Re-Posting No. 17 of “100 Reasons” why Oxford wrote the Shakespeare Works: Edward de Vere witnessed a real-life scene like the turning point of “Hamlet”

When Edward de Vere was barely into his teens, he witnessed a real-life event that was virtually the same as the one “Shakespeare” would create many years later for the dramatic turning point of Hamlet when the Prince puts on a play to “catch the conscience of the King.”

Oxford was 14 on Queen Elizabeth’s royal progress to Cambridge in 1564, the year she had hired a coach builder from the Netherlands (Gullian Boonen) who introduced the “spring suspension” to England

At fourteen, Oxford was on the 1564 summer progress when Queen Elizabeth paid her historic visit to Cambridge University for five thrilling days and nights.

Chancellor William Cecil (later Lord Burghley) was in charge while his arch political enemy, High Steward Robert Dudley (later the Earl of Leicester), acted as master of ceremonies.

Hamlet puts on a play to “catch the conscience of the King.”

Although in his early teens, Oxford was a well-tutored scholar whose Renaissance outlook had drawn him to literature and history among a myriad of fields, and Elizabeth, thirty-one, had displayed her own Renaissance spirit and love for learning when she and her retinue entered Cambridge that summer. The chapel of King’s College had been transformed into a “great stage” and she spent three of the five nights feasting on “comedies and tragedies.”

Elizabeth was set to leave on Thursday, 10 August, for a ten-mile ride to the home of Sir Henry Cromwell at Hinchingbrooke, where she was to spend the night, and her Majesty was eager to get going.

Hinchinbrooke House, where Elizabeth I of England stayed the night after the Cambridge visit in August 1564

According to Guzman de Silva, the Spanish ambassador, Elizabeth made a speech praising all the plays or “comedies” and disputations, but some of the anti-Catholic students “wished to give her another representation, which she refused in order to be no longer delayed.” The students were so anxious for her to hear their play, however, that they “followed her [to Hinchingbrooke] and so importuned her that at last she consented.” That evening, in a courtyard, an exhausted queen gathered with members of her court by torchlight for the student production.

It turned out to be a distasteful burlesque intended to mock those Catholic leaders who were then imprisoned in the Tower of London. The university atmosphere had become charged with the rapidly developing Protestant radicalism known as the Puritan movement. But the queen and Cecil were ending hostilities with France while trying to maintain good relations with Catholic Spain, so Elizabeth was in no mood for anti-Papal displays that de Silva would (and did) report back to King Philip:

“The actors came in dressed as some of the imprisoned bishops.  First came the Bishop of London carrying a lamb in his hands as if he were eating it as he walked along, and then others with devices, one being in the figure of a dog with the Host in his mouth … The Queen was so angry that she at once entered her chamber, using strong language; and the men who held the torches, it being night, left them in the dark…”

Queen Elizabeth I attends a play at one of her palaces

Imagine how this scene must have struck young Oxford!  Here was vivid proof that a dramatic representation could directly alter the emotions of the monarch; here was spontaneous evidence of the power of a play to affect Elizabeth’s attitude and even her decisions.

Her Majesty swept away using “strong language” as the torchbearers followed, leaving all “in the dark,” and the author of Hamlet would write:

Ophelia: The King rises.

Hamlet: What, frighted with false fire?

Gertrude: How fares my lord?  (to King Claudius)

Polonius: Give o’er the play!

King: Give me some light!  Away!

All: Lights, lights, lights!

Did the mature dramatist “Shakespeare” later recall this event when he came to write the “Mousetrap” scene of Hamlet, setting it at night with the King’s guards carrying torches?  When, in 1564, the queen rose in anger and rushed off, did chief minister Cecil call to stop the burlesque, as chief minister Polonius would do in Hamlet?  Did Elizabeth call for light as Claudius does in the play?

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