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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22 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Extremely interesting. Thank you, Hank!

  2. You’re right, Chapman’s verse deserves very close reading:

    “Like one of the most ancient honored Romans
    From whence his noblest family was derived”.

    De Vere claimed ancestry through the ancient kings of ‘Britain’, who were the descendants of Brutus, grandson of the legendary Aeneas. It is interesting that (de Vere’s source) Geoffrey of Monmouth attributed his ‘History’ to the ‘Prophetic Romances’ of the Welsh bards. Further, this bardic tradition was exploited by Jasper Tudur to establish legitimacy for Henry Tudur (see my essay “On Cymbeline, Wm. Garmon, and Revelations 12”). Upon landing at Milford Haven in 1485, Richmond would assert that he was fulfilling prophecies of Britons rising to defeat their Anglo-Saxon overlords.
    Even more interesting is the ‘Eisteddfod’ of 1569 – a gathering of Welsh bards convened by the Monarchy. I suppose this to be a effort to comb the ‘tradition’ for an authoritative warrant for the coming ‘Sun’ of a Virgin Queen. Ultimately that warrant was found in the Bible: Revelation 12, which frames the closing scene of Cymbeline.

    I suggest Chapman is also employing de Vere’s technique of authorizing texts:

    ‘He was beside (too)… , or of learned subjects…, or of the discipline…’

    So apart from the “I E.Ver saw” bit, there’s a hint of Too-d’Or.

    The research on the Welsh bards is from William Garmon of the University of Wales.

    • I was trying to figure out whether the Roman family reference was an authorship clue, a reference to the fact that he had converted to Catholicism at that point or whether he was just that good at being an “Italianate Earl”. Thank you for clearing that up. Now the reference makes sense.

  3. Hi, Hank –

    About the “jacks” near smoking-gun: Ogburn, on pages 754-5 of The Mysterious William Shakespeare, writes that Oxford was present in the Privy Chamber (where Elizabeth happened to be playing the virginals keyboard instrument) when the news of Essex’s execution was brought to her. She continued to play, and (to quote Ogburn) “Oxford, who rather unexpectedly was among the listeners, observed in a bitter pun destined to enter history, “When Jacks start up, heads go down””.

    • Hi Joseph. I just wanted to point out that the Oxford Aothorship site has that as a myth. Not that he didn’t say it but that he said it after Raleigh was advanced and not in response to Essex’s death.

      Click to access OxmythsOxford.pdf

      MYTH: Oxford’s comment about ‘jacks’ was made at the time of the execution of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex in 1601.
      Oxford’s comment that ‘they smiled to see that when jacks went up heads went down’ dates from a time when ‘Queen Elizabeth had advanced Raleigh’, i.e. the early 1580s.
      (1) Bacon, Sir Francis, Collected works, edited by J. Spedding, R.L. Ellis, and D.D. Heath, 14 vols, London, 1857-74, vol. 7, p.124.
      (2) Naunton, Robert, Fragmenta regalia, edited by John Cerovski (Washington, D.C.: Folger Shakespeare Library, 1985) pp.72, 103.

      • *authorship*…

      • Thanks for citing Nina Green’s list — it has grown, I see. Well, we must track down her references on the “jacks” comments, because I recall discussing this item and don’t think it is a settled issue by any means. I’ll see what I can find out and report back when possible. [Also will look through the entire list again.]

  4. Hi Joseph,

    this story can be found in Hank’s book The Monument as well. (x)


  5. Great summary, Hank. Oxford would have known Bussy d”Ambois himself becasue he was one of Alencon’s many ambassadors who came to England to for the wedding negotiates. He, along with Jean Simier, helped Alencon escape house arrest in 1574. Chapman’s translation of Homer’s Iliad has been identified by Kenneth Muir as a source for a number of allusions in Troilus ans
    Cressida, however,

  6. Chapman’s complete Iliad was only published after Troilus had itself been published in 1609, which means Shakespeare knew the last books of the Iliad in Greek.

    • Thanks, Earl, for adding yet another level of information to this. It’s amazing how all the various strands come together at different points, adding up to a picture that the modern world has never really seen. In his own right Bussy seems a fantastical and colorful figure more than most! I knew he was a favorite of Alencon, but not that he had come to England for the marriage negotiations. What year? My quick Wiki reading indicates he died in 1579, killed by the husband of the woman he was trying to seduce. And he was a lover of Marguerite de Valois, whom Oxford had met at the French court? I should go back to school:-)

  7. Indeed, Chapman and Oxford had something in common, maybe a friendship. Some even believe Chapman wrote A Lover’s Complaint and Allen used it (thinking Chapman was the Rival Poet) to prove Oxford’s and Chapman’s “alliance” between the two and his theory of Willie Hughes as Prince Tudor. Whittemore, do you think Chapman could have written poems poorly assigned to Shakespeare (most likely, ALC) or he was involved in the print of the First Folio?

    • Francisco – surely Oxford and Chapman knew each other, but I would not be quick to suggest any close friendship. If they engaged in those School of Night discussions, if Chapman came under Oxford’s wing as one of the writers he supported — that would be enough. I believe Oxford wrote A Lover’s Complaint. I would not know if Chapman had any involvement in the First Folio, but don’t think so.

      On the other hand, Chapman’s links to Susan Vere, to Francis and Horatio Vere, are intriguing. These came after 1604, as far as I can tell. I have to check on that. What I do see is that Chapman made a point of trying to comprehend Hamlet, both the contents and the writing itself — he must have been one of the true Shakespeare scholars. But the earl was way out of his orbit. He was soon collaborating with Jonson and Marston — why, I wonder.

  8. Is no one interested in Chapman’s words? Let me try again:

    “Like one of the most ancient honored Romans,
    From whence his noblest family was derived;”

    The de Vere’s were of Norman descent – that is, of the ‘Nortmanni’ or ‘Northmen’ – who came from Denmark and Norway to colonize the North French coast in the 8th and 9th centuries. They became a mix of North Germanic peoples and the Western Franks of the Lower Rhine.
    It was the ‘Britons’ – the native Celts – who claimed the “honored Romans” as their forebears. The Tudors of North Welsh/Celtic origin, are among the ‘Brutons’ of Britain… if we can “delve him to the root” (Cym. l.l.28). This is the subject of Cymbeline’s ‘Prophetical, Pastoral, Tragical, Comedy’; this is a tip and we should be thinking about it. Aeneas and Brutus are fundamental to the legendary origins of Rome and Britain.

    • Then was Oxford a descendent of Brutus? I’ve already seen genealogies that trace the Tudor and the Stuart back to Joseph of Arimathea (which means Elizabeth would have been a descendent of David, something unlikely)…

  9. Hello Francisco,
    The point I’m trying to make is simply this: ‘the man we call Edward de Vere’ was not the son of John de Vere. In claiming descent from Brutus, ‘the man we call Edward de Vere’ was stating that he was a Welsh Prince… a Tudor.
    This is precisely what the ancient princes of Celtic Briton/Wales claimed; i.e. they were the lineal descendants of Aeneas of Troy. A Vere-de-Vere – a true Norman – would not make this claim.

    • Oh, now I get it. I didn’t understand, sorry :P. But this make me curious now: how could a man of humble origins and great talent to verse know Oxford’s true ascendancy? (You’re refering to PT II, right?)

      This remembers me of Spenser’s sonnet to Oxford in his Fairie Queene, where we can read : “Sith th’antique glory of thine auncestry /Under a shady vele is therein writ,/And eke thine owne long living memory,/Succeeding them in true nobility; (…)”.

  10. Wonderful connection, Francisco!
    Now, Spenser might have said the same – “antique glory” – about descent through the de Vere Norman or the ‘Brutean’ Roman/Celts; and either way a “shady vele” obscures the precise nature of “true nobility”.
    For arguments sake, let’s assume that “true” refers to ‘Vere’. The question then becomes: did Spenser know that ‘the man known to him as Edward de Vere’ was a changeling Tudor?
    Spenser’s close association with, and patronage from, the Sidney-Dudley clique would suggest that he did know. However, general knowledge of de Vere’s parentage – by Thomas Seymour and Elizabeth Tudor – would increase the material value of ‘the de Vere person’ and lessen the value of a closely held secret by the above mentioned clique.
    But look what I’m doing! I’m developing a construct without reference to the words of ‘de Vere’. Read Sonnet 23 of ‘Fidessa, More Chaste Than Kind’ – ‘de Vere’s’ testament from the Tower of London, 1581. Note especially the final couplet:

    “How can I hide that is already known?
    I have been seen and have no face but One.”

    This would seem to indicate more widespread knowledge of his ‘Never’ (Not-E.Ver, i.e. Seymour) identity. If you have time, read the ‘Fidessa’ Sonnets at my web-site: . There I have underlined many of the key words and metonyms for easier study.
    I’ll take a good look at that Spenser sonnet today. Thanks!

    • Spenser probably knew who were Oxford’s true parents. Seek for Ricardo Mena’s blog. He made a good theory for John Donne as author of Spenser and Nashe. He also find evidences for the PT Theory II in Fairie Queene, and references to Elizabeth’s maternity in Oxford. Maybe in Mena’s blog and site you may find more information about it.

      Fidessa was never a cycle I was interessed. I never thought there could be a link between this sonnets and Oxford. I will read them. Thanks too.

  11. Francisco,
    I apologize. My recent and much improved revision of the ‘Fidessa Sonnets’ is not properly formatted as a pdf. I’ll try to correct and post that sometime tomorrow. The one on my web-site at present is poor.
    Though ‘Fidessa’ was almost certainly initiated in 1581, it may have been polished or rewritten later; as you probably know, it was not published until 1596. It is packed with allusions to de Vere’s identity crisis and covers much the same ground as ‘Venus and Adonis’.
    If the 1596 ‘Fidessa’ is essentially the same ‘as written’ (fifteen years earlier), it would indicate that de Vere’s ‘process’ and glossary were already very well defined by the early 1580’s.
    The importance of the de Vere v. Seymour conundrum is essentially this: Hamlet will be understood to tell the lesson of Edward de Vere; i.e. how the derangement of a Prince’s true being can bring about the destruction of the Monarchy and the identity of the ‘State’.
    By contrast, the character of Posthumous Leonatus from Cymbeline advises how a suppressed identity can – with the opportunity ‘To Be’, according to the Divine Plan – unify a divided nation and resolve the ‘tribute’ issue with Rome (that is, the Roman Church)… or something akin to this.

    By the way: you’ve probably read Whittemore’s Reason #46; he covers very interesting ground vis-a-vis Spenser and Oxford.

  12. From Chapman’s The Teares of Peace:

    “I am (sayd hee) that spirit Elysian,
    That (in thy natiue ayre; and on the hill
    Next Hitchins left hand) did thy bosome fill,
    With such a flood of soule; that thou wert faine
    (With clamations of her Rapture then)
    To vent it, to the Echoes of the vale;
    When (meditating of me) a sweet gale
    Brought me vpon thee; and thou didst inherit
    My true sense (for the time then) in my spirit;
    And I, inuisiblie, went prompting thee,
    To those fayre Greenes, where thou didst english me.”

    A variant on “Vere” in “in thy natiVE AYRE”, Oxford is leftwards of Hitchin, and then a reference to Oxford’s Robert Greene allonym. Vere, that spirit Elysian, has been filled with a flood of soul (Chapman’s Homer) that he intends to vent or give to his echo (Chapman himself) after meditating upon him and thinking his status as a classicist with a Grecian “true sense” to be worthy as a front for his own translations of Homer.

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