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.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Why would it not be more than plausible that Edward de Vere wrote both Euphues, as Ovid inspired as they are and as autobiographical and accomplished as they are, though published under Lyly’s name, not least given by then the “loss of” de Vere’s “good name”? Why wouldn’t this by now be the first assumption?

    Of note, showing the Euphues prominent place in the history of fiction, psychological fiction and otherwise, see “John Lyly’s Anatomy of Wit as an Example of Early Modern Psychological Fiction,” by Adele Kudish – and footnote #9 in particular: http://openjournals.arts.uwa.edu.au/index.php/cerae/article/view/64/75

    • Thanks for including this link. I’ve printed out the article and look forward to reading it. Of course you are right, it’s more than plausible. I wish we could know more about how it worked, I mean his working relationship with Lyly, and what it consisted of. But sure, all the signs point to Oxford as the author of these works. We are having a hard time getting over this hill to the other side, where we acknowledge what should be obvious. Thanks for the nudge!


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