The French Connection: Re-posting No. 33 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

No less than five Shakespeare plays are set at least partly in France: King John, Henry V, Henry VI, Pt. 1, All’s Well That Ends Well and Love’s Labour’s Lost.  Would most playwrights deliberately set a play in France if they had never been there?

In Henry V the entirety of Act 3, scene 4, is set within the French king’s palace and consists of French dialogue between Princess Katherine and Alice, the lady attending on her. Some of it is “vulgar” French.

Young Oxford would have learned all about the Vere family and its French origin (the name apparently derived from Ver, near Bayeux) as well as about its founder, Aubrey de Vere, who had come into England with William the Conqueror in 1066, five centuries earlier.  Edward would have learned to read, write and speak French at a very early age, perhaps in the household of Sir Thomas Smith, where he apparently was sent at age four.

Following are fragments of recorded information:

The letter in French written by 13-year-old Edward de Vere to Sir William Cecil, master of the royal wards, in August 1563. (CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW)

— When de Vere had entered Cecil House, the printed “Orders for the Earl of Oxford’s Exercises” prescribed a daily routine that included two hours of French studies, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  In a letter dated 23 August 1563, the thirteen-year-old boy wrote a letter to Cecil entirely in French; six years later, Oxford ordered books that included “Plutarch’s works in French” as well as works in Italian and English.

Henry III of France (1551-1589)

— The earl was twenty-four in February 1575 when he and his retinue arrived in Paris, where he was entertained at the French court by the royal family: Henry III, Catherine de Medici (the Queen Mother) and Marguerite de Valois. The English ambassador in Paris, Valentine Dale, wrote Burghley on 7 March of having “presented my Lord of Oxford unto the French King and Queen, who used him honorably.” He added that “amongst other talk the King asked whether he was married.  I said he had a fair lady.  ‘Il y a donce ce,’ dit-il [he says], ‘un beau couple.’

— After Oxford had left Paris for Strasburg, the ambassador again wrote to Burghley: “I will assure your Lordship unfeignedly my Lord of Oxford used himself as orderly and moderately as might be desired, and with great commendation, neither is there any appearance of the likelihood of any other.”  So we have Oxford as a young man at the French royal court, speaking fluent French with the royal family; and in fact his entire life as a nobleman was involved with matters related to France, such as the tumultuous marriage negotiations during the 1570s and early 1580s, when Elizabeth carried on the public fiction that she would wed Alencon.

Map of Paris – 1575

— At the end of Sonnet 73, which proceeds from autumn to winter in the poet’s life, the final couplet reads (with my emphasis):

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

The phrase “leave ere” in the last line is the exact sound of l’hiver, French for “winter,” and simultaneously it plays upon Oxford’s own name, Ver — the way  The Winter’s Tale, translated into French, is L’Compte de l’hiver, the account or “tale” of Winter, or Vere. In addition, the similar-sounding French work “Comte” denotes the rank of Count in France, which is the equivalent of the English rank of Earl.

[NOTE: This reason is now number 54 of 100 Reasons Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford (2016). As re-posted here, it reflects the invaluable work of editor Alex McNeil and the editorial help of Brian Bechtold.]

Here is Act 3, scene four of Henry V:

KATHARINE Alice, tu as ete en Angleterre, et tu parles bien le langage.
ALICE Un peu, madame.
KATHARINE Je te prie, m’enseignez: il faut que j’apprenne a parler. Comment appelez-vous la main en Anglois?
ALICE La main? elle est appelee de hand.
KATHARINE De hand. Et les doigts?
ALICE Les doigts? ma foi, j’oublie les doigts; mais je me
souviendrai. Les doigts? je pense qu’ils sont
appeles de fingres; oui, de fingres.
KATHARINE La main, de hand; les doigts, de fingres. Je pense
que je suis le bon ecolier; j’ai gagne deux mots
d’Anglois vitement. Comment appelez-vous les ongles?
ALICE Les ongles? nous les appelons de nails.
KATHARINE De nails. Ecoutez; dites-moi, si je parle bien: de
hand, de fingres, et de nails.
ALICE C’est bien dit, madame; il est fort bon Anglois.
KATHARINE Dites-moi l’Anglois pour le bras.
ALICE De arm, madame.
KATHARINE Et le coude?
ALICE De elbow.
KATHARINE De elbow. Je m’en fais la repetition de tous les
mots que vous m’avez appris des a present.
ALICE Il est trop difficile, madame, comme je pense.
KATHARINE Excusez-moi, Alice; ecoutez: de hand, de fingres,
de nails, de arma, de bilbow.
ALICE De elbow, madame.
KATHARINE O Seigneur Dieu, je m’en oublie! de elbow. Comment
appelez-vous le col?
ALICE De neck, madame.
KATHARINE De nick. Et le menton?
ALICE De chin.
KATHARINE De sin. Le col, de nick; de menton, de sin.
ALICE Oui. Sauf votre honneur, en verite, vous prononcez
les mots aussi droit que les natifs d’Angleterre.
KATHARINE Je ne doute point d’apprendre, par la grace de Dieu,
et en peu de temps.
ALICE N’avez vous pas deja oublie ce que je vous ai enseigne?
KATHARINE Non, je reciterai a vous promptement: de hand, de
fingres, de mails–
ALICE De nails, madame.
KATHARINE De nails, de arm, de ilbow.
ALICE Sauf votre honneur, de elbow.
KATHARINE Ainsi dis-je; de elbow, de nick, et de sin. Comment
appelez-vous le pied et la robe?
ALICE De foot, madame; et de coun.
KATHARINE De foot et de coun! O Seigneur Dieu! ce sont mots
de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et
non pour les dames d’honneur d’user: je ne voudrais
prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France
pour tout le monde. Foh! le foot et le coun!
Neanmoins, je reciterai une autre fois ma lecon
ensemble: de hand, de fingres, de nails, de arm, de
elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de coun.
ALICE Excellent, madame!
KATHARINE C’est assez pour une fois: allons-nous a diner.
[Exeunt]

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The Oxenford signature of the letter to Cecil is great. It is written with a French twist : OXINFORD.

    On Tue, May 15, 2018 at 12:57 PM, Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog wrote:

    > Hank Whittemore posted: “No less than five Shakespeare plays are set at > least partly in France: King John, Henry V, Henry VI, Pt. 1, All’s Well > That Ends Well and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Would most playwrights > deliberately set a play in France if they had never been there? In H” >

    • And at age thirteen! Thanks.

      • I noticed that, too. I don’t speak French – what’s the point in this form of writing? Thank you.


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