Lord Willoughby, Oxford’s Brother-in-Law, at the Court of Denmark in Elsinore, the setting for “Hamlet” — Reason 74 why Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”

“Travel up to Hamlet’s Castle in the city of Elsinore, where you will see the outer walls and towers of this historic fortress immortalized by Shakespeare…”

Castle Kronborg at Elsinore -- the setting for "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark"

Castle Kronborg at Elsinore — the setting for “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”

Tourists are encouraged to visit Castle Kronborg, known as Hamlet’s Castle, but the advertisers are not quite sure why “Shakespeare” chose Elsinore (as opposed to Copenhagen) as the setting for his great play about the Royal Court of Denmark.  Given the Stratfordian view, which dates the play’s composition circa 1600, they point to the Elsinore castle’s historical prominence because of its strategic location at Sound Oresund (three miles across from Sweden).  Whenever the tourism promoters decide that Hamlet was actually written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, however, they will find a far more obvious and logical reason.

Peregrine Bertie Lord Willoughby 1555-1601

Peregrine Bertie
Lord Willoughby

In the summer of 1582, Queen Elizabeth sent Oxford’s brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, on a special mission to the Royal Court at Castle Kronborg in Elsinore.  Under the rule of King Frederick II, Denmark had become one of the great powers on the Continent and claimed the right to levy dues on all foreign merchant ships passing through its sea lanes.  Willoughby’s task was to invest Frederick as a Knight of the Garter while trying to persuade him that English ships trading with Russia should be free of molestation as they sailed through.

Willoughby remained at the Elsinore castle from July to September 1582, soaking up the atmosphere of the great fortification.  He and the king became great buddies during that time; and although the mission itself was not entirely successful, he wrote a colorful and detailed chronicle of it, circulated at the English Court and still preserved at the British Museum, entitled “Relation of my Lord Willoughby’s embassy into Denmark, in his own hand.”  In the account he described daily hunting expeditions and nightly revels with drinking bouts that prompted “many affectionate and loving speeches to Her Majesty and all of the Order,” adding that these grand toasts were “performed after a whole volley of all the great shot of the castle discharged, a royal feast, and a most artificial and cunning fireworks.”

Castle Kronborg

Castle Kronborg

Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984) points to the January 1896 issue of Contemporary Review in which a scholar (Jan Steffanson) observed that the author of Hamlet manifests a “correct knowledge of Danish names, words, and customs of his time” along with “a local knowledge of the royal Castle of Elsinore, which he could not have derived from books.”  The dramatist shows a detailed knowledge of one particular room in the castle and a familiarity with the strictly Danish custom of drinking “cannon healths” by which the cannons are fired every time the king drinks:

King.  No jocund health that Denmark drinks today

But the great cannon to the clouds shall tell…

(A flourish of trumpets and ordnance shot off, within.)

Hamlet.  The king doth wake tonight and takes his rouse,

Keeps wassail and the swaggering up-spring reels;

And, as he drinks his draughts of Rhenish down,

The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out

The triumph of his pledge…

King.  Give me the cups;

And let the kettle to the trumpet speak,

The trumpet to the cannoneer without,

The cannons to the heavens, the heavens to earth,

“Now the king drinks to Hamlet!”

Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby was married to Oxford’s sister Mary Vere.  At dinner Edward de Vere’s brother-in-law would have regaled them and other family members and friends with hilarious tales of King Frederick at the Court of Denmark in the castle at Elsinore.  And that would be just one reason why many Oxfordians have concluded that Edward de Vere wrote the first version of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in 1583 or 1584, nearly two decades before the traditional dating of that great play, which he would have revised right up until his reported death on June 24, 1604.  It would also be another of these 100 reasons to conclude that Oxford was the great author who, in 1593, began to use the pen name William Shakespeare.

“And Your True Rights Be Termed a Poet’s Rage…”

Here’s the Front Cover, Back Cover and Table of Contents for an important new book just published (For a larger view, click on each image):

A Poet's Rage - 3

A Poet's Rage - 2A Poet's Rage Contents

“The Man Shakespeare and His Tragic Life-Story” (1909) by Frank Harris, Who Knew that the Great Author Put Himself in All His Work

Many of us who believe that “Shakespeare” was a pen name of the Earl of Oxford cannot help but enjoy dipping into The Man Shakespeare and His Tragic Life-Story (1909) by Frank Harris (1856-1931) – whose autobiographical work My Life and Loves was banned in several countries because of its sexual explicitness.  Frank Harris lived as far from the ivory tower as you can get; he approached Shakespeare’s character and life from the vantage point of what he absorbed, mostly in his heart, in his gut, from what he found in the works themselves.  [The full text of The Man Shakespeare can be found at The Project Gutenberg]

Frank Harris in 1927

Frank Harris in 1927

Harris viewed Shakespeare as “the most complex and passionate personality in the world, whether of life or letters.”  He saw the traditional Shakespeare as an “unknown god” and yet, paradoxically, also as a writer whose purpose is “to reveal himself to us.”

“We are doing Shakespeare wrong by trying to believe that he hides himself behind his work,” Harris wrote, adding, “Sincerity is the birthmark of genius, and we can be sure that Shakespeare has depicted himself for us with singular fidelity; we can see him in his works, if we will take the trouble.”

Harris scoffed at Coleridge, blaming him for the “confusion and contradictions” surrounding the image of Shakespeare.   That famous critic “was a hero-worshipper by nature and carried reverence to lyric heights.” Coleridge “used all his powers to persuade men that Shakespeare was ‘the myriad-minded man’ – a sort of demi-god who was every one and no one” – a theory that has held the field to this day!

But Frank Harris sought to bring the great author back to earth:

“Even had Shakespeare tried to hide himself in his work, he could not have succeeded … The time for random assertion about Shakespeare and unlimited eulogy of him has passed away forever … When a great dramatist goes deepest into human nature, we may be sure that self-knowledge is his guide; as Hamlet said, ‘To know a man well, were to know himself” (oneself) … We may take then as a guide this first criterion that, in his masterpiece of psychology, the dramatist will reveal most of his own nature…

“But even if it be admitted that Hamlet is the most complex and profound of Shakespeare’s creations, and therefore probably the character in which Shakespeare revealed most of himself, the question of degree still remains to be determined.  Is it possible to show certainly that even the broad outlines of Hamlet’s character are those of the master-poet?”

His answer was a resounding yes.  Hamlet, for Frank Harris, “is indeed a revelation of some of the most characteristic traits of Shakespeare.”  Romeo, Jacques, the Bastard, Falstaff, Timon, Antony, Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Macbeth – these and many, many more are all versions of the same voice, the same self-portrait, but in different contexts.   Harris sees, through the characters in the plays, a growth and change, a great violent struggle against the pains and sufferings of life, a tragic life story – and so he arrives at a kind of bafflement in the face of the Myth of Tradition that the great author simply retired and went home to his rocker on the porch:

“It is incredible to me that Shakespeare should leave London at forty-seven or forty-eight years of age, in good health, and retire to Stratford to live as a ‘prosperous country gentleman’!  What had Stratford to offer Shakespeare – village Stratford with a midden [dunghill or refuse heap] in the chief street and the charms of the village usurer’s companionship tempered by the ministrations of a wandering tub-thumper? … There is abudant evidence … to prove that the storm which wrecked Shakespeare’s life had not blown itself out … “

In the end, Harris appears to be as mystified as ever to explain the Shakespeare he discerns within the boundaries of the traditional story.  He knows that the myth cannot work.  He knows, intuitively, that there is an authorship question.  In the end, he was still looking for the Prince of Denmark.

So “Shakespeare” Wrote for the Page as well as the Stage? Well, then, Who was “Shakespeare”?

     First Folio - 1623

First Folio – 1623

Wandering through the web the other day, I paused to read something in “About.com Shakespeare” under a heading about theater in Shakespeare’s time.  “It’s a sad fact that today we normally study Shakespeare’s plays out of a book,” the writer explained, “but it’s important to remember that the Bard wasn’t writing for today’s literary audience; he was writing for the masses, many of whom couldn’t read or write.”

Then, later, I came upon the Amazon site for the book Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist by Lukas Erne, now in a new edition after ten years; and the blurb explained that this “groundbreaking study argues that Shakespeare, apart from being a playwright who wrote theatrical texts for the stage, was also a literary dramatist who produced reading texts for the page.”

Hmmm … So which was it?

It seems to me that we have an example, here, of how the world of Shakespearean study is inevitably changing and almost imperceptibly moving toward recognizing Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford as the true author of the great works.  In that view, the seeming contradiction presented above is explained logically by realizing that Oxford — during the 1590s, and up to his death in 1604 — was a virtual recluse busily rewriting and revising his stage works.  Many of those plays were being performed, but at the same time he was transforming them into masterpieces of dramatic literature, for readers of his own time and in the future.

Otherwise, let’s face it – work being done by scholars such as Lukas Erne can only threaten the traditional conception of the busy dramatist turning out play after play with the only objective being to have it ready for actors to perform on the stage.  In the first place, that fellow of the orthodox view had no time to produce “reading texts for the page.”

“Examining the evidence from early published playbooks, Erne argues that Shakespeare wrote many of his plays with a readership in mind and that these ‘literary’ texts would have been abridged for the stage because they were too long for performance.”

Oh, come on, please!  That statement has it entirely backwards!  Sure, that may have been part of the way it worked if Oxford was the playwright; but the Stratford man would never have written a literary text that would have to be “abridged for the stage”!   Remember how he was said to be “indifferent” to the appearances of his plays in print?

But Lukas Erne is surely on the right track.  And works like Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist, first published in 2003, will follow the track right to the Earl of Oxford.

I encourage readers of this blog to check out the various “reviews” on Amazon, many with clear recognition that our view of the author and his work must now change.  The scholars must now bend with the winds of that change.  Bend or break…

It would also be a good idea to get hold of the new edition, with an added 10,000-word preface that “reviews and intervenes in the controversy that the book has triggered.”

Yes indeed!

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