Special Performance of Hank Whittemore’s One-Man Show “Shake-speare’s Treason” set for Videotaping with Live Audience on June 1st at the Hudson House in Nyack

Scan TREASON flyer _3 This One

The show is based on Hank’s book The Monument — a complete edition of the Sonnets — and dramatizes the “living record” that the author intended to preserve within this “monument” of verse for posterity.


Check out “The Monument” website and also a site that was originally put up in for the show, which Hank performed more recently at Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY.

Performed at venues across the U.S. and in England at Shakespeare’s Globe and Cambridge University.

“A ripping tale of murder, treason, hangings, bastardy, love, betrayal and danger … and one of those Big Thoughts that, if you embrace it, seems to clear up a lot of mystery.” – Bill Varble, The Mail Tribune, Medford Oregon (where Hank performed the show on the campus of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival)


“I don’t quite know how to articulate just how inspiring your presentation was. You altered my whole perception of Shakespeare … It’s such a wonderful puzzle that challenges not only how we approach Shakespeare’s work, but theatre and history in general … You reminded us of just how important it is to consider the whole picture … The story you told onstage captivated me till the very end, at which I stood up immediately to honor your remarkable performance.” – Excerpts of letters from students at Flathead Valley Community College, Kalispell, Montana

“Knowledge of Power” – Reason 93 of 100 to Conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”

The title of this reason to believe the Earl of Oxford wrote the works of “Shakespeare” comes from Oxfordian colleague Mark Alexander’s power point presentation Shakespeare and Oxford: 25 Curious Connections. Despite the pull of traditional biography away from the royal court, one of the first things to notice is that this dramatist writes from the vantage point of an insider at the center of official policy, one who knows how and when to use the levers of power.

Oxford bears the Sword of State for Elizabeth I

Oxford bears the Sword of State for Elizabeth I

Edward de Vere lived at the center of Elizabethan political life from at least age twelve in 1562, when he became a royal ward of Elizabeth at the London home of her chief minister, William Cecil, the most powerful man in England. [Actually he had lived at the center from boyhood, as the son and heir of England’s highest-ranking earl, and then studying under his first tutor, Thomas Smith, a future Secretary of State.] In 1571 he entered the House of Lords and immediately became an intimate of the Queen, continuing in her highest favor for at least a decade.

In late 1580 he discovered that his erstwhile Catholic friends and/or associates were involved in a plot to overthrow Elizabeth and accused them (correctly) of conspiracy to commit treason. He knew these men of power – their thoughts and emotions, their fears, as they took him into their confidence and eventually tipped their hand. We might imagine him writing at night, his quill pen scratching the page in the candlelight as the words of Brutus come forth:

Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar,
I have not slept.
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.


Edward de Vere had close-up knowledge of power and real-life political intrigues of the kind to be found not just in Julius Caesar but also in King John, Henry V, Richard II, Richard III, Macbeth, King Lear, Hamlet and so many other Shakespearean plays. In 1586, amid heavy wartime spending, Elizabeth granted him a lifetime pension in the extraordinary amount of one thousand pounds. After the 1588 defeat of King Philip’s armada, Oxford left court life; and in less than five years, poems and plays began appearing by an invisible author named “Shakespeare,” who possessed a remarkably keen knowledge of the uses of power.

“Oxford had frequent access to Court, an insider’s experience with Elizabeth, the machinations of foreign heads of states and ambassadors, and fawning courtiers,” Mark Alexander writes in his presentation. “He saw power manifested in a variety of corruptions. Furthermore, being raised as a ward in Cecil’s household, and given his noble position, Oxford would have been exposed to the absolute center of England’s power.”

One of the books about Shakespeare & politics

One of the books about Shakespeare & politics

“Of all the major writers in the Western literary tradition, there is none who deals so consistently and so profoundly with political matters as Shakespeare,” Alvin B. Kernan states in Politics, Power, and Shakespeare (University of Texas, 1981). “He wrote almost exclusively of courts and aristocratic life; and matters of state, of law, of kingship, and of dynastic succession are always prominent parts of his dramatic matter. This is true even in his comedies … but it is even more obviously true in Shakespeare’s history plays and in his tragedies, where the political issues are the very substance of the plays, and where crucial matters of state are explored with remarkable precision and in great depth.”

“All ten of Shakespeare’s English history plays are named after politicians,” Tim Spierkerman writes in Shakespeare’s Political Realism (2001). “And they’re all about the same thing: who gets to rule … The plots are political plots (literally plots) … assassination, treason, civil war, foreign conquest … If ambition seems to be a universal aspect of political life, so too does the concept of ‘legitimacy,’ which is the most salient theme of the English history plays. At stake in these plays is the question not only of who will rule, but of who is supposed to rule … the proper acquisition and use of political power.”

Another example...

Another example…

“The dominant political question which produced the history plays … was the terms of obedience,” Irving Ribner comments in The English History Plays in the Age of Shakespeare, Princeton (1957). “Under what conditions, if ever, was rebellion against a lawful monarch justified?”

“Shakespeare was anything but a writer of commonplace entertainments or an indifferent recorder of history,” notes Professor Daniel Wright, Ph.D., creator of the annual Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference at Concordia University, Portland, OR, writing in A Poet’s Rage (2013), a collection of essays edited by William Boyle. “He was, instead, an informed commentator on the contemporary political scene, an expositor of political conviction and an advocate for policy that, often enough, contravened or challenged Government – which is to say ‘Cecilian’ – philosophy and practice.”

And another...

And another…

Mark Alexander quotes the Stratfordian historian A.L. Rowse in Eminent Elizabethans: “The 17th Earl of Oxford was, as the numbering shows, immensely aristocratic, and this was the clue to his career. In an Elizabethan society full of new and upcoming men, some of them at the very top, like the Bacons and Cecils – the Boleyns themselves, from whom the Queen descended, were a new family — the Oxford earldom stood out as the oldest in the land. He was the premier earl and, as hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain, took his place on the right hand of the Queen and bore the sword of state before her.”

And here’s part of another testimony in Alexander’s presentation, this one from Adolf A. Berle, former ambassador and assistant to the Secretary of State under President John F. Kennedy, writing in Power (1965): “One wonders what the personal reveries of a Plantagenet or Tudor dictator must have been. Shakespeare probably gives a better analysis than historians…”

So how did “Shakespeare” gain his intricate, deep knowledge of power and, too, his insights into the powerful? The answer is that, from the beginning, he was living in the midst of that world — as a participant — and recreated it with imagination based on personal experience.

Reason No. 92 to Conclude that the Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare — “The Record of a Wasted Genius”

The irony of this reason to believe Oxford was “Shakespeare” is that the contemporary negative view of him – shared by those who would have been unaware that he was secretly writing the works – has been a favorite argument against his authorship.


When J. Thomas Looney launched his “systematic search” for the true author, leading to his breakthrough work “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920, he predicted this man could not have completely hid his talent; he would be “a recognized and recorded genius” – but, working behind a pen name, he would also be viewed as wasting his life.


On the one hand: “Although we are obliged, from the nature of our problem, to assume that the true author’s contemporaries generally were not aware of his producing the great works, it is hardly probable that one endowed with so commanding a genius should have been able to conceal the greatness of his powers wholly from those with whom he habitually associated; and therefore we may reasonably expect to find him a man of recognized and recorded genius.”

On the other hand: “Between what contemporary records represent him as being, and what he really was, we ought, indeed, to be prepared to find some striking discrepancies … For example, a man who has produced so large an amount of work of the highest quality, but was not seen doing it, must have passed a considerable part of his life in what would appear to others like doing nothing of any consequence. The record of a wasted genius is, therefore, what we might reasonably look for in any contemporary account of him.”
[My emphases above]

Such a man operating in anonymity would be marked as “something of an eccentric: his nature, or his circumstances, or probably both, were not normal.” The true genius would be “a man much more akin mentally to Byron or Shelley than to the placid Shakespeare suggested by the Stratford tradition.” Given his marvelous insight into human nature, allowing him to see the motives of others, “we may naturally expect to find him giving vent to himself in acts and words which must have seemed extraordinary and inexplicable to other men: for the man who sees most deeply into the inner workings of the human mind must often act upon knowledge of which he may not speak.”

anderson book

Scholar Gabriel Harvey’s conflicted attitude toward Oxford is an example:

* First he praised him as a writer, in effect calling him a recognized genuis: “Your British numbers have been widely sung, while your Epistle [to The Courtier, 1572, published at Oxford’s commandment] testifies how much you excel in letters, being more courtly than Castiglione himself, more polished. I have seen your many Latin verses, and more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the Muses of France and Italy, but hast learned the manners of many men, and the arts and laws of foreign countries.”

* Then, however, he also called him “a passing singular odd man” and mocked his “little apish hat, couched fast to the pate, like an oyster; French cambric ruffs … delicate in speech; quaint in array; conceited in all points” – confirming Looney’s prediction that the real Shakespeare would be “more or less a man apart, whose very aloofness is provocative of hostility in smaller men” toward whom he would “assume a mask” to conceal the workings of his great mind and heart.

Contemporaries would have found him “not merely eccentric in his bearing, as they have frequently found the genius whom they could not understand, but even, on occasion, guilty of what seemed to them vagaries of a pronounced type.”

Edward de Vere12Email

In 1567 young Oxford inflicted a fatal wound on an under-cook at Cecil House. Gilbert Talbot referred in 1573 to the earl’s high favor with the Queen but marveled at his “fickle head.” In 1574 the earl abruptly bolted to the Continent without authorization. In 1576 he separated from his wife, refusing to accept paternity of her infant daughter. In 1579 he quarreled on the palace tennis court with Philip Sidney, in front of the French delegation, calling him a “puppy.” The following year he (accurately) accused his Catholic friends of treason; in turn, they charged him with a long list of “vagaries of a pronounced type,” as Looney predicted, with Charles Arundel calling him a “monstrous adversary”

When the true author’s mask is finally penetrated, Looney predicted, the revelation “may necessitate a complete reversal of former judgments – one of the most difficult things to accomplish once such judgment has passed beyond mere individual opinion, and has taken firm root in the social mind.”

(I’d call that an understatement!)

“We shall first have to dissociate from the writings the conception of such an author as the steady, complacent, business-like man-of-the-world, suggested by the Stratford Shakespeare. Then there will be the more arduous task of raising to a most exalted position the name and personality possibly of some obscure man hitherto regarded as quite unequal to the world with which he is at last to be credited.

“And this will further compel us to re-read our greatest national classics from a totally new personal standpoint. The work in question being the highest literary product of the age, it cannot be otherwise than that the author, whoever he may have been, when he is discovered must seem in some measure below the requirements of the situation; unequal, that is, to the production of such work. We shall therefore be called upon in his case radically to modify and correct a judgment of three hundred years’ standing.”

Make that more than four hundred years, and counting.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1984 publication of this book by Charlton Ogburn Jr., launching the new era of Oxfordian scholarship

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1984 publication of this book by Charlton Ogburn Jr., launching a new era of Oxfordian scholarship


After finishing the above blog post, it occurred to me that we seldom envision one of the major qualifications of the true author to be his very anonymity and its effects – in terms of both his own behavior and others’ views of him. We seldom if ever see his particular circumstance, living behind a mask, as one of those qualifications – but, in fact, that would be a necessary aspect of his life and character.

I reminded myself, however, that Oxford’s life behind the “Shakespeare” mask would have begun only in 1593, when he was forty-three, and that he then would have been revising most of his plays rather than writing them for the first time. In fact, he would have been living with this special circumstance – his anonymity – for two or three decades, from the time he was in his teens.

This “reason” involves Oxford’s unique life of which the “Shakespeare” phenomenon is only one part. The whole answer to the problem is much larger in biographical scope than we may hold in our minds. His hiding behind the “Shakespeare” identity would actually have been the culmination of a prior life lived behind many masks. In any debate between Oxfordians and others, therefore, isn’t this “life behind a veil” a fundamental but often forgotten issue?

Looney found Edward de Vere in the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), in a life history written by Sidney Lee during 1885-1900, and found an even greater “record of a wasted genius” than he might have actually predicted. In fact it contained contemporary views of Oxford with facts that were often partially true or even false – exactly what to expect in the case of a genius who, from boyhood, was concealing his identity as the author of works being published anonymously or under the names of real or fictional persons (and then, just to confuse matters further, writing some verses under his own name):

“While manifesting a natural taste for music and literature, the youth [Oxford] developed a waywardness of temper which led him into every form of extravagance, and into violent quarrels with other members of his guardian’s household … his guardian [William Cecil] found his perverse humor a source of grave embarrassment … Oxford did not prove a complaisant son-in-law … He projected a hare-brained plot which came to nothing to rescue the duke [of Norfolk] from the Tower, and he was currently reported to have threatened to ruin his wife by way of avenging himself on his father-in-law [for helping to ruin Norfolk] …

“To him is assigned the credit of first introducing from Italy into this country embroidered gloves, sweet-bags, perfumed leather jerkins, and costly washes and perfumes. He ingratiated himself with the Queen by presenting her with a pair of perfumed gloves trimmed with tufts or roses of colored silk … He ‘was enticed,’ wrote Burghley in his diary, ‘by certain lewd persons to be a stranger to his wife’ … Oxford’s eccentricities and irregularities of temper grew with his years … Despite his violent and perverse temper, his eccentric taste in dress, and his reckless waste of his substance, evinced a genuine interest in music, and wrote verse [under his own name] of much lyric beauty …”

When the authorship question was debated at a Moot Court in front of three U.S. Supreme Court justices in the fall of 1987, the lawyer for the Stratford man recited a litany of such traits of which Oxford was guilty, to which Justice Stevens replied, to the delight of many in the audience:

“Sounds to me like a writer!”

Justice Stevens Slips One Under the Radar — Regarding “Shakespeare”

John Paul Stevens, the former Supreme Court justice, is an Oxfordian — one who believes that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) used “William Shakespeare” as a pen name from 1593 onward; and in the Book Review of the New York Times last Sunday, April 6, where he was interviewed for the By the Book page, he must have had a twinkle in his eye during a couple of his replies:

John Paul Stevens

John Paul Stevens

Whom do you consider your literary heroes?

“The author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare …”

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

“Samuel Clemens, Charles Dickens and the author of the Shakespeare canon…”

Well, now, the interviewer might have interrupted him to ask, “And who was that author?”

They went to the trouble of making the two lines, to make a space for the author's name, but then they left the space blank...

They went to the trouble of making the two lines, to make the usual space for the author’s name, but then they left the space blank…

In any case, Justice Stevens has given the rest of us (Oxfordians) a fine way of referring to Edward de Vere without getting caught on the radar screen.

... like the name in this space, in 1613, with initials S. P. for Samuel Page...

… like the name in this space, in 1613, with initials S. P. for Samuel Page…

And maybe it’ll catch on:

Who’s your favorite poet?

“Oh, well, I like the author of Shake-speares Sonnets, you know, the real writer, whose name should have gone between those parallel lines…”

Shakespeare and the “Black Hole” of Stratfordian Biography … A Paradigm in Crisis

Along with the several other Oxfordian colleagues at the Folger Library’s recent conference on the “problem” of Shakespearean biography, I kept saying I was “bemused” – that is, in the sense of being lost in thought, preoccupied, on the edge of confusion and bewilderment. The latter feeling came from the continually reverberating thought: “Can they be serious? Don’t they realize the ‘problem’ is simply that they have the wrong author? How can they go on like this?

And then, of course, came the continual realization that they can go on like this precisely because they are insulated from reality and constantly reinforcing that insulation among each other. Behind it all is money, prestige, reputation, career, camaraderie, being accepted, even being famous – and behind that is the terrible unspoken fear of looking out the window and catching a glimpse of the teeming life of Elizabethan politics and power as well as pervasive state control … that is, the kind of world in England that Prince Hamlet inhabited in Denmark.

Oxfordians at the Folger: Shelly Maycock, Roger Stritmatter & Hank Whittemore

Oxfordians at the Folger: Shelly Maycock, Roger Stritmatter & Hank Whittemore – Photo by Bill Boyle

A common theme among the Oxfordians was, “We are in the Twilight Zone,” but I became fond of murmuring that we were unlikely visitors to the constructed stage set of The Truman Show, in which all the players (in the Jim Carey movie) are totally unaware of living within an ongoing fictional universe. They are dealing with the “problem” of relating the banal biography of William Shaksper of Stratford to the glorious Works of Shakespeare, recognizing, publicly and collectively, for the first time, that they have a dreadful “black hole” on their hands.

If I were one of them giving an extemporaneous comment I might stand up and say something along the following lines:

“Fellow Stratfordians!

“We are gathered here at the Folger Shakespeare Library on this historic occasion to finally admit that all we really know for certain about William Shaksper in relation to the plays is … nothing. Yes, we link him to the Shakespeare name on the poems and plays, but beyond that we have no information except for anecdotal material, which, we now understand, is without any documentary foundation. All we have is inference and indirection!

“So, therefore, do we look outside the walls of this Truman Show to see whether we might be living in a fictional world? Do we dare look out the window at, say, the Earl of Oxford using “Shakespeare” as a pen name in 1593, at the age of forty-three? Do we want to recognize Prince Hamlet as the author’s closest self-portrait? Do we want to realize that Hamlet represents Edward de Vere?

“No, we do not! We are going to stay right inside this bubble, symbolized by this theater inside the Folger, and discuss how to keep on spinning straw into gold. We can make him a Catholic, to one degree or another. We can give him plenty of collaborators, one by one, thereby expanding his ‘biography’ by ever-increasing additional lives. We can posit that others read Italian and Greek sources for him; we might even have him use special reporters traveling to Italy and returning with information for him. We can give him an incredibly rich life with Anne Hathaway, who might have been … Portia in The Merchant of Venice??? And of course we have the whole new field of ‘historical fiction’ that Professor Stephen Greenblatt has virtually opened for us with Will in the World.

“The emptier the life of our man, the greater our freedom to manufacture one for him. His life is, in fact, a BLACK HOLE. It has always been a reconstruction after the fact – we have reinvented him over and over. The very lack of his identity is the perfect container for what we put into it!”

Whoa, wait a minute now, it seems that I have begun to actually quote the speakers at this conference. The common theme is that Shaksper’s life has been perceived as not sufficient to explain the glorious writings: “What we know is banal – we have historical records of the greatest banality — and it amounts to too much minutia. We have a haunting sense of ABSENCE in that life. If he wasn’t Shakespeare, we wouldn’t care to talk about him.”

I wanted to raise my hand, of course, and yell out, “That’s because he WASN’T Shakespeare!”

“We have information of the wrong kind,” it was said. “We can start with him being born with the Folio, in 1623, seven years after his death, and so begins an AFTER-LIFE.” And what a great after-life that is, I thought, as I lapsed into further bemusement.
“We have a genuine need to understand the relationship of his life and work, but we need to speculate. We can knit together scraps of information … We used to believe the text was sufficient unto itself ….”

Okay, I can’t go on much longer right now. They are trying to stay within the traditional paradigm, thrashing about to make it work, but the very fact of having a conference on the Problem of Biography is direct evidence that the paradigm is in trouble. It’s trembling, as if an earthquake is coming. There was recognition that the howling of Lear was outside the walls of this Truman Show … that there is some great storm of an emotional life beneath the works, which this current paradigm cannot explain.

“There is a large universe that is unknown to us,” said Joseph Roach of Yale, who may have been the best speaker of all, since he seemed to refuse to join the game of trying to make sense of the very small universe of the current paradigm. He added, “Shakespeare’s life is in his plays.”


(Meanwhile I’ll try to write again when more of the bemusement wears off.)

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