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!”

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Andrew Gurr, based on Alan H. Nelson’s book considers Oxford to be a ham-fisted writer. Mr. Nelson’s book is surely based on – well, probably on these contemporary negativ views. The circle is full.

  2. The talentous writer Oxford was can’t be vailed in ignorance and inddiference forever (pun intended). It’s a pity “serious” scholars take the Authorship Question as merly a conspiracy theory and it’s followers as lunatics. The arguments they present against the Question are refuted over and over, it doesn’t matter who the Candidate is or who the “lunatic” is, the arguments are refuted easily. Are scholars lazy? There’s the question, Everyone seeks the truth… their own truth: because people are so deluded to believe the author of “Hamlet” and other works was a real author, they don’t stop to think the anamolies in his biography and etc…

    Anyway, let’s hope this blood eclipse which is happening in just hours, if I am write, may have some influence on the scholars’ mind (just kidding). As Oxford would say “These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us” (us = Oxfordians, who still are the greatest “lunatics” for believing a man who died before “Shakespeare’s lat years” wrote Shakespeare…).

  3. “Honest to the point of recklessness,
    Self-centered in the extreme”
    Robert Hunter, “Althea”, probably meant about Hamlet.

  4. “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?”

    Great point. I have tried to argue myself out of it but I see his hand in a “Treatise on Treasons”. Nina Greene says outright on her site that it was de Vere. Over 65,000 words scratched onto thick sheets of parchment, the first part written between Norfolk’s arrest and trial, and his own wedding in between so I’m not sure how he found the time. Mostly it’s that deft way of educating the reader, the complex yet clear run on sentences, the listing of points and flexibly restating them in multiple ways, the compulsivity of the writing and that smack of the modern that says de Vere to me. In this defense of Mary and Norfolk he was basically excoriating Burghley, his brand new or soon to be father-in-law, along with Bacon’s father, for trying to destroy the noble class and extinguish the royal line.

    Two years later he pesters Charles Arundel to get a copy of the banned book for him as it was “against some special persons in authority most spiteful which made the Earl of Oxford so fond of it.”

    Imagine being that compelled to write and express himself while forbidden to do so, a truth teller required to lie if he wants to survive. There’s that burst of his “natural” voice in early poems and odd writings but after that he’s sublimating himself, becoming a dozen voices, twisting, turning into Shakespeare.

    It’s definitely a story of triumph out of tragedy, but still… a tragedy.

  5. A tragedy – and a true crime story for us to solve.

  6. Hank and others,
    Are you familiar with this?

    • I wasn’t familiar with that specific post by Michael Prescott, who has been supportive of the Oxford case for quite
      some time. The overall premise about the need to communicate secretly or covertly in a repressive society is a solid one. And cryptic writing was certainly used in that era, for example, by Mary Queen of Scots and those around her. But literature, I think, involved more allegory and double (or triple) meanings. The sonnets present us with a double image, on the surface a series of love poems, possibly even a love story, and on another level they amount to a “living record” of the contemporary events, personal and
      public – for posterity. The author was tongue-tied by authority and told us directly with the example in 105: “Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words.” I will have to study Prescott’s posting.

  7. Ken, I previously saw this one. Alas, I’m sure no such method will help us to victory. It’s not a proof the world would accept ever.

    • I must stand with Sandy. Thea idea Oxford could have wrote poems and plays as Shakespeare putting ciphers in them doesn’t convice me. It could have been any cipher, any author can invent his own and say Oxford-Shakespeare use it. Baconians did and still do that, and it never convinces me. To think there are ciphers it’s to doom Oxford’s poetical genius, at least at my eyes. Oxford was a writer who write guided by his emotions, a true poeta indeed. I don’t think a poet like Oxford would restrained so much his wit to ciphers. Whittemore’s double-meaning words it’s much more justified than elaborated ciphers invented by Baconians and certain Oxfordians (don’t take the offence). Oxford’s poetical wit would be in right hands at double-meaning words, at least in the poems, I don’t believe he always used this method in his plays. Just think like a play: is it better to expose all your wit to express your feelings and your life; or restrain them to mere ciphers which can reduce your ability? It doesn’t seem probable Oxford had any training with ciphers to write such master works without censuring himself. Correct me please if anything of mine it’s wrong, I would like to hear many’s opinion on the matter too. It’s indeed a taboo, so let’s talk freely on it. Why not?

  8. Francisco, I see no taboo. For me it’s hard to say anything in this matter, which I can not prove. All I say is that the world can not be convinced with arguments if this type.
    There are lots of things I can prove, I hope that within not a long time everybody will see my deeds. Surely, Oxford did use the method of hiding crucial information by initials. As to using cryptographs – I don’t know for sure.

  9. One more argument, which I find to be very important. When hiding something in a letter, the addressee surely knew that there IS something hidden, the ‘where” was given, in a relatively short letter. So the circumstances of decipering were by and large given.
    Now, when trying to hide some truth in the works of Shakespeare, the situation is quite diffent. There are several hundred pages,of text. Where to begin decipering? What to search for? The purpose of the person ciphering must have been for the reader to be able to find the hidden information relatively easily. But to find the needle in the haystack – it’s almost impossible. And such a clever man as Oxford surely was, was surely well awareof this fact.

    • I think the point was someone other than Oxford did this. We don’t have to look for codes all over the place but the Sonnet dedication is extremely strange and this would be one other place. Also “”A Never writer, to an Ever reader. News”

      Why do these strange things keep cropping up? Can anyone show me a similar title page to the Sonnets title page?

  10. I had said before it would be entirely possible to use a modified Cardano Grille for skip coding but I’m not convinced that examples I’ve seen were more than chance. Someone discovered ‘verus’ and ‘everus’, the Latin for de Vere, in an Oxfordian themed sonnet I wrote for a flash fiction. While I was so pleased to know it was there, it must have been my muse’s doing because the coding was unintentional.

    I’m more inclined to entertain Prescott’s example because a short oddly tailored dedication or memorial would be perfect for such coding. De Vere thought he had plenty of time to make subtle allusions, but after he was gone his peers realized the secret would die with their generation and did resort to codes and puzzles, so we have Tibi nom de Vere and a never writer to an ever reader. As far as why his children did not reveal the secret, Henry de Vere (and Wriothesley) spent enough time in the Tower as it was!


    • I’m not sure I really got that last point. “Read this, if you know how to read…” Ha!

  11. I am more intrigued about the fact that Oxford wrote his fenomenal plays and poems in surroundings where nobody knew it was him. This kind of circumstance would leave an author totallly free, when so inclined, to write completely honestly about everything he thought was important, both the internal as well as the external. Nobody would be able to blame him for any of it, Of course, people might still criticize the ‘products’, but he could take it to heart or lump it without anybody being the wiser. Pretty cool situation for an author, I should think! The price, of course, could be everlasting anonymity….

    • I would love to write phenomenal as the Spanish fenomenal … in any case, I believe you’re very right about the freedom that comes with writing from behind a mask. It may give some form of plausible deniability, but more than that, as you say. I believe Oxford was so acutely sensitive to so many things that he really “needed” to express himself freely. So I believe he developed various ways of concealing and revealing at the same time. Allegory is another kind of mask. So imagine using a pen name to write an allegory about something — double deniability? It’s fascinating. You know the career of Fernando Pessoa? Alex McNeil writes about him in A Poet’s Rage
      and begins by listing 10 reasons why artists use pseudonyms.

      • This looks like a very interesting book.
        I started to read Pessoa, but had to stop before I was half-way through the book. It felt like being cut open, but I will read it when I feel more up to it.ani

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: