Re-Posting Number 12 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: The Queen’s Men


In 1583, as Philip of Spain prepared to invade and conquer England, the British government created a new acting company as part of secret service activities, which included wartime propaganda to promote patriotic loyalty and unity.  This new troupe, the Queen Majesty’s Players or Queen Elizabeth’s Men, was formed at the express command of the monarch.  Drawing the best actors from existing companies, it became the dominant theatrical group in the crucial years leading to England’s victory in 1588 over the Spanish Armada.

Although printed in 1594, “The True Tragedy of Richard the Third” was performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s. Did “Shakespeare” steal it for his play “Richard III”? Or was the real author, Edward de Vere, building upon his own previous work?

The Queen’s Men performed what were, by all appearances, early versions of royal history plays published later as by Shakespeare.  “The plots of no fewer than six of Shakespeare’s known plays are closely related to the plots of plays performed by the Queen’s Men,” Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean write inThe Queen’s Men and their Plays (1998).

Did “Shakespeare” use this early anonymous play for “1 Henry IV,” “2 Henry IV” and “Henry V” Or was “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth” his own youthful play?

These histories include The Troublesome Reign of King John (repeated by Shakespeare “virtually scene for scene” in the Shakespeare play King John)The True Tragedy of Richard III and King Leir (fully covered by Shakespeare in his Richard III and King Lear); and also The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, which forms the entire foundation for the material in 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V.

There is no evidence that Shakspere of Stratford was a member of this prestigious acting company.  The likelihood is that he was still in Warwickshire for the birth of his twins in February 1585, when he was twenty years old. By tradition, the “Lost Years” of that man begin in 1585 and continue until Robert Greene supposedly alludes to him in September 1592.  By then, for the legendary story to be plausible, he has somehow firmly established himself in London as an actor and as a promising, even prominent playwright able to provoke Greene’s jealousy.

None of this has any factual basis.

“Documentary evidence as to Shakespeare’s whereabouts and activities from 1585 to 1592 is totally lacking,” Oscar Campbell writes in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966), adding that “nothing can be confirmed” about the Stratford man’s life in that period. Traditional biographers cannot plausibly explain how “Shakespeare” was anonymously writing early versions of his plays for Her Majesty’s company in the 1580’s. Therefore, some suggest he must have joined the Queen’s Men as an actor and memorized the anonymous plays, which were written by others; then, they propose, he drew upon his prodigious memory to plunder their plots, characters, scenes and even lines, which would mean the greatest writer of the English language was also the most successful plagiarist in history.

“The True Chronicle History of King Leir” was performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s (but published in 1605) and transformed by “Shakespeare” into “King Lear”

As a mature dramatist in the 1590s, McMillin and MacLean declare, Shakespeare set about “rewriting a sizeable portion” of the repertory of the Queen’s Men.   “Four of nine extant plays were turned into six Shakespeare plays, in an act of appropriation extensive enough to make us think it could have occurred from the inside.” Such is the kind of deduction that can come from an incorrect premise. “Shakespeare knew the plays of this company better than those of any company but his own, and the long-standing speculation that he may have begun his career with the Queen’s Men seems to us the most likely possibility.”

“The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of ‘The Famous Victories'” by Dr. Seymour M. Pitcher, 1961

A few scholars have bravely stated the more realistic conclusion that Shakespeare himself must have written those earlier versions of his own plays, despite the fact that such a claim would rule out the Stratford man.  It requires Shakspere to have joined the Crown’s prestigious acting company too early to fit his biographical time frame. Fresh from life in the market town ninety miles from London, only twenty years old in 1584, he turns out plays of English royal history about monarchs such as King John, Richard III, Henry IV and Henry V — a miraculous example of pulling one self up by the bootstraps if there ever was one.

(In 1961, for example, Dr. Seymour M. Pitcher at Harpur College in New York published an impressively argued book The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth” — referring to an early play that’s a veritable blueprint for Shakespeare’s later trilogy about Prince Hal becoming Henry the Fifth.   Every scene of Famous Victories is repeated (and in the same order) by Shakespeare, who, Pitcher argued, must have written it when just “a spirited and genial apprentice dramatist.”)

Evidence within The True Tragedy of Richard the Third “reveals the high probability that it was Shakespeare himself who wrote that anonymous play,” argues Ramon Jimenez, “and that his Richard III was his major revision of one of his earliest attempts at playwriting.” There are also “significant links” between the anonymous play and de Vere that “add to the evidence that he was the actual author of the Shakespeare canon.” Furthermore, Jimenez states, the evidence suggests that the anonymous play “was performed for an aristocratic audience, possibly including Queen Elizabeth herself, in the early 1560’s, when de Vere was between thirteen and fifteen years old.”

The scholar Ramon Jimenez, speaking at an authorship conference on the Campus of Concordia University in Portland OR


Oxford was thirty-three in 1583, when Elizabeth’s company was formed by the direct order of Walsingham, head of the government’s intelligence operations, just as the war between England and Spain was becoming official.  During the next crucial years, leading up to the victory over Philip’s Armada in 1588, the new company would perform at court in winter and divide into two traveling troupes in summer.  With its actors wearing the queen’s livery, the wartime company staged dozens of anonymous plays of English royal history throughout the country to promote patriotic loyalty and unity.

During the 1580s, the Queen’s Men performed  works that “Shakespeare” would later turn into mature plays. Moreover, the record shows that Oxford his secretary Lyly were connected to Elizabeth’s  from the outset.   These two facts provide strong evidence that the author of the earlier works performed by the Queen’s Men was Oxford himself, and that it was he who revised his own previous plays for which”Shakespeare” would get the credit.

“The True Chronicle History of King Leir” — acted by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s, published in 1605, and the principal source of Shakespeare’s “King Lear”

Oxford had returned from  Italy in 1576 and it appears he proceeded to write plays brought to the royal court by the Children of St. Paul’s and by his great friend and supporter Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex.  Oxford had served with him in the military campaign of 1570, against the northern Catholic earls in rebellion against the Protestant rule of Elizabeth.  Sussex was now Lord Chamberlain of the Queen’s Household and patron of the first Lord  Chamberlain’s acting company.  Two examples:

* On New Year’s Day 1577 at Hampton Court the Paul’s Boys performed “The historie of Error,” which may well be an early version of The Comedy of Errors. 

* in Febrary 1577 at Whitehall Palace the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed “The Historie of the Solitarie Knight,” likely an early version of Timon of Athens.

In addition to his patronage of writers, Lord Oxford now had charge of two acting companies, one (Oxford’s Men) of adults and the other (Oxford’s Boys) of choir boys from both Her Majesty’s Children and Paul’s Boys. He had the full sanction of the government; in the mid-1580s, for example, Burghley and Sussex recommended to Cambridge University that Oxford’s Men be allowed to “show their cunning in several plays already practiced by them before the Queen’s Majesty.”

Moreover, Oxford saved the private Blackfriars playhouse from extinction by paying for the lease.  This venue was frequented by aristocrats and students, its performances functioning as rehearsals for appearances in front of Elizabeth at court. Then he passed the lease on to Lyly, who acted as director-manager.  So Oxford was now at the center — he was the center — of the new awakening of English drama leading to “Shakespeare” in the next decade.

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (1526-1583), Oxford’s friend and surrogate father, whose Lord Chamberlain’s Men brought plays to Court until his death

Sussex was near death when the order came down on 10 March 1583 to Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, that her Majesty’s new acting company be formed.  In effect the Queen’s Men would replace the Chamberlain’s Men. Assigned to assemble the personnel was Walsingham, who had no personal interest in the theatre, but was nonetheless quite aware of its persuasive power.

The formation of the Queen’s Men signaled a new awareness by the Privy Council of the potential for combining theatrical activity and espionage, since players frequently traveled, nationally and internationally. This new adult company could serve the Crown in multiple ways, such as collecting information useful to Walsingham’s intelligence network.

The spymaster assembled the Queen’s Men by enlisting the dozen best performers from all the existing companies.  These included the Dutton brothers, leading players of Oxford’s Men; and the popular clown Richard Tarlton, taken from Sussex’s troupe, who quickly became the star of Elizabeth’s Men.

“The new Queen’s Company made its first appearance at the beginning of the Court season on December 26, 1583,” Ward reports in The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford from Contemporary Documents (1928).  “On Jan. 1, 1584 a performance was given  by Oxford’s Men; and as John Lyly appears in the Chamber Accounts as payee for the company on that date, there is every reason to believe that the play acted was Lyly’s Campaspe.  On March 8, 1584 both Oxford’s and the Queen’s Men performed; once again Lyly was payee for Oxford’s Men …

“Now, it seems unreasonable to suppose that two plays were presented on this day; the most likely solution, therefore, would be that the two companies [Oxford’s and the Queen’s] were amalgamated and rehearsed by Lord Oxford’s private secretary John Lyly, the author of the play.  No other adult companies besides these two appeared at Court during this season.”

Oxford was positioned to respond to the Crown’s need for patriotic plays of English royal history, and, too, he was involved in the creation and operation of the Queen’s Men, whose adult professional actors performed anonymous plays that “Shakespeare” would transform into masterpieces.

Note: This post is now No. 42 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.  

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