Once Upon a Time at the Royal Court of Elizabeth I …

“Those who believe that literature has its inspiration in imagination without reference to contemporary incidents may not like to admit that Shakespeare made a practice of alluding to people and events of his time in burlesque, in satire, in allegory, in comedy, and in tragedy.

“It is difficult today to conceive of an author’s making such personal allusions as appear to be made in the plays; but, in Queen Elizabeth’s time, when London had a population under 200,000, the Court circle for which [Edward de Vere] Lord Oxford wrote was composed of a few old families, intimately acquainted, and more or less closely related.

Oxford bears the Sword of State for Elizabeth I

Oxford bears the Sword of State for Elizabeth I

“While there was a secondary circle made up largely of literary men and fashionable idlers who frequented the little Blackfriars Theatre and Paul’s Singing School, and a larger public at the Bull, where performances by Lord Oxford’s companies were given in preparation for production at Court, the dramas were expressly written with the object of being presented before the Queen and her limited Court circle.

“That circle, great and glorious as it then was and as it still appears in historical perspective, can be well visualized today if we think of it as a glorified country-house party, isolated from the rest of the world, among the members being an author who suggests theatricals as a means of passing the time, and, in order to give zest to the plays, burlesques and satirizes the follies and foibles of many of those present, not even sparing himself.

“That this practice of alluding to contemporaries was sometimes carried surprisingly far seems to have been due to the fact that it amused the Queen…”

Eva Turner Clark, Preface to Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays, 1930

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