“The College of Writers”: Re-posting No. 34 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

“I lurk in no corners but converse in a house of credit, as well governed as any college, where there be more rare qualified men and selected good Scholars than in any Nobleman’s house that I know in England.” – Thomas Nashe, “Strange News,” 1592

De Vere was thirty In 1580 when he bought a mansion in Bishopsgate, even though he was virtually broke and already owned Vere House by London Stone, where he lived. The extravagant second house was nicknamed Fisher’s Folly after its builder, Jasper Fisher, fell into debt because of its too-costly construction.

As Charles Barrell suggests, it appears Oxford acquired the mansion “as headquarters for the school of poets and dramatists who openly acknowledged his patronage and leadership.”

A Caricature of Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

Shakespeare would not, and could not, have developed without other creative artists.  Logically, the Bard would have had an ongoing “college” in a building with many rooms and desks for writers, just as the painter Raphael had a workshop of fifty pupils and assistants, many of whom became significant artists in their own right. Orthodox biographers take it for granted that the author of the Shakespearean plays drew upon the work of several immediate predecessors (who were all connected to Oxford); but once the earl is identified as the author, we can see that these other writers had drawn from his guidance and support. When Oxford was driven into poverty in 1589-90, the same writers began to fall on hard times and suffered misfortune or death.

De Vere owned the Folly through the late 1580’s, as England prepared for the Spanish invasion. This was a time when many “history” plays (including several with the same plots and scenes as “Shakespeare’s” stage histories in the next decade) were originally written and performed. This same period saw the great renaissance of English literature and drama by the so-called University Wits, working under Oxford’s patronage and guidance – Nashe, Lyly, Watson, Greene, Munday, Churchyard, Lodge and others — leading to the first appearance of the Shakespeare name in 1593.

Caricature of Gabriel Harvey (1551-1630) with Nashe

In December 1588,, not long after the victory over King Philip’s Armada, Oxford sold Fisher’s Folly to William Cornwallis, a descendant of the 11th Earl of Oxford. In 1852 the scholar J.O. Halliwell-Philipps revealed his discovery of a small book in the handwriting of Cornwallis’ daughter Anne, who had transcribed the work of various Elizabethan poets including Verses Made by the Earl of Oxford as well as an anonymous poem that would appear in the poetry volume The Passionate Pilgrim (1599), its verses attributed to Shakespeare.

When Anne and her family moved into the house in early 1589, did she wander through its many rooms and find these verses in some corner of Oxford’s library?  Were they tucked away in a desk that one of the University Wits had used?

Halliwell-Phillipps estimated that Anne had transcribed the poems no later than 1590; but since that date was probably too early for Shakspere of Stratford to have written them, he later changed his estimate to 1595.  Barrell countered with reasons why the earlier date is more likely. He also showed that the poem Anne had transcribed is textually superior to the one printed later in 1599. Her version is apparently the only surviving handwritten copy of a poem attributed to Shakespeare dating from the sixteenth century.

An Elizabethan oak chest of the kind where Oxford might have stashed a manuscript

So we start with the theory that Oxford may have written the works attributed to Shakespeare; then we see that he buys a London mansion, which he uses from 1580 to 1588, and that a woman who moves into the place in 1589 transcribes some verses made by Oxford and other poets, including lines that will appear a decade later under the Shakespeare name!

Final Stanza of Poem No. XVIII of Passionate Pilgrim 1599:

But soft, enough – too much, I fear –

Lest that my mistress hear my song;

She will not stick to round me I’ the ear,

To teach my tongue to be so long.

Yet will she blush, here be it said,

To hear her secrets so bewray’d.

Final Stanza of the Anonymous Poem Transcribed in Anne Cornwallis’ Little Book:

Now hoe, enough, too much I fear;

For if my lady hear this song,

She will not stick to ring my ear,

To teach my tongue to be so long;

Yet would she blush, here be it said,

To hear her secrets thus bewray’d.

[Note: This reason is now No. 39 of “100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.” The reposting above is the result of invaluable work by editor Alex McNeil and other editorial assistance by Brian Bechtold.]

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