“The Director-Actor”: Re-posting No. 50 of 100 Reasons Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford

If “Shakespeare” lived in our own time, he would likely have been not only a poet, playwright and novelist, but also a screenwriter and director on a grand scale, similar to modern greats such as David Lean or Steven Spielberg. He would have seized the chance to make the most of advances in the technology and art of filmmaking.

Warwick Castle

When Oxford emerges from the shadows of history, the curtain will rise on not only the hidden genius who adopted the pen name “Shakespeare” at age forty-three in 1593, but also on the great impresario who, unknown to the public, was the primary force behind the extraordinary pageant of entertainments for Queen Elizabeth and her royal court.

In the summer of 1572 at Warwick Castle, an elaborate “show” was presented in the form of a mock military battle between two armies, one under Oxford’s command, according to a contemporary chronicler:

Cover of “The Queen’s Progress: An Elizabethan Alphabet” by Celeste Davidson Mannis

“Be it remembered that in the year of Our Lord 1572, and in the fourteenth year of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth, the twelfth day of August in the said year, it pleased our said Sovereign Lady to visit this borough of Warwick in person…”

On her royal progress with the court, she arrived in great splendor as all the chief citizens knelt outside the town to greet her: “Her Majesty in her coach, accompanied with the Lady of Warwick in the same coach … the Lord Burghley, lately made Lord Treasurer of England, the Earl of Sussex, lately made Lord Chamberlain to Her Majesty, the Lord Howard of Effingham, lately made Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Oxford Lord Great Chamberlain of England…”

By now Oxford’s close friends Sussex and Charles Howard, Earl of Effingham were in charge of ensuring that plays were brought to court, a duty they would carry out until Sussex’s death in 1583.

The queen spent a week in the Warwick area and on Sunday the 18th of August “it pleased her to have the country people resorting to see her dance in the Court of the Castle … which thing, as it pleased well the country people, so it seemed Her Majesty was much delighted and made very merry.”

In the evening after supper came the mock battle, which, among other things, was an exercise in theatrical realism.

Elizabeth and the court first saw a fort, commanded by Fulke Greville, “made of slender timber covered with canvas.”  Inside were “divers persons to serve the soldiers; and therefore so many harnesses as might be gotten within the town … wherewith men were armed and appointed to cast out fireworks, [such as] squibs and balls of fire.

Fulke Greville (1554-1628)

“Against that fort was another castle-wise prepared of like strength, whereof was governor the Earl of Oxford, a lusty gentleman, with a lusty band of gentlemen.

“Between these forts, or against them, were placed certain battering pieces, to the number of twelve or fourteen, brought from London, and twelve fair chambers, or mortar pieces, brought also from the Tower … These pieces and chambers were by trains fired, and so made a great noise, as though it had been a sore assault …

Arquebus or Harquebus

“The Earl of Oxford and his soldiers, to the number of two hundred, with calivers and arquebusses [muskets], likewise gave divers assaults; they in the fort shooting again, and casting out divers fires, terrible to those that have not been in like experiences, valiant to such as delighted therein, and indeed strange to them that understood it not.

“For the wild fire falling into the river Avon would for a time lie still, and then again rise and fly abroad, casting forth many flashes and flames, whereat the Queen’s Majesty took great pleasure…

“At the last, when it was appointed that the over-throwing of the fort should be, a dragon flying, casting out huge flames and squibs, lighted up the fort, and so set fire thereon, to the subversion thereof; but whether by negligence or otherwise, it happened that a ball of fire fell on a house at the end of the bridge…

An engraving of Warwick Castle, 1729

“And no small marvel it was that so little harm was done, for the fire balls and squibs cast up did fly quite over the Castle, and into the midst of the town; falling down some on the houses, some in courts … and some in the street … Four houses in the town and suburbs were on fire at once, whereof one had a ball come through both sides, and made a hole as big as a man’s head, and did no more harm.”

A man and his wife were sleeping in the house hit with the fireball, so Oxford and Greville ran over to help. After some difficulty, they rescued the couple; the next morning the queen and her courtiers gave the man more than 25 pounds to cover the damage.

Such high drama on a grand scale is exactly what we might expect to find “Shakespeare” creating as a young man, more than two decades before his adoption of that pen name.  We might well expect to find that, in addition to becoming the greatest writer of the English language, the poet-dramatist was also a master showman.

[The contemporary chronicle was in Black Book of Warwick, printed in Bibliotecha Topographica Britannica, vol. iv., and reprinte by B. M. Ward in his 1928 biography The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1550-1604, From Contemporary Documents.]

This blog post, appearing here as edited by Alex McNeil, is now number 3 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. 

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hello, Hank – I’ve just been re-reading your ‘100 Reasons…’ with great pleasure. I can never remember the Oxfordian facts. I have two questions: Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I don’t have a good answer to those who ask me “How did Shakspere of Stratford get to be the man everyone recognizes as the author?” Can you clarify? Second question is a request: I want to read a biography of Oxford as Shakespeare without reference to the Stratford man or ‘the debate.’ Any chance?

    • Hi there – Apologies to you for my long delay. (Traveling) Thanks for the questions!

      My view is that the Stratford man was never identified as “Shakespeare” during his lifetime and that, only seven years after 1616, when he died was an indirect connection made in the 1623 folio of plays. The references to sweet swan of Avon and to thy Stratford monument appeared in separate places and in my view, would never lead any reader to hike off to Stratford upon Avon to search for Shakespeare. Those who put the folio together (Ben Jonson being the mastermind, working for Pembroke) did have him in mind, however, and in 1640 in the Poems of Mr.William Shakespeare, Gent. — which I regard as “an extension of the coverup” — there is a reference to his death in “anon 1616,” which identifies him. Still, the link to him was hardly clear and certainly not widely known, if known at all, and only in the next century did others pick up the clues on the false trail, to put together the myths and stories that would become the stuff of Stratfordian biography.

      In other words, I believe there is no chance that Shakspere of Stratford was a “front” for Oxford at any time, and in my even less popular view I do not believe he was either an actor or a shareholder of the Globe. I believe Oxford was the guiding force of Shakespeare’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men, behind the scenes, and used that company as sole outlet for play performances and for the company to send finished plays to printers. And that any reference to “Shakespeare” during his lifetime, and that of the Stratford man, were to Oxford.

      See if you can get hold of B.M. Ward’s documentary biography of Oxford published in 1928 — “The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford” — If you have trouble finding any sort of copy, let me know and I’ll see what I can find about how to get one. In that book he studiously avoided saying that Oxford was Shakespeare, which to me made all the evidence even more powerful. It was like seeing all the dots being connected to form the painting.

      Thanks again – Hank

      • In the 1640 work there is a poem with the headline address to Shakespeare and “He died in Anno 1616.” I believe that work was put together by Jonson, who had died in 1637 but whose posthumous poetry was published also in 1640 by the same printer, whose name was John Benson, an eerie reversal of Ben’s name. My thought is that Ben Jonson chose that publisher because of his name, and because of the whole idea of reversal. See images of the cover of that work. I believe it was put out to destroy the meaning of the still-underground 1609 sonnets and the other royal poetry.

      • Yes, I also think that the Stratford man was never a front man or had any connection to the theater during his life. I suspect the mentions were to Oxford in pseudonym or simply forgeries during the early 18th century cementation of the Stratford myth. I think the records showing Shakspere trading commodities in Stratford when he was supposed to be in London writing plays show that he was really just a local Stratford businessman and the whole connection was made several generations after the death of both men simply due to a similar sounding name. Same as how back in the early 80s the local CBS station in Chicago was so desperate to cash in on the Michael Jackson Mania they sent out Bob Sirot to interview “Michael Jackson”…a fat, middle aged, white guy who worked a blue collar job in Hammond Indiana who just happened to share the same name as the famous pop singer.

      • To emphasize my gut feeling, we have a guy involved in hoarding grain and trading wool in the local rural economy. To put such a personality type in more contemporary terms, imagine a local small town midwest businessman who owns the local grain elevator and livestock processing facility. Would we really believe that such a personality profile also spends his time in New York City singing in the chorus in Broadway productions of “Hamilton” and “Mama Mia’? I don’t know who this actor is calling themselves “Shakespeare”? Oxford keeping his real name out of the records? A forgery? Some other actor just taking a stage name like “Norma Jean to Marilyn” in current perspective? But how many people with an adult vocation in the business trades moonlight in bohemian pursuits like the theater? Aren’t such people generally made of quite radically different personality types they don’t really ever mix? Sort of how the Physics Geeks on The Big Bang Theory TV show are as unlikely as you can get to pursue a side career as a smooth talking, manipulative grifter selling Time Shares. I think nobody ever went around at the time taking public credit for the plays under the name “Shakespeare” and after two generations when the insiders in the know had mostly passed, people born well after the Elizabethan Renaissance just started assuming this grain trader in Stratford was the author on similarity in name alone. History may have then been hacked and entries forged to make the legend that this commoner was the author as the country turned a sour eye to feudalism.

  2. Just one addition: I’ve found hidden alterations in a special given First Folio, ridiculing the William Shakespeare name itself, as
    Silliam and then at another place: Phakespeare. This tells volumes about those designing and printing the First Folio – and about the truth.

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