Number 91 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford Wrote the Poems, Plays and Sonnets of William Shakespeare — “The Winter’s Tale” – Part One

Traditional Shakespeare scholarship offers many examples of what happens when a literary or dramatic work is viewed with the wrong author in mind. Using an incorrect biography as a guide is equivalent to following the wrong road map. As Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. has reminded us with a different metaphor: “A skier starting off from the top of the mountain in a slightly different direction ends up at a very different place at the bottom.” And a scholar starting off with a faulty authorship premise inevitably runs into an ever-expanding muddle of speculations.

winter's tale 1890

In the case of The Winter’s Tale, printed initially in the First Folio of 1623, viewing the play as by William Shaksper of Stratford has led many scholars to conclude it was written in 1611. Edmund Malone (1741-1812) believed that an otherwise unknown play A Winter Night’s Pastime, registered in 1594, represents an earlier attempt to print the Shakespeare play; but the later date of composition is usually cited.

An example of following the wrong road map is Stephen Greenblatt’s suggestion at the end of Will in the World (2004) that Shakspere decided by 1610 or so to “enact a final, fantastic theatrical experiment” — which had nothing to do with acting or writing, but, rather, with taking on “the everyday life of a country gentleman.” He would “return to the place from which he had come,” perhaps drawn home by a motive that “seems to lie in plain sight” within what are assumed to be among his final plays.

This motive involved a woman twenty years younger than he, the woman “who most intensely appealed to Shakespeare” during his entire lifetime — none other than his daughter Susanna!

Perdita Daughter of King Leontes & Queen Hermoine (Henrietta L. Palmer, 1859)

Daughter of King Leontes & Queen Hermoine
(Henrietta L. Palmer, 1859)

“It cannot be an accident,” Greenblatt writes, “that three of his last plays – Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest – are centered on the father-daughter relationship and are so deeply anxious about incestuous desires.” What the author really wanted was “the pleasure of living near his daughter and her husband and their child,” even though this pleasure had “a strange, slightly melancholy dimension, a joy intimately braided together with renunciation.”

So here is a leading orthodox scholar trying to link up the author’s work with his life (an implicit acknowledgment that literary biography is useful), but doing so by using pure invention. Well, yes, Shaksper did spend his final years in Stratford, but was he really obsessed with gnawing “incestuous desires” toward his daughter? And does this really help us understand those three plays? I’d say we’re following the wrong road in the wrong territory and about to drive off the proverbial cliff…

On the other hand, another reason to conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” is that his authorship places the initial writing of The Winter’s Tale all the way back (by a quarter century) to 1584-1586 and opens up a wealth of far more plausible motives and connections, based on key circumstances or events such as:

• His jealous rage at his wife Anne Cecil and rejection of the girl Elizabeth Vere, who was born in 1575 while the earl was on the Continent – mirrored in the play by the jealous rage of King Leontes against his wife Hermoine, plus his order that her newborn infant girl, Perdita, be burned alive.

Elizabeth de Vere, Daughter of Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil, born in 1575  (Countess of Derby as of 1595)

Elizabeth de Vere, Daughter of Edward de Vere and Anne Cecil, born in 1575
(Countess of Derby as of 1595)

• The Duchess of Suffolk’s scheme in 1577 to trick Oxford into seeing two-year-old Elizabeth Vere without revealing the girl’s identity at first – as Lady Paulina tries to trick Leontes.

• The rise at Court of Sir Walter Raleigh and his expeditions in the 1580s to the New World, including the colonization of Virginia, named in honor of Queen Elizabeth – as indicated by repeated allusions in the play to Raleigh and his affairs.

• The treason trial of Mary, Queen of Scots in October 1586, when Oxford sat at the head of the row of peers on the tribunal — as mirrored by the treason trial of Hermione.

Then, too, viewing Oxford as the playwright lends personal links to the sources, for example:

Statue of Hermoine William Hamilton, R. A. Robert Thew, Engraving

Statue of Hermoine
William Hamilton, R. A.
Robert Thew, Engraving

• The miracle of a statue coming to life in The Winter’s Tale is to be found in the story of Pygmalion and Galatea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses – leading us back to the 1567 translation used by “Shakespeare” and credited to Oxford’s uncle Arthur Golding, but more likely translated by the young earl himself (starting when he became a royal ward in the 1560s, living under the same roof with Golding at Cecil House).


• The source of the main plot of The Winter’s Tale is commonly regarded as the novel Pandosto, or the Triumph of Time by Robert Greene, first printed in 1588; but once again we are led straight to Edward de Vere, who had been that writer’s patron from at least 1580 and so had firsthand knowledge of the novel well before its publication. (Some researchers believe Oxford had used “Robert Greene” as a pen name and had written Pandosto himself.)

• The traditional author’s biography has made it impossible for “Shakespeare” to read Greek dramas in their original language, but Oxford had the ability to read them — for example, Euripedes’ Alcestis, which, as Earl Showerman has shown, provides much more emotional depth of the kind created in The Winter’s Tale.

The entrance of Edward de Vere as author has also overturned some oft-repeated misstatements about the “ignorance” of Shakespeare and his “mistakes,” such as:

• Near the end of The Winter’s Tale the statue of Hermione is described as “a piece many years in doing and now newly performed by that rare Italian master, Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work, would beguile Nature of her custom, so perfectly he is her ape: he so near to Hermoine hath done Hermione, that they say one would speak to her and stand in hope of answer.”

Titian Portrait of Guilio Romano, c/ 1536

Titian Portrait of Guilio Romano, c/ 1536

For a long time scholars believed that Romano was a painter, not also a sculptor, but Oxford had traveled through northern Italy and could not have avoided seeing Romano’s work in Mantua. The earl would have known that Romano was famed for statues that he constructed out of powdered marble and painted to be extraordinarily lifelike. (The Wikipedia page for Guilio Romano still asserts that he was not a sculptor.)

• Act Three, Scene Three opens with Antigonous saying to a mariner, “Thou art perfect, then, our ship hath touched upon the deserts of Bohemia?” Although Ben Jonson and subsequent critics accused Shakespeare of being unaware that Bohemia was landlocked, Oxford spent several months in Venice and, eager to learn the history of the region, would have found out that in the thirteenth century the King of Bohemia had ruled territories stretching to the Adriatic Sea – making it possible, in fact, for someone to sail from Sicily to Bohemia.

Part Two of Reason No. 91 will take a closer look at links between Oxford’s life and The Winter’s Tale.

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. For a group that reams Oxfordians for speculation, Greenblatt is a horrific over the cliff speculator with no substance whatsoever. Its mind boggling. Bate suggested Shakespeare was having an affair with Florio’s mistress. These guys are not only clueless hypocrites, they are incorrigible.

  2. Thanks again, Hank– cogent and lucid, as always. And thanks for quoting my comment. As you may know, it was briefly banned from The Economist website, then restored, with apologies, after I complained to the Editor about their suppression of academic freedom.

    The hypocrisy that Ken correctly condemns among many Stratfordians stands in contrast with how other academics view the authorship question. Yesterday, a friend invited me to have lunch with a group of classicists at Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in DC. They all smiled warmly when they learned about my work, and they said unresolved authorship attribution questions are commonplace in their field.

    Then I had dinner with Harvard’s history professor Don Ostrowski and some fellow Georgetown professors. Don had just given a seminar on authorship questions about Shakespeare and about Kurbskii (a 16th century Russian). The five other history professors at the dinner expressed puzzlement as to why English professors don’t just treat the Shakespeare authorship question as an issue open to scholarly research and debate.

    • Appreciate the comment, Richard! Wow, this is interesting information, and so glad you are in the midst of it! I have always maintained that the History Department is much more open to this than the English/Drama Department — an obvious point, to be sure, but it’s also a prediction that the historians will be first through the gate on this. And it will amount to a veritable gold rush. So many unturned stones needing to be turned. Shakespeare the man is a ghost in the English/Drama department, but in the History department he amounts to a kind of Voice on the Loudspeaker, commenting on events from on high: “As Shakespeare said in Richard III… As Shakespeare puts it in As You Like It ….” He is of course never there, never personally present much less involved, in the history — yet he keeps commenting:-)

      I’d love to know more about Don Ostrowski’s views… Thanks again from dropping by.

      • I think you and Stephanie along with Richard should hook up with the History people. Stephanie is marvelous at connecting the dots between literature, the emergence of the theater and power politics. Her in depth essays are remarkable. I think History people would be startled, delighted, and fascinated. Go for it, if Richard has an opening. Get a meet together.

        Could change history.

      • Thanks. You’re right, the History folks would be fascinated, and they have nothing to lose. Will keep you posted.

        You have much to contribute also, Ken, and have been doing so.

  3. Don Ostrowski taught History at Penn State, and now at Harvard. He was teaching a course on “Historical Controversies.” He added the Shakespeare Authorship Question to his syllabus after the second edition of a book on 100 famous people replaced “Shakespeare” with “Edward de Vere.” So he started looking into it, and he thinks it’s a valid scholarly question.

    • A rational response. Not like the hysterical Strat establishment. What, they OWN the guy?

  4. This is really a well-reasoned and fascinating look at the elements of a “well-known” play that has been invisible to us. Thanks so much Hank and to all the commenters as well.

  5. It’s good to have you join us, Bob!

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