxford’s own persona of Shakespeare as a weapon against him.  Oxford’s own better spirit is making him tongue-tied when it comes to “speaking of your fame” – which again refers to the dedications by Shakespeare, included in every new edition of the narrative poems.  “Shakespeare” is the agent of Oxford’s death “to all the world” and “Shakespeare” is also the agent of Southampton’s eternal life.

My saucy bark, inferior far to his,

On your broad main doth willfully appear – 80

Steven Booth writes that willfully “may have been chosen for its pun on the poet’s name: the saucy bark is full of Will.”  I would suggest it’s a pun on the poet’s pen name.

Now in 81 come two famous lines for Oxfordians – because they really sum up the authorship question and provide the answer:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have

Though I (once gone) to all the world must die – 81

Given the argument here, it’s no accident – no coincidence – that these lines of 81 appear in the so-called rival sequence.  Southampton’s name from this time forward, from here on, will achieve immortal life, but not necessarily because of these sonnets.  (His name never appears directly in the sonnets — although it appears indirectly, such as the constant plays  upon his motto ‘One for All, All for One”.)  From now on, because of “Shakespeare,” Southampton’s name will achieve immortal life; and also because of “Shakespeare,” my identity will disappear from the world.  And it’s in the very next sonnet where we find Oxford referring to his own public dedications to Southampton:

I grant thou wert not married to my Muse,

And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook

The dedicated words which writers use

Of their fair subject, blessing every book – 82

(The dedications which I write through Shakespeare/ About the fair youth, Southampton, consecrating E.Ver’s books of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece)

"Lucrece" dedication to Southampton - 1594

“Lucrece” dedication to Southampton – 1594

Later in this very same sonnet, number 82, is a remarkable pair of lines from Oxford’s private self, as if still insisting upon his own identity before it disappears:

Thou truly fair wert truly sympathized

In true-plain words by thy true-telling friend. – 82

And he’s confirming that the “fair subject” of the dedications is Southampton, whom he now calls “truly fair.”  Oxford is “dumb” or silent, unable to speak in public, and as “mute,” which is quite the same, unable to speak.

Which shall be most my glory, being dumb,

For I impair not beauty, being mute – 83

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes

Than both your poets can in praise devise.- 83

(Both Oxford and “Shakespeare”)

 Let him but copy what in you is writ,

Not making worse what nature made so clear,

And such a counterpart shall fame his wit,

Making his style admired everywhere – 84

So here we have Oxford giving instructions to his alter-ego:  “Hold the mirror up to Southampton’s nature and you will be admired everywhere.”

My tongue-tied Muse…

Then others, for the breath of words respect,

Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect – 85

Here again, he and his Muse are tongue-tied while others can speak out:  “Respect me for my silent thoughts and for my actions in your behalf.”

The final verse of the series is Sonnet 86, which by itself tells the story:

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,

Bound for the prize of (all too precious) you,

That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,

Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?- 86

There is only one super poet who can force Oxford’s thoughts into a tomb in his brain, which is also the tomb of these sonnets – as in 17, “Heaven knows it is but as a tomb which hides your life and shows not half your parts” – and the womb of these sonnets wherein Southampton can grow – as in 115, “To give full life to that which still doth grow.”

 Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write

Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?

No, neither he, nor his compeers by night

Giving him aid, my verse astonished. – 86

 It is Oxford’s own spirit, or spirits, teaching his public persona to write with the power of Shakespeare.  No other writer, past or present, has struck Oxford dead – but there it is, this is the last sonnet of the sequence.  Oxford – in terms of his identity – has been killed.

 He, nor that affable familiar ghost

Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,

As victors of my silence cannot boast;

I was not sick of any fear from thence. – 86

The affable familiar ghost – as opposed to an alien ghost – is once again Oxford’s own spirit, which nightly or secretly crams Shakespeare with his substance … or literally with intelligence, that is, secret information that Oxford is inserting within the lines of his plays.  To “gull” is to cram full, but also to play a trick on … and of course “Shakespeare” the pen name or persona is totally dependent upon Oxford and therefore unaware of what mischief his spirit is up to.

But when your countenance filled up his line,

Then lacked I matter, that enfeebled mine.

And this final couplet is another direct statement of the authorship problem – As Shakespeare rises in connection with Southampton, so Oxford fades away – as Touchstone in As You Like It tells William the country fellow: “Drink, being poured out of a cup into a glass, by filling the one doth empty the other.”

The so-called rival series is the equivalent of a “movement” of a musical composition, a symphony.  It’s a separate piece within a larger structure.  Its message can be expressed in a line or two, but Oxford wants a string or sequence of lines.  The sequence is one long continuous wail of eloquent mourning.  But in fact the actual mourning begins much earlier, with many of the preceding sonnets, which are preoccupied with dying.

Death is necessary if there is going to be a Resurrection.  So there is a religious, spiritual aspect, mirroring the sacrifice of Christ.  In fact it goes all the way back to Sonnet 27 where Southampton is “a jewel hung in ghastly night” – the image of a man in prison awaiting execution or, if you will, of a man hanging from the cross.   In Christian terms there is a father and a son who are separate individuals and yet they are also inseparable.  He writes in number 27: “For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.”  And in 42: “My friend and I are one.”

There is a long, long preparation for the so-called rival series – These are genuinely religious … spiritual …. And devastating … This is heavy, profound, sorrowful and deeply emotional – what we might expect from a man sacrificing his identity.

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee (27)

Clouds do blot the heaven (28)

Look upon myself and curse my fate (29)

Precious friends hid in death’s dateless night (30)

How many a holy and obsequious tear

Hath dear religious love stolen from mine eye …

Thou art the grave where buried love doth live (31)

When that churl death my bones with dust shall cover (32)

Anon permit the basest clouds to ride

With ugly rack on his celestial face … (33)

Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss;

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence’s cross  (34)

So shall those blots that do with me remain

Without thy help, by me be borne alone (36)

Lay on me this cross (42)

To guard the lawful reasons on thy part (49)

‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth …

So till the judgment that yourself arise (55)

I (my sovereign) watch the clock for you (57)

Nativity, once in the main of light,

Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,

Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight (60)

To play the watchman ever for thy sake (61)

O fearful meditation!  (65)

For restful death I cry … (66)

In him those holy antique hours are seen (68)

All tongues, the voice of souls, give thee that due (69)

No longer mourn for me when I am dead (71)

In me thou seest the twilight of such day,

As after Sun-set fadeth in the West (73)

When that fell arrest

Without all bail shall carry me away (74)

Why is my verse so barren of new pride  (76)

And here, finally, his verse is like a barren womb, empty of child.

And now we have Sonnet 77, which has been seen as a dedicatory verse – with Oxford speaking at first of “this book” and then, to Southampton at the end, calling it “thy book.”

This is the real opening of the so-called rival series – ten consecutive sonnets from 77 to 86:

And of this book this learning mayst thou taste…

These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,

Shall profit thee, and much enrich thy book. (77)

 Yet be most proud of that which I compile,

Whose influence is thine, and born of thee  (78)

 And in 78, even while “every alien pen hath got my use,” he nonetheless tells Southampton to be “most proud” of these sonnets which he is compiling – or arranging, and he identifies them as having been influenced or inspired by Southampton, and “born” of him, thereby identifying Henry Wriothesley as the “only begetter” of the sonnets, Mr. W.H., the commoner in prison, referred to in the dedication.

 Meanwhile the nautical imagery began earlier, for example:

When I have seen the hungry ocean gain

Advantage on the kingdom of the shore

When I have seen such interchange of state

Or state itself confounded to decay…    (64)

“’Ocean’ or ‘sea’ as a figure for ‘king’ is often found in Shakespeare and his fellow-writers.”  (Leslie Hotson)

The hungry Ocean indicates the royal blood of King James advancing upon England, the kingdom of the shore, and the coming of the inevitable interchange of state or royal succession.

But since your worth (wide as the Ocean is)

The humble as the proudest sail doth bear… (80)

The nautical imagery is based now on Southampton’s worth as wide as the Ocean, referring to his royal worth.  Southampton’s ocean of blood, his kingly identity, holds up all boats.

I came to this view of the so-called rival by a long indirect route — hypothesizing that the fair youth sonnets ARE in chronological order, and that they lead up to, and away from, Sonnet 107, when Southampton is released from the Tower in April 1603 after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.”  That’s a very serious sonnet.  It has to do not only with Southampton but with the death of Elizabeth, the succession of James and the end of the Tudor dynasty.  If the other sonnets have no relationship to that political subject matter, then Sonnet 107 is one huge anomaly.

A simple question became obvious: Given that Shakespeare is a master storyteller, and given that the high point of this story is Southampton getting OUT of the Tower, it stands to reason that he must have marked the time when Southampton went IN to the Tower back in February of 1601.  Otherwise there’s no story at all, no suspense, and his liberation from prison comes out of the blue, apropos of nothing.  I came to Sonnet 27 as marking that time with Southampton in the Tower expecting execution and pictured as a Jewel hung in ghastly night.  I tracked sonnets reflecting those crucial days after the failed Essex rebellion until the moment of Southampton’s reprieve from execution in March 1601.  And in that context it appears that Oxford had made a “deal” involving a complete severance of the relationship between himself and Southampton:

I may not evermore acknowledge thee (36)

This is a crucial part of the story of Oxford sacrificing himself for Southampton, his dying to the world and his undergoing a resurrection as Shakespeare

In Sonnet 84 of the rival series, Oxford refers to Southampton being in confinement and immured within the walls of the prison:

“That you alone are you, in whose confine immured is the store” (84)

 The idea of having or lacking PRIDE is important.  So at the very end of the previous 10-sonnet sequence, number 76, his private verse was “barren” of such pride:

“Why is my verse so barren of new pride?” (76)

By the end of the rival series, with Sonnet 86, “Shakespeare” has inherited that pride – with the “proud full sail of his great verse” riding on that great ocean of Southampton’s identity as a king.

 “Was it the proud full sail of his great verse?” (86)

 Oxford’s own private verse is like a barren womb, but now Shakespeare’s public verse is fully pregnant.  The end of one chapter was a death; the end of the rival chapter is new life.  And Shakespeare is full-bellied riding on the sea of Southampton’s tide of kingship:

“Why is my verse so barren of new pride?” – 76

“Was it the proud full sail of his great verse” – 86

“The sails conceive, and grow big-bellied with the wanton wind”  (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

The Prince (now King): “The tide of blood in me … shall mingle with the state of floods and flow henceforth in formal majesty” (2 Henry IV)

And after the rival series ends with Sonnet 86, the very first word of Sonnet 87 is “farewell”:

Farwell, thou art too dear for my possessing …

My bonds in thee are all determinate (87)

Our connection to each other is hereby severed.  The deal is done.

Adopting the pen name in 1593 had been Oxford’s means of supporting Southampton through his creation of Shakespeare; but now in 1601, to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual freedom, he agreed to make it permanent.  From now on, even after his death, the rest is silence.

The enormity of Oxford’s sacrifice – completely severing his relationship with Southampton, losing his identity as the great writer – the dashing of his hopes involving succession to Elizabeth and the future of England – his death to the world and resurrection as Shakespeare to save Southampton and redeem his sins and ensure his life in posterity – the enormity of this sacrifice demands a use of words that, in most any other scenario, would seem to be sheer hyperbole, nothing more than “a poet’s rage and stretched meter of an antique song.”

 “My gracious numbers are decayed … my sick muse … O how I faint …. Being wracked, I am a worthless boat … the earth can yield me but a common grave … most my glory, being dumb … being mute … my tongue-tied muse … my dumb thoughts.”

This is, in fact, a poet’s rage – but my argument here is that, when it’s viewed within the right context, as part of the correctly perceived picture, the rage is no longer fatuous or “over the top”; instead, it’s honest and real and so, too, are the words expressing it.

For the rival poet series, it’s time for a mental revolution.


How “Secret” was the Earl of Oxford’s Authorship of “Hamlet” and other Shakespearean Works?

In the comments for Reason No. 19 (“The Families of Oxford and Hamlet as Mirror Reflections”) comes a question from blogger Lys Avra:

Why would Edward de Vere make his life and the characters of Hamlet so similar? He wanted to keep his identity secret, correct? Why didn’t the aristocrats notice the similarities?”

Here are three insightful responses from colleagues on the Shakespeare authorship front:

Richard Smiley:  “My guess is that the aristocrats DID know Hamlet was Oxford in the same way they knew Polonius was William Cecil. When Oxford’s court plays were revised and performed in public venues, that’s when hiding the real author’s name became necessary.”

[Richard Smiley is a leading member of the Shakespeare Oxford Society.]

      Edward de Vere Nothing truer than Truth

Edward de Vere
Nothing truer than Truth

William Ray:  “I would say he wanted to be able to write and he wanted to gain credit, for posterity if not for the present under his own name.  He knew he had Elizabeth’s protection to do that, as long as he gave lip-serivce to the fiction of anonymity/pseudonymity, the rule of the time.  So it was not a matter of remaining secret 100%. ‘Shake-speare’ obviously refers to someone who could shake a spear (at Ignorance? at a knight coming toward him on a thousand-pound beast?). But that was decorously secret enough to pass with the Queen’s imprimatur. Once she was incapable, then Robert Cecil took over. No more plays after Oxford died. They were not protected. By the time the Herberts were in control of the revels, they set up for a permanent monument to them. Not the Sonnets beyond one printing.

“The Elizabethan courtiers probably had no idea this set of works would become a permanent record of their time. It only offended certain of them if the connection were too obvious, like Oldcastle and Corambis.  These were changed accordingly. Of course the lower orders would not and could not object that they were the laughingstock of the plays.

“Hamlet appears to have been written over a lifetime and the final written play is far longer than the going stage play length of that time, no more than three hours. A lot could be left out.  As Polonius complained to the Queen, “Your Highness hath protected him from much heat.”  (There was a real Polonius, a First Secretary in Denmark, providing diverting deniability for one crucial roast, Burghley, who died in 1598.)

[William J. Ray of Willits California, in the coastal mountain range, is a poet, scholar and man of many interests and talents, as his website ‘The Poetry and Thought of WJ Ray’ makes abundantly clear.  He is keynote speaker at the upcoming Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon.]

 Castle Hedingham    The Vere Seat

Castle Hedingham
The Vere Seat

James Norwood:  “The author of Shakespeare’s works was using literature to write about his own life experience.  For this reason, one critic has credited Shakespeare with “the invention of the human,” due to the depth psychology and lifelike quality of his characters.  Because he was writing Hamlet and other works with autobiographical inferences, the author was compelled to conceal his identity.  These works, especially Hamlet and the Sonnets, were exposing the deepest, darkest secrets of the author’s personal life.  As is the case for so much of modern literature, this author may have been using the medium of poetry/drama as a kind of creative, personal therapy.

“But this author was not merely keeping ‘secret’ his own identity, but the identities of the people who were the basis for many of his dramatic characters and those of his poems.  To understand the unique conditions of playwriting in the Elizabethan age, it is important to keep in mind the different circumstances of plays presented privately at the court versus performances in the public theatres of London.

“For example, we know a greal deal about a presentation of Twelfth Night at Whitehall Palace on January 6, 1601.  The play was part of the entertainment for a visiting dignitary from Italy.  Queen Elizabeth was in attendance for the play, and the name of the Italian dignitary was Don Virginio Orsino.  The relationship of the characters Orsino and Olivia in Twelfth Night (a lovesick Italian courtier pining for an inaccessible and standoffish single woman) would have been a source of gentle satire for the Whitehall audience:  it would have been clear to the audience that Olivia and Orsino were allegorical representaitons of the Queen and the Italian dignitary.   But it would not have been appropriate for an audience in the public theatre to know the author’s intent of satire and allegory of the members of the court, especially the Queen.  The theatre presentations at court were a closed, ‘hothouse’ environment and one of the rare instances that Queen Elizabeth welcomed advice and criticism.  While the Whitehall audience clearly knew the identity of the author (the names of Oxford’s wife and daughter appear at the head of the guest list for the invited audience at Whitehall), the London audience would know the play only through the author’s pseudonym, William Shakespeare.

sonnet-header.jpg“When Twelfth Night was performed in the public sphere on February 2, 1602, the deception had obviously worked.  The diarist John Manningham wrote about the farcical antics of the twins (Sebastian and Viola) and the goofy character Malvolio, never recognizing the court satire of Orsino and the Queen.  The small courtly audience (a maximum of 50 or 60 people?) knew the identity of the author of Twelfth Night and Hamlet.  But the key for maintaining the deception was in keeping the true name of the author from being known to the public.

“As an exercise, I recommend researching the histories behind five pseudonyms of famous writers.  Look for a pattern to emerge of a coterie audience, who knows the identity of the author while the general public is kept in the dark.  A good place to start might be Jane Austen.  While her identity was known to her publisher and a small number of friends and family members, the author of Sense and Sensibility was initially known to the public only as “a lady.”   In every author’s pseudonym (including our own user names on the internet!), there is a unique personal story.  The singular story of the pseudonym Shakespeare is that this was a penname for an author who turned out to be the greatest writer in the English language.  Because the academics have invested so much in the story of the Stratford man and because the academy is resistant to change, it will take more work and more time for the true story of Oxford to be widely accepted.  But the evidence is there right now for you to discover the truth on your own.”

[Dr. James Norwood of St. Paul, Minnesota taught humanities at the University of Minnesota for more than 25 years, and is known for his cycle of six courses on the art, literature, history, and ideas of the Western tradition, including a semester course about the Shakespeare authorship question.  Hear him on a podcast.]

Christopher Hatton and Malvolio: Part Two of Reason 68 Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“’I may command where I adore,’’’ Malvolio reads in a fabricated letter in Twelfth Night, assuming it’s addressed to him by the rich countess Olivia, whom he slavishly serves as both steward and hopeful lover.

“Why,” he exclaims, “she may command me: I serve her; she is my lady.”  The self-infatuated steward glances at what appears to be a coded name in the letter and says, “If I could make that resemble something in me!  Softly, ‘M.O.A.I.’… M – Malvolio.  M. – Why, that begins my name…”

Christopher Hatton      1540-1591

Christopher Hatton

“‘’In my stars I am above thee, but be not afraid of greatness,’” Malvolio reads aloud.  “’Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em …’”

The letter is signed “The Fortunate Unhappy” – echoing the Latin pen name Fortunatus Infoelix used by Sir Christopher Hatton, whom Queen Elizabeth made Captain of the Bodyguard in 1572.  At thirty-two, tall and handsome, Hatton had attracted the Queen with his dancing.  His ambition to become her lover may well have been realized, for a time; now his path was being blocked by twenty-two-year-old Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, also a superb dancer, as well as a victor of the tilt, a gifted poet and musician, a scholar and madcap earl who could not help but make fun of the competitive climbers at the royal court.

“There is no man of life and agility in every respect in Court but the Earl of Oxford,” George Delves had written to the Earl of Rutland on June 24, 1571; and Gilbert Talbot would write to his father the Earl of Shrewsbury from Court on May 11, 1573, “My Lord of Oxford is lately grown into great credit, for the Queen’s Majesty delighteth more in his personage and his dancing and valiantness than any other … If it were not for his fickle head, he would pass any of them shortly.”

In the previous October the courtier and poet Edward Dyer wrote to Hatton with advice about competing for the Queen’s most intimate favors against “my Lord Ctm” – all but certainly referring to Oxford with an abbreviation of his title “Lord Great Chamberlain” of England.  Dyer’s letter to Hatton must stand as a gross example of the cynical maneuverings of men at Court seeking Her Majesty’s favor:

“First of all,” Dyer tells Hatton, “you must consider with whom you have to deal, and, what we be towards her; who though she do descend very much in her sex as a woman, yet we may not forget her place, and the nature of it as our Sovereign … But the best and soundest way in mine opinion is “to put on another mind; to use your suits towards her Majesty in words, behavior and deeds; to acknowledge your duty, declaring the reverence which in heart you bear, and never seem deeply to condemn her frailties, but rather joyfully to commend such things as should be in her, as though they were in her indeed; hating my Lord Ctm in the Queen’s understanding for affection’s sake, and blaming him openly for seeking the Queen’s favour.

“For though in the beginning when her Majesty sought you (after her good manner), she did bear with rugged dealing of yours, until she had what she fancied, yet now, after satiety and fullness, it will rather hurt than help you; whereas, behaving yourself as I said before, your place shall keep you in worship, your presence in favour … Marry thus much I would advise you to remember, that you use no words of disgrace or reproach towards him [Oxford] to any; that he [Oxford], being the less provoked, may sleep, thinking all safe, while you do awake and attend your advantages.”

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, circa 1575 at age twenty-five

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, circa 1575 at age twenty-five

Dyer’s display of cold calculation about how to gain advantage over Oxford is remarkable.  So is his blunt description of Elizabeth’s sexual appetite and behavior.

Hatton was infatuated with the Queen, whose nickname for him was “mutton” or “sheep,” whereas Oxford was the “boar” because of the boar on his coat of arms.  During the summer of 1573, when Hatton became ill, Elizabeth sent him over to Spa in Liege (Belgium); and he wrote back to her using those nicknames to express his jealousy over Oxford having her Majesty all to himself:

“Your mutton is black … so much hath this disease dashed me … I love yourself.  I cannot lack you.  I am taught to prove it by the wish and desire I find to be with you … You are the true felicity that in this world I know or find.  God bless you forever.  The branch of the sweetest bush I will wear and bear to my life’s end.  God doth witness I feign not.  It is a gracious favour, most dear and welcome to me.  Reserve it to the sheep [i.e., Hatton himself].  He hath no tooth to bite, where the boar’s [Oxford’s] tusk may both raze and tear.”

While Oxford enjoyed his intimacy with the Queen, she would have shown him these letters; and when Hatton returned in October 1573, after five months’ convalescence on the Continent, he discovered that in fact “the boar” had done some razing and tearing in his absence.

A Hundredth Sundrie Flowres

Oxford had edited and published a book called A Hundredth Sundrie Flowres, much of which (or perhaps all) he had written himself.  (Tucker Brooke of Yale called it “the richest collection of early Elizabethan poetry.”)  Flowres opened with a 25,000-word novel (perhaps the original prose narrative in English) entitled The Adventures of Master F.I. (the initials of Hatton’s Latin pen name!) about a man in love with a mistress (whom the Court would view as Elizabeth), followed by sixteen poems signed Si fortunatus infoelix – linked to “F.I.” and now specifically identifying Hatton, who had had nothing to do with the writing of them.

The prank was so scandalizing that in 1575, while Oxford was traveling in Italy, the Elizabethan government reissued A Hundredth Sundrie Flowres in a radically altered fashion as The Poesies of George Gascoigne, obscuring the embarrassing connection to Hatton while claiming that Gascoigne wrote the entire anthology himself.  But the original text of Flowres, which has been preserved, represents an early stage of the English literary renaissance that was already begun: thirteen of the poems signed with Hatton’s pen name, but surely written by Oxford, are actually sonnets composed in the form to become known later as the Shakespearean form.

Hatton continued his rise during the rest of the decade.  In 1577 he was appointed Vice Chamberlain of the Royal Household and sworn of the Privy Council as well as knighted.  The following year the Queen formally granted him the Bishop of Ely’s house in Holborn; and such appointments, along with valuable grants with which Elizabeth showered him, prompted rumors that he was her lover.  No wonder that we have evidence of A Pleasant [humorous] Conceit of Vere, Earl of Oxford, Discontented at the Rising of a Mean Gentleman in the English Court, circa 1580, and that it was probably the first version of Twelfth Night with its caricature of Sir Christopher Hatton as Malvolio!

And this brings us back to the play on Hatton’s pen name as “The Fortunate Unhappy” that appears in the letter Malvolio reads in Twelfth Night, believing it was written to him by Olivia-Elizabeth.  In the same play as by Shakespeare, moreover, Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby Belch refers to Malvolio as a “niggardly rascally sheep-biter – echoing Hatton’s letter to the Queen in 1573, when he referred to himself as Queen Elizabeth’s sheep in contrast to Oxford as the boar.

It appears that Oxford put himself into the character of Feste, the Clown, who serves Olivia but is permitted to take great liberties of speech.  Feste is Olivia’s “allowed fool” – which was how Oxford apparently saw himself, in relation to Elizabeth – and Malvio dislikes him just as the jealous Hatton disliked Oxford.

“I marvel your ladyship takes delight in such a barren rascal,” Malvolio tells Olivia, referring to Feste, but she defends her Clown to Hatton just as Elizabeth must have defended Oxford:

“O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distempered appetite.  To be generous, guitless, and of free disposition, is to take those things for bird-bolts that you deem cannon-bullets.  There is no slander in an allowed fool…”

For a more in-depth look at this reason to believe the Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare,” I recommend a look at the online description by Dr. Michael Delahoyde of Washington State University.

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