Re-Posting No. 18 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was Edward, Earl of Oxford: “Minerva Britanna” by Henry Peacham: “By the Mind I shall be Seen”

“Minerva Britanna” by Henry Peacham, Master of Arts (1612) – “Or a Garden of Heroical Devices, furnished, and adorned with Emblems and Impresa’s of sundry natures, Newly devised, moralized, and published.”

If there’s a single Elizabethan or Jacobean picture that cries out “Secret author,” it appears on the title page of Minerva Britanna by Henry Peacham, a book of original emblems (accompanied by his own verses) published in London in 1612. Shown on the front is the proscenium arch of a theater, with the curtain drawn back so we can see the right hand and arm of a writer using a quill pen to complete a Latin inscription:

MENTE.VIDEBORI (“By the Mind I shall be Seen”): The suggestion is that the author, who is behind the curtain, must remain hidden.

In 1937, Eva Turner Clark argued that the phrase MENTE.VIDEBORI is a Latin anagram of TIBI NOM. DE VERE or “The Identity of this Author is  De Vere.”

A closer look reveals that the “dot” in the inscription has been placed directly between the “E” and the “V” to create E.V., the initials of Edward Vere.

Oxford’s death date is recorded as 24 June 1604, the same year the authorized, full-length version of Hamlet was first published, after which no new “authorized” Shakespeare plays were printed for nineteen years.

In 1622, just one year before the publication of the First Folio, Peacham published a treatise entitled The Compleat Gentleman, in which he looks back at the Elizabethan reign as a “golden age” that produced poets “whose like are hardly to be hoped for in any succeeding age.”  He lists those “who honored Poesie [poetry] with their pens and practice” in this order:

“Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spenser, Master Samuel Daniel, with sundry others…” Curiously, he does not list “Shakespeare.”

Peacham (1576?-1644?), a graduate of Cambridge, had been interested in the theatrical world early on; a surviving sketch of a scene of Titus Andronicus, thought to have been made in 1595, was signed “Henricus Peacham.” He would have been a teenager when he drew the sketch.  In the scene, Queen Tamora is pleading for the lives of her two sons while Aaron the Moor gestures with his sword.

A sketch of a scene of “Titus Andronicus” in 1595, apparently by Peacham when he was seventeen 

Oxford’s arms with the blue boar on top

At age twenty-five in 1603, Peacham became a schoolmaster at Kimbolton Grammar School; his Minerva (“Or a Garden of Heroical Devises, furnished and adorned with Emblems and Impresa of sundry natures”) contains 206 emblems, each accompanied by a pair of six-line stanzas. Roger Stritmatter reports that it “has long been considered the most sophisticated exemplar of the emblem book tradition ever published in England.”

One of the emblems in Minerva shows a boar, which plays a crucial role in Ovid’s story of Venus and Adonis as well as in the one by “Shakespeare” published in 1593. The boar was also Oxford’s heraldic symbol. Below the emblem, Peacham writes:

One of the Emblems of “Minerva Britanna” — about “Venus and Adonis” featuring the Boar

I much did muse why Venus could not brook

The savage Boar and Lion cruel fierce,

Since Kings and Princes have such pleasure took

In hunting: ‘cause a Boar did pierce

Her Adon fair, who better liked the sport,

Then spends his days in wanton pleasure’s court.

Which fiction though devised by Poet’s brain,

It signifies unto the Reader this:

Such exercise Love will not entertain,

Who liketh best, to live in Idleness:

The foe to virtue, Canker of the Wit,

That brings a thousand miseries with it.

The line “Who liketh best to live in Idleness” is a direct reflection of what Oxford had written in 1576:

That never am less idle lo, than when I am alone *

Clearly Peacham was well aware, even in 1612, of an authorship mystery involving the poet of Venus and Adonis. With his emblem containing the boar symbol of the Vere earldom and those lines underneath it, he brought together “Shakespeare” and Oxford on the same page, providing the solution for all to see.

  • In The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576

(This blog post, with the invaluable help of editor Alex McNeil, has become No. 95 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “The author … must remain hidden.” Not that he chooses to remain hidden. Many Oxfordians are still uncertain of the significance of this. He is ‘tongue-tied’ by Authority; no other reason is given.

  2. “Oxford’s death date is recorded as 24 June 1604, the same year the authorized, full-length version of Hamlet was first published, after which no new “authorized” Shakespeare plays were printed for nineteen years.”
    This implies that Oxford did in fact die in 1604. However, the facts around this are rather cloudy. The recording in the church register that he died by the plague has been disputed by Dr. Paul Altrochi in the SOS newsletter. There was not the customary funeral expected for a noble, nor any literary mention, nor any mention of him being in fact dead, until the end of 1608.
    The reasons for the non-pulbication of the plays until 1623does not seem to have any relation shipped to Oxford’s acknowledged disappearance from the historical record in 1604.
    Nor is it mentioned here that Shake-Speare’s Sonnets appeared in 1609.
    This little bit of extraneous information about 1604 seems confusing at best and perhaps misleading.
    Paul Streitz

    • Thank you, Paul.

    • Not perhaps: surely. Thank you.

      • But to be a little more specific: if the Earl was living at the date of the publication in 1609, then he would have been 59 years old. I found this number 59 in a visible form (no fancy chart whatsoever), even with a reference to being old and to telling the years.


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