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!”

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