Re-Posting Reason 11: Oxford’s Prefatory Letter for “Cardanus Comforte” of 1573

(Note: Below is a re-posting of all three parts of Reason 11 much as they originally appeared on this blog site. The combination of all three parts accounts for the length of this single post.  The same entry, reduced in length, now appears as Reason 25 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.

When J. Thomas Looney hypothesized that Edward de Vere earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare,” he came upon his prefatory letter for Thomas Beddingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte published in 1573, when Oxford was twenty-three, and one can only imagine Looney’s amazement upon finding such self-evident support for his thesis.  After all, here was a letter we might well have expected to find from “Shakespeare” as a young man.

“CARDANUS Comforte, translated And Published by commaundement of the right Honourable the Earle of Oxenforde.” This is the 1576 edition; the first was in 1573.

Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified (1920) that Oxford’s letter “gives us a glimpse into the nature of the man himself as he was in these early years.  Whatever may have been the pose he thought fit to adopt in dealing with some of the men about Elizabeth’s court, this letter bears ample testimony to the generosity and largeness of his disposition, the clearness and sobriety of his judgment, and the essential manliness of his actions and bearing towards literary men whom he considered worthy of encouragement…

“As a letter it is, of course, prose, but it is the prose of a genuine poet: its terse ingenuity, wealth of figurative speech, and even its musical quality…”

Oxford had taken the court by storm; an expert in horsemanship, he was the new champion of the Whitehall tiltyard; and already he had risen to the heights of the royal favor, amid gossip that he and the queen were lovers despite his marriage to the daughter of chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England. In addition, breaking with tradition as he had done with sponsorship of The Courtier by Castiglione, the young earl was clearly England’s great champion of literature and the Italian renaissance.

John Thomas Looney (1870-1944)

Looney’s parting word on the Cardanus preface was a plea to his readers to “familiarize themselves thoroughly with the diction of this letter” and then “read the dedication of Venus and Adonis” to Southampton printed in 1593: “So similar is the style that it is hardly necessary to make any allowance for the [twenty] intervening years.”

An Oxfordian who picked up on the latter theme was Joseph Sobran (1946-2010), who, in the appendix section of Alias Shakespeare (1997), offered perceptive observations such as:

“This document unmistakably prefigures the Southampton poems of Shakespeare: the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece. Written when Oxford was only twenty-three, the letter anticipates these poems in spirit, theme, image, and other details. Like those poems, it borrows, for figurative use, the languages of law, commerce, horticulture, and medicine. It speaks of publication as a duty and of literary works as tombs and monuments to their authors. It has echoes in the plays, and the points of resemblance to the Southampton poems are especially notable…

“Alias, Shakespeare” (1997) by Joseph Sobran

“Oxford’s letter is Shakespearean in a wider respect too: in its overwhelming warmth and generosity, verging on excess, yet controlled by a pleasant irony. He loves to praise, but he avoids the risk of fulsomeness by disguising praise as admiring accusation. ‘For shame!’ he says: ‘You want to hoard your own excellence, deny your virtue to the world!’  This is exactly the rhetorical strategy of Sonnets 1 through 17, using much the same language and many of the same images…”

Here is Oxford’s public letter in 1573 to Bedingfield in full, followed by the dedication of Venus and Adonis in 1593 to Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton:

“To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s gentlemen pensioners.

“After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same, that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man, to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

“And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests and better I thought it were to displease one than to displease many: further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity, as may not with a little persuasion of reason be repaired again. And herein I am forced like a good and politic captain oftentimes to spoil and burn the corn of his own country lest his enemies thereof do take advantage. For rather than so many of your countrymen should be deluded through my sinister means of your industry in studies (whereof you are bound in conscience to yield them an account) I am content to make spoil and havoc of your request, and that, that might have wrought greatly in me in this former respect, utterly to be of no effect or operation: and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use? I do not doubt even so you think of your studies and delightful Muses. What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others? Wherefore we have this Latin proverb: Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter. What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit unto another? What doth avail the vine unless another delighteth in the grape? What doth avail the rose unless another took pleasure in the smell?  Why should this tree be accounted better than that tree, but for the goodness of his fruit? Why should this vine be better than that vine, unless it brought forth a better grape than the other? Why should this rose be better esteemed than that rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other rose?

“And so it is in all other things as well as in man. Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue, through which every man desireth to be accounted of?  Then you amongst men I do not doubt, but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornament of virtue.  And in mine opinion as it beautifieth a fair woman to be decked with pearls and precious stones, so much more it ornifieth a gentleman to be furnished in mind with glittering virtues.

“Wherefore considering the small harm I do to you, the great good I do to others, I prefer mine own intention to discover your volume before your request to secret the same; wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or physician, who, although his patient in the extremity of his burning fever is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body, yet for the danger he doth evidently know by his science to ensue, denieth him the same. So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion, yet I, knowing the discommodities that shall redound to yourself thereby (and which is more, unto your countrymen) as one that is willing to salve so great an inconvenience, am nothing dainty to deny your request.

“Again, we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more than by erecting them of tombs; whereby when they be dead indeed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument; but with me, behold, it happeneth far better, for in your lifetime I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say [in] your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone. And in your lifetime, again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life, whereby I may declare my good will, though with your ill will as yet that I do bear you in your life.

“Thus earnestly desiring you in this one request of mine (as I would yield to you in a great many) not to repugn the setting-forth of your own proper studies, I bid you farewell. From my new country muses at Wivenghole, wishing you as you have begun, to proceed in these virtuous actions. For when all things shall else forsake us, virtue yet will ever abide with us, and when our bodies fall into the bowels of the earth, yet that shall mount with our minds into the highest heavens.

“By your loving and assured friend, E. Oxenford”

DEDICATION OF “VENUS AND ADONIS” – 1593:

“TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE Henry Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton, And Baron of Tichfield

“Right Honourable,

“I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden.  Only, if your Honour seem but pleased, I account my self highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour.  But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather: and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest.  I leave it to your Honourable survey, and your Honour to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation.

“Your Honors in all duty, William Shakespeare”

///

The Oxford Universal Dictionary cites “Shakespeare” as the first person to write “persuade” and “murdered” as he used those words here:

“… your king … sends me a paper to persuade me patience?” – 3 Henry VI

“’Glamis hath murdered sleep…’” – Macbeth  

But Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford had used “persuade” and “murdered” in those same ways much earlier, when he was twenty-three, within his dedicatory letter to the translator of Cardanus Comforte:

“And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.”

“The Mysterious William Shakespeare” (1984, 1992) by Charlton Ogburn Jr.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. reported these findings in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984), supporting the theory that Oxford himself was the author of 3 Henry VI and Macbeth, in which case he was simply using “persuade” and “murdered” as he had done years before.   Centuries later “Shakespeare” would be credited with creating those word usages without anyone noticing that in fact it was de Vere.

The above is just one small example of what will be discovered (and re-discovered) once Oxford and “Shakespeare” are recognized as one and the same man.

////

William Plumer Fowler’s magnum opus,  Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters (1986), will one day be recognized as a major contribution to studies of Shakespearean authorship; and most of the examples cited below are taken from that important work of 872 pages.

Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters (1986) by William Plumer Fowler

Following is the first paragraph of Oxford’s prefatory dedication addressed “To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s gentlemen pensioners.”   I have underlined words and phrases that will appear in the plays, poems and sonnets to be published under the “Shakespeare” name two or three decades after 1573:

After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same, that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man, to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

Oxford: “After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield…”

Shakespeare: “Have you perused the letters from the pope” – 1 Henry VI, 5.1.1

Oxford: “…finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt…”

Shakespeare: “I cannot choose but pity her” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 4.4.77

Oxford: “… whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book.”

Shakespeare: “I’ll force thee to yield to my desire” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 5.4.59

Shakespeare: “We’ll execute your purpose” – Troilus and Cressida, 3.3.50

Shakespeare (Following the same sentence construction used above by Oxford): “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles” – Hamlet, 3.1.55

Oxford: “For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little.”

Shakespeare: “For Polixenes, with who I am accused, I do confess” – The Winter’s Tale, 3.2.62

Shakespeare: “You … have misdemeaned yourself, and not a little” – Henry VIII, 5.3.14

Oxford: “But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind…”

Shakespeare: “My lord, I have considered in my mind” – Richard III, 4.2.83

Oxford: “… of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work.”

Shakespeare: “So you do condescend to help me now” – 1 Henry IV, 5.3.17

Shakespeare: “In strange concealments, valiant as a lion” – 1 Henry IV, 3.1.166

Shakespeare: “A little of that worthy work performed” – Coriolanus, 2.2.45

Oxford: “Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same…”

Shakespeare: “I profit in the knowledge of myself” – Twelfth Night, 5.1.25

(In the above lines, within a single paragraph, Oxford uses concealment, worthy and profited; and all three are echoed in a single passage of 1 Henry IV, 3.1.164-166: “In faith he is a worthy gentleman, exceedingly well read, and profited in strange concealments.”)

Oxford: “…that shall comfort the afflicted …”

Shakespeare: “For this affliction has a taste as sweet as any cordial comfort” – The Winter’s Tale, 5.3.76

 

Oxford:  “… confirm the doubtful …”

Shakespeare: “As doubtful whether what I see be true, until confirmed” – The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.148

 

Oxford: “… encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man…”

Shakespeare: “Faith, I’ll bear no base mind” – 2 Henry IV, 3.2.240

 

Oxford: “… to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue…”

Shakespeare: “To leave for nothing all thy sum of good” – Sonnet 109, line 12

 

Oxford: “… whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.”

Shakespeare: “The Doll and Helen of thy noble thoughts is in base durance” – 2 Henry IV, 5.5.36

Here is another section of Oxford’s letter:

I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests … further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity … and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use … What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others … So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion … “ – Edward de Vere, in his prefatory letter to Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte from Italian into English.

Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) the Italian philosopher and author of “Cardanus Comforte,” was still alive when Oxford was in Italy during 1575-1576

The 23-year-old earl created an elaborate “excuse” for publishing the work despite his friend’s wish that he refrain from doing so.  This apology or justification was not meant to be taken seriously by the readers; rather it was a literary device that Oxford used to create a lofty, amusing piece of writing while introducing Cardano’s work that has come to be known as the book Hamlet carries with him and reads on stage.

What Oxford produced was a piece of Elizabethan prose that Percy Allen described in the 1930’s as “one of the most gracious that even those days of exquisite writing have bequeathed to us, from the hand of a great nobleman … with its friendship that never condescends, its intimacy that is never familiar, its persuasive logic, its harmonious rhythms, its gentle and compelling charm.”  [The Life Story of Edward de Vere as “William Shakespeare” – 1932]

Here is surely the same voice we hear in the Prince of Denmark’s words, Allen noted.  Here is prose that sounds like Hamlet’s speech to the common players who arrive at the palace.  As Delia Bacon had put it in the 19th century, the author of the play must have been quite like “the subtle Hamlet of the university, the courtly Hamlet, ‘the glass of fashion and the mold of form’” – a description that perfectly fits Lord Oxford in the early 1570’s, when he was in the highest royal favor at the Court of Elizabeth.  [The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded – 1857]

Oxford and “Shakespeare” both argue that the possessor of a talent has a duty to use it, that anyone with a virtue has a responsibility to share it with others rather than hoard it for himself alone.  The earl writes that if he had failed to publish Bedingfield’s translation he would have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.”  By contrast his act of causing the work to be published is but a “trifle” to be overcome; and from “Shakespeare” we shall hear the same words within the context of the same theme in the sonnets to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton:

So the time that keeps you as my chest – Sonnet 52

Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? – Sonnet 65

But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are – Sonnet 48

But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,

And kept unused the user so destroys it;

No love toward others in that bosom sits

That on himself such murderous shame commits.  – Sonnet 9

Oxford rhetorically asks his friend to consider how it avails “a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags and never to be employed to your use?”  What good are Bedingfield’s studies if he chooses to “not participate them to others”?  Why would he want to “bury” his works “in the grave of oblivion?”

By new unfolding his imprisoned pride – Sonnet 52

Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty – Sonnet 58

 

Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament [“time’s best jewel”]

And only herald to the gaudy spring,

Within thine own bud buriest thy content,

And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.

Pity the world!  Or else this glutton be:

To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee – Sonnet 1

 

In Venus and Adonis of 1593, the goddess Venus lectures young Adonis on the same theme using the same words:

What is thy body but a swallowing grave,

Seeming to bury that posterity

Which by the rights of time thou needs must have,

If thou destroy them not in dark obscurityVenus and Adonis, lines 757-762

Thou art the grave where buried love doth live – Sonnet 31

The Tudor Rose – “That which we call a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – Juliet

Oxford enlarges upon his theme:

“What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit to another … What doth avail the Rose unless another took pleasure in the smell … Why should this Rose be better esteemed than that Rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other Rose?  And so it is in all other things as well as in man.  Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue through which every man desireth to be accounted of?  Then you amongst men I do not doubt but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornaments of virtue…” 

And “Shakespeare” more than two decades later:

What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.

But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

Lose but their show; their substance still smells sweet.

– Sonnet 5

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem

By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!

The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

For that sweet odor which doth in it live.

The Canker-blooms have full as deep a dye

As the perfumed tincture of the Roses

But for their virtue only is their show,

They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade,

Die to themselves.  Sweet Roses do not so:

Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odors made.  – Sonnet 54

 

Oxford writes:

“ … wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or Physician, who, though his patient in the extremity of his burning Fever, is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body …”

And Shakespeare uses the same image:

My love is as a fever longing still

For that which longer nurseth the disease,

Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,

The uncertain sickly appetite to please:

My reason, the Physician to my love…” – Sonnet 147

And finally, to choose among many such examples, Oxford anticipates one of Shakespeare’s major themes in the Sonnets printed in 1609, the power of his pen to create a “monument” for posterity:

“Again we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more then by erecting them of Tombs: Whereby when they be dead in deed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument, but with me behold it happeneth far better, for in your life time I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say in your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone.  And in your life time again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life…”

Sonnet 81:

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues overturn

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.  

‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth!  – Sonnet 55

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,

When all the breathers of this world are dead.

You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

 

Sonnet 107, the couplet at the end:

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

 

 

Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Annual Conference on Its Way: Thursday Sept. 11 – Sunday Sept. 14

Madison-Conf-Promo-pic

Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship – Madison, Wisconsin

Thursday, 11 September

12:00 – 1:15 Registration
1:15 – 1:30 Welcome – Opening of Conference & Review of Agenda
1:30 – 2:30 Shelly Maycock – Grafting Texts to Create New Strains: Jonson’s Intertextual connections between the Encomium to the First Folio and Shakespeare’s Richard III as rhetorical keys to concealed authorship
2:30 – 3:30 Julie Bianchi – Untangling Elizabethan Roots: A genealogical approach to the authorship question
3:30 – 3:45 Coffee break
3:45 – 4:45 James Norwood – Mark Twain and Shake-Speare: Soul Mates
4:45 – 5:00 Linda Theil – Looney “Shakespeare Identified” Centennial Brainstorm
5:00 – 5:10 Announcements

Friday, 12 September

8:30 – 9:15 W. Ron Hess – Did Oxford Use A Secretary Hand As Well As His Italic Hand? Could Oxford have perpetrated a documentary hoax on Shakspere?
9:15 – 10:00 Heward Wilkinson (England) – “If this be error and upon me proved”: ‘Deceptive Displacements’ and the Shakespeare Authorship Question.
10:00 – 10:15 Coffee Break
10:15 – 11:00 Don Rubin – Sisyphus and the Globe: Turning (on) the Media
11:00 – 11:30 John Shahan – Update on the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition
11:30 – 12:15 Alexander Waugh – Three Words to Think About
Buffet Lunch
1:00 – 1:50 Hanno Wember – Paper by Robert Detobel: Idle Hours
1:50 – 2:45 Ramon Jimenez – Six Characters in Search of an Author
2:45 – 3:00 Coffee Break
3:00 – 4:00 Bonner Cutting – Evermore in Subjection: Wardship in Early Modern England and its Impact on Edward de Vere.
4:00 – 5:00 Roger Stritmatter – By the Numbers: Palladis Tamia and the Shakespearean Question
Evening: Cheryl Eagan-Donovan: Film – Premier screening Nothing is Truer Than Truth

Saturday, 13 September

8:30 – 9:45 Annual Meeting of the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship
9:45 – 10:00 Coffee Break
10:00 – 10:45 Walter Hurst – Sabbioneta, Italy, An Intersection of Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Edward de Vere?
10:45 – 11:30 Michael Delahoyde – Oxford’s Early Errors
11:30 – 12:15 Earl Showerman – Much Ado about Hercules’ Labors of Love
Lunch on your own
1:30 – 2:15 Alexander Waugh – Sweet Swan
2:15 – 3:00 James Warren – The Use of State Power in the Effort to Hide Edward de Vere’s Authorship of the Works Attributed to “William Shake-speare”
3:00 – 3:45 Newton Frohlich – The Shakespeare Mask
Evening Event – Separate Reservation required
4:00 p.m. Bus leaves for APT in Spring Green for Much Ado about Nothing. Dinner and Play are included.
10:45 p.m. Bus returns to Madison (arrives about midnight)

Sunday, 14 September

8:30 – 9:30 Linda Theil – Panel – “Every Power That Moves”: Using Mobile Tech to Advance SOF Goals
9:30 – 10:15 James McGrath – Shakespeare’s Numbers: English Metrical Verse and How It Is Spoken on Stage
10:15 – 10:30 Coffee Break
10:30 – 11:15 Ron Halstead – What’s Hecuba to Him? Connecting Life and Drama in Hamlet
11:15 – 12:00 Tom Regnier – Hamlet and the Law of Homicide: The Life of the Mind in Law and Art
12:00 – 12:15 Break
12:15 – 2:15 Closing Banquet with Keynote. Awards and Final words.
Hank Whittemore: 100 Reasons for Oxford’s Authorship of Shakespeare’s Works

Reason No. 11 (Part Three of Three) of 100 Reasons Why I Believe Oxford was “Shakespeare” — More on Oxford’s Public Letter for “Hamlet’s Book”

“I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests … further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity … and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use … What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others … So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion … “ – Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, in his prefatory letter to Thomas Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte in 1573 from Italian into English.

Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) the Italian philosopher and author of "Cardanus Comforte," was still alive when Oxford was in Italy during 1575-1576

The 23-year-old earl created an elaborate “excuse” for publishing the work despite his friend’s wish that he refrain from doing so.  This apology or justification was not meant to be taken seriously by the readers; rather it was a literary device that Oxford used to create an elaborate, lofty, amusing piece of writing while introducing Cardano’s work that has come to be known as the book Hamlet carries with him and reads on stage.

What Oxford produced was a piece of Elizabethan prose that Percy Allen described in the 1930’s as “one of the most gracious that even those days of exquisite writing have bequeathed to us, from the hand of a great nobleman … with its friendship that never condescends, its intimacy that is never familiar, its persuasive logic, its harmonious rhythms, its gentle and compelling charm.”  [The Life Story of Edward de Vere as “William Shakespeare” – 1932]

Here is surely the same voice we hear in the Prince of Denmark’s words, Allen noted.  Here is prose that sounds like Hamlet’s speech to the common players who arrive at the palace.  As Delia Bacon had put it in the 19th century, the author of the play must have been quite like “the subtle Hamlet of the university, the courtly Hamlet, ‘the glass of fashion and the mold of form’” – a description that perfectly fits Lord Oxford in the early 1570’s, when he was in the highest royal favor at the Court of Elizabeth.  [The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded – 1857]

Oxford and “Shakespeare” both argue that the possessor of a talent has a duty to use it, that anyone with a virtue has a responsibility to share it with others rather than hoard it for himself alone.  The earl writes that if he had failed to publish Bedingfield’s translation he would have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.”  By contrast his act of causing the work to be published is but a “trifle” to be overcome; and from “Shakespeare” we shall hear the same words within the context of the same theme in the sonnets to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton:

So the time that keeps you as my chest – Sonnet 52

Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? – Sonnet 65

But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are – Sonnet 48

But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,

And kept unused the user so destroys it;

No love toward others in that bosom sits

That on himself such murderous shame commits.  – Sonnet 9

Oxford rhetorically asks his friend to consider how it avails “a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags and never to be employed to your use?”  What good are Bedingfield’s studies if he chooses to “not participate them to others”?  Why would he want to “bury” his works “in the grave of oblivion?”

By new unfolding his imprisoned pride – Sonnet 52

Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty – Sonnet 58

Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament [“time’s best jewel”]

And only herald to the gaudy spring,

Within thine own bud buriest thy content,

And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.

Pity the world!  Or else this glutton be:

To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee – Sonnet 1

In Venus and Adonis of 1593, the goddess Venus lectures young Adonis on the same theme using the same words:

What is thy body but a swallowing grave,

Seeming to bury that posterity

Which by the rights of time thou needs must have,

If thou destroy them not in dark obscurityVenus and Adonis, lines 757-762

Thou art the grave where buried love doth live – Sonnet 31

The Tudor Rose - "That which we call a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet" - Juliet

Oxford enlarges upon his theme:

“What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit to another … What doth avail the Rose unless another took pleasure in the smell … Why should this Rose be better esteemed than that Rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other Rose?  And so it is in all other things as well as in man.  Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue through which every man desireth to be accounted of?  Then you amongst men I do not doubt but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornaments of virtue…” 

And Shakespeare more than two decades later:

What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.

But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

Lose but their show; their substance still smells sweet.

– Sonnet 5

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem

By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!

The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

For that sweet odor which doth in it live.

The Canker-blooms have full as deep a dye

As the perfumed tincture of the Roses

But for their virtue only is their show,

They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade,

Die to themselves.  Sweet Roses do not so:

Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odors made.  – Sonnet 54

Oxford writes:

“ … wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or Physician, who, though his patient in the extremity of his burning Fever, is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body …”

And Shakespeare uses the same image:

My love is as a fever longing still

For that which longer nurseth the disease,

Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,

The uncertain sickly appetite to please:

My reason, the Physician to my love…” – Sonnet 147

And finally, to choose among many such examples, Oxford anticipates one of Shakespeare’s major themes in the Sonnets printed in 1609, the power of his pen to create a “monument” for posterity:

“Again we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more then by erecting them of Tombs: Whereby when they be dead in deed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument, but with me behold it happeneth far better, for in your life time I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say in your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone.  And in your life time again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life…”

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues overturn

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.  

‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth!  – Sonnet 55

Oxford and Elizabeth -- the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, carrying the Sword of State, with Queen Elizabeth the First

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,

When all the breathers of this world are dead.

You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

– Sonnet 81

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent – Sonnet 107

So that’s it for No. 11 of 100 reasons why I believe Oxford wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare.

But I’m just warming up, so stay tuned!

(Significant work on Oxford’s public letter to Bedingfield has been done by many Oxfordians including, for example, Gwynneth Bowen in the Shakespearean Authorship Review [England] of spring 1967, reprinted online in Mark Alexander’s Shakespeare Authorship Sourcebook and also in So Richly Spun: Volume 5 of Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare , edited by Dr. Paul Altrocchi and yours truly.  Also, as mentioned previously, Joseph Sobran included an essay on the letter in an appendix to his book Alias Shakespeare in 1997.)

Reason No. 11 (Part Two): Oxford’s Dedicatory Letter is Filled with Words, Thoughts and Expressions to be Used by “Shakespeare”

The Oxford Universal Dictionary cites “Shakespeare” as the first person to write “persuade” and “murdered” as he used those words here:

“… your king … sends me a paper to persuade me patience?” – 3 Henry VI

“’Glamis hath murdered sleep…’” – Macbeth  

But Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford had used “persuade” and “murdered” in those same ways much earlier, when he was twenty-three, within his dedicatory letter to the translator of Cardanus Comfortein 1573:

“And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.”

"The Mysterious William Shakespeare" (1984, 1992) by Charlton Ogburn Jr.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. reported these findings in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984), supporting the theory that Oxford himself was the author of 3 Henry VI and Macbeth, in which case he was simply using “persuade” and “murdered” as he had done years before.   Centuries later “Shakespeare” would be credited with creating those word usages without anyone noticing that in fact it was Edward de Vere who had created them.

The above is just a tiny example of what the world will discover once Oxford and “Shakespeare” are recognized as one and the same man.

William Plumer Fowler’s magnum opus,  Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters (1986), will one day be recognized as a major contribution to studies of Shakespearean authorship; and most of the examples cited below are taken from that important work of 872 pages.

Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters (1986) by William Plumer Fowler

Following is the first paragraph of Oxford’s prefatory dedication addressed “To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s gentlemen pensioners.”   I have underlined words and phrases that will appear in the plays, poems and sonnets to be published under the “Shakespeare” name two or three decades after 1573:

After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same, that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man, to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

Oxford: “After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield…”

Shakespeare: “Have you perused the letters from the pope” – 1 Henry VI, 5.1.1

Oxford: “…finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt…”

Shakespeare: “I cannot choose but pity her” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 4.4.77

Oxford: “… whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book.”

Shakespeare: “I’ll force thee to yield to my desire” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 5.4.59

Shakespeare: “We’ll execute your purpose” – Troilus and Cressida, 3.3.50

Shakespeare (Following the same sentence construction used above by Oxford): “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles” – Hamlet, 3.1.55

Oxford: “For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little.”

Shakespeare: “For Polixenes, with who I am accused, I do confess” – The Winter’s Tale, 3.2.62

Shakespeare: “You … have misdemeaned yourself, and not a little” – Henry VIII, 5.3.14

Oxford: “But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind…”

Shakespeare: “My lord, I have considered in my mind” – Richard III, 4.2.83

Oxford: “… of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work.”

Shakespeare: “So you do condescend to help me now” – 1 Henry IV, 5.3.17

Shakespeare: “In strange concealments, valiant as a lion” – 1 Henry IV, 3.1.166

Shakespeare: “A little of that worthy work performed” – Coriolanus, 2.2.45

Oxford: “Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same…”

Shakespeare: “I profit in the knowledge of myself” – Twelfth Night, 5.1.25

(In the above lines, within a single paragraph, Oxford uses concealment, worthy and profited; and all three are echoed in a single passage of 1 Henry IV, 3.1.164-166: “In faith he is a worthy gentleman, exceedingly well read, and profited in strange concealments”)

Oxford: “…that shall comfort the afflicted …”

Shakespeare: “For this affliction has a taste as sweet as any cordial comfort” – The Winter’s Tale, 5.3.76

Oxford:  “… confirm the doubtful …”

Shakespeare: “As doubtful whether what I see be true, until confirmed” – The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.148

Oxford: “… encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man…”

Shakespeare: “Faith, I’ll bear no base mind” – 2 Henry IV, 3.2.240

Oxford: “… to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue…”

Shakespeare: “To leave for nothing all thy sum of good” – Sonnet 109, line 12

Oxford: “… whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.”

Shakespeare: “The Doll and Helen of thy noble thoughts is in base durance” – 2 Henry IV, 5.5.36

I don’t know about you, but I find this stuff impressive.  Of course it’s not proof that Oxford later became “Shakespeare,” although it might come close to proof if studies found that no other writers of the time had such a frequency of what William Plumer Fowler called “arresting parallelisms, both in thought and expression, to Shakespeare’s poetry and drama.”

Fowler (1900-1993) lived most of his life in the Little Boar’s Head District of North Hampton, New Hampshire.  An alumnus of Roxbury Latin School, Dartmouth College, and Harvard Law School, he practiced law in Boston until he was 72.  For many years he was president of the Shakespeare Club of Boston — before he became an Oxfordian.  His diverse interests included publishing several books of poetry in addition to his work on Oxford’s letters.

There’s even more to include as part of Reason No. 11, so we’ll continue next time with Part Three…

Reason No. 11 (Part One) Why Oxford was “Shakespeare”: His Prefatory Letter for “Cardanus’ Comforte” is … Shakespearean!

When J. Thomas Looney hypothesized that Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare,” he came upon Oxford’s prefatory letter for Thomas Beddingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte published in 1573 when Oxford was twenty-three (reprinted in 1576); and one can only imagine Looney’s amazement upon finding such self-evident support for his thesis.  Here is a letter that we might well expect to find from “Shakespeare” as a young man…

"CARDANUS Comforte, translated And Published by commaundement of the right Honourable the Earle of Oxenforde."

Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified (1920) that Oxford’s letter “gives us a glimpse into the nature of the man himself as he was in these early years.  Whatever may have been the pose he thought fit to adopt in dealing with some of the men about Elizabeth’s court, this letter bears ample testimony to the generosity and largeness of his disposition, the clearness and sobriety of his judgment, and the essential manliness of his actions and bearing towards literary men whom he considered worthy of encouragement…

“As a letter it is, of course, prose, but it is the prose of a genuine poet: its terse ingenuity, wealth of figurative speech, and even its musical quality…”

Oxford had taken the court by storm; an expert in horsemanship, he was the new champion of the Whitehall tiltyard; and already he had risen to the heights of the royal favor, amid gossip that he and the queen were lovers despite his marriage to Lord Burghley’s daughter Anne Cecil. In addition, breaking with tradition as he had done with sponsorship of The Courtier by Castiglione, the young earl was clearly England’s great champion of literature and the Italian renaissance.

John Thomas Looney (1870-1944)

Looney’s parting word on the Cardanus preface was a plea to his readers to “familiarize themselves thoroughly with the diction of this letter” and then “read the dedication of Venus and Adonis” to Southampton printed in 1593. “So similar is the style that it is hardly necessary to make any allowance for the [twenty] intervening years.”

An Oxfordian who picked up on the latter theme was Joseph Sobran (1946-2010), who, in the appendix section of Alias Shakespeare (1997), offered perceptive observations such as:

“This document unmistakably prefigures the Southampton poems of Shakespeare: the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece. Written when Oxford was only twenty-three, the letter anticipates these poems in spirit, theme, image, and other details. Like those poems, it borrows, for figurative use, the languages of law, commerce, horticulture, and medicine. It speaks of publication as a duty and of literary works as tombs and monuments to their authors. It has echoes in the plays, and the points of resemblance to the Southampton poems are especially notable…

"Alias, Shakespeare" (1997) by Joseph Sobran

“Oxford’s letter is Shakespearean in a wider respect too: in its overwhelming warmth and generosity, verging on excess, yet controlled by a pleasant irony. He loves to praise, but he avoids the risk of fulsomeness by disguising praise as admiring accusation. ‘For shame!’ he says: ‘You want to hoard your own excellence, deny your virtue to the world!’  This is exactly the rhetorical strategy of Sonnets 1 through 17, using much the same language and many of the same images…”

We’ll continue in the next blog post with Part Two of Reason No. 11, but meanwhile here is Oxford’s letter in 1573 to Bedingfield in full, followed by the dedication of Venus and Adonis in 1593 to Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton:

“To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s gentlemen pensioners.

“After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same, that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man, to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

“And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests and better I thought it were to displease one than to displease many: further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity, as may not with a little persuasion of reason be repaired again. And herein I am forced like a good and politic captain oftentimes to spoil and burn the corn of his own country lest his enemies thereof do take advantage. For rather than so many of your countrymen should be deluded through my sinister means of your industry in studies (whereof you are bound in conscience to yield them an account) I am content to make spoil and havoc of your request, and that, that might have wrought greatly in me in this former respect, utterly to be of no effect or operation: and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use? I do not doubt even so you think of your studies and delightful Muses. What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others? Wherefore we have this Latin proverb: Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter. What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit unto another? What doth avail the vine unless another delighteth in the grape? What doth avail the rose unless another took pleasure in the smell?  Why should this tree be accounted better than that tree, but for the goodness of his fruit? Why should this vine be better than that vine, unless it brought forth a better grape than the other? Why should this rose be better esteemed than that rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other rose?

“And so it is in all other things as well as in man. Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue, through which every man desireth to be accounted of?  Then you amongst men I do not doubt, but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornament of virtue.  And in mine opinion as it beautifieth a fair woman to be decked with pearls and precious stones, so much more it ornifieth a gentleman to be furnished in mind with glittering virtues.

“Wherefore considering the small harm I do to you, the great good I do to others, I prefer mine own intention to discover your volume before your request to secret the same; wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or physician, who, although his patient in the extremity of his burning fever is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body, yet for the danger he doth evidently know by his science to ensue, denieth him the same. So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion, yet I, knowing the discommodities that shall redound to yourself thereby (and which is more, unto your countrymen) as one that is willing to salve so great an inconvenience, am nothing dainty to deny your request.

“Again, we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more than by erecting them of tombs; whereby when they be dead indeed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument; but with me, behold, it happeneth far better, for in your lifetime I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say [in] your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone. And in your lifetime, again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life, whereby I may declare my good will, though with your ill will as yet that I do bear you in your life.

“Thus earnestly desiring you in this one request of mine (as I would yield to you in a great many) not to repugn the setting-forth of your own proper studies, I bid you farewell. From my new country muses at Wivenghole, wishing you as you have begun, to proceed in these virtuous actions. For when all things shall else forsake us, virtue yet will ever abide with us, and when our bodies fall into the bowels of the earth, yet that shall mount with our minds into the highest heavens.

“By your loving and assured friend, E. Oxenford”

DEDICATION OF “VENUS AND ADONIS” – 1593:

“TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE Henry Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton, And Baron of Tichfield

“Right Honourable,

“I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden.  Only, if your Honour seem but pleased, I account my self highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour.  But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather: and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest.  I leave it to your Honourable survey, and your Honour to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation.

“Your Honors in all duty, William Shakespeare”

2011 – The Big Year for Edward de Vere?

Happy New Year!  Many of my friends and colleagues (I include myself) in the “Oxfordian” world are starting to feel that this is going to be the “big year” for us — that is, for those of us who have concluded that Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) was the true author of the works printed under the name — the pen name, that is — of William Shakespeare.

Why has this ridiculously optimistic feeling come over us?  Well, let’s see…

First and foremost is that producer-director Roland Emmerich’s feature film Anonymous is set to open in theaters this fall — on Friday, September 23, 2011.  Here’s the idea of Oxford as “Shakespeare” finally on the big screen — for the first time in the ninety-one years since the earl was “identified” in 1920 (by British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney) as the greatest writer of the English language.

Film director Roland Emmerich on the set of "Anonymous," due in theaters in September

Whatever any critic will say about this film, or however any individual viewer reacts to it, or to what extent it does or does not come close to the true history, is beside the point — which is simply that the Shakespeare Authorship Question itself will finally be brought out of hiding … out of the dark cave of censorship and suppression … into the daylight where everybody can see it and evaluate the subject for themselves.

You think this might be a bit of hyperbole?  A little over the top?  Well, when my friend Charles Boyle introduced me to the topic in 1987, I was stunned to hear about it.  Even though I’d gone through the University of Notre Dame in the Theater Department and the Great Books Program, no one had ever even mentioned that there might be a Shakespeare problem, much less that there had been a real-life eccentric, mysterious individual at the Court of Elizabeth the First who could have served as the model for Prince Hamlet.

Mark Rylance as Hamlet

How could not one of my professors or play directors have ever mentioned this to me?  Even if they thought the whole subject was nonsense, why wouldn’t they bring it up?  I ran to the public library (in Portland, Maine, where I lived at the time) and discovered to my shock that right there were at least a dozen books questioning the traditional attribution of Shakespearean authorship — and some fascinating books putting forth the theory that Edward de Vere was the true poet and playwright.

How could I not have known this before?  Over the ensuing years I would discover that many others had experienced the same wonderment — intelligent, educated, well-read men and women who had gone through more than half their lives without an inkling that William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon (1564-1616) might not have been the writer known as William Shakespeare.

I recalled having played the part of Laertes in our production of Hamlet at Notre Dame, and how I’d stood in the wings watching and listening to the late great actor Richard Kavanaugh playing the lead role — and I remembered a specific moment when I heard these lines spoken by the Prince to his young girlfriend Ophelia:

“I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.  I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.  What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?”

Right then it struck me that this was very candid stuff, and very modern in terms of the protagonist of a play, the so-called hero, being so self-critical.  More than that, within those words or behind them seemed to be the voice of the author himself, this great dramatist about whose identity and life I had never given any thought whatsoever!

And a few minutes later, during a break in rehearsals, I walked onto the stage and asked co-director Fred Syberg, “What do we know about Shakespeare?”

“Well,” Fred replied, “he was a guy who went to London and became an actor and started writing plays.  That’s about it.”

Uh-hunh, I thought.  Okay.  Sureand then pushed that little kernel of curiosity back into its cave, back into that darkness where it continued to be hidden from most of the world….

I’ll be back here soon, to continue the subject of why many Oxfordians feel that 2011 is going to be “the big one” for the Shakespeare Authorship Question … a year different from all the other years.  As Bette Davis tells the folks as Margo Channing at the party in All About Eve:  “Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night!”

The Asbourne Portrait of "Shakespeare"

The so-called Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare (note the skull, as in the picture of Hamlet above) “was first brought to light by Clement Usill Kingston in 1847. The painting bore the date 1611 and purported to show William Shakespeare at the age of 47. Subsequently, it was widely reproduced during the 19th century, having entered the canon of Shakespeare portraits.  The identity of the artist is unknown.  It was subsequently altered to cater to
public demand for more pictures of the bard, and conform to 19th century ideas of Shakespeare.  In 1940, Charles Wisner Barrell made a searching investigation of the portrait using modern technologies and concluded the painting was a retouched portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Art historian William Pressly, who catalogued the Folger’s paintings, and directed the 1988 restoration of the work, states that the controversy surrounding the sitter’s identity was resolved in 1979, when restorative work on the painting revealed conclusively that it had been begun as a portrait of Sir Hugh Hamersley.  [Well, now … “conclusively”? – Hmmm– H.W.] The Folger Library dates the painting to 1612, and while stating that most researchers identify the painting’s subject as Sir Hugh Hamersley, notes that some Oxfordians contend it depicts Edward de Vere. It currently hangs in the Folger Shakespeare Library.”  (From Wikipedia – emphases added)

“The Living Record” – 11

We are nearing the end of the ninth decade since J. T. Looney in 1920 identified the true “Shakespeare” as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604); and despite a ton of research with overwhelming evidence in its support, the so-called Oxfordian theory has failed to reach anything like a general audience.  Most folks still think we must be snobs or conspiracy nuts or both, as well as screwballs.

Most have probably bought into the line that, since Oxford died in 1604, he could not have produced the “Shakespeare” plays that were (supposedly) written after then.  Well,  sure, some things were probably inserted in various plays after Oxford died; but the idea that “Shakespeare” kept writing up until about 1611 is based on the fact that William Shakspere of Stratford continued to live until 1616 — and surely he could not have stopped writing for more than a decade!

Of course, this is begging the question — assuming the truth of the very point being raised!

The standard biography has it that, in about 1612, after howling the tortured lines of King Lear, tearing them from his soul, he calmly put down his pen and retired.  He dropped the creative life and set about putting his business affairs and properties in order and, without caring a jot that half (eighteen) of his plays had not yet been printed, he lived quietly during the next four years without writing another word until his death.

Does that sound right?  Not to me.  I’d think that the author of those amazing poems and plays would be trying to improve and polish his writings right up until his last breath.  And I’d say that’s exactly what Oxford did, putting the last touches on Hamlet, which was published in its full authorized version just months after the earl had died in June of 1604.

Most people have also bought into the line that, since we have the plays themselves, what does it matter who wrote them?  Well, doesn’t it matter that we know who wrote The Sun Also Rises or Long Day’s Journey into Night or The Glass Menagerie?  Doesn’t it matter that we know about the lives of Ernest Hemingway and Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams?  Doesn’t this knowledge deepen and expand our perception of their works?

I don’t really think I need to answer these rhetorical questions, except to express the hope that we can still value knowing the truth, if only just for the sake of knowing it.

So, if the Oxford theory is true, why has it so utterly failed to gain popular support?  One answer in my view is that most people are discouraged at the outset from looking into the matter for themselves.  So they seldom if ever read about Oxford’s life and his documented relationship to the Shakespeare works — such as the fact, for example, that John Lyly, whose writings in the 1580’s are among Shakespeare’s recognized contemporary sources, was Oxford’s longtime private secretary and stage manager.

At the very least, therefore, Edward de Vere and “William Shakespeare” were linked to each other indirectly through John Lyly.

So I think people are generally turned away by the jeers and taunts that are based (in my view) on false impressions of Oxfordians and the Oxford theory itself, plus general lack of information.  How is it, for example, that those who love the character of Hamlet could not be interested in the character and life of Edward de Vere, one of Shakespeare’s own contemporaries, a great peer of the realm whose interests and relationships and actions are virtually a mirror image of those of the Prince of Denmark?

Hamlet is engaged to the chief minister’s daughter, Ophelia; Oxford was married to the chief minister’s daughter, Anne Cecil.  Hamlet causes a play to be performed at Court in front of the monarch; Oxford had play companies performing at Court in front of Queen Elizabeth.  Hamlet deliberately puts on an “antic disposition” to disguise his real thoughts and feelings; Oxford wrote lines actually suggesting the very same thing, such as, “I am not as I seem to be,/ For when I smile, I am not glad,” and throughout his life he was an eccentric, mysterious figure  like Hamlet.

How is it that most teachers and students can avoid looking into the history of this Hamlet-like earl who was regarded as “best for comedy” and “most excellent” among poets in the 1580’s leading to the abrupt appearance of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s?  Doesn’t it stand to reason that the author was drawing at least somewhat upon his own life’s experience?

I think there’s another, more important reason why the Oxford theory hasn’t caught on with the crowd: the failure to offer a plausible motive for his use of a pen name, along with a plausible explanation for how and why the truth could have been covered up so completely.  Oxfordians have been unable to agree on the “story” of what created the Shakespeare authorship mystery in the first place and of what sustained it.

In the fall of 1998, after a decade of studying the Sonnets, I had concluded that the story must involve royal politics – that it’s about the existence of an unacknowledged prince who deserved by blood to succeed his mother,  Elizabeth, the legendary Virgin Queen.  I had agreed with the basic premise of Percy Allen in the 1930’s and of Dorothy & Charlton Ogburn in the 1950’s that Oxford was the father of Elizabeth’s child raised as Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, to whom “Shakespeare” publicly pledged his love and duty.

But I, too, had been unable to discover the basic story.

The truth, I strongly felt, was in the Sonnets.  Try as I might, however, it seemed impossible to “read” the 154 verses correctly and to learn what the author had set down by means of some kind of special language.  And while I was struggling to find that language, the Oxford movement itself was (as it still is) completely divided on the true nature of the Sonnets.  One half agreed that there was a “royal” story with Oxford writing to Southampton as his son by the Queen; the other half felt that Oxford recorded a homosexual relationship between him and Southampton (and that this was the source of the “disgrace” and “shame” he expressed in the Sonnets).

Two very different stories!  Edward de Vere had the “means” and the “opportunity” to write the Sonnets (as the prosecutors would put it), but Oxfordians could not agree about his “motive” for writing them.

Two very different histories!  I felt then, as I do now, that support for Oxford as “Shakespeare” will come eventually not from the English and Drama departments but, instead, from the History department.  Take a look at any history book about the Elizabethan reign and you will see that “Shakespeare” (if he’s mentioned at all) is never a flesh-and-blood person, but, rather, a disembodied voice speaking and commenting on real events through the lines of his literary and dramatic creations.  The historians have very little to lose by finding the truth, but literary scholars and teachers (who support the traditional Shakespeare of Stratford) must feel, deep down, that they have just about everything to lose.

In the next chapter I’ll explain why I feel the Sonnets have nothing to do with a gay relationship between Oxford and Southampton the Fair Youth; and why the verses are not even recording a “love story” involving the two men with a so-called Dark Lady.  I’ll give my reasons and then continue my account of discovering the Monument Theory of the language, structure and contents of the Sonnets, involving a “royal story” that emerged within a context I had never expected.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 30, 2008 at 3:41 am  Comments (1)  

“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. 

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.

“Queen Elizabeth in the Plays”: Re-Posting No. 48 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

What are the chances of the Stratford man Shakspere creating allegorical portraits of Elizabeth I of England?  What are the chances he dared to depict this vain female ruler, an absolute monarch intensely protective of her public image, in accurate and often harshly negative detail? And if he had dared to be so bold, how could he have gotten away with it?

Edward de Vere had known Her Majesty from at least 1561, when he was eleven and she was twenty-eight.  The following year she became his legal mother. He reached his majority in 1571, entering the House of Lords, and quickly gained her highest favor at court.  He had a front-row seat for one of the most sensational tragicomedies in world history, the Golden Age of Elizabeth.

As Oxford was also a poet and dramatist, what are the chances of him creating allegorical portraits of the great Virgin Queen? Scholars of the traditional “Shakespeare” have fleetingly glimpsed such portraits of Elizabeth in the plays, but for them the full picture remains out of focus. Viewing the plays with the wrong author in mind, the images are blurry; on the other hand, knowledge of the true author creates a new lens through which vital aspects of the works emerge as wondrously clear. Much of what was obscure becomes obvious; through that new lens, the Shakespeare plays contain quite a few female characters that appear to reflect Elizabeth.

Once Oxford is viewed as the author, it appears he was actually obsessed with his sovereign Mistress and was constantly grappling with the extremes of her personality. Here are eight of his female characters that appear to represent her:

Cleopatra ………………… Antony and Cleopatra

Cressida ………………….. Troilus and Cressida

Gertrude …………………. Hamlet

Olivia ………………………. Twelfth Night

Portia ………………………. The Merchant of Venice

Rosalind …………………… Romeo and Juliet

Silvia ………………………… The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Titania ……………………… A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Titania, Queen of the Fairies, is the character most often cited in connection with Elizabeth, mainly because Oberon describes Cupid’s vain attempt to ensnare “a fair vestal throned by the west” (2.1). Many other aspects of Titania reflect Elizabeth, but the point of this “reason” is the sheer quantity of such characters. Taken together they reveal many sides of that extraordinary woman who ruled England for four and a half decades; some of the portraits could have been drawn only by an artist who had experienced those aspects of the queen “up close and personal.”

An image of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt on an ancient coin

For an accurate view of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the biographical and historical framework of the earliest versions must be moved back in time from the mid-1590’s to the early 1580’s.  In that perspective, it’s possible to see the love affair between Queen Titania and Bottom as depicting the courtship of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon.

Other instances where Queen Elizabeth is being depicted include:

*  In Twelfth Night, the portrait of Elizabeth as Olivia stands beside Malvolio as a caricature of Sir Christopher Haton, Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard.

* Elizabeth banished Oxford from court after discovering his affair with Anne Vavasour, who gave birth to his illegitimate child, Edward Vere; we can hear, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Oxford speaking of his queen as Silvia in Valentine’s words:

And why not death rather than living torment?
To die is to be banish’d from myself;
And Silvia is myself: banish’d from her
Is self from self: a deadly banishment! (3.1)

*  The vows of constancy made by Troilus to Cressida reflect those Oxford had to make to the queen when his court banishment ended in 1583 and old Roger Manners reported, “The Earl of Oxford came into her the queen’s] presence, and after some bitter words and speeches, in the end all sins are forgiven.”

Elizabeth I of England, a potrait

* To the Elizabethans it would have been obvious that “Shakespeare” modeled Cleopatra on Elizabeth, who sometimes appeared to be modeling herself on the Queen of Egypt.

In the Shakespeare poems and sonnets are more aspects of Elizabeth through the Oxfordian lens.  She was the Queen of Love and Beauty, like Venus; she was the “chaste” queen, like Lucrece; she was the Phoenix; and, in my view, the Dark Lady of The Sonnets.

  1. Venus ………………………….. Venus and Adonis
  2. Lucrece ………………………… The Rape of Lucrece
  3. Phoenix ……………………….. The Phoenix and the Turtle
  4. Woman ………………………… A Lover’s Complaint
  5. Mistress (Dark Lady) …….. Shake-speares Sonnets

 

This post, with improvements made by editor Alex McNeil, is No. 51 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.

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