Reason 97 Why Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare” — The Play “Agamemnon and Ulysses” of 1584, Performed by Oxford’s Boys at Court, as an Early Version of “Troilus and Cressida” — and the Contemporary History Behind It

“Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic cast, its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the ‘wolfish earls’ so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendent and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works…” — Walt Whitman

The Trojan War  of Greek Mythology  (1194-1184 BC?)

The Trojan War
of Greek Mythology
(1194-1184 BC?)

This reason to conclude that the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” offers circumstantial evidence showing how knowledge of the correct author can change our perception of the works. It involves just one aspect of the play Troilus and Cressida – the sections with Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the Greeks during the Trojan War, and the Greek hero Ulysses, King of Ithaca, fighting on his side. Traditional thinking requires the writing circa 1602, but an Oxfordian view reveals two basic stages of composition, the first at a much earlier date:

Accounts of the Office of the Revels
December 27, 1584

“The History of Agamemnon and Ulysses, Presented and Enacted before Her Majesty by the Earl of Oxenford his Boys on St. Johns Day at night in Greenwich” (Modernized English)

Eva Turner Clark in Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare Plays (1931) quotes an orthodox critic (Murray) as surmising that “this play may have been written by the Earl of Oxford himself, as he was known as one of the best dramatic writers of the day.” She adds that since the earl was “the only dramatic author of note” at the time it becomes even more likely that the play was his. [Mark Anderson in Shakespeare by Another Name (2005) notes that the orthodox scholar Albert Feuillerat also thought Oxford might be the author of this “lost” play.]

Edward de Vere had endured two years of banishment from court until June 1583, but now, two nights after Christmas Day of 1584, at Greenwich Palace, his Children’s Acting Company was performing Agamemnon and Ulysses for Elizabeth and her Royal Court. The play that her Majesty attended was never published, and the author was never named, but this historical context provides evidence that Agamemnon and Ulysses comprised the original version of Troilus and Cressida, to be attributed to William Shakespeare in 1609, a quarter century later.

Troilus and Cressida First Title Page - 1609 (Replaced by another title page during the print run.)

Troilus and Cressida
First Title Page – 1609
(Replaced by another title page during the print run.)

The Shakespearean text appears to contain two different plays, with two different writing styles. The first two scenes, for example, feature Troilus and Pandarus and Cressida, using the rapid, realistic dialogue of a seasoned playwright; but the third scene, featuring Agamemnon and Ulysses with other commanders, is filled with long speeches of blank verse – powerful and thoughtful, but in a style used much earlier on the English stage.

Troilus and Cressida 1609 (Second Title Page of the first quarto)

Troilus and Cressida 1609
(Second Title Page of the first quarto)

“Careful study of the two kinds of work in Troilus and Cressida will perhaps bring home to the reader – more clearly than anything else could – a sense of what took place in the development of drama in Queen Elizabeth’s reign,” J. Thomas Looney writes in Shakespeare Identified of 1920. “What we take to be the Earl of Oxford’s play of Agamemnon and Ulysses, forming the original ground-work for the ‘Shakespeare’ play of Troilus and Cressida, represents the Elizabethan drama in an early simple stage of its evolution – with few speakers and long speeches – and the finished play of Troilus and Cressida the work of the same pen, when practice had matured his command over the resources of true dramatic dialogue and a multitude of dramatis personae.”

During 1583 and 1584, when war between England and Spain was inevitable, Protestant leaders in the Netherlands became desperate to keep Philip II from establishing sovereignty over them. The Dutch begged England for men, money, arms and military leaders. Again and again they pressed Elizabeth to take the Provinces into her own hands, to claim sovereignty for herself and meet Spain there in open warfare. The danger of a Spanish takeover was growing; but the Queen’s counselors were divided: Leicester and the Puritans urged the Queen to send an army of several thousand; but Burghley apparently felt England would be too vulnerable without more help from within the ranks of the Low Countries, so she refused. As a result, the English government appeared to be losing its focus, breaking into fractions and becoming weaker.

Click on the Image for a Larger View of the Map -- which makes the vulnerability of England all too clear

Click on the Image for a Larger View of the Map — which makes the vulnerability of England all too clear

[In particular Oxford was angry at Elizabeth for allowing Sir Walter Raleigh, an outsider, to gain influence over her thinking and to take his own place in her high favor. He was also furious that Leicester still held sway with her. The Queen was presenting herself as weak and indecisive, allowing discord within her Council to run rampant. In the 1584 play of Agamemnon and Ulysees, the Greeks would have represented England’s leaders while Troy represented Spain.]

When Edward de Vere is viewed as author of the play presented to the Queen at Christmastime 1584, the contemporary history becomes conspicuous. Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn describe it This Star of England (1952): “Elizabeth is Agamemnon … while Ulysses’s great speech to Agamemnon is Oxford’s warning and reminder to the Queen. No one else in Elizabeth’s court could have spoken with such power, eloquence and nobility.”

ULYSSES:
Agamemnon,
Thou great commander, nerves and bone of Greece,
Heart of our numbers, soul and only spirit,
In whom the tempers and the minds of all
Should be shut up, hear what Ulysses speaks…

This speech, the Ogburns write, “is the premier Earl of England addressing his sovereign … It is Edward de Vere pointing out to his Queen the weaknesses which are afflicting their beloved country.”

ULYSSES:
Troy, yet upon his basis, had been down,
And the great Hector’s sword had lacked a master,
But for these instances.
The specialty of rule hath been neglected:
And look how many Grecian tents do stand
Hollow upon this plain, so many hollow factions.
When that the general is not like the hive
To whom the foragers shall all repair,
What honey is expected? Degree being vizarded,
The un-worthiest shows as fairly in the mask.

“He administers a stern rebuke to the Queen,” the Ogburns continue. “She has been lax with conspirators and tolerated the Puritans, thus encouraging the ‘hollow factions.’ She has ignored, masked, overridden ‘degree,’ making unworthy men, ambitious nobodies, the equals of those whose ancestors’ lives as well as their own, have been dedicated in duty to England, who have fought to make England great, who are responsible for her welfare and should be honored as her spokesmen and defenders. They have earned their high position and responsibility.”

Queen Elizabeth and Members of the Council

Queen Elizabeth and Members of the Council

“The scene as a whole is a discussion of state policy,” Looney writes, “from the standpoint of one strongly imbued with aristocratic conceptions, and conscious of the decline of the feudal order upon which social life had hitherto rested. Make, then, the Earl of Oxford the writer, and Elizabeth’s court the audience for ‘Shakespeare’s’ representation of Agamemnon and Ulysses, and the whole situation becomes much more intelligible than if we try to make the Stratford man the writer.”

ULYSSES (Continued):
The heavens themselves, the planets, and this center
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order.
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose med’cinable eye
Corrects the influence of evil planets,
And posts, like the commandment of a King,
Sans check to good and bad. But when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents, what mutiny,
What raging of the sea, shaking of earth,
Commotion in the winds, frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixture?

“This speech expresses the essence of Elizabethan philosophy,” the Ogburns write. “It states the sixteenth-century theory of the cosmos: everything in its place and maintaining its peculiar function in a hierarchy stretching from the highest to the lowest, in an ordered universe … This is a Vere pronouncing an Elizabethan nobleman’s creed. This is not merely a poet, his ‘eye in a fine frenzy rolling’; it is an English knight addressing his sovereign with the religious fervor of his patriotism.”

ULYSSES (Continued):
O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
The enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenity and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, scepters, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows.

Mark Anderson notes that in 1567, when Oxford was seventeen, he had sent his retainer Thomas Churchyard off to fight for the Protestants in the Netherlands. By 1584 the situation was growing desperate. Elizabeth was urged to support the campaign by William “the Silent” of Orange to overthrow Spanish forces in the Lowlands. “To the maddeningly cautious queen, though,” Anderson writes, “such decisions were best handled by procrastination.”

William "the Silent"  1533 - 1584

William “the Silent”
1533 – 1584

In March the German scholar Sturmius, with whom Oxford had studied during his travels in 1575, urged Elizabeth to appoint a force led by “some faithful and zealous personage such as the Earl of Oxford, the Earl of Leicester, or Philip Sidney.” While the Queen continued to stall, William the Silent was assassinated in July, and finally she agreed to send military aid to the Lowlands. But who would lead the English forces? Who would assume the governorship of this possible English colony?

“Leicester was the leading choice,” Anderson notes, but “as Sturmius’s letter shows, de Vere had become a contender for the job too,” and he took it so seriously that “in the Elizabethan court’s Christmas revels of 1584, he gave his aspirations voice” in Agamemnon and Ulysses. In the scenes preserved in Troilus and Cressida, Anderson writes, “Agamemnon notes that the Greek campaign against Troy has been going on for seven years; William the Silent’s campaign against Spain had lasted [for seven years] since 1577 … In December of 1584, a play staged for Queen Elizabeth about the siege of Troy would readily have been seen as a representation of the siege of the Netherlands … [and Oxford] would have been arguing not only for military intervention but also for his leadership of the English forces — portraying himself as Ulysses, a paragon of aristocratic and military ideals.”

[I believe Anderson is the first to suggest that Oxford’s writing of Agamemnon and Ulysses was directly connected to his bid for military command, that is, “for an office of singular importance to the nation … in step with the overseas threats now facing the country.”]

ULYSSES (Continued):
…And this neglection of degree it is
That by a pace goes backward with a purpose
It hath to climb. The general’s disdained
By him one step below, he by the next,
That next by him beneath; so every step,
Exampled by the first pace that is sick
Of his superior, grows to an envious fever
Of pale and bloodless emulation:
And ‘tis this fever that keeps Troy on foot,
Not her own sinews. To end a tale of length,
Troy in our weakness stands, not in her strength.

In that final line we can hear 34-year-old Oxford telling Elizabeth that Spain is strong not because of its own strength, but, rather, because of England’s current weakness of state policy and its divided political factions under her indecisive rule.

Philip II of Spain berating William the Silent, Prince of Orange

Philip II of Spain berating William the Silent, Prince of Orange

Oxford’s plea for military leadership apparently worked, because the Queen appointed him in August 1585 as commander of a large force in the Netherlands. In September a Spanish agent in London reported that “five or six thousand English soldiers … arrived in Flanders with the Earl of Oxford and Colonel Norris.” About a month later, however, he was recalled — brought home, I suggest, to lead the circle of writers later called the University Wits, and to contribute royal history plays to the touring companies of the Queen’s Men, inspiring audiences with calls for patriotism and unity in the face of the Spanish threat.

It may well be that the Queen so valued his writing, particularly because of the speeches for Ulysses, that she finally realized he was needed most for his literary and dramatic abilities at home. In that case, his ambition for a military command was undercut by the brilliant, passionate words of the very speeches he wrote in trying to fulfill it.

When Troilus and Cressida was printed in 1609 it was without authorization — along with Pericles and the Sonnets, also without the author’s approval or even knowledge. Troilus and Cressida was almost left out of the First Folio of Shakespearean plays in 1623 and seems to have been included at the last moment. The hesitation may well have come from concerns that its subject matter circa 1584, along with Oxford’s identity as author, would be seen all too clearly.

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