Number 99 of 100 Reasons Why Oxford was “Shakespeare” (Part One): The “Taming” Plays — “A Shrew” + “The Shrew” = the Author’s Method & Identity Revealed

A Pleasant Conceited History called The Taming of a Shrew was printed for the first time in 1594 without any author’s name on the title page. The comedy is actually two plays, one within the other. The main story takes place within a “frame” of scenes. Two of these scenes appear at the outset, before the play-within-the-play begins; several of the framing scenes also occur throughout, at intervals; and finally, after the end of the “Taming” play, a single scene completes the full surrounding structure of the frame.

a-shrew-title-page

The frame is set in the Elizabethan present, outside an English country pub, where a drunken tinker (mender of pots or jack of all trades) named Sly falls asleep. In comes a nobleman with his men fresh from hunting with horses, hawks and hounds. Seeing the drunken, sleeping Sly, this Lord with a ready sense of humor decides to play a trick on him. He instructs his servants to pick up Sly “and bear him to my house,” where he will be treated as a great lord with all the trappings of his own wealth and high rank:

And in my fairest chamber make a fire,
And set a sumptuous banquet on the board,
And put my richest garments on his back…
Let heavenly music play about him still…

The Lord also has a company of players, with whom he has an easy relationship much as Prince Hamlet with the players in Denmark, and they wish to perform a comedy called The Taming of a Shrew. Delighted, he tells them:

Go see that you make you ready straight,
For you must play before a lord tonight.
Say you are his men and I your fellow…

The two opening scenes of the frame continue until Sly, awake and believing himself to be a wealthy nobleman with horses and hounds as well as a company of players, turns to attend the “taming” farce that the Elizabethan audience itself is about to attend.

Sly wakes up to find himself a Lord...

Sly wakes up to find himself a Lord…

But who was the anonymous writer of this ingenious farce? When it was performed for the Queen, court members might well have suspected it was Edward de Vere, Lord Oxford, the only nobleman among them who matched the “Lord” in every way. (Also, reinforcing the identification is the setting of the frame scenes in present-day Elizabethan England — an anomaly. Did the dramatist “Shakespeare” ever use a present-day English setting anywhere else?) In the 1580s, Oxford had patronized two companies of actors while leasing one of the earliest private Elizabethan theaters, the Blackfriars. He was well-known for his love of horses, hawks, hounds, banquets, costly apparel and music; he was a prankster, a teller of tall tales, acknowledged as among the best of the courtier poets and, too, as one of the few members of the nobility who wrote plays, especially comedies, and even, for his own amusement, acted on the stage.

“The Earls of Oxford had their players as far back as 1492,” writes E.K. Chambers in his great four-volume work The Elizabethan Stage (1923), noting that John de Vere, the sixteenth earl, had a company of players up to his death in 1562 – when his son Edward, then twelve, rode to London with George Gascoigne, author of The Supposes (1566), his English translation of an Italian comedy and a crucial source of The Taming of a Shrew. Chambers notes that Edward Lord Oxford “was clearly interested in things dramatic,” adding, “He took part [acted] in a Shrovetide device at Court in 1579, and is recorded to have been himself a playwright and one of ‘the best for comedy amongst us.’”

Queen Elizabeth attends a play at court (She never appeared at a public playhouse)

Queen Elizabeth attends a play at court
(She never appeared at a public playhouse)

Describing the earl’s theatrical activities, Chambers also notes that in 1580 his father-in-law, William Cecil Lord Burghley, as well as Lord Chamberlain Sussex [responsible for the play productions at Court], wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University and urged “that Oxford’s Men should be allowed to ‘show their cunning in several plays already practiced by them before the Queen’s majesty.’”

So when members of the elite audience at the royal Court saw the Elizabethan Lord on stage with his players, they must have roared with laughter during one of the framing scenes in which Sly, reacting to characters in the play as if they are individuals in the real-life world, suddenly shouts that he wants none of them to be sent to prison.

“My Lord,” the Lord tells Sly, indeed sounding like Hamlet, “this is but the play, they’re but in jest.”

But Sly, insisting that his command as a Lord be obeyed, exclaims: “AM NOT I DON CHRISTO VARY?”

“Don” is a Spanish title used by a nobleman and “Christo” represents Christ – the Lord. And, too, given that “Vere” was pronounced “Vair” (as in “Fair”), clearly Sly has come to believe that he himself is “Don Christ-O” — the Lord Oxford — Edward de “Vary” or Vere. And the court audience would also know that the nobleman whose place Sly has taken must be that same merry-madcap earl, who is sportively giving them a “sly” portrait of himself on stage.

“A close study” of the opening frame “shows that the Lord of the comedy is pure Oxford,” John Thomas Looney wrote in Shakespeare Pictorial (November 1935). The Lord in the play is “a nobleman, with his own company of play-actors, directing their performances and even participating in them; a poet and musician of pronounced esthetic tastes, delighting in objects of art, fine apparel and delicate perfumes; withal a keen sportsman, taking pleasure in various forms of outdoor exercises. Everything fits to the letter, which, taken along with Sly’s farcical appropriation of his family name, establishes for good his identity.”

[Whenever A Shrew was staged prior to its printing in 1594 (as far back as 1567), there was no dramatist “William Shakespeare” to take credit — and therefore no “Shakespeare authorship question” to interfere with the obvious evidence that Oxford wrote the play. Many scholars even today, operating within the restrictive assumptions of Stratfordian biography, have decided that Shakespeare himself could not have written A Shrew – making it quite possible, one would think, for them to accept it as one of Oxford’s “lost” comedies! Oh, the irony!]

"The Taming of the Shrew" in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623

“The Taming of the Shrew” in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623

Nearly three decades after 1594, in 1623, a much longer and more mature version of the same comedy will make its initial appearance in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays. Now A Shrew will become The Shrew – with Sly named Christophero or Christopher Sly – attributed for the first time to William Shakespeare. The producers of the Folio will print the beginning of the frame, with Sly and the Lord, but will they NOT include the rest of the frame, in which Sly cries out that he is “Don Christo Vary”.

No, they will not print the rest of it. Instead they will drop all the other framing scenes, even the final one – being intent upon further concealing Oxford’s authorship at all cost. The Folio project in 1623 is where the tilt toward Stratford upon Avon will begin. (There is no other link to Warwickshire till then.) And they will sacrifice the integrity of The Taming of the Shrew by cutting out all of the frame except the opening two scenes, which will be known in the future as “The Induction”.

(Many directors of The Shrew wisely restore the framing scenes from A Shrew for their productions! After all, the full frame not only makes sense, it makes for a better play!)

Part Two will conclude this “reason” with other aspects of both Taming plays. The bottom line is that the traditional attribution of authorship has led the Academy away from the instinctive, logical view that A Shrew and The Shrew represent two different stages, perhaps far apart in time, within the career of a single author. The result of this failure to acknowledge the obvious is an inability to comprehend how the greatest writer of the English language actually worked – not in a single, feverish whirl of magical genius, but, rather, by laboring over a long periods of time, in separate stages of his own experience and growth, to achieve his final masterpieces of drama and dramatic literature.

////

Here are some remarks in 2008 from David Scott Kastan, editor of the Barnes & Noble Shakespeare series, about The Taming of the Shrew:

“Shakespeare conceived these introductory scenes about Christopher Sly and the trick played to convince him that he is a great lord with an apt comic touch that is almost always successful on stage, but in the First Folio text Sly disappears from the play after Act One, scene one. Considering Shakespeare’s usual care in resolving all the plots of his plays … some scholars speculate that the text we have is corrupt.

“Beginning with Alexander Pope in 1723, editors have often added to Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew scenes taken from another, anonymous comedy printed in 1594 called The Taming of a Shrew — a practice sometimes adopted in the theater as well. Because of its similarity to Shakespeare’s play in plot and structure, scholars have debated whether Shakespeare had any hand in the writing of A Shrew.

“Whatever the truth, the presence of Christopher Sly onstage, commenting on the action throughout The Taming of a Shrew, makes for a more satisfactory development and resolution of this plot than that found in Shakespeare’s play.”

(Hmmmmm!)

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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Excellent, Hank. I’ve heard that Shakespeare scholars are beginning to come around and admit that this earlier, anonymous play was also by “Shakespeare.” I agree that dropping the end of the framing narrative cries out for explanation, and I find yours entirely plausible. More plausible than anything the Stratfordians might come up with. It’s like finding an erasure just where a critical clue might be expected.

    Mainstream Shakespeare scholars have been going down a blind alley, and now they find themselves stuck. They need to do a 180 and reconsider their authorship assumption.

  2. Many thanks Hank, one more giant step with your immense help. Everything is clearer again now.

  3. Oh, my dear Hank! How I wish I had known about this… having not discovered this sooner, galls me! 😦 I would have certainly included additional Sly scenes in our production! The fact that the Shakes-version excludes those scenes has always bothered me… thanks to you, now I know why! We may have to produced this again and include those scenes….perhaps as part of our 20th anniversary. All my best! ~C

    • Christopher, it’s completely understandable, when most dramaturges are Stratfordians!

      • Not sure if this reply will get to everyone, but just want to say that I fully intend to acknowledge and thank all you folks who have contributed to this effort, in so many ways. I’m almost finished with a project that was launched on February 23, 2011. Why, there are little humans born since then who are already talking and walking and, who knows, writing their first plays! A book is envisioned, but some miles to go for that one. Meanwhile, to all, my gratitude.

  4. Kind of like having a hand written lyric from John Lennon and the lyric printed for the album/ CD… Change a few words & presto, you have a conspiracy.

    Did John or Someone Else write the album lyrics?!

    Is either or neither the lyricist? That’s why it’s Lennon/McCartney. So why not DeVere/Shakespeare?

    Just a thought on the ridiculous squirming by the Stratfordians…

    • That would be a great start:-)

  5. Thanks Hank. Fascinating! And – it makes entirely too much sense! I would have loved to see the entire piece with Edward de Vere playing the lead role. Good health, 1) good laugh 2) good night’s sleep, would be achieved.

    • Thanks, Bill – maybe Oxford played the lord? Seriously, it does seem as if this is the only time in the Shakespeare plays where the scene is set in present-day England. Which means that the lord with players etc. would be identifiable to the audience…

  6. Is there any reason why Mr. Hank Whittemore didn’t mention the extensive reflections and works of the late Isabel Gortazar on ” The Clue in A shrew”(1594). Isabel died in April 2013..

    http://www.marlowe-society.org/pubs/journal/downloads/rj06articles/jl06_01_gortazar_shrew.pdf

    Or have I overlooked something?

    • Thanks for the link. There’s no special reason for not mentioning the article, however. There are many articles not mentioned. But I must say Ms. Gortazar put in a tremendous amount of work on “The Clue in A Shrew.” I encourage readers to explore it and come to their own conclusions and/or ideas.


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