Oxford in the Plays: re-posting no. 49 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

This reason focuses on the author’s pervasive presence in the plays. That does not prove that Oxford wrote them, but it does add to the overwhelming evidence that he did.   A continued gaze through an Oxfordian lens brings a completely different picture into focus, one that feels like truth.

Elizabeth attending a play at the royal court; click on image for slightly sharper version

In a debate in New York City a Stratfordian opponent complained that I was trying to “take away” his personal conception of Hamlet by suggesting the Prince is a mirror reflection of Oxford.  I replied that knowing who created Hamlet can only enhance our appreciation in every way and certainly can’t detract from it!

Of course the character of Hamlet is not strictly autobiographical. But the author did use various pieces of his own nature and life experiences, then grafted them onto various outside elements including classical sources, some of which served as templates.  The mirror image is not literal; after mixing all the elements, he breathed life into a new creature of his imagination. It’s no wonder Hamlet seems to be as alive, perhaps more so, as anyone in real life.

Aspects of Oxford’s own personality and life are depicted in play after play, by characters who reveal themselves as creations of the artist. In some cases he splits himself into two separate characters embodying opposite sides of his own nature, such as Valentine and Proteus in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Valentine is virtuous and endowed with noble qualities; Proteus is viewed as “perjured, false and disloyal,” according to Silvia, a character who represents Queen Elizabeth. In fact the queen held both views of Oxford, who, as a truth-teller, freely expresses the better and worse sides of himself.

Another such splitting can be seen in his portraits in Measure for Measure of the noble and kind Duke versus the less than virtuous Angelo. In As You Like It we can see Oxford expressing the melancholy side of his nature through Jacques, while Touchstone, the former courtier, is the poet who plays the fool with a scathing wit as well as a profound wisdom: “When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child Understanding, it strikes a man more dead that a great reckoning in a little room.” (3.3)

Here’s a partial list of characters that seem, in various ways, to closely reflect Edward de Vere:

  1. Angelo …………………………… Measure for Measure
  2. Antonio …………………………..The Merchant of Venice
  3. Benedick ……………………….. Much Ado About Nothing
  4. Berowne ………………………….Love’s Labours Lost 
  5. Bertram …………………………. All’s Well That Ends Well
  6. Duke ………………………………. Measure for Measure
  7. Philip the Bastard …………… King John
  8. Fenton …………………………….The Merry Wives of Windsor
  9. Feste the Clown ……………….Twelfth Night
  10. Hamlet ……………………………. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
  11. Jacques ……………………………As You Like It
  12. King Lear ………………………….King Lear
  13. Othello ……………………………. Othello
  14. Pericles …………………………….Pericles
  15. Posthumous ……………………. Cymbeline
  16. Prospero …………………………. The Tempest
  17. Proteus …………………………….The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  18. Romeo …………………………….. Romeo and Juliet
  19. Timon ……………………………….Timon of Athens
  20. Troilus ………………………………Troilus and Cressida
  21. Valentine ………………………….The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Philip the Bastard (Faulconbridge) in King John offers a fascinating view of Edward de Vere as a high-spirited young courtier, full of merry mischief and zeal for military combat and glory.  Although King John is classified as a history play, Philip is the author’s own creation.  Oxford, who had been called a bastard by his own half-sister when he was thirteen, would have relished the chance to let his Bastard dominate the play and even conclude it with nationalistic gusto:

This England never did, nor never shall,

Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,

But when it first did help to wound itself.

Now these her princes are come home again,

Come the three corners of the world in arms,

And we shall shock them.  Nought shall make us rue,

If England to itself do rest but true. (5.7)

That word “true” is often a tipoff that Oxford, whose motto was Nothing Truer than Truth, is representing some aspect of himself through a character. “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription,” he wrote to Robert Cecil, for truth is truth, though never so old.” Consider, for example, this speech by Troilus:

True swains in love shall in the world to come

Approve their truths by Troilus: when their rhymes,

Full of protest, of oath and big compare,

Want similes, truth tired with iteration,

As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,

As sun to day, as turtle to her mate,

As iron to adamant, as earth to the center,

Yet, after all comparisons of truth,

As truth’s authentic author to be cited,

“As true as Troilus” shall crown up the verse,

And sanctify the numbers. (3.2)

Bringing stage works to the royal court, Oxford played the jester from behind the scenes. Olivia [Elizabeth] in Twelfth Night calls Feste [Oxford] a clown or “fool” who is “allowed” (i.e., specifically permitted) to run off at the mouth and make sport of others: “There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail” (1.5) — the queen’s personal playwright can scold or rant all he wants.  So long as she shields him with the royal protection, no one dares to accuse him of slander. Imagine the ticket she gave him to use his powers, as a master of hilarious, merciless satire and truth-telling, to aim at those who deserved the roast!

In any case, a few characters resembling aspects of de Vere might be deemed a coincidence, but the sheer quantity of them indicates that much more is at work.

(This reason is now No. 50 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

Thanks to editor Alex McNeil and also to Brian Bechtold for his editorial contributions.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hank, the image you used of a small group of nobles watching a play is an enormous piece of evidence showing that some of the plays were viewed only by a small, selected audience, with the Queen in attendance. It rarifies the idea that the plays were often conversations between powerful people, which meant that the author’s name was better off kept private.

    • Hi Bob, this is a great comment from you. I hadn’t thought about this aspect of the image. Yes, such a small group of nobles, and families, that made up the court circle — much like a private club of some kind, or even a family gathering — cousins, in-laws, my goodness they were all related to one degree or another. I have likened the performances in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign to comic satires put on by relatives all trapped in one large cabin during a three-day blizzard. There is always one in the crowd who knows how to mimic and portray various family members including those at the very top of the clan — and just a few telling details tell all about who is being portrayed. What fun. And what a way, as you point out, to communicate with the queen and even with both friends and enemies at court. I’m sure there was a heyday for this, in the early years or decades, before the performances were put on at Blackfriars under Oxford/Lyly and as the plays graduated to public venues.Thanks for pointing out what may be the most telling aspect of that image!


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