Re-posting the Original Blog Series for “100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford” — No. 1: Hamlet and Oxford both Brought Plays and Players to Court

Dear Reader: From time to time I’ll be re-posting the blogs (in their original order) that were transformed into the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. Ultimately the posts were re-organized and immensely improved — first with editorial help from Brian Bechtold, then from the primary editor, Alex McNeil, who guided the project to its end.  Today we begin with the first (and shortest) post, the way it originally appeared in February of 2011:\

REASON NO. 1:  Oxford, like Hamlet, was involved with Plays and Play Companies at the Royal Court

The great turning point of the play Hamlet occurs when the Prince contributes some lines for the players in their performance at Court in order that he might “catch the conscience of the king.”  In 1583 the earl of Oxford, in his early thirties, acquired the sublease of the Blackfriars Playhouse in a former monastery.  His children’s group Oxford’s Boys joined up with the Paul’s Boys to form a composite company; then the earl transferred the lease of Blackfriars to his private secretary John Lyly, whose plays were performed by the children for Queen Elizabeth.   A bit earlier Oxford’s own company of boys had given a performance for the Queen of Agamemnon and Ulysses (possibly an early version of Troilus and Cressida).

Hamlet and the Players – “Tales from Shakespeare” by Charles and Mary Lamb, 1901

We can feel the authorial voice in Hamlet’s speeches; his soliloquies sound like echoes of the private and personal sonnets.  The Prince greets the players with that special mixture of affection and condescension that seems to come so naturally to one of such high rank — and so naturally to the author himself.  Such would have been Oxford’s own attitude toward the actors.

But how likely is it that William of Stratford, if he really was an actor, would give his most authorial voice to a prince rather than to one of the players like himself?  How much more likely was it that Lord Oxford, an extraordinarily involved patron of play companies and writers, as well as an acknowledged playwright, used those scenes in Hamlet to depict his own relationship to the players under his patronage at Court?

If William of Stratford had been part of the Court and had brought play companies to perform before the monarch, who would doubt that he created Shakespeare’s great character of Hamlet?  Who would doubt that he captured those wonderful interactions between the prince and the actors?  But it was Oxford who was the highest-ranking nobleman at the Elizabethan Court, and it was he who was in much the same relation to the players as Hamlet — and not the least of Oxford’s motives was to “catch the conscience” of the Queen herself.

 

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Every time I read your work it is so compelling that it hurts. Hamlet is my favorite play of his, and the remarkable meta moment when Hamlet is using the player to “catch the conscience of the king,” The great teaching moment with my students. I want to believe in her mind that could create this remarkable work in solitary fashion. It is a moment where the truth could hurt. Thank you, I think.

    • Much appreciated. Yes, the historical facts are compelling. And even painful!


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