Part Three of Reason 91 Why Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: The Stubborn Bear of Authority in “The Winter’s Tale”

When twenty-six-year-old Edward de Vere returned to England from his Continental journey in April 1576, he angrily separated from his wife Anne Cecil, believing she had been unfaithful to him. Less than a year before, while he was in Italy, the young Countess of Oxford had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, but the earl refused to acknowledge his paternity and remained apart from both his wife and the child for the ensuing five years.

During this separation, Catherine (Kate) Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk wrote in December 1577 to Oxford’s father-in-law William Cecil, Lord Burghley, about a scheme she had hatched with the earl’s sister, Mary Vere, who was engaged to her son Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby. The plan was to trick Oxford into finally laying eyes on his little daughter. Reporting on their conversation, the Duchess wrote to Cecil that Mary told her Oxford “would very fain (gladly) see the child [but] is loath to send for her.”

Kate Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk  1519 - 1580

Kate Willoughby
Duchess of Suffolk
1519 – 1580

“Then,” the Duchess told Mary, “you will keep my counsel [and] we will have some sport with him. I will see if I can get the child hither to me, when you shall come hither, and whilst my Lord your brother is with you I will bring in the child as though it were some other of my friends’, and we shall see how Nature will work in him to like it, and tell him it is his own after.’”

There’s no record of whether Catherine’s scheme was put into effect, but The Winter’s Tale contains a scene that’s a veritable carbon copy of this otherwise private episode. The plot centers on the extreme jealousy of Leontes, King of Sicilia, who is convinced that Queen Hermione has been unfaithful to him, and he has her arrested. While in prison she gives birth to a daughter, but Leontes refuses to accept paternity, believing the father to be his friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia.

Enter the Lady Paulina, who, in reflection of what the Duchess of Suffolk did, schemes to bring the infant girl to the King in the belief that the sight of the innocent babe will bring him to his senses. At the prison she addresses Emilia, attending Queen Hermione:

LADY PAULINA:
Pray you, Emilia,
Commend my best obedience to the Queen:
If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I’ll show it to the King, and undertake to be
Her advocate to the loudest. We do not know
How he may soften at the sight of the child:
The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades, when speaking fails.

Execution of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots  February 8, 1587

Execution of Mary Stuart
Queen of Scots
February 8, 1587

When Edward de Vere is viewed as the author, there can be little doubt that he was castigating himself for having accused his own wife of infidelity – portraying, through Leontes, his own irrational jealousy and hurtful behavior. Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn express their belief in This Star of England (1952), however, that Oxford began to write The Winter’s Tale during or after the trial of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots in October 1586, when he sat at the head of the tribunal that found her guilty of treason and sentenced her to death. They feel this event profoundly affected him, not only “exciting his compassion but also tormenting his conscience” over having to cast his vote along with the others – regardless of whether or not he thought she was guilty.

Oxford had fought to save his cousin Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was convicted in January 1572 of participating with Philip II of Spain (in the Ridolfi plot) to put Mary on the throne in place of Elizabeth and restore Catholicism in England. The execution of Norfolk on June 2, 1572 at Tower Hill represented Burghley’s triumph over the old feudal nobility as well as his tightening hold over the Queen. Now some fourteen years later Oxford was forced to join the peers in once again carrying out Cecil’s designs, this time sealing the destruction of Mary Stuart.

“In the performance of his duty – his prime duty to his sovereign, to which honor and the oath of allegiance compelled him – he had been obliged to violate the dictates of his heart, as well as a still deeper code of humanity and of manhood,” the Ogburns write, “whereupon he turned upon himself in a savage mood and created the preposterous Leontes in what he conceived to be his own image. For Leontes, while also a symbol of entrenched if not tyrannical power, is of course largely Oxford again, but Oxford in a moment of revulsion, scorning himself for his own iniquities.”

As the Ogburns see it, Oxford was “willing to pillory himself” and have it seem he was simply portraying his own former jealousy and personal tyranny, when in fact Leontes also represents English authority in the person of Burghley and the English peers (including himself) who participated in the legalistic formality of a unanimous verdict that was a foregone conclusion. So in the play Leontes accuses Hermoine not only of adultery but also of conspiring with Polixenes to murder him – reflecting the accusation by Elizabeth (and Burghley) that Mary Stuart was plotting to kill her.

Leontes declares his own baby girl a bastard and orders Paulina’s husband Antigonous to take the child “to some remote and desert place” and leave it there at the mercy of the elements. After Hermione is presumed dead, Antigonous names his tiny charge Perdita and abandons her on the stormy coast of Bohemia with his own “character” or written account of what happened. In other words, Antigonous is a writer who has set down the truth and left it for posterity; but in the next moment he sees some hideous beast coming toward him and yells to himself that he must get back to the ship.

exit pursued by a bear

“This is the chase! I am gone for ever!” he cries, running off, and the playwright adds his famous stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

A Shepherd arrives, then a Clown, who tells him how the bear caught up to the man and “tore out his shoulder-bone.” The man “cried to me for help and said his name was Antigonous, a nobleman.” So this truth-telling nobleman-writer has been torn apart by the bear. He “roared and the bear mocked him,” the Clown says, adding the beast has “half dined” on him and is still “at it now.” Later the Clown reveals that “authority be a stubborn bear” – that is, the bear is allegorically the figure of authority or officialdom, which has silenced the nobleman-writer.

Edward de Vere can be seen now as depicting himself briefly as the truth-telling nobleman who refers to himself in Antigonous’s exit line: “I am gone for ever!” – the way Oxford alluded to his own name, E. Ver, in earlier verses with lines such as, “Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever?” and the echo’s response: “Vere.”

Why write I still all one, ever the same…
That every word doth almost tell my name? – Sonnet 76

If Oxford uses Antigonous here to stand for himself, the nobleman-author, might it be that the baby Perdita in this scene represents the earl’s plays? Has “authority” directed Oxford to abandon any claim to his writings? “Weep I cannot, but my heart bleeds,” Antigonous cries as he sets down “this poor wretch” in the wilderness, adding that “most accursed am I to be by oath enjoined to this.”

Has officialdom or the stubborn bear of authority, in the form of Queen Elizabeth and Lord Burghley, imposed an oath of secrecy upon Oxford?

If so, he would have taken such an oath when, on June 25, 1586, four months before Mary Stuart’s treason trial, Elizabeth had signed a Privy Seal Warrant for a grant to Oxford of one thousand pounds, an extraordinary sum to be paid to him annually by the Exchequer. [My own belief is that Oxford had been selling his land and spending his own money on his play companies and to support the writers under his patronage, so that now he was being repaid.] The warrant gave no hint of the reason for the grant and expressly stated, in the Queen’s own words, that the earl was exempt from accounting for its expenditure.

But in return, was Oxford now being mauled and slowly devoured by authority, the stubborn bear?

And art made tongue-tied by authority – Sonnet 66

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed by beheading on February 8, 1587.

Oxford had returned to Anne by Christmas, 1581; she died on June 8, 1588, having given birth to three surviving children, all daughters.

The Spanish armada arrived later in the summer of 1588, but failed to land on English soil much less to conquer England.

In the next five years most of the writers under Oxford’s patronage would be gone — Lyly out of a job; Kyd dying after being tortured on the rack; Marlowe killed; Greene dying; Watson dying; Lodge leaving England, and so on.

By 1590 Oxford had retired from the royal court, becoming a virtual recluse; he remarried by early 1592 and his second wife, the Maid of Honor Elizabeth Trentham, gave birth to a son in Feburary 1593, naming him Henry de Vere, the future eighteenth Earl of Oxford – the first Henry of the more than 500-year-old Vere lineage.

“Shakespeare” abruptly appeared in print for the first time later in 1593, on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothseley, third Earl of Southampton.

On May 22, 1594, Edward White registered a play entitled A Winter’s Night Pastime for publication, which the editor Edmund Malone understood to be The Winter’s Tale . In November of 1611 came a notation in the Revels Accounts of a performance of The Winter Night’s Tale at the James court. Clearly the earliest version of The Winter’s Tale as by “Shakespeare,” first printed in the Folio of 1623, had been written much earlier.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great post, Whittemore. Personally, maybe Elizabeth had an hand in Oxford’s anonymous writtings, but I don’t know if she was the prime factor. You see, a courtier of that times would have really big trouble in his image and honour to publish verse and plays. Written by courtiers and aristocrats, verses and plays were seen to amuse them, they were their private pleasure. Only a few courtiers publish their plays (like William Alexander, and yet he did it after Elizabeth’s death). Oxford had already motives to keep silence in the early 1580s. But yes, the Sonnets and plays reveals Shakespeare’s creation, being the ultimate pen-name of the Earl of Oxford, was somehow interfered by the Government.

    Anyway, I don’t think Perdita can somehow represent the plays in the arms of Antigonous and this character be a personification of Oxford’s mild attitutes toward his daughter and ex-wife in his late life. The bear could be, I believe, some satire on a courtier or a group of them involved with both Elizabeth Vere’s and Oxford’s lives. Who knows the bear it’s not taken from an animal associated to a family of the time or the symbol of some rich heraldry, the same way the boar was to the de Vere and may play this same double meaning in “Venus and Adonis”? Maybe we can take Antigonous for

    • (continuing the previous comment) for some of Chaterine Willoughby’s husbands and identify easily the bear. Just an idea…

  2. Hank, I sense you’re right; the Bear is likely a metonym for the authority of the “Region Cloud” (Regency) of Dudley. As Francisco suggests, the ‘arms’ of Dudley are ‘The Bear and Ragged Staff’. In Shakespeare there is an affinity of ideas between ‘bear’ (past: ‘bore’) and ‘bare’, ‘Boar’, ‘born’ and ‘borne’.
    The ‘Boar’ of de Vere is the writer’s destructive alter-ego; the Boar is murderous (even if only unintentionally so). ‘The Boar’ is an imposed identity, born of ‘The Bear’ (John Dudley, then Robert).
    By the way, note the wordplay in J. Caesar (l.2 37-8): “You bear Tu (stub) born and Tu Strange a hand over your friend that loves you.” I suspect ‘hand’ is wordplay on ‘present’/presentation (Latin: dare/dor, hence we find ‘two Tu-dor’) and that stubborn is ‘stub-born’, or born of one who is ‘truncated’ – in the manner of Th. Seymour. ‘Strange’ is, of course, a reference to a competing Tudor claim in the Stanley family.

    Perdita? The writer’s ‘bleeding’ Art? Art suffering ‘blood loss’?
    Antigonous? Anti: ‘against’ + (L) gannio: ‘yelp, snarl, growl’ (transfer., a dog, wolf) + ous: ‘(suff.) characterized by’; i.e. ‘against the snarl’.

    • Very good, Michael, and thanks…!


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