Part Two of Reason 91 that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”: The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots is Echoed at Queen Hermione’s Trial in “The Winter’s Tale”

In September 1586, after being arrested for sanctioning an attempted assassination of Elizabeth I of England, the long-held captive Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots was brought to Fortheringhay Castle, where this proud Catholic monarch would be put on trial for high treason. At 9 a.m. on October 15th, Mary entered the room directly above the Great Hall — left alone to defend herself before a tribunal of thirty-six noblemen, each of whom was expected to vote guilty and then vote to sentence her to death.

Contemporary Sketch  Mary Stuart Trial (Click for Larger View)

Contemporary Sketch
Mary Stuart Trial
(Click for Larger View)

At the head of the row of peers was Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England. Now in his thirty-seventh year, he had arrived at a front-row seat for the most dramatic and emotionally wrenching treason trial of the Elizabethan reign. [Transcripts of State Trials.] And once Oxford is viewed as writing an early version of The Winter’s Tale soon afterward, the scene of Queen Hermione’s treason trial becomes his own daring cry of compassion for Mary Stuart — not to mention his equally dangerous protest against governmental authority in the form of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, his father-in-law, who was determined to destroy the Queen of Scots and be rid of the continual plots centered around her.

The similarities of the historical and fictional trials are striking; and one, in particular, would seems to comprise convincing evidence that Edward de Vere wrote the “Shakespeare” play. This resemblance involves the use of the phrase “great grief,” which Oxford heard spoken by the Lord Chancellor as he opened the proceedings against Mary: “The most high and mighty Queen Elizabeth, being not without great grief of mind, being advertised that you have conspired the Destruction of her and of England…”

And at the top of Act Three Scene Two of The Winter’s Tale, when King Leontes opens the treason trial of his wife Hermione, he uses the same phrase: “This sessions, to our great grief we pronounce, even pushes ‘gainst our heart…”

Mary Stuart 1542 - 1587

Mary Stuart
1542 – 1587

The phrase “great grief” by itself would have gained Oxford’s attention – not just for its alliteration, but also because he himself seemed personally fond of “grief” (or “griefs”), having employed the word in several of his verses in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, first printed a decade earlier: “The only loss of my good name is of these griefs the ground (ending each of three stanzas) … Uncomely love, which now lurks in my breast,/ Should cease my grief … Bewray thy grief, thou woeful heart with speed … I, Hannibal, that smile for grief … ”

Secondly it would seem no accident that “great grief” is used at the very opening of Mary Stuart’s trial and also at the opening of Hermione’s trial, both uttered in the same emotionally charged atmosphere and within the same context. And when “great grief” is heard ten days later in the historical episode, it’s used unforgettably by the Queen of England herself. With her second cousin Mary Stuart having been pronounced guilty and sentenced to die, Elizabeth addressed the peers (including Oxford) in the Star Chamber at Westminster, telling them they “have brought me to a narrow strait, that I must give order for her death, a princess most nearly allied unto me in blood, and whose practices against me have stricken me into so great grief …”

Most speakers uttering “great grief” will automatically lay stress upon those two words; and in both instances of the phrase spoken during Mary Stuart’s ordeal, Oxford most certainly heard it ringing in his ears – so its utterance by King Leontes at the opening of Hermoine’s trial in The Winter’s Tale becomes a small but potentially potent piece of evidence that Edward de Vere was the author. But there are other strong similarities (of tone or attitude, as well as arguments) between the speeches at the historical and fictional treason trials, such as the following examples:

Trial of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots

Trial of Mary Stuart
Queen of Scots

“I am an absolute queen, and will do nothing which may prejudice either mine own royal majesty, or other princes of my place and rank, or my son … I am a queen by right of birth and have been consort of a king of France; my place should be there, under the dias … I am the daughter of James V, King of Scotland, and grand-daughter of Henry VII …”

“She answered that she was no subject, and rather would she die a thousand deaths than acknowledge herself a subject, considering, that by such an acknowledgment she should both prejudice the height of regal majesty, and withal confess herself to be bound by all the laws of England, even in the matter of religion.”

For behold me,
A fellow of the royal bed, which owe
A moiety of the throne, a great king’s daughter,
The mother to a hopeful prince, here standing
To prate and talk for life and honor ‘fore
Who please to come and hear.

“Alas! Here are many counselors, but not one for me! … I am destitute of counselors, and who shall be my peers I am utterly ignorant!”

“Nevertheless she was ready to answer to all things in a free and full parliament, for that she knew not whether this meeting and assembly were appointed against her, being already condemned by fore-judging, to give some show and color of a just and legal proceeding.”

[This] is more than history can pattern, though devised
And played to take spectators…

“She warned them therefore to look to their consciences …”

I appeal
To your own conscience …

Mary Stuart Portrait

Mary Stuart Portrait

“My Papers and Notes are taken from me, and no man dareth step forth to be my advocate … To the judgment of mine adversaries, amongst whom I know all defense of mine innocence will be barred flatly, I will not submit myself.”

Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ‘Not guilty.’ Mine integrity,
Being counted falsehood, shall, as I express it,
Be so received. But thus, if powers divine
Behold our human actions (as they do),
I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush, and tyranny
Tremble at patience…

“For we princes are set as it were upon stages, in the sight and view of all the world … It behooves us therefore to be careful that our proceedings be just and honorable.”

Let us be cleared
Of being tyrannous, since we so openly
Proceed in justice, which shall have due course,
Even to the guilt or the purgation.

Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed.
But yet hear this: mistake me not: no life,
I prize it not a straw, but for mine honor,
Which I would free: if I shall be condemned
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
‘Tis rigor and not law…

The Emperor of Russia was my father:
O that he were alive, and here beholding
His daughter’s trial! That he did but see
The flatness of my misery, yet with eyes
Of pity, not revenge!

Oxford’s sympathetic portrait of Mary Stuart may well have prevented any public performance of The Winter’s Tale until after Elizabeth’s death and the succession of Mary’s son, James Stuart, King of Scotland, as James I of England. On the other hand, Michael Delahoyde notes Isaac Asimov’s suggestion that “the original audience might have experienced a sense of ‘familiarity’ with the trial scene,” in that Henry VIII tried Anne Boleyn after flying into an irrational fit of jealousy the way King Leontes loses all rationality in the play. If so, Oxford could have covered himself by telling Elizabeth he was really writing about the unfair trial of her own mother…

When academia begins to take the Shakespeare authorship question more seriously, comparisons between life and art will be studied in much greater depth. For students of the near and distant future, there’s much work to be done!

(To be continued — and concluded — with Part Three)

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great posts, Oxford! Remember also the Portia’s famous speak on pity in “The Merchant of Venice” maybe based on Mary Stuart’s trial, a plea to Elizabeth’s commiseration to those of her blood (looks like Elizabeth and her family were never in very good terms, nor was her father with his’, ironically).

    I also believe Robert Greene was Oxford’s name, it was the first name in which he wrote an entire cannon, I believe. “Pandosto” it’s important, I believe, to these discussion on Oxford’s relation with “Winter’s Tale” and a connection of these two to Mary Stuart’s trial. The romance and the play were probably Oxford’s showing how repent he was of accusing Anne Cecil of adultery in the past (it would make sense to think like this in this case). It’s also curious to note Shakespeare’s and Greene’s way of making adultery and madness a subject in their most tragic works reflects Oxford’s tragedies in his life.

    • Good points, Francisco. I think Portia’s speech is in Reason 32:

      And it does seem that Oxford = Greene. If so, “green” is an interesting word for its associations…

      • Whittemore, search for Stephanie Hughes’ on his matter. She had wrote perfectly on this connection of Oxford = Greene. For more proves of evidences to connect the author of Greene to Shakespeare’s, search for Baconians on this, they were the first to discover it (with the wrong candidate, though).

        It is also curious to see mainstream academics saying Shakespeare turned himself at the end of his life to his daughter Susanna… though we can’t have historical evidence (and even though absent evidence doesn’t mean absence of evidence), when we see the scenario of Shakespeare and his daughter as Oxford as his, everything makes sense. Elizabeth Vere seems to be theme in “The Tempest”, “Othello” (with her mother) and “The Winter’s Tale”

  2. Shakespeare uses the word “verily” a total of 13 times in all the plays, but 7 times in the Winter’s Tale, and five of those times occur within a few lines in a conversation between Polixenes and Hermione.

    You’ll stay?


    No, madam.


    Nay, but you will?


    I may not, verily.


    You put me off with limber vows; but I,
    Though you would seek to unsphere the
    stars with oaths,
    Should yet say ‘Sir, no going.’ Verily,
    You shall not go: a lady’s ‘Verily’ ‘s
    As potent as a lord’s. Will you go yet?
    Force me to keep you as a prisoner,
    Not like a guest; so you shall pay your fees
    When you depart, and save your thanks. How say you?
    My prisoner? or my guest? by your dread ‘Verily,’
    One of them you shall be.

    I’m sure the author is punning his name, no doubt to great affect for those who knew.

    • Thanks for this “very” interesting observation! Why do you think he’s doing this in this particular scene?

      • Shakespeare is very careful when it comes to variations of the word “ver.” I don’t know why he had a sudden brief fascination with “verily”, but I sense an inside joke presented through stage-craft. In my best guess, Hermione serves as a stand-in for the writer, who seems to be addressing the audience, telling that for the rest of the play they belong to Ver, and they will either by either entertained or bored (or worse?). With proper emphasis on the “ver” syllable, those in the know would have gotten it right away.

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