No. 84 of 100 Reasons why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: He was Involved in the Revolutionary Expanding Universe of Astronomy

Among our well renowned men,
Dever merits a silver pen
Eternally to write his honour,
And I in a well-polished verse,
Can set up in our universe
A fame to endure for ever…
For who marketh better than he
The seven turning flames of the sky?

These lines published in 1584 came from a Frenchman writing under the pen name John Soothern, living in the household of “Dever” – Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford; and the “seven turning flames of the sky” are, of course, the planets. Oxford, according to this scholarly poet from France who knew him well, was an expert in the currently exciting but politically dangerous field of astronomy, which was threatening to overturn the old conception of the cosmos and even to upend the old relationship of man to himself, to the world and to God.

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,
And yet methinks I have Astronomy;

English astronomer Thomas Digges did groundbreaking work in the 1570s

English astronomer Thomas Digges did groundbreaking work in the 1570s

That was “Shakespeare” starting off his Sonnet 14, but right away he announces that he is not speaking here of astrological fortune-telling or superstitions or the making of predictions such as that used by Queen Elizabeth to choose the luckiest and most balmy date of her coronation:

But not to tell of good or evil luck…
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Or say with Princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find…

On the contrary, by “astronomy” he was referring to revolutionary science in sixteenth-century England that was still being studied in secret, notably by the group (later called the School of Night) whose members included Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, the mathematician Thomas Harriot and, yes, Edward de Vere himself. He had studied astronomy from boyhood in the 1550s with his tutor Sir Thomas Smith, and in the 1560s with Dr. John Dee, who was not only the Queen’s astrologer but a serious mathematician and geographer; and because of the book De Revolutionibus by Polish mathematician-astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, published in 1543, these English scholars were well aware that great changes of paradigm were under way – in terms of not only the universe but of the social-religious-political order itself, which even Hamlet is reluctant to mention aloud:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

(The prince in Hamlet, 1.4)

Map of the Celestial Orbs  By Leonard & Thomas Digges (father-son), 1576

Map of the Celestial Orbs
By Leonard & Thomas Digges (father-son), 1576

Such free-thinking men were moving from the old Ptolemaic model of the earth at the center of the universe to the revolutionary Copernican model, by which everything is in motion, the earth rotating on its axis while revolving with the other planets around the central Sun.

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love

(The prince in Hamlet, 2.2)

When Oxford was twenty-three in 1573, the English scientist Thomas Digges (1527-1608) published a treatise on the “supernova” or exploding star seen in the sky the year before; and in this work, dedicated to the young earl’s father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley, Digges included warm praise for the Copernican hypothesis. Burghley and spymaster Francis Walsingham, who made it their business to develop intelligence in defense of the realm, were keenly interested in a new-fangled device called a “perspective” glass or trunk that enabled astronomers to see farther into space; and in fact such new devices would help to quickly spot the warships of the Spanish armada upon their arrival in 1588, thereby playing a significant role in England’s victory over King Philip and the Pope.

Digges published another key work, A Perfect Description of the Celestial Orbs, in 1576, using allegory to simultaneously set forth and disguise his agreement with Copernicus as well as his heretical view that the Sun is just one star among an infinity of stars in an unending universe.

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space”
(The prince in Hamlet, 2.2)

Watson's Sonnet Sequence of 1582 dedicated to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Watson’s Sonnet Sequence of 1582 dedicated to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

In 1582, when the poet Thomas Watson dedicated Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love to Oxford, thanking him for his help with the manuscript and getting it into print, his sequence of 100 consecutively numbered “passions” or sonnets contained the first known description of the Milky Way as a collection of discrete stars (as opposed to a single mass) – preceding Galileo’s published discovery in 1610 by nearly thirty years. The prose header for one of the sonnets – Oxford seems to have written all the headers – refers to “Galaxia” as “a White Way or Milky Circle in the heavens,” and the opening lines of the poem contain this radical description:

Who can recount the virtues of my dear,
Or say how far her fame hath taken flight,
That cannot tell how many stars appear
In part of heaven, which Galaxia height,
Or number all the moats in Phoebus’ rays,
Or golden sands, whereon Pactolus plays?

(Watson Sonnet 31, 1582)

Astronomer Tycho Brahe of Denmark 1546-1601

Astronomer Tycho Brahe of Denmark 1546-1601

In the same year Elizabeth sent Oxford’s brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby, on a mission to the Danish court; and during that extended visit Willoughby met with the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who, in 1572, had made precise observations of that inexplicably brilliant star that became known as “Tycho’s Supernova” – an exploded, extremely bright and burning star, which traditionally trained scientists could not explain; but the playwright “Shakespeare” would describe it in the night sky over Denmark:

Last night of all,
When yon same star that’s westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where it now burns…

(Bernardo in Hamlet, 1.1)

Tycho Brahe's Observatory

Tycho Brahe’s Observatory

“Tycho’s Supernova” provided “confirmation of an emerging scientific understanding of a dynamic universe,” Mark Andereson writes, as opposed to the prevailing Ptolemaic system, which continued to posit that all heavenly bodies were unchanging and firmly fixed in place.

In June of 1583 the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno appeared in England and delivered lectures at Oxford, contradicting the University’s continuing dogma that every object in the universe orbited the centrally positioned earth. The free-thinking Bruno preached in favor of the Copernican solar system and also proposed (correctly) that the Sun was just another star moving in space. Inevitably, of course, the University academics rebuked him.

“Oxford University and Giordano Bruno were celestial bodies in opposition,” Anderson notes. “The University preached the ancient geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Every object in the heavens, it was said, orbited the earth, and the earth occupied the center of the universe.” Bruno advanced the heresies that “the stars, contrary to fixed church doctrine, are free-floating objects in a fluid celestial firmament; that the universe is infinite, leaving no room for a physical heaven or hell; and that elements in the universe (called ‘monads’) contain a divine spark at the root of life itself. Even the dust from which we are made contains this spark.”

If circumstances lead me, I will find
Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
Within the center.
(Polonius in Hamlet, 2.2)

Oxfordians have made a compelling case that Edward de Vere began to set down the first of many versions of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in 1583, creating a fictional world at the Danish court reflecting his own real world at the English court — with Hamlet essentially a self-portrait; Claudius representing Queen Elizabeth’s former lover Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was thought to be a serial “poisoner” as well as her Majesty’s ambitious friend; Gertrude representing Elizabeth herself; chief minister Polonius representing chief minister Lord Burghley; and Ophelia, daughter of Polonius and fiance of Hamlet, depicting Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley and wife of Oxford.

Wittenberg - Market Square looking much as it did in 1502, when the university (attended by Hamlet in the play) was founded

Wittenberg – Market Square looking much as it did in 1502, when the university (attended by Hamlet in the play) was founded

He would be launching into this work just when discussions of the new ideas about the heavens were accelerating in England. Hamlet is a student at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, a major center for the Copernican theory; and in fact Bruno went on to teach at Wittenberg, where he could freely voice his bold ideas. Later he was imprisoned for seven years before the Roman Inquisition burned him at the stake in 1600 for heresy.

But now we also confront an amazing theory about this great Shakespearean tragedy in which Claudius usurps the throne of Denmark, depriving Prince Hamlet of his rightful place. According to Peter Usher, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University, this masterpiece of dramatic literature is also “an allegorical description of the competition between two cosmological models.” On one side is the heliocentric universe of Copernicus being taught at Wittenberrg and personified by Hamlet; on the other is the old geocentric order, personified by the Claudius (named for the ancient astronomer Claudius Ptolemy), who has usurped the throne.

KING CLAUDIUS (to Hamlet): How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
PRINCE HAMLET: Not so, my lord. I am too much in the Sun.

Hamlet deserves to be King, the royal Sun at the center. According to the new astronomy of Copernicus and the Sun-centered universe of Thomas Digges, the prince belongs on the throne at the center of the realm. So the Prince of Denmark is dangerous to the stability of the old hierarchy and, therefore, he poses a direct threat to King Claudius and Queen Gertrude.

This bodes some strange eruption to our state
(Horatio in Hamlet, 1.1)

The time is out of joint. O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right!

(The prince in Hamlet, 1.5)

Within the cosmological allegory, the play is chock full of allusions to this struggle between the old and new structure of the heavens and of the earth. “The idea of a rotating and revolving earth was counter-intuitive to most people and contrary to established religious and scientific doctrine,” Usher notes. When Claudius and Gertrude express their desire that Hamlet not return to Wittenberg, they do so by saying that such a course is “most retrograde to our desire” – an astronomical term for contrary motion, that is, the prince’s motion away from them and toward the Copernican cosmology as taught at Wittenberg – where, in addition, Martin Luther (1483-1546) had initiated the Protestant Reformation that was also disrupting the traditional order in England!

Giordano Bruno 1548-1600

Giordano Bruno
1548-1600

Scientists, according to Anderson, have observed that Shakespeare’s record of astronomical knowledge acquired during the Elizabethan age, as well as major celestial events, simply ceases by mid-1604, the year of Oxford’s death. The traditionally perceived author, William of Stratford, would live until 1616 — long enough, if he were “Shakespeare,” to continue to record events such as the discovery of sunspots or of Jupiter’s moons, not to mention “other significant celestial phenomena and developments in astronomical science” that occurred before he died. But the great dramatist is silent when it comes to astronomical discoveries and celestial phenomena made or observed between 1604 and 1616.

“The quest for truth and exposure of falsity is a theme that runs through Shakespeare’s play,” Usher says. “The castle platform (at Elsinore) is the interface between the castle interior and the sky, a contrast that parallels the contrast of reality and appearance, as when Hamlet says, ‘Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.’ The passage from geocentricism to Digge’s vision of an infinite universe is a passage from appearances to reality.”

Oxford’s extant letters show him as keenly alert to this theme. “But the world is so cunning,” he wrote to Lord Burghley in 1581, “as of a shadow they can make a substance, and of a likelihood a truth.” And he wrote to Burghley’s son Robert Cecil more than two decades later, in 1603, “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription, for truth is truth though never so old, and time cannot make that false which was once true.”

So this evidence is one more reason to conclude that Oxford and “Shakespeare” were one and the same.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well, these stars will be of utter importance in solving the authorship-problem.

  2. Whittemore, you made reference to Thomas Watson’s sonnets. As far as I am concern, he wrote two sonnets cycle. Is there any possibility Oxford wrote them during the 1580’s?

    • Yes. Watson in his dedication to Oxford thanks him for “perusing” the manuscript, but I believe he had much more of a hand in it. And that he probably wrote the 60-sonnet sequence published in 1590 or so. (I am forgetting title and year.) Also, important for me is that the 100-sonnet sequence of Passionate Century 1582 is divided 80-20 in the same way as the Shakespeare century of 27-126, which divides 80-20 as Sonnets 27-106 & Sonnets 107-126. To me this is Oxford deliberatedly linking back to the 1582 cycle and giving us a way of identifying him with as author of the Shakespeare sonnets.

      • If I’m not wrong also, the 1593 sonnet-cycle by Oxford published under the name of the already late Watson was “Tears of Fancy” and, curiosly enough, it was about the Poet’s relantionship with his muse and mistress, called by the name of Venus. “Tears” talks of a love story between the Poet and his Venus based on Adonis’ love affair with the goddess. So: Watson’s first sonnet sequence includes early sequence used by Oxford in his Sonnets as Shake-Speare; and Watson’s second sonnet sequence talks on his love for his Venus as her Adonis in 1593, the same time Shakespeare rose dedicating the anonymous “Venus and Adonis” to Southampton. Isn’t this so curious?!

        Thank you for the answer :D! And yes, the Passionate Century is really important. Not only for it, they may also contain Oxford’s first encrypted references to motherhood and roaylty. This sonnet sequence it’s more likely to talk on Oxford’s relationship with Vavasour and the Cupid that unites and separates the lovers may probably be the first reference to a bastard by Oxford (Edward Vere in this case. Later, Cupid would be Southampton).


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