The Shakespeare Histories as “Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy” — Lily B. Campbell’s Work is No. 79 of 100 Reasons Why Oxford was the Author

For a couple of centuries it was generally accepted that Shakespeare had no interest in the issues confronting England in his time; but in 1947 there appeared a bombshell book entitled Shakespeare’s “Histories” – Mirrors of Elizabethan Policy by Lyly Bess Campbell, Professor Emeritus of English at UCLA, putting forth the radical idea that the great author’s history plays were mirrors in which Elizabethans could perceive the contemporary political problems they were facing.

book of lily campbell

Miss Campbell comes out swinging. Her first victim is Professor Mark Van Doren of Columbia University, whom she ridicules for postulating that Shakespeare “does not seem to call for explanations beyond those which a whole heart and a free mind abundantly supply.” It’s a “heartening conviction,” she quips, “that John Doe has only to reassure himself about the wholeness of his heart and the freedom of his mind to undertake to interpret Shakespeare. Any heart and any mind will do.”

Then she holds H.H. Furness up for scorn, citing his statement in the New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare in 1919: “I cannot reconcile myself to the opinion that Shakespeare ever made use of his dramatic art for the purpose of instructing, or as a means of enforcing his own views, any more than I believe that his poetic inspiration was dependent on his personal experiences.”

These are comforting thoughts, Miss Campbell wryly notes, for writers and critics alike – that whatever the great author wrote had nothing to do with his personal experiences and convictions! And just think – Shakespeare himself had no interest in the problems of contemporary politics!

Lily Campbell begs to differ: “I do not believe that a poet exists in a vacuum, or even that he exists solely in the minds and hearts of his interpreters. I do not believe he can write great poetry without conviction and without passion. I do not believe that his reflection of his period is casual and fragmentary and accidental. Rather, it seems to me the poet must be reckoned a man among men, a man who can be understood only against the background of his own time…”

Richard II  1367 - 1422

Richard II
1367 – 1422

Looking at the history plays without any authorship axe to grind, Miss Campbell sees that “Shakespeare” deliberately used history to set forth the great political problems his day, such as Queen Elizabeth’s lack of an heir and her unwillingness or inability to name a successor. For example, plays like King John and Richard II revolved around issues of legitimacy and the possible need to depose a weak monarch for the sake of England’s health and survival. And as Queen Elizabeth herself remarked, six months after the Essex Rebellion of February 8, 1601, “I am Richard II, know ye not that!?”

Miss Campbell in 1947 was breaking through the traditional image of the author. I have no idea whether she knew about the 1920 identification of Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare,” but if not her argument is the more powerful – that in fact the great poet-dramatist was deeply, passionately concerned about the country and, yes, about the Tudor dynasty.

This view had already been confirmed a quarter-century earlier, when J. Thomas Looney pointed to Oxford, thereby identifying a high-ranking nobleman and member of the House of Lords, a courtier who had been a royal ward of the Queen under the guardianship of her powerful chief minister, William Cecil Lord Burghley (later his father-in-law) and one who – while obviously obsessed with poetry and plays, with the power of the printed word and the stage – was demonstrably involved in crucial affairs of state.

Henry V 1387 - 1422

Henry V
1387 – 1422

If Oxford was the author of King John, Richard II and Henry V, to name three of the several histories covered by Miss Campbell, then “Shakespeare” was not just a concerned observer of the great issues of his day, but, indeed, a participant in them. As Chesterton noted, “Men can always be blind to a thing, so long as it’s big enough,” and Looney, by identifying Oxford, was pointing to an author whose world was larger than that of the Stratford man in every way.

The overall implication of Oxford’s authorship is so enormous, in fact, that even Oxfordians can be blind to it: we are not talking about switching one name for another, or one writer for another, but, rather, about the seismic shift from a man born in a small market town in the countryside to a man raised by blood to inhabit the palace and be part of THE GOVERNMENT – as if the author of popular political novels in the U.S. turned out to be a top official of the C.I.A. or State Department, and who had been filling his works with thinly disguised, inside information that had never gotten into the official record.

[In the case of Edward de Vere, we have the amazing story of a man who, in the 1570s and 1580s, led a renaissance of English literature and drama, helping to rouse unity in the face of foreign invasion; but who, in the 1590s, found himself adopting the pen name “Shakespeare” in a power struggle against the entrenched Cecilian control over the government and over the queen herself. In the early stages, Oxford had been working on the same side as Burghley and spymaster Walsingham, within the government; in the final stages, however, he was in a power struggle (behind the scenes) with Principle Secretary Robert Cecil to determine who would control the succession to Elizabeth on the throne.]

William Cecil 1520-1598 Robert Cecil 1563-1612

William Cecil 1520-1598
Robert Cecil 1563-1612

Here is Oxford as a young man:

24 November 1569, to William Cecil, in reference to the Northern Rebellion of Catholic earls: “And at this time I am bold to desire your favor and friendship that you will suffer me to be employed by your means and help in this service that now is in hand … now you will do me so much honor as that by your purchase of my license I may be called to the service of my prince and country…”

And here with my emphases added to some of the words that “Shakespeare” uses in similar ways —

September 1572, to Wm. Cecil Lord Treasurer Burghley, in reference to the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Protestants in France: “And think if the Admiral in France was an eyesore or beam in the eyes of the Papists, then the Lord Treasurer of England is a block and a cross-bar in their way, whose remove they will never stick to attempt, seeing they have prevailed so well in others. This estate hath depended on you a great while, as all the world doth judge, and now all men’s eyes … are, as it were, on a sudden, bent and fixed on you as a singular hope and pillar …

[“…shame to your estate, an eyesore to our solemn festival” – Taming of the Shrew; “His brandished sword did blind men with his beams” – 1 Henry VI; “… who, like a block, hath denied my access to thee” – Coriolanus; “Any bar, any cross, any impediment” – Much Ado About Nothing; “They will not stick to say you envied him” – Henry VIII; “…for on his choice depends the safety and health of this whole state” – Hamlet; “…why such unplausive eyes are bent on him” – Troilus and Cressida]

“I am one that counts myself a follower of yours now in all fortunes, and what shall hap to you, I count it hap to myself … Thus my Lord, I humbly desire your Lordship to pardon my youth, but to take in good part my zeal and affection towards your Lordship, as on whom I have builded my foundation, either to stand or fall … I shall be most willing to be employed on the sea coasts, to be in a readiness with my countrymen against any invasion.”

When the young Oxford was prevented from a military career, his service soon took the form of literature and drama. In the process he created a robust language and cultural identity that helped give England a new sense of national pride. Miss Campbell noted that “each of the Shakespeare histories serves a special purpose in elucidating a political problem of Elizabeth’s day and in bringing to bear upon this problem the accepted political philosophy of the Tudors.”

Lily Campbell’s view of the Shakespeare histories as “mirrors of Elizabethan policy” is no. 79 of 100 reasons why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was the man who wrote them.

Lily Campbell Biographical Synopsis

“A King of Infinite Space” – No. 78 of 100 Reasons why Oxford was “Shakespeare”

"Were I a king I could command content..." Edward de Vere

“Were I a king I could command content…”
Edward de Vere

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space,” Hamlet cries out; and although he adds the caveat that this would be true “were it not that I have bad dreams,” his point is that, yes, we do have the potential to deal with terrible suffering by retreating from the world – into a nutshell, as the Prince puts it – and by ruling over the vast kingdom of the mind.

Hamlet does have the ability to endure “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” by using his sovereign power of thought. In the circumstances of the play, of course, he has literally been deprived of the crown by his uncle; at this time he cannot be the King of Denmark, but he can always be the king of his limitless mind.

"Lo thus I triumph like a king, "Content with that my mind doth bring"

“Lo thus I triumph like a king,
“Content with that my mind doth bring”

This theme appears elsewhere in writings attributed to both “Shakespeare” and Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), with frequent appearances of similar words such as “king” or “kingdom” and “mind” and “content” or “contented.” In 3 Henry VI (3.1) for example the King, in disguise, meets up with two Keepers who wonder why he talks like a king:

KEEPER: Say, what art thou that talk’st of kings and queens?
HENRY VI: More than I seem, and less than I was born to:
A man at least, for less I should not be;
And men may talk of kings, and why not I?
KEEPER: Ay, but thou talk’st as if thou wert a king.
HENRY: Why, so I am – in mind; and that’s enough.
KEEPER: But, if thou be a king, where is thy crown?
HENRY: My crown is in my heart, not on my head;
Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen: my crown is called content:
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.

No. 78 of 100 reasons to conclude that Oxford used the pen name “Shakespeare” is that he expressed the same basic ideas in similar combinations of words. The earl stopped putting his own name on any of his writings after age twenty-six in 1576, the year that The Paradise of Dainty Devices was first published (probably by his doing); but even by then his poems (or, rather, songs) often reflect the mind of Hamlet.

One such poem (“My mind to me a kingdom is”), actually a song, is often attributed (for no good reason) to Edward Dyer (1540-1607); but it’s nonetheless subscribed “Earle of Oxfenforde” in the Rawlinson manuscripts. The words were set to music under the title “In praise of a contented mind” by the great contemporary composer William Byrd (c. 1540-1623), with whom Oxford was associated. And Steven W. May cites it in Studies in Philology (1980) and The Elizabethan Courtier Poets (1999) as “possibly” by Oxford (although it seems to me that he thinks the case for him is definite):

My mind to me a kingdom is,
Such perfect joy therein I find,
That it excels all other bliss
That world affords or grows by kind;
Though much I want which most men have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave …

Content I live, this is my state,
I seek no more than may suffice…
Lo thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring…

That verse-song might as well have been penned by Hamlet himself! It comes from the same sensibility, with the same note of defiance.
Steven May assigns the following verse to Oxford without qualification:

Were I a king I could command contentWere I obscure unknown should be my cares,
And were I dead no thought should me torment,
Nor words, nor wrongs, nor loves, nor hopes, nor fears;
A doubtful choice of these things one to crave,
A Kingdom or a cottage or a grave.

In this case there is the same preoccupation with the lack of kingship, echoing lines spoken by the king in Richard II:

What must the king do now? Must he submit?
The king shall do it. Must he be deposed?
The king shall be contented
And my large kingdom for a little grave,
A little little grave, an obscure grave…

Oxford began signing his letters with a “crown signature” in November 1569 when he was nineteen; he stopped using it after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth on April 28, 1603, with the Tudor dynasty officially no more. Did he think of himself a rightful king deprived of his crown? That provocative signature would ordinarily get a nobleman in big trouble — the way Oxford’s uncle, the Earl of Surrey, had been imprisoned and executed by Henry VIII (just before the king’s death in February 1547) for provocatively altering his coat of arms. Why Oxford never got in trouble for his highly suggestive signature is an open question…

Sonnet 114 by “Shakespeare” has these lines:

Or whether doth my mind, being crown’d with yoU,
Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery?…
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up…

The anonymous verse publication Willobie His Avisa (1594) comes to its end with a long poem “The Praise of a Contented Mind” signed Ever or Never, one of Edward de Vere’s early pen names, concluding:

Of all the brave resounding words, which God to man hath lent,
This soundeth sweetest in mine ear, to say: I am content.

Oxford was a member of the House of Lords, where “Content” or “Not Content” were the formal expressions of assent or dissent (equivalent to “Aye” or “No” in the House of Commons); but in Willobie, as in works attributed to both Oxford and “Shakespeare,” the phrase “I am content” is an expression of inner peace despite the experience of painful loss — in other words, Hamlet has learned to travel “out of body” to some other dimension that may actually be the realm of madness, as he tells Laertes:

HAMLET: What I have done
That might your nature, honor and exception
Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness.
Was’t Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet.
If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away,
And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes,
Then Hamlet does it not. Hamlet denies it.
Who does it then? His madness.

In effect he becomes split apart, resulting in an appearance on the surface that’s very different from what is going on inside him, mentally and emotionally:

OXFORD: To entertain my thoughts, and there my hap to moan,
That never am less idle lo, than when I am alone.

OXFORD: I am not as I seem to be,
Nor when I smile I am not glad…

My mind to me a kingdom is
[song lyrics]

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
That world affords or grows by kind.
Though much I want which most men have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely pomp, no wealthy store,
No force to win the victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to feed each gazing eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall.
For why my mind doth serve for all.

I see how plenty suffers oft,
How hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that those that are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all;
They get with toil, they keep with fear.
Such cares my mind could never bear.

Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice;
I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look what I lack my mind supplies;
Lo, thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring.

I little have, and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have,
And I am rich with little store.
They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;
They lack, I leave, they pine, I live.

I laugh not at another’s loss;
I grudge not at another’s gain:
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
My state at one doth still remain.
I fear no foe, nor fawning friend;
I loathe not life, nor dread my end.

Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,
Their wisdom by their rage of will,
Their treasure is their only trust;
And cloaked craft their store of skill.
But all the pleasure that I find
Is to maintain a quiet mind.

My wealth is health and perfect ease;
My conscience clear my chief defense;
I neither seek by bribes to please,
Nor by deceit to breed offense.
Thus do I live; thus will I die.
Would all did so as well as I!

(My emphases are added above.)

The Poet-Playwright George Chapman Knew the Correct Answer to the Authorship Question – Reason 77 of 100 Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

The scholar-poet-playwright George Chapman (c. 1559-1634), translator of Homer, was well acquainted with Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who was about a decade his senior. Aware that Oxford’s creation of the character Hamlet was essentially a self-portrait, the younger man knew very well the correct answer to the Shakespeare authorship question; and after the earl’s recorded death in 1604, when the full Hamlet was printed in quarto, Chapman made every attempt to tell the rest of the world.

George Chapman c. 1559 - 1634

George Chapman
c. 1559 – 1634

The written testimony of George Chapman is No. 77 of 100 reasons to conclude that Edward de Vere was the author “William Shakespeare” – and this evidence comes so close to the proverbial “smoking gun” that I might wonder why I waited till now to include it.

It appears that Chapman was obsessed with Edward de Vere.

Let us begin with his play The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois, written about 1607 and published six years later. Chapman set it within recent French history (of the 1570s) while modeling his fictional main character, Cleremont D’Ambois, after Prince Hamlet – in this case seeking to avenge the murder of his brother, Bussy, reluctantly and long delaying it. Some of the dialogue is straight out of Hamlet, such as in a scene about the appearance of the dead brother’s ghost:

GUISE: Why stand’st thou still thus, and appliest thine ears and eyes to nothing?
CLERMONT: Saw you nothing here?
GUISE: Thou dream’st awake now; what was here to see?
CLERMONT: My brother’s spirit, urging his revenge.
GUISE: Thy brother’s spirit! Pray thee mock me not!
CLERMONT: No, by my love and service.

One speech in the play, familiar to most Oxfordians, occurs when Clermont describes the real-life figure of Edward de Vere – virtually tying him to Shakespeare, author of Hamlet. Clermont recalls an event that must have actually occurred in 1576 when a teenage Chapman “overtook” [caught up to] the twenty-six-year-old earl as he was returning to England from the Continent:

I overtook, coming from Italy,
In Germany, a great and famous earl
Of England, the most goodly fashioned man
I ever saw; from head to foot in form
Rare and most absolute; he had a face
Like one of the most ancient honored Romans,
From whence his noblest family was derived;
He was beside of spirit passing great,
Valiant and learned, and liberal as the sun,
Spoke and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects,
Or of the discipline of public weals;
And ‘twas the Earl of Oxford …

It’s an amazing homage that bears close reading. Oxford was “the most goodly fashioned man I ever saw,” indicating Chapman’s knowledge of the earl’s earlier pen name Ever or Never. Edward de Vere was “of spirit passing great,” meaning surpassingly great, as well as “valiant and learned, and liberal as the sun.”

The earl was “liberal” because, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, he was steeped in the arts and science and “directed to general intellectual enlargement and refinement … free in bestowing; bountiful, generous, open-hearted … free from restraint, free in speech or action … free from narrow prejudice … open-minded.” Also he “spoke and writ sweetly” – that is, Clermont identifies him as not only a talker but a writer, an author who wrote “sweetly,” which, as Barbara Burris observes, is “wording that brings to mind the ‘sugared sonnets’ and references to Shakespeare as ‘honey-tongued.’”

Clermont’s speech marks an “extremely rare occurrence in which a nobleman is actually named on stage,” writes Burris, who also observes, “Chapman made sure that he highlighted the Oxford connection … By openly describing and naming Oxford in this play, Chapman made it clear that he not only knew who really wrote Hamlet, but that the original character of Hamlet was modeled on Oxford himself.”

But Chapman was conflicted about Oxford. On the one hand he had a “negative and grudging” attitude toward the noble poet, Burris notes, and on the other hand he admired him. Chapman himself was apparently quite different from the earl in his personality, viewed by some as “of most reverend aspect, religious and temperate, qualities rarely meeting in a poet.” And while Clermont’s story is based on that of Hamlet, he is nonetheless the opposite in manner: calm, austere, stoical – Chapman’s preference.

Persecution of the French Huguenots (Leloir, 1904)

Persecution of the French Huguenots
(Leloir, 1904)

So when Clermont continues his speech about Edward de Vere, he begins to switch gears by describing Oxford’s refusal to review the army of Duke Casimir, a German Calvinist prince and leader of Huguenot [French Protestant] forces against the Catholic troops of Henri III. Oxford had left Venice in March 1576, traveling via Milan and Lyons to Paris on his way to the English Channel and home. For the entire month the two opposing armies in France’s current religious war were camped at Moulin in central France, according to researcher Nina Green, who adds that very likely Oxford passed very near Casimir’s six thousand troops on the way.

And being offered
At that time by Duke Casimir the view
Of his right royal army then in field,
Refused it, and no foot was moved to stir
Out of his own free fore-determined course.
I, wondering at it, asked for it his reason,
It being an offer so much for his honour.
He, all acknowledging, said ‘twas not fit
To take those honors that one cannot quit.

“’Twas answered like the man you have described,” replies Renel, a Marquesse, considering that Oxford’s response was appropriate for a proud nobleman who would not accept any honors he did not deserve. But Chapman, again through Clermont, delivers his own negative judgment of Oxford’s startling behavior:

O, ‘tis a vexing sight to see a man
Out of his way, stalk proud, as he were in;
Out of his way to be officious,
Observant, wary, serious and grave,
Fearful and passionate, insulting, raging,
Labor with iron flails to thresh down feathers
Flitting in air.

Sounds like Hamlet!

George Chapman’s first published poem, The Shadow of Night (1594), reflects his membership in the contemporary group that became known as the School of Night — learned men such as playwright Christopher Marlowe, astronomer-mathematician Thomas Harriott, writer Thomas Nashe, Sir Walter Raleigh and, yes, the poet-playwright Edward de Vere.

Regardless of his reputation as a strict moralist, Chapman was known for comedy as well as serious stuff; and one of his earliest works, An Humorous Day’s Mirth, was a huge comedy hit played all during 1597 by the Admiral’s Men at the Rose. In that work, Oxfordian author Richard Whalen writes, “Chapman seems to be depicting Oxford in the character of Lemot, a witty courtier who controls the action of the play.”

As Whalen notes, “Lemot” is French for “the word” and suggests that Lemot is a writer as well as a courtier and a wit. A female character addresses Lemot as “Monsieur Verbum” and he replies, “Why, ‘tis a green bum, ver is green and you know what a bum is, I am sure of that.” Whalen goes on to suggest that the punning on “ver” indicates “Vere” or Oxford as “the punning courtier, sometime jester, and recognized writer at Elizabeth’s court.”

In 1605, when Chapman collaborated with Ben Jonson and John Marston on the comic drama Eastward Ho!, that play contained no less than five allusions to Hamlet. [The three authors were briefly imprisoned, because of perceived slurs against the Scots who had come to court with King James.] One of the characters is “Hamlet, a footman” and another is “William Touchstone,” who has a daughter named “Gertrude” – the name of Hamlet’s mother. Other characters are related to Oxford himself, such as “Golding,” the name of Edward de Vere’s uncle, Arthur Golding, who is credited with translating Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Meanwhile, as if all the above were not enough, it appears that the title character in another Chapman play, Monsieur d’Olive, also represents Oxford! The Elizabethan Authors website of Barboura Flues and the late Robert Brazil suggests that at least one of d’Olive’s speeches represents Chapman’s recollection of Oxford’s speaking style, from personal experience:

D’OLIVE: Tush, man! I mean at my chamber, where we may take free use of ourselves; that is, drink sack, and talk satire, and let our wits run wild goose chase over court and country. I will have my chamber the rendezvous of all good wits, the shop of good words, the mint of good jests, an ordinary of fine discourse; critics, essayists, linguists, poets, and other professors of that faculty of wit, shall at certain hours I’ th’ day resort thither; it shall be a second Sorbonne…

Monsieur d’Olive, representing Oxford, slips right into Shakespeare references, such as his statement: “The weaver, sir, much like the virginal Jack, start nimbly up” – echoing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 128: “Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap.” Such deliberate attempts to link Oxford with Shakespeare bring us “almost into smoking-gun territory,” wrote Robert Brazil.

Some other facts:

* Chapman in the early 1580s was in the household of Sir Ralph Sadler, who was employed by both Queen Elizabeth and William Cecil Lord Burghley, who was Oxford’s father-in-law.

* Chapman was friends with Oxford’s daughter Susan de Vere, Countess of Montgomery, wife of one of the “incomparable pair of brethren” to whom the First Folio of Shakespeare plays was dedicated. For his translation of the Illiad, published in 1609, Chapman wrote a dedication poem to Susan de Vere – in the Shakespearean sonnet form.

* Chapman is linked to Oxford’s military cousins Francis and Horace (Horatio) Vere, known as the Fighting Veres. “Early in his career,” Whalen writes, he “described in minute detail an incident in Sir Francis Vere’s campaign in the Netherlands, while late in his career he urged the rescue of Sir Horace Vere and his troops who were besieged in Germany.” And, of course, the play Hamlet includes a soldier named Francis and another soldier, the Prince’s trusted friend, named Horatio.

This posting drew upon several sources that made it possible:

On Looking into Chapman’s Oxford by Richard Whalen (The Oxfordian, 2002)

A Golden Book, Bound Richly Up (Shakespeare Matters, Fall 2001)

George Chapman (Elizabethan Authors – Robert Brazil, Barboura Flues)

Chapman, George (Wikipedia)

Description of Oxford in “The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois” (The Oxford Authorship Site – Nina Green)

Bussy D’Ambois and The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois (Project Gutenberg online)

George Chapman (The Poetry Foundation)

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