Re-Posting Reason 6 of “100 Reasons” why the Great Author was Edward de Vere: John Lyly is Said to Have Taught “Shakespeare” but Oxford taught John Lyly

This blog entry, originally posted in March 2011, is now revised and numbered 34 in 100 Reasons Shake-Speare was the Earl of Oxford:
Let us begin with a brief episode in the imagination of Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare: “At some moment in the late 1580’s, Shakespeare walked into a room — most likely, an inn in Shoreditch, Southwark, or the Bankside — and quite possibly found many of the leading writers drinking and eating together: Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Watson, Thomas Lodge, George Peele, Thomas Nashe, and Robert Greene.  Other playwrights might have been there as well — Thomas Kyd, for example, or John Lyly…”

Shakespeare & His Writing Pals at the Mermaid Tavern (and if you believe that one…)

     That is the entire presence in Will in the World of John Lyly, the principal Court dramatist in the 1580’s and a pivotal figure of the English renaissance.  Professor Greenblatt makes no  mention of Lyly’s twelve-year literary apprenticeship under the guidance of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, paving the way for the Court comedies of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s.  Not a word more about this individual who is crucial to the story of “how Shakespeare became Shakespeare.”

John Lyly is offered here as reason no. 6 — another link in the chain of evidence — that Edward de Vere (1550-1604) was the greatest writer of the English language.

The Anatomy of Wit, 1579, at the dawn of the English novel. Lyly may have held the pen, but Oxford was standing right over him…

Lyly’s extravagant novels and courtly comedies of the 1580’s are viewed as a major influence on Shakespeare’s early plays. He was employed as Oxford’s private secretary and theatrical manager until 1590, when the earl withdrew from public life, and then in 1593 the name “Shakespeare” appeared in print [on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton].

Lyly is credited with writing the first English novels, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit in 1579 and Euphues & His England in 1580, both featuring an Italianized Englishman.  He had been recruited in 1577 by William Cecil Lord Burghley, who introduced him to his Italianized son-in-law, Edward de Vere, to whom Lyly dedicated Euphues & His England with strong hints that Oxford had taken an active part in its writing.

Oxford was leader of England’s new literary movement and the young writers under his wing, later dubbed the University Wits, all dedicated their “euphuistic” works to him.

The writers included Anthony Munday, who wrote to the earl about “the day when as conquerors we may peacefully resume our delightful literary discussions.” They included Robert Greene, who wrote to Oxford:  “And your Honor, being a worthy favorer and fosterer of learning, hath forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first-fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.” Among them was also Thomas Watson, who thanked Oxford for having “willingly vouchsafed the acceptance” of his work “and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”

Edward de Vere was deeply involved with these writers and their works, which contained a wealth of metaphor and creative jugglings of words and sentences — all handled with flawless ease by “Shakespeare” in Love’s Labour’s Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the 1590s for aristocratic audiences and Elizabeth at Court.

Traditional biography requires that young Will of Stratford had to somehow absorb, master and even surpass the “euphuistic” outpourings of the University Wits within just a few years.  The glover’s son, newly arrived in London, had to quickly become the foremost dramatist of courtly love and genteel romance, a peerless practitioner of elaborate puns, repetitions, alliterations, high-flown rhetorical digressions and fanciful references to classical mythology and natural history.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is said by orthodox scholars to have been written circa 1592; it  was  first published in 1598.  For that ultra-sophisticated court comedy “Shakespeare” had to know about a visit in 1578 by Catherine de Medici and her daughter Marquerite de Valois, wife of King Henry of Navarre, to Nerac; he needed intimate knowledge of the philosophical debating societies or academes establishd in France and Italy; and he had to know the characters and plots of commedia dell’arte, the comedy form that had become popular in Italy.

Love’s Labour’s Lost was first printed in 1598, but the title page indicates that an earlier version has been revised

When Oxford was in his mid-twenties in 1575 he spent several weeks in Paris, where he was entertained at the French court by Henry III, Catherine de Medici and Marguerite de Valois.  He then spent a year traveling in Italy, where he attended performances of commedia dell ‘arte, and in fact an eyewitness account reported a hilarious skit that involved a character, playing the part of the earl, jousting with a woman and falling from his horse and rolling on the ground.

Shakespeare’s other comedies of the 1590’s, all viewed as indebted to writings attributed to Lyly, include The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It and Twelfth Night.

In his three-volume Complete Works of John Lyly in 1902, R. W. Bond wrote that Lyly was “the first regular English dramatist, the true inventor and introducer of dramatic style, conduct and dialogue. There is no play before Lyly. He wrote eight; and immediately thereafter England produced some hundreds — produced that marvel and pride of the greatest literature in the world, the Elizabethan Drama.”

Bond wrote of “the immense superiority” of Lyly’s work “to anything that preceded it” and cited “his prime importance as Shakespeare’s chief master and exemplar. In comedy Lyly is Shakespeare’s only model.  The evidence of Shakespeare’s study and imitation of him is abundant, and Lyly’s influence is of a far more permanent nature than any exercised on the great poet by other writers.”

The Life and Complete Works of Lyly by Bond – 1902

Bond speculated that Lyly “first received the dramatic impulse” from his master Lord Oxford; but the extent of Oxford’s role was virtually unknown until 1912, when a professor at the University of Nebraska published a remarkable discovery.  Charles William Wallace, PhD reported in The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare that he had found records showing that Edward de Vere had contributed far more to that “evolution” than scholars had realized.

Wallace focused on the private Blackfriars theatre, where plays were rehearsed in front of aristocrats before being brought to the royal court.  Blackfriars Playhouse faced deep legal and financial troubles in 1583, but then a nobleman intervened behind the scenes:

“The Earl of Oxford, himself celebrated in his day as a dramatist, came to the rescue.  Noted alike as swaggerer, roisterer,brawler, coxcomb, musician, poet, Maecenas, the earl was also the devoted patron of John Lyly, whose ‘Euphues’ had made a stir in all England during the past three years.  He believed in Lyly’s literary ability.  so he bought the Blackfriars lease [and] made a present of it to Lyly … Thereafter we hear of John Lyly as presenting two plays at Court in the winter of 1583-84 with the Earl of Oxford’s servants, and also [a year later] … the same Earl of Oxford’s Boys at Court.”

During the Christmas season of 1584, Wallace noted, Oxford’s boy actors performed the anonymous Agamemnon and Ulysees before Elizabeth at Greenwich Palace; and he speculated that Oxford himself could have written the play.  Meanwhile Endymion, The Man in the Moon, another play attributed [much later] to Lyly and performed for her Majesty, was unmistakably about Oxford-in relation to the Queen, frequently called the Goddess of the Moon.

A Play for the Queen with Oxford portrayed as Endymion, the Lead Charater

When J. Thomas Looney published his identification of Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, he noted Bond’s statements about Lyly having probably “first received the dramatic impulse” from the earl, along with the passage in The Arte of English Poesie of 1589 wherein Oxford was cited as “deserving the highest praise for comedy and interlude” [although, mysteriously, none of his comedies were known to have survived]; and he concluded:

“The work of Oxford in drama is therefore recognized as having furnished the generative impulse which produced Lyly’s work in this particular domain.  Therefore we feel quite entitled to say that it was the plays of Edward de Vere that furnished Lyly’s dramatic education, while contact with his master is a recognized force in his personal education.  The dramas of Edward de Vere form the source from which sprang Lyly’s dramatic conceptions and enterprises, and Lyly’s dramas appear as the chief model, in comedy the ‘only’ model, upon which ‘Shakespeare’ worked. We are therefore entitled to claim that the highest orthodox authorities, in the particular department of literature with which we are dealing, support the view that the dramatic activities of Edward de Vere stand in almost immediate productive or causal relationship of a most distinctive character with the dramatic work of ‘Shakespeare.'”

 

Lyly was identified in 1632 as the author of those Court Comedies of the 1580’s, but all his writing was produced when working with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Oxford had been the sun from which  Lyly had drawn his light.

The only works for which Lyly is credited were written during the years he worked for Oxford.

After Oxford withdrew from public life in 1590, no more writing attributed to Lyly came forth.

Isn’t it far more logical that “Shakespeare” never had draw his light from Lyly, but, rather, that Edward de Vere continued as the same great source of light in 1n the 1590’s, as he develped even more dramatic power under the “Shakespeare” pen name?

Campaspe, 1584 (One of my favorite plays – HW)

An honest account of what led to “Shakespeare” would find Edward de Vere standing in the wings.
It would not require an imagined scene in a tavern with all of Oxford’s proteges talking and drinking around a table … all part of orthodoxy’s necessary trivialization of the knowledge, experience and artistic growth of the true Shakespeare.

Re-Posting No. 5 of 100 Reasons Why “Shake-speare” was Edward de Vere: The Earl, the Prince and the Pirates!

(Note: This reason to agree that Edward de Vere was the great author, originally published here on 10 March 2011, is now No. 11 and revised for inclusion in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, published in October 2016.)

When Professor James Shapiro of Columbia University came to the Epilogue of his book Contested Will, written to try to block the inevitable tide of doubt about the traditional identification of “Shakespeare,” he described his experience at a performance I gave of my one-man show Shake-speare’s Treason (based on my book The Monument) at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.

A Pirate in the 16th Centur

“It was a spellbinding performance,” he wrote, adding he “found it all both impressive and demoralizing” — because, of course, he wants you to think that any account of Oxford as Shakespeare must be pure fiction.  He went on: “I left the Globe wondering what mainstream biographers might say in response to Oxfordians who insist that Edward de Vere had a stronger claim to have written Hamlet and King Lear, since — unlike the glover’s son from Stratford — he had been captured by pirates and had three daughters.”

Okay, wait a minute, hold on!  You can’t take those pirates away from Oxford, just as you can’t erase the fact that the earl, like King Lear, had three daughters!  Let me put it this way.  If the glove maker’s son from Stratford had been stopped by pirates in real life, by now we’d have whole shelves filled with books with titles such as:

Trauma on the High Seas: How The Bard’s Capture by Pirates Affected His Writing Life & His Play about Hamlet …

Shakespeare’s Fateful Encounter With the Pirates: A Profound Turning Point in His Psyche and Work …

Shakespeare’s Pirate Complex: The Cause of His Tragic Phase?

Shakespeare & The Pirates: A Love-Hate Relationship?

Although this was just one event among many in Edward de Vere’s life that correspond in some way with what we find in the “Shakespeare” plays, Oxfordians have done little more than mention, in passing, its similarity to Hamlet’s experience.  It’s just one more example of something in Oxford’s life resembling what can be found in the plays. Does Shapiro think the earl’s capture and release by Dutch pirates in the English Channel should be a liability, in terms of evidence that he wrote Hamlet?  Does the professor want to twist it all around, turning a positive into a negative?

The episode in Hamlet comes from “Shakespeare” himself, as a writer, not from any of the play’s recognized sources, as Mark Anderson reports in his terrific Oxford biography “Shakespeare” By Another Name.  The pirates intercepted and boarded Oxford’s ship in 1576, as he was returning to England from his sixteen-month tour of France, Germany and (primarily) Italy.  They stripped the ship clean. “De Vere’s luggage was ransacked, and the pirates even took the clothes from the earl’s back,” Anderson writes.  The French ambassador reported that Oxford was “left naked, stripped to his shirt, treated miserably” and he might have lost his life “if he hadn’t been recognized by a Scotsman.”

A member of Oxford’s entourage, Nathaniel Baxter, recalled the pirate episode in a poem published in 1606, writing: “Naked we landed out of Italy/ Enthralled by pirates, men of no regard/ Horror and death assailed nobility” — and Hamlet writes to King Claudius about the encounter: “High and Mighty, you shall know I am set naked on your kingdom.”  (My emphases)

Do we suppose that same use of naked is just coincidental?

There’s an interesting debate over whether Hamlet had previously arranged his own brush with the pirates, so he could escape being murdered by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as per the king’s orders.  In any case, the Prince of Denmark writes to Horatio: “Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase.  Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled valor, and in the grapple I boarded them.  On the instant they got clear of our ship, so I alone became their prisoner.  They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy, but they knew what they did; I am to do a good turn for them.”

The prince, like Oxford, had been bound for England; now he turns back to Denmark while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “hold their course for England,” where, because Hamlet has craftily switched the written orders, they will be killed instead of him.

Professor Shapiro argues against any attempt to turn the Shakespeare plays into works of autobiography, but that’s a straw man he’s setting up in order to knock it down.  Of course Hamlet is not strict autobiography; no one ever claimed such a thing.  The real point, which Shapiro wants his readers to miss, is that the best novelists and dramatists tend to draw upon their personal experiences and then to transmute them, through imagination and skill, into fictional art forms.  It’s not a matter of having to choose between reality and invention; all great art is a blend of both.

Shapiro concedes that “we know almost nothing about [Shakspere’s] personal experiences” and, therefore, “those moments in his work which build upon what he may have felt remain invisible to us.”  Given this vacuum within the documented Stratfordian biography, he boldly declares that all attempts to link the life of “Shakespeare” with his works should hereby cease!  He means not only such attempts by Oxfordians but also by Stratfordians — especially the latter, since these efforts have always failed and will fail even more glaringly in the future, as the authorship question is brought increasingly into the open.

Oh – I almost forgot: Oxford was targeted by pirates in the Channel not once but twice, i.e., not only in 1576 but also in 1585, when he returned from Holland and his brief command [with Colonel John Norris] of 4,000 foot soldiers and 400 horse.  But after receiving a letter from Burghley that he’d been put in command of the Horse, he was summoned back home [to be replaced by Philip Sidney, who would die on the battlefield a year later]; and according to one report, a ship carrying Oxford’s “money, apparel, wine and venison” was “captured off Dunkirk by the Spaniards.” Among Oxford’s belongings captured by the Spaniards was the letter from Burghley telling him of the Horse command; and as Anderson notes, “Hamlet contains not only an encounter with pirates but also an analogous plot twist involving suborned letters at sea.”

So, professor, the pirates are here to stay.  They certainly aren’t proof that Oxford wrote the play, but I put them here as just another piece of evidence that “authorship” really does matter.

Re-posting No. 4 of 100 Reasons “Shake-speare” was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford: From the Royal Court He Proclaimed a “New Glory of Language”

This reason for concluding that Oxford was “Shakespeare” involves the actual language and contents of the eloquent Latin preface he contributed to Bartholomew Clerke’s 1572 Latin translation of The Courtier by the Italian statesman Baldassare Castiglione, published at Venice in 1528.  (Note: This essay, posted in 2011, is now Reason 24 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford)

Baldesar Castiglione (1478-1529), author of “Il Cortegiano” – “The Courtier”

Imagine looking through records from the sixteenth century and suddenly coming upon an essay written by William Shakespeare when he was twenty-one years old.  Think of the exhilaration upon discovering that the great poet-dramatist of Elizabethan England had crafted this early piece of writing (in Latin, no less) to proclaim “a new glory of language” while championing “all the glory of literature” — that is, a document in which the young Shakespeare predicts the marvelous works of language and literature that he himself was destined to produce.

If we believe “Shakespeare” to have been William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon, we might well rush to claim a Nobel Prize for digging up this amazing contribution to literary history and biography!

Well, some of us believe that in fact we do have such an essay written by “Shakespeare” as a young man, although at twenty-one he was still using his real name, Edward de Vere the earl of Oxford.  In effect this was his “manifesto” as a young writer, publicly championing the humanistic side of the Renaissance with its medieval traditions of chivalry and, too, expressing values and intentions regarding literature that he would carry with him throughout his life.  He presented his 1,100-word preface under the full panoply of his titles:

“Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England, Viscount Bulbeck and Baron Scales and Badlesmere to the Reader – Greeting.”

“The English reader had never before been addressed in even terms by such a lord,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. noted, “and the subscription to the preface could well have been intended to make doubly plain the standing the lord was claiming for letters — ‘Given at the Royal Court.’

“It is not only remarkable as an eloquent piece of Latin prose,” B. M. Ward wrote in 1928. “It seems to indicate a determination on the part of its author to do something more for literature than merely to accept dedications from authors.  For the first time in our annals we find a nobleman taking immense trouble to recommend a book in which he is interested.”

A Scene at the Palace of Urbino, where the conversations recalled in “The Courtier” (1528) had taken place in 1507

[Ward also noted that the preface was later reprinted in all subsequent editions of Clerke’s translation; and that it must have been read by most educated Elizabethans, to whom Latin was a “perfectly familiar language.”]

Six years later, in 1578, Oxford’s former Cambridge friend Gabriel Harvey would allude to the preface as a well-known example of the earl’s literary eminence:   “Let that courtly epistle, more polished even than the writings of Castiglione himself, witness how greatly thou dost excel in letters!”

In Oxford’s preface, translated into English by Ward, we find him praising the author of The Courtier:

An Elizabethan in Fashion

“For what more difficult, more noble, or more magnificent task has anyone ever undertaken than our author Castiglione, who has drawn for us the figure and model of a courtier, a work to which nothing can be added, in which there is no redundant word, a portrait which we shall recognize as that of the highest and most perfect type of man.  And so, although nature herself has made nothing perfect in every detail, yet the manners of men exceed in dignity that with which nature has endowed them; and he who surpasses others has here surpassed himself, and has even outdone nature which by no one has ever been surpassed.” (My emphasis)

Whoa!  Look at that part about “nature” and see how it foreshadows the following lines of  The Winter’s Tale (4.4) to be written by “Shakespeare” later on:

Yet nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean: so, over that art
Which you say adds to nature, is an art
That nature makes.

Oxford goes on to say of Castiglione that “however elaborate the ceremonial, whatever the magnificence of the Court, the splendor of the Courtiers, and the multitude of spectators, he has been able to lay down principles for the guidance of the very Monarch himself.”

He takes the time to focus on the art of writing:

“For who has spoken of Princes with greater gravity?  Who has discoursed of illustrious women with a more ample dignity?  No one has written of military affairs more eloquently, more aptly about horse-racing, and more clearly and admirably about encounters under arms on the field of battle.  I will say nothing of the fitness and the excellence with which he has depicted the beauty of chivalry in the noblest persons … Whatever is heard in the mouths of men in casual talk and in society, whether apt and candid, or villainous and shameful, that he has set down in so natural a manner that it seems to be acted before our very eyes.” (My emphases)

Whoa again!  Now he seems to anticipate “Shakespeare” in Sonnet 81:

You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

And in Hamlet’s advice (3.3) to the players:

“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance,that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as’twere, the mirror up to nature…”

Queen Elizabeth and her Royal Court

“Again to the credit of the translator of so great a work,” Oxford states, “a writer too who is no mean orator, must be added a new glory of language … For who is clearer in his use of words?  Or richer in the dignity of his sentences?  Or who can conform to the variety of circumstances with greater art?  If weighty matters are under consideration, he unfolds his theme in a solemn and majestic rhythm; if the subject is familiar and facetious, he makes use of words that are witty and amusing.  When therefore he writes with precise and well-chosen words, with skilfully constructed and crystal-clear sentences, and with every art of dignified rhetoric, it cannot be but that some noble quality should be felt to proceed from his work …”

He praises Clerke for dedicating the translation “to our most illustrious and noble Queen, in whom all courtly qualities are personalized, together with those diviner and truly celestial virtues.  For there is no pen so skillful or powerful, no kind of speech so clear, that is not left behind by her own surpassing virtue.” Elizabeth is “of wisest mind, of soundest religion, and cultivated in the highest degree in learning and in literary studies.”

In these closing words of praise for his own prince, Oxford left little doubt that her Majesty had encouraged him in this extraordinary literary adventure openly issued from the Court:

Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

“Lastly, if the noblest attributes of the wisest Princes, the safest protection of a flourishing commonwealth, the greatest qualities of the best citizens, by her own merit, and in the opinion of all, continually encompass her around; surely to obtain the protection of that authority, to strengthen it with gifts, and to mark it with the superscription of her name, is a work which, while worthy of all Monarchs, is most worthy of our own Queen, to whom alone is due all the praise of all the Muses and all the glory of literatureGiven at the Royal Court 5 January 1571 (1572 – new style).”

When Oxford wrote that Castiglione had laid down “principles for the guidance of the very Monarch himself,” he was undoubtedly thinking of his own responsibility to try to guide his Queen, as Castiglione recorded in the dialogue at the Palace of Urbino:

“‘I think then that the aim of the perfect Courtier … is so to win for himself … the favor and mind of the prince whom he serves, that he may be able to say, and always shall say, the truth about everything which it is fitting for the prince to know, without fear or risk of giving offense thereby” [Oxford’s motto was Nothing Truer than Truth] and that when he sees his prince’s mind inclined to do something wrong, he may be quick to oppose, and gently to make use of the favor acquired by his good accomplishments, so as to banish every bad intent and lead his prince into the path of virtue … justice, liberality, magnanimity, gentleness, and the other virtues that become a good prince, and on the other hand how much infamy and loss proceed from the vices opposed to them…'”

I believe this is what Oxford tried to accomplish by means of the plays he brought to Court (from the 1570’s onward) for Queen Elizabeth.  Over and over the advice of Castiglione’s characters drawn from real life is to “tell the truth” to one’s prince.  Oxford also heeded The Courtier about literature:

The De Vere Coat of Arms

I would have him [the courtier] more than passably accomplished in letters, at least in those studies that are called the humanities, and conversant not only with the Latin language but with the Greek, for the sake of the many different things that have been admirably written therein. Let him be well versed in the poets, and not less in the orators and historians, and also proficient in writing verse and prose…”

Oxford also followed Castiglione’s view that a man of high birth (as Oxford was) needed to earn his exalted status by means of genuine accomplishment:

“For indeed if by being nobly born, graceful, agreeable, and expert in so many exercises, the Courtier brought forth no other fruit than merely being what he is, I should not deem it right for a man to devote so much study and pains to acquiring this perfection of Courtiership …”

This is a basic ideas with which “Shakespeare” would grapple in his plays of English royal history, that is:  Do we evaluate a monarch’s right to the throne solely on the basis of his blood right or, rather, on the basis of his actions that do or do not bring forth “other fruit than merely being what he is”?

Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn in This Star of England (1952) observe that Oxford subsequently “adopted and developed the method Castiglione had taken from earlier writers, dramatizing the personages of Elizabeth Tudor’s court and those of foreign princes as well, to the degree that his plays presently became ‘the abstract and brief chronicles of the time'” [according to Hamlet, an exemplar of the perfect courtier].

“The young idealist who wrote this beautiful Latin prose did not perhaps suspect that he himself was to surpass Castiglione before many years had gone by,” the Ogburns note, “by writing as forcefully and engagingly in English as he was now able to do in Latin, because through his own genius the English language would be made richer and more flexible, would be given ‘majesty and light.'”

Is this “proof” that a little more than two decades later  (in 1593) Oxford would adopt “Shakespeare” as a pen name?  Of course not.   But in fact it’s just one more piece of “the preponderance of the evidence” leading to that conclusion.

Re-Posting Reason No. 3: Oxford Sponsored “The Courtier” — A Primary Inspiration for Prince Hamlet

“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form…”
— Ophelia speaking of Prince Hamlet

When Shakespeare created his greatest and most self-revealing character with the words and actiions of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, he drew upon his own intimate knowledge and obvious love for Baldesar Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano, that is, The Book of the Courtier, one of the great volumes of the High Renaissance.

Castiglione’s & The Book of the Courtier

Portrayed in the book is a group of real-life thinkers, politicians, soldiers, clerics, diplomats and wits who gathered together at the Palace of Urbino in 1507 to play a game, over four evenings, to try to piece together a portrait of the perfect courtier.

Their conversations about courtliness ranged “from chivalry to humanist debates about language, literature, painting and sculpture,” John Lotherington writes in his introduction to a 2005 edition from Barnes & Noble Books, “to the art of conversation and the telling of jokes, the role and dignity of women, the delicate job of guiding willful princes, and finally to love and its transcendent form in pure spirit.”

The Courtier, published in 1528, attempts “to refashion the medieval ideal of the chivalrous knight and to fuse it with the Renaissance virtues of learning and grace,” James Oscar Campbell writes in The Reader’s Encylopedia of Shakespeare (1966), adding that Shakespeare “may have derived the ‘merry war’ of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing from a similar battle in The Courtier.”

The Ducal Palace at Urbino

“Shakespeare may have read Castiglione in Italian,” Charles Boyce writes in Shakespeare A to Z (1990) — a fairly amazing statement from one who supposedly believes the author was William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon, who was unlikely to have been able to read works in Italian.

Translated into English in 1561 by Thomas Hoby, The Courtier exerted a strong influence on the courtly ideals of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.

The Courtier in English as translated by Thomas Hoby in 1561

A little more than a decade later, in January 1572, having just come of age as a courtier, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford made possible the publication of a new Latin translation of Castiglione’s work by one of his former tutors, Bartholomew Clerke.  To give it the biggest send-off possible, Oxford even wrote an eloquent introduction, also in Latin, which Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984) called “a remarkably finished piece of work for a 21-year-old writing in a classical language.”

Oxford’s first biographer B. M. Ward wrote in 1928 that becoming a leader in war had been Edward de Vere’s goal, “if only because that was the normal expectation for any young nobleman seeking to fulfill his destiny,” but having been denied military service it was “only natural” that the young earl then turned to literature.

The Latin translation of The Courtier by Bartholomew Clerke in 1571, published from the Royal Court with Oxford’s blessing

But Ward also noted that most likely Edward de Vere had been captivated by literature from boyhood.  He had taken degress at Cambridge and Oxford universities at ages fourteen and sixteen; before age twenty his library had included works of Chaucer, Plutarch, Cicero and Plato, not to mention the Geneva Bible and “other books and papers.”

In 1571, the year before he issued his former tutor’s Latin translation of The Courtier, his uncle Arthur Golding noted in print that that he knew from personal experience how Oxford had taken a keen interest in “the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding.”

Oxford in January 1572 was receiving the highest royal favor at Court.  The intimacy of his relationship with Queen Elizabeth was the subject of much scandalous gossip; the year before, he had married the Ophelia-like daughter of William Cecil Lord Burghley, the Polonius-like chief minister to the Queen.  Although he had grown up in the household and custody of Burghley, the architect of the Protestant reformation, Oxford leaned away from the Puritan movement and instead fell in love with classical languages and the old feudal values of knighthood and chivalry.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

In his early twenties, he was the latest descendant of noble earls stretching back 500 years to William the Conqueror and, in every way, the man whom Walt Whitman would describe as one of the ‘wolfish earls’ who must have written the Shakespeare plays:

“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 caste, 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 — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded history.”

When our modern world realizes sooner than later that Edward de Vere wrote the Shakespearean works, students will find more and more ways in which those works reflect his devotion to the ideas and ideals set forth by Castiglione, of whom the young earl wrote enthusiastically in his preface:

“For who has spoken of Princes with greater gravity?  Who has discoursed of illustrious women with a more ample dignity?  No one has written of military affairs more eloquently, more aptly about horse-racing, and more clearly and admirably about encounters under arms on the field of battle.  I will say nothing of the fitness and the excellence with which he has depicted the beauty of chivalry in the noblest persons.”

Drayton Henderson wrote a book in 1934 with a title that directly declared its theme:  Hamlet as a Castiglionean Courtier.  He also wrote introductory notes for the Everyman edition of The Courtier, stating that “without Castiglione we should not have Hamlet.  The ideal of the courtier, scholar, soldier developed first in Italy, and perfected in the narrative of Il Cortegiano, was Castiglione’s gift to the world,” adding, “Hamlet is the high exemplar of it in our literature.  But it is not only Shakespeare’s Hamlet that seems to follow Castiglione.  Shakespeare himself does.”

Hamlet the character is drawn in large part from Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier … Shakespeare created Hamlet as a special work of self-delineation … and it turns out that the leading candidate for the real author, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, strove to embody the “perfect courtier” as recorded by Castiglione in The Courtier — which, in turn, as a young man newly arrived at Court, he had read over and over and then caused to be published.

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword…

In the spring of 1570 the 20-year-old courtier Edward de Vere had been a soldier while accompanying the Earl of Sussex near the end of the Northern Rebellion, witnessing some battles of that English civil war; he was already known as a brilliant scholar;  he was famous for his sharp tongue and was the new champion jouster of the Whitehall tilt yard …

So that’s my Reason No. 3 why Oxford was author of the “Shakespeare” works.  The next installment, No. 4, will focus on the actual contents of the wonderful 1,100-word preface Oxford wrote for his former tutor’s Latin translation of The Book of the Courtier — a piece of writing that one day will be the basis of an essential chapter in the biography of the man who wrote the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

O Horatio what a wounded name!
Things standing thus unknown shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity a while
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story…

(Note: This post became Reason 7 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford by Hank Whittemore)

 

Re-Posting Reason No. 2: “Shake-speare’s” Favorite Classical Source was the Translation of Ovid by Arthur Golding, who was Oxford’s Uncle

Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” translated into English — credited to Arthur Golding, uncle of Edward de Vere

The following blog item was posted on 26 February 2011; ultimately, after revision and reordering, it became part of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, published in October 2016. 

“Ovid, the love of Shakespeare’s life among Latin poets, made an overwhelming impression upon him, which he carried with him all his days: subjects, themes, characters and phrases haunted his imagination. The bulk of his classical mythology came from the ‘Metamorphoses,’ which he used in the original as well as in Golding’s translation.” –A.L. Rowse, “Shakespeare, The Man” (1973)

I’ve always loved this one.  It was one of the first things I’d tell people around the dinner table, whether or not they gave a damn:

The favorite classical source of the author “Shakespeare” was the literary work of the ancient Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C.-A.D. 18).   As Dr. Rowse tells us, he drew upon the stories and rhythms and language of Ovid, from the original Latin text and, heavily so, from the English translation of the Metamorphoses by Arthur Golding (1567).  And this same Golding was the young Earl of Oxford’s uncle, living under the same roof with him at Cecil House in the early 1560’s, just when the translating of Ovid’s 15-book masterpiece would have been carried out!

“I mean … come on,” I’d say at the dinner table.  “Ain’t that a hoot? Why are you all looking at me like I’m speaking a foreign language?  Oh, well…”

A lot of times these things are astounding only because of the way in which you come upon them.  In this case, the British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney put forth hypothetically that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) wrote the Shakespeare works, which are filled with material drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in both the original and the Golding translation of the 1560’s — and then he discovered that Oxford had been physically present at Cecil House in London during the 1560’s, when his Uncle Golding had been acting as his “receiver” for financial affairs and apparently translating the Ovid work.

Hedingham Castle (what’s left of the original), childhood home of Edward de Vere

(John de Vere, the sixteenth Earl of Oxford, died in 1562, when his twelve-year-old son Edward, the future seventeenth earl, left his home at Hedingham Castle in Essex and went to London to live as a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in the custody of her chief minister William Cecil, the future Lord Burghley.)

Golding was “apparently” translating the Ovid because it’s far more likely that it was done by the young earl himself.  Golding was a puritanical sort who translated Calvin’s Psalms of David (which he dedicated to Oxford, his nephew) and would not have been crazy about translating Ovid’s tales of passion and seduction and lovemaking as well as incest by pagan gods and goddesses.  No, he was in every way incapable of it.

Here’s what I wrote about this in 1996, viewing the teenage Edward de Vere as “the young Shakespeare” at work:

“J. Thomas Looney used the phrase ‘long foreground’ for Shakespeare’s formative years, a period of necessary artistic growth and development which has always been totally missing from Stratfordian biography.  Unless he was a god with miraculous powers, the sophisticated English poet who wrote ‘Venus and Adonis’ went through much trial and error, creating a substantial body of apprenticeship work beforehand.  By all logic Shakespeare must have begun translating Ovid in his earliest years, becoming thoroughly grounded in his old tales.  He would have labored over the original texts and ‘tried on’ various English nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, inventing new ones along the way; and in the process he would have acquired his astounding vocabulary of some 25,000 words, more than twice the size of Milton’s.”

The ancient Roman poet Ovid

And here is what Looney wrote in 1920 about the nature of some “discoveries” such as this one about Edward de Vere and Shakespeare’s favorite poet Ovid:

“The force of a conviction is frequently due as much to the intrinsic value of the evidence.  For example, when a theory, what we have formed from a consideration of certain facts, leads us to suppose that certain other facts will exist, the later discovery that the facts are actually in accordance with our inferences becomes a much stronger confirmation of our theory than if we had known these additional facts at the outset.  We state this principle in matters of science when we affirm that the supreme test and evidence of the soundness of a scientific theory is its power of enabling us to foresee some events as a consequence of others.  The manner, therefore, in which facts and ideas have been arrived at becomes itself an important element in the evidence.”‘Shakespeare’ Identified, 1920

“Shakespeare” Identified by J. Thomas Looney, 1920

So that’s the second of the first 100 reasons I conclude that Oxford was Shakespeare…

If there was any evidence of this kind in the life of William Shakspere of Stratford, would there be an authorship question?  I doubt it.  But such is the power of traditional thinking that, despite the fact that such evidence exists in Oxford’s life, the academic folks in the ivory tower won’t even consider it.

Meanwhile, the orthodox camp loves to say that the doubters of Shakspere’s authorship are “creationists.”  Well, that’s ridiculous.  If anything in that metaphorical equation we’re evolutionists. The biblical creationists came first, as did the traditional Stratfordians; the evolutionists came later, just as we Oxfordians came later.

Stratfordians, echoing creationists, believe in the miracle of genius when it comes to Shakespeare’s vast knowledge and skill; we Oxfordians, echoing evolutionists, know that such amazing knowledge, skill and insight can be acquired — even by a genius — only through long development based on much learning and experience and painfully acquired artistic growth.  That they would stoop to calling us a name that should actually be applied to themselves is a measure of their growing desperation…

%d bloggers like this: