The Bard was Highly Educated in Greek: No. 82 of 100 Reasons Why Oxford was “Shakespeare”

One of the thrilling, ongoing stories of the modern Oxfordian movement is the work of Earl Showerman MD, who, over the past decade (2004-2014), has been systematically recovering Shakespeare’s profound knowledge of the Greek language and the ancient Greek drama; and his work is offered here as one more “reason” to conclude that the Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare.

Euripedes 480 B.C.E. - 406 B.C.E.

480 B.C.E. – 406 B.C.E.

The Shakespeare scholar G. Wilson Knight, writing of the magical resurrection scene in the final act of The Winter’s Tale, when the statue of Hermoine comes to life, called it “the most strikingly conceived and profoundly penetrating moment in English literature.” And while critics have long regarded that play as derived from Pandosto, Robert Greene’s 1588 romance, Showerman points out that Shakespeare not only upgraded the style of Greene’s moral tale but “transformed it into a Renaissance version of a classic Greek trilogy, enriched with references to a library of ancient sources.”

Hermoine as Statue From "Tales of Shakespeare" by Charles and Mary Lamb

Hermoine as Statue
From “Tales of Shakespeare” by Charles and Mary Lamb

Dr. Showerman shows that “we can now credibly add Euripides’s tragicomedy Alcestis (438 B.C.E.) to Shakespeare’s portfolio of classical Greek sources.” In other words, while Greene took names and themes from second-century Greek romance, Shakespeare “chose to craft his romantic masterpiece in the venerable tradition of fifth-century Greek drama,” while drawing from his reading of Alcestis in the original Greek language.

This should come as worrisome news to scholars bound by Stratfordian biography. It undoubtedly means that, while the works of Shakespeare will always remain intact, these critics had better go looking for an author who could actually read Greek. Dr. Showerman points out that many scholars in the nineteenth century recognized Alcestis as a source for the mysterious statue scene in The Winter’s Tale, but “as the twentieth century passed the mid-mark, acknowledgment of the connection faded as scholars began to react to the limits on Shakespeare’s knowledge of the Greek canon imposed by the Stratford grammar school education. Since then, contemporary scholars have tended to either ignore Alcestis or relegate it to a footnote.”

[A number of modern scholars, having found evidence of an alarmingly erudite Shakespeare in the plays, are rather frantically proposing that the canon must have had multiple authors. This would be quite surprising to those who gave us the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623, given that they never thought to mention any collaborators. Nonetheless, watch for continued escalation of the collaboration theme — anything to avoid the obvious evidence that there was a different single author!]

It’s not easy to calculate the damage done by the traditional limitation of vision. On the other hand, by lifting the curtain on the Greek influences in Shakespeare’s plays, Dr. Showerman is making it increasingly difficult to ignore the Greek underpinning of even the names of many Shakespearean characters. “By examining the personalities and relationships of the names used for the characters of The Winter’s Tale,” he writes, “one can more fully appreciate the Greek context out of which Shakespeare built his story. I believe that much of the mystical power of this drama derives from these archetypal Greek sources, from the histories and mythologies embedded in its characters’ names.”

In a paper entitled Shakespeare’s “Lesse Greek” (2002), Andrew Werth, a graduate of Concordia University, Portland, OR, contradicts many orthodox scholars by concluding: “Greek plots, names, passages, philosophy, dramatic technique and, most important, the Greek ‘spirit,’ enhance and inform Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.”

Sir Thomas Smith 1513 - 1577

Sir Thomas Smith
1513 – 1577

At the same time, through the ongoing research of Stephanie Hopkins Hughes, we have learned much more about the influence upon Edward de Vere of Sir Thomas Smith, the philospher, statesman, humanist and Greek scholar. According to the available evidence, Smith “brought up” and tutored the young earl for the better part of eight years from age four to twelve, at his own household, not far from the Vere seat of Castle Hedingham. Sir Thomas had held the post of Greek Orator at the University of Cambridge, lecturing in Greek on Homer and the ancient Greek dramatists. Surely he would have transferred his enthusiasm for the Greek language to his young pupil, who spent his ninth year (1558-1559) at Smith’s own college (Queen’s) at Cambridge.

During Elizabeth’s reign, Smith followed William Cecil Lord Burghley as Principal Secretary of State in 1572 until his death in 1577. During that period, after Oxford had bolted to the Continent without permission, Burghley wrote to Sir Francis Walsingham for help in mollifying Queen Elizabeth, adding, “I doubt not but Master Secretary Smith will remember his old love towards the Earl when he was his scholar.”

After his childhood at Smith’s estates, Oxford spent most of his teens during the 1560’s as a royal ward of Elizabeth at Cecil House in London. And Lord Burghley, who had studied under Smith in much earlier days, also had Greek editions of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes and Plato in his vast library. In addition the chief minister’s wife, Mildred Cooke Cecil, a major force in that household, was not only fluent in Latin, but in Greek as well. And so, once more, the biography of Edward de Vere makes a perfect fit with the works of Shakespeare.

Recommended papers online:

“Shakespeare’s” Tutor: Sir Thomas Smith by Stephanie Hopkins Hughes (2000)

Shakespeare’s “Lesse Greek” by Andrew Werth (2002)

Orestes and Hamlet: From Myth to Masterpiece by Earl Showerman (2004)

“Look Down and See what Death is Doing”: Gods and Greeks in “The Winter’s Tale” by Earl Showerman (2007)

Shakespeare’s Many Much Ado’s: Alcestis, Hercules, and “Love’s Labour’s Wonne” by Earl Showerman (2009) – page 109 of “Brief Chronicles”

“Timon of Athens”: Shakespeare’s Sophoclean Tragedy by Earl Showerman (2009)

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33 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Hank,

    Once again, one of innumerable pieces of indisputable evidence that Shaksper definitely wasn’t and de Vere was almost certainly Shakespeare.

    After quoting Burghley’s letter to Walsingham, you start to say “In another….” and then abruptly start a new sentence. Were you going to quote another letter or somesuch?

    You’re performing such a wonderful service for the Oxfordian cause with your ‘100 Reasons’. Have you ever thought of following it up with, say, a Stratfraud website, countering the Oxfraud website, whereby you could easily list however many hundreds of reasons why Shaksper of Stratford couldn’t be Shakespeare. I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to do so!

    Two prime reasons I could think of strike at the blatant fraud perpetrated by Wells and the SAT, namely their substituting their guy’s original and genuine name of Shaksper with the name on the titlepages, for the last hundred years (around 1920 I believe!) and of course their adoption of the undisputed portrait of Sir Thomas Overbury, dressed as a courtier no less, as Shakspeare’s (obviously in desperation by Wells to present a supposedly credible face to their charade of an organization).

    Best wishes,

    • Hi Lee, thanks for the ideas! Sounds like your 100 Stratfrauds have begun:-)

      I’ve removed that dangling start of a sentence; it was going to mention another of Smith’s letters saying that Oxford was “brought up” in his home, but that got incorporated in the other material…

      Good to hear from you and happy New Year!

  2. Lee is certainly correct about just what a service Hank is doing for all of us.

    I wonder if Earl has explored possible connections between the Duke in Measure for Measure and the Athenian Solon, the Law-Giver. The curious detail of the Duke (ostensibly) leaving the city might allude, among other things, to Solon leaving Athens after he established the new laws.

    • Hmmm. Thanks for the contribution, Richard, and the kind words. I’ll try to alert Earl to that idea. Best regards.

  3. Hi Whittemore,

    great post, as always. This also remebers me of the hebrew insered in the plays, specially in Midsummer Night’s Dream, if I’m not wrong. As far as I know, it was Thomas Smith himself who thought hebrew to Oxford.

    As I told you before, I have been busy with anothers theories of another debates and themes. But right now, I’m back to Shakespeare’s authorship question, and recently the possibility of Mary Sidney as the author of Marlowe. A idea I’m still developing.

    Just adding, didn’t Jonson or someone else say Shakespeare’s greek and latin were small…?

    • Hi Francisco – Yes, I believe you’re right about the Hebrew.

      It was Jonson who said “And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke…” — by which he was saying, “And even if you had known little Latin and less Greek,” etc. He was not accusing Shakespeare of something that, if one is able to look and see, would be false. He had lots of Latin and Greek 🙂

      I think Marlowe’s poems and plays were Oxford’s. There are big differences, but equally big similarities.

      Best wishes for your work, Francisco.

  4. Hi Francisco,,

    in his Eulogy to the First Folio, yes.:

    “And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke,”

    But the actual meaning of this line is doubtable: – in my humble opinion.

    • Right on, Sandy!

      • Thanks you too! What I have read on that verse is only in Fulk Greville’s enthusiastics, only by those who believe he was Shake-Speare.

        Whittemore, what I have found is that Oxford wasn’t Marlowe. The passion and sex in Shakespeare doesn’t come closer to Marlowe, only in his Hero and Leander, which certainly was written by Oxford, And Shakespeare’s women are independent, strong and witty, not like Marlowe. What have I found? The idea that Sidney was John Webster is a begining. I believe she was one of the bastards of the Queen by Leicester but she may have inherit her “brother” Philip Sidney’s hate towards Oxford. And when England was at a great religious-politic pression in 1587, she started to wrote a play inspired by the theme, Tamburlain Part I. She copied Oxford’s style probably to provoce him, as Marlowe’s sucess was growing and growing, almost puting Greene and Lyly, Oxford’s most recent pennames by the name, in second place. When her front man died, Oxford joined the opportunity and published Venus and Adonis, who turn out to be the new sucess. I found evidences that she was behind the production of Willobie his Avisa, written by Nicholas Breton, to provoce Oxford once more with the deturpation of Lurece’s meaning, which she knew was being written by Oxford by 1593, to avenge his sucess as Shakespeare and accuse falsely his son Henry de Vere being Trentham’s bastard by Southamtpon. They may have been made friendship and peace little after Willobie his Avisa was published, around 1594-1595, and that would justify Marlowe’s influence, similarity, how Hero and Leander was published under Marlowe’s name and why Romeo and Juliet, written around this time, has the line:

        “Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy”

        A clear reference to Sidney’s The Queen of Carthage as Marlowe and Anthony and Cleopatra under her own name, Before she started to help Oxford writting Shakespeare, she was lider of the Wilton Circle, where John Donne as Spenser and Bacon as Nashe were in, probably neutral between the siblings’ war.

  5. Francisco, reading your valuable comment, I wonder if there was a living creature in that age from an ordinary marriage 🙂

    • Sandy, I didn’t understand the commet 😛

      Andyway, what I said was just an idea I’m still exploring.

      If you’re saying that because of those I say who were behind “common” authors, well the authors I mentioned are still far misterious then people think. From they, we have evidences they were written from someone else. I never said a commoner couldn’t write plays or something like that 😛

      • Just joking: your comments used to be full of bastards 🙂

  6. Cool Hank, way to go!!

  7. I’m still curious, Whittemore: will you talk about the suppose representation of the Midland Revolt which stratfordians think it’s one of the bases to Coriolanus?

    • Francisco, I’ll have to refresh my memory on this — but offhand I’d say they are just grasping at straws to find some topical link.

      • Thanks, Whittemore. Personally, I think Oxford picked up Coriolanus inspired by the political atmosphere between 1601-1603 caused in his personal life by the Essex Rebellion, as the Sonnets shows us.

      • Could be so. But then there is also the idea of different revisions over a long period. But your idea is a good one.

  8. Our great playwright wore a bullet-proof helmet made of ancient Greek tragedies. Even Hamlet closely followed the gruesome revenge story of the Greek prince Orestes:

    (Leighton, Shakespeariana Nov. 1883, p. 306)

    • Thanks, Greg. Great source of information!

  9. Oh, Whittemore, I forgot to ask you too: will you write also on the authorship of “Sir Thomas Moore”?

    • Big topic, Francisco. I think there is just one copy of Sir Thomas Moore (or More) — in the British Library — and it’s a copy in the hand of Anthony Munday, who was one of Oxford’s secretaries. A fascinating aspect is that we have copies of instructions by Edmund Tilney, Master of Revels, and chief censor, ordering sever cuts of early scenes showing riots of London citizens against foreigners in London who had certain privileges. Tilney deleted most of the riots and ordered shortening of lines “and no otherwise, at your own peril.” I have no idea if Oxford wrote the play, or parts of it, but scholars certainly think Shakespeare had a hand in it — but they are wrong that it’s in his handwriting:-)

  10. Gents,

    some time ago there was a discussion here at Hank’s blog about the meaning of some lines from a certain drama. I would like to find these lines, but alas I can’t. There was some south-western wind in it, and something like ‘I can tell X from Y when the wind is from southwest…’ And we were trying to find the meaning of X and Y.

    I would be very thankful for any help.

  11. Well, I’ve found it:

    I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.

  12. Hank: I’ve often wondered what evidence there is that Oxford had any knowledge of Greek. You’ve mentioned Stephanie’s speculation that he went to live with Smith, a Greek scholar, at age four. But, unfortunately, her scenario isn’t supported by documentary evidence. And even if we can still say that Oxford was a pupil with Smith for an unknown span of time in his youth, we have no evidence of what subjects Smith covered with Oxford, so there’s no proof that he studied Greek in his youth.

    You mentioned Mildred Cooke’s mastery of Greek, but do we have evidence that Mildred passed on this knowledge to the young earl in her house? You would think that if Smith had given Oxford a grounding in this difficult language, that the Cecil residence would have been an ideal place for following up on this start. And yet, Burghley’s daily lesson schedule for Oxford makes no mention of Greek lessons.

    Did Oxford write a word of Greek in any of his letters to Burghley? I don’t believe so. Did anyone ever say that Oxford knew Greek? Supposedly, he wrote a poem to Anne Cecil in a Greek Testament, but the poem isn’t in Greek, or even in his handwriting, (being a transcription, IIRC), and we don’t really know for sure if he wrote that poem.

    Given this lack of direct evidence, it does seem as if the main reason Oxfordians assume that Oxford knew Greek is because Earl Showerman has so delightfully enticed us with evidence that Shakespeare knew Greek.

    • Hi Marie — thanks for trying to keep us honest! I know it’s difficult:-) You are right that we have no hard evidence. I suppose my point was that he came into contact with folks who knew and were enthusiastic about Greek. I’ve read your exchanges with Stephanie and find I agree that we don’t know enough about Oxford and Smith, although the few mentions in letters are pretty well “proof” that there had been a relationship — with Cecil writing to Walsingham, “I doubt not but Master Secretary Smith will remember his old love towards the Earl when he was his scholar,” that is, when Oxford had studied with him. The word “old” suggests a much earlier time, i.e., Oxford’s childhood.

      One thing I neglected to mention in the blog was the report of the Venetian page whom Oxford hired, Orazio Cuoco, that Oxford had worshipped at “the Church of the Greeks.” (Anderson, SBAN, pp 82-85) (“San Giorgio dei Greci”) Anderson says the church was just two years old in 1575 and that Oxford “had placed himself at the heart of a community of Greek exiles” in Venice. The church “provided sanctuary to Greek intellectuals, artists, and political and religious refugees” and Anderson speculates that Oxford may have found his way to Greece with some of them (visiting the old country) by way of a Venetian galley. That’s a large sea-going vessel and there was a report Oxford had hurt his knee aboard such a galley. We don’t know if he made the trip to Greece but he had written to Burghley that he intended to “bestow two or three months to see Constantinople and some part of Greece.” Somehow I doubt Oxford would think of going to Athens etc. without some knowledge of the language. He loved language. In my view of him, he would have been embarrassed in that church in Venice if he had had no way of conversing with the Greeks in their own language — even if only partially.

      So, I agree, and we don’t have proof; but we have Oxford placed in circumstances that would have given him far more ability (and enthusiasm or motivation) to get hold of, and read, the ancient Greek play texts and other literature than, say, Anne Hathaway.

      Thanks again. We are well advised to watch jumping from assumption to statement of fact.

      • You’re a dear friend, Hank, to thank me for the usually thankless task of offering criticism. I like this further “Greek” scenario you’ve offered, from Mark’s SBAN. It called to mind an old friend of ours from the Fellowship boards, who journeyed to Italy and made a special stop at that church and neighborhood, in search of a better understanding of Oxford’s mind in 1575-6.

        What can we legitimately postulate from the knowledge that Oxford would go to a new Greek church while in Italy? Seems to me that it all comes down to how comfortable you are with speculation. Perhaps his heart soared when hearing their choir. Maybe his eyes were astounded by the architecture. Could it have been a safe compromise for worship that wouldn’t have him branded as “popish”?

        Going to church in my childhood, everything was in Latin, but we still felt the Holy presence. Conversing with the congregation is not necessarily the purpose for Oxford’s church going. Maybe he went there *because* this was where he could hear his thoughts about God and Christ privately, without the intrusion of voices babbling in Italian, Latin, French or English. I remember the great peace I found in the cathedrals of Paris, when I couldn’t understand a word of what the congregation heard.

        As for his desire to go to Constantinople and Greece – an excellent point that’s given me pause, and raised a few questions as well. How much would a traveler at that time rely on their Latin as a universal language? Would he have been able to get by with Latin or Greek in Constantinople?

      • Well, Marie, I went to the Latin Mass and sat there dreaming of — (fill in the blank:-)

        My view of Oxford is that he was seldom if ever content to just “get by” in any field. But yes, we must tread with care…

  13. A private collector has allowed Roger Stritmatter to examine a 16th century copy of Seneca that may have been owned by de Vere. Its marginal annotations are in both Latin and Greek. The annotated passages are often those that are echoed in Shakespeare.

    • Another amazing project by Roger, from the Bible to the Tempest and more! And marginal notes in Greek! We wish him the best. (And hey, I might be able to add the Greek part to my blog.)

    • This is an exciting possibility, and I see that Roger will be discussing these annotations at Concordia in April. We can only hope that if his findings prove worthy of serious attention, the private collector will be persuaded to allow other scholars access to this copy of Seneca, and also allow photographs and tests by other professionals. But perhaps that’s already the case?

  14. Another example of de Vere’s likely knowledge of Greek. As King Henry IV is about to die, he asks the name of the place where he is. When he’s told it’s Jerusalem, England, he reacts with resignation, saying,

    “Laud be to God! even there my life must end.
    It hath been prophesied to me many years,
    I should not die but in Jerusalem;
    Which vainly I supposed the Holy Land:
    But bear me to that chamber; there I’ll lie;
    In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.”

    In Book Three of Herodotus, the Persian King Cambyses is on the verge of death, and he too asks for the name of the place.”When in answer to his question he heard the name of the place [Ecbatana in Syria]… he now came to his senses [he had been insane], understood the [previous] oracle [he thought it meant he would die in Ecbatana of Media, having lived much longer], and said ‘This is the place where Cambyses… is destined to die.”

    Lots of similarities, no? Both kings become resigned to death once they realize they had misled themselves about the country where they would die.

    Books One and Two were Englished in 1584. Book Three may have been available only in Greek, which is probably the reason that orthodox scholars seem to have overlooked this glaring intertextuality.

    • Richard: thanks for sharing this curious bit of seeming cross-pollination from the life of “Cambyses”, which makes me wonder if Edwards used Herodotus for his play… But if I may say so, it sure looks to me like you’re offering proof of Shakespeare’s knowledge of Greek, not de Vere’s.

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