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)  

Re-Posting No. 59 of “100 Reasons Shake-speare” Was The Earl of Oxford (As Edited for Publication)

“It is almost certain that William Shakespeare modeled the character of Prospero in The Tempest on the career of John Dee, the Elizabethan magus.” Britannica Online Encyclopedia

“Queen Elizabeth’s philosopher, the white magician Doctor Dee, is defended in Prospero, the good and learned conjurer, who had managed to transport his valuable library to the island.” – Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age

Dr. John Dee (1527-1608)

Dr. John Dee
(1527-1608)

The mathematician and astrologer Dr. John Dee was enlisted by Elizabeth Tudor to name a day and time for her coronation when the stars would be favorable (15 January 1558/59 was the selected date), after which he became a scientific and medical adviser to the queen.  A natural philosopher and student of the occult, his name is also associated with astronomy, alchemy and other forms of “secret” experimentation.  He became a celebrated leader of the Elizabethan renaissance, helping to expand the boundaries of knowledge on all fronts.  With degrees from Cambridge and studies under the top cartographers in Europe, Dee led the navigational planning for several English voyages of exploration.

Defending against charges of witchcraft and sorcery, he listed many who had helped him, citing in particular “the honorable the Earl of Oxford, his favorable letters, anno 1570,” when twenty-year-old de Vere Lord Oxford was about to become the highest-ranking earl at the court of Elizabeth, who would quickly elevate him to the status of royal favorite.

“We may conjecture that it was in 1570 that Oxford studied astrology under Dr. Dee,” B.M. Ward writes.  “We shall meet these two [Dee and Oxford] again later, working together as ‘adventurers’ or speculators in Martin Frobisher’s attempts to find a North-West Passage to China and the East Indies.”

Dr. John Dee and Queen Elizabeth

Dr. John Dee and Queen Elizabeth

Oxford’s links to Dr. Dee, along with his deep interest in all aspects of the astrologer’s work, are yet another piece of evidence pointing to his authorship of the works attributed to William Shakespeare.

In 1584 a Frenchman and member of Oxford’s household, John Soowthern, dedicated to the earl a pamphlet of poems entitled Pandora.  His tribute asserted that Oxford’s knowledge of the “seven turning flames of the sky” (the sun, moon and the visible planets, through astrology) was unrivaled; that his reading of “the antique” (a noun referring to classical and ancient history) was unsurpassed; that he had “greater knowledge” of “the tongues” (languages) than anyone; and that his understanding of “sounds” that helped lead students to the love of music was “sooner” (quicker) than anyone else’s:

For who marketh better than he

The seven turning flames of the sky?

Or hath read more of the antique;

Hath greater knowledge of the tongues?

Or understandeth sooner the sounds

Of the learner to love music?

Prospero as played by Michael Winters

Prospero as played by Michael Winters

This might as well be a description of the man who wrote The Tempest!  It’s a description of an extraordinarily knowledgeable man, which fits “Shakespeare” perfectly; it’s no coincidence that scholars have not only seen Prospero as based on Dee, but, also, viewed Prospero as the dramatist’s self-portrait.  Once that window opens, however, the evidence leads to Prospero and “Shakespeare” in the person of Edward de Vere.

Oxford’s familiarity with “planetary influences” is “probably attributable to acquaintance with Dee,” writes Ogburn Jr., “as is likewise the knowledge of astronomy claimed by the poet of The Sonnets.” In regard to the latter, here are some examples of the poet’s easy, personal identification with both astronomy and alchemy:

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,

And yet methinks I have Astronomy – Sonnet 14

Or whether shall I say mine eye saith true,

And that your love taught it this Alchemy? – Sonnet 114

Dr. Dee got into trouble when his delving into the supernatural led to necromancy, the magic or “black art” practiced by witches or sorcerers who allegedly communicated with the dead by conjuring their spirits.  Stratfordian scholar Alan Nelson, in his deliberately negative biography of Oxford, Monstrous Adversary, includes an entire chapter titled “Necromancer” detailing charges by the earl’s enemies that he had engaged in various conjurations, such as that he had “copulation with a female spirit in Sir George Howard’s house at Greenwich.”

Christopher Plummer as Prospero

Christopher Plummer as Prospero

The irony of Nelson’s charge is that it not only serves to portray Oxford as similar to both John Dee and Prospero, but aligns him with the authors of what Nelson himself calls “a long string of necromantic stage-plays” starting in the 1570s.  One such play was John a Kent by Anthony Munday, who was Oxford’s servant; another was Friar Bacon and Friar Bungary by Robert Greene, who dedicated Greene’s Card of Fancy in 1584 to Oxford, calling him “a worthy favorer and fosterer of learning” who had “forced many through your excellent virtue to offer the first fruits of their study at the shrine of your Lordship’s courtesy.”

In 1577 both Oxford and Dr. Dee became “adventurers” or financiers of Martin Frobisher’s third expedition to find a sea route along the northern coast of America to Cathay (China) – the fabled Northwest Passage.  In fact Oxford was the largest single investor, sinking three thousand pounds, only to lose it all, which may explain Prince Hamlet’s metaphor: “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw,” i.e., he’s mad only on certain occasions, the way he was when he invested so much in that expedition to the Northwest.

One of Dr. Dee's charts of his own birth, found among his papers

One of Dr. Dee’s charts of his own birth, found among his papers

A play before the queen by the Paul’s Boys on 9 December 1577 appears to have been a version of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, in which the character of Lord Cerimon seems to be a blend of Oxford (one who prefers honor and wisdom to his noble rank and wealth) and Dee (whose “secret arts” included alleged knowledge of properties within metals and stones):

‘Tis known I ever

Have studied physic, through which secret art

By turning o’er authorities, I have,

Together with my practice, made familiar

To me and to my aid the blest infusions

That dwells in vegetives, in metals, stones…(3.2)

Through an Oxfordian lens, The Tempest probably originated in the bleak period between Christmas 1580 and June 1583, when the queen had banished Oxford from court, in effect exiling him (unfairly, just as Prospero, rightful Duke of Milan, suffers in the play).  But Oxford would have revised and added scenes over the next two decades, especially near the end of his life in 1604, when the greatest writer of the English language makes his final exit through Prospero — begging us to forgive him for his faults, to pray for him and to set him free from the prison of his coming oblivion:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own…

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please.  Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free. (Epilogue)

 

Note: This updated version appears as No. 81 (“The Tempest”) in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with other editorial assistance by Brian Bechtold.

After the Rebellion: “Shakespeare’s” Final Tragedy and His Triumphant Rebirth

[Following is my talk at the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (S.A.T.) conference at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on 24 November 2019. The text has been adjusted for print and slightly expanded for greater clarity.]

Some years ago, I was on a train heading down to New York City and found myself sitting next to a distinguished looking gentleman who turned out to be an architect who also loved literature and drama. We began talking and he asked me about myself and, at some point, I mentioned I’m one of those folks looking for the “real” Shakespeare. He turned and looked at me with intensity and put up his finger, and I flinched. Who knows what this topic is going to bring out in people!

“Look,” he said, “there are two things you have to know about Shakespeare, whoever he was. One, he uses words to stimulate the muscle of your visual cortex, so it throws images on the screen of your mind.” He mentioned some examples, such as Horatio in Hamlet describing the dawn as a knight in rusted armour, climbing up “o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.”

“The second thing you need to know,” he said, “is that Shakespeare is a storyteller. And his greatest stories are tragic. Therefore, just identifying the real author will not be good enough. What you need to do is find that tragic story.”

We talked a lot more … the authorship question was new for him and he thought the whole idea of this mystery must be deeply sad and tragic. He was thinking about how this great author’s identity could have been obliterated. He considered it would have been a form of murder, or suicide, in the face of some powerful force against him.

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

Well, as many of you know, I’m convinced the true voice of the author is that of Edward de Vere, Lord Oxford, and that he provided the unifying vision of the individual artist that we know as “Shakespeare.” And, too, that it’s in the Sonnets where we find his most directly personal voice.

Oxford’s death or disappearance in June 1604 was followed soon upon by publication of the full-length second quarto of Hamlet; and in that great tragedy, the protagonist, the most autobiographical of all Shakespearean characters, cries out to his friend: “O God, Horatio, what a wounded name!  Things standing thus unknown shall I leave behind me!” Then he begs Horatio to “tell my story” — his tragic story that remains unknown to the world; and that sounds like what my friend on the train was talking about.

Well, the focus of our gathering here at Shakespeare’s Globe is the failed Essex Rebellion led by the earls of Essex and Southampton – an event which, I submit, is the inciting incident of the tragic story of the Shakespearean author’s posthumous loss of identity. In this view the rebellion is not the end of the story, but, rather, the beginning of de Vere’s final evaporation behind the pen name; and this perspective sheds light on a crucial legal story that I want to share with you.

I also hope to show that Oxford countered this loss of identity with a super-human effort to create, in the Sonnets, his final masterwork – to preserve his final story and prevail in death, thereby creating his own resurrection and ultimate triumph.

This final story takes place during the two years and two months following the failure of the so-called rebellion — a period which, I suggest, is the true historical time frame and all-important context for Oxford’s posthumous disappearance as the author. This was a dark time when Southampton languished in the Tower as a convicted traitor; when the condemned Earl of Essex wrote a long poem to Queen Elizabeth from his prison room, during the four days before his execution; and when Southampton also wrote a long poem to her Majesty from his Tower room, begging for mercy – a poem discovered less than a decade ago. (“Was Southampton a Poet? A Verse Letter to Queen Elizabeth” by Lara M. Crowley, English Literary Renaissance, 2011.)

I agree with Ms. Crowley that these poems by the earls are more accurately called “verse letters” of communication with the queen; and clearly the Sonnets are verse letters as well.

First the prologue: the Shakespeare pseudonym making its grand entrance just eight years before the rebellion, in 1593, when things are heating up to determine control of succession to Elizabeth – who, by refusing to name anyone, is putting the country in danger of civil war around the throne when she dies. The Essex faction is up against the entrenched power of William Cecil Lord Burghley and his rapidly rising son Robert Cecil, the cunning hunchback seething with resentment toward those nobles whom he views as so unfairly fortunate by their birth alone. The goal of the Essex faction is to prevent the Cecils from continuing their power into the next reign; but I don’t need to tell you that Robert Cecil is going to win this game. He is going to outwit and outmaneuver those spoiled, arrogant noblemen.

(Consider this strikingly blunt comment about Robert Cecil from the Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900: “Life was to him a game which he was playing for high stakes, and men and women were only pieces upon the board, set there to be swept off by one side or the other or allowed to stand so long only as the risk of letting them remain there was not too great.”)

Now in 1593 the previously unknown author William Shakespeare (without any prior history of written work) suddenly appears on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Southampton. “Shakespeare” is on the side of those same young lords heading toward their tragic end game, which is also the end game to determine the future course of England.

A year later, in the 1594 dedication of Lucrece to Southampton, the same author confirms where he stands with an extraordinary public promise: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end …What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.” This from a great author with a vast storehouse of 25,000 words from which he can choose, who never needs to repeat any word twice, much less three times in a single sentence.

It’s a pen name, saying, in effect: “All the writings I have done so far (i.e., the two narrative poems), and all the writings I am going to do in the future, published under this name, are for you and in your support. These written works are, and will be, yours … yours … yours.”

Once Burghley dies in 1598 and Principal Secretary Cecil takes over, the gloves come off with the first issuance of plays under the pseudonym, among them Richard III with “Shake-speare” hyphenated as if to emphasize the image of a writer “shaking the spear” of his pen. This play of royal history contains a mirror image of the hunchbacked Cecil, an allegorical portrait of him as an evil monster, and a shockingly obvious attack on him that the secretary cannot, will not, ever forgive. He will bide his time, keeping a steady course, until he gets revenge.

In the next year, 1599, it appears that “Shakespeare” in the chorus of Henry V is publicly cheering for Essex’s success on the Irish military campaign, in which Southampton is also a leader. The playwright predicts that “the general of our gracious Empress” will return with “rebellion broached on his sword,” but the effort to crush the revolt is doomed – in no small part because Cecil has prevented the earls from receiving the needed assistance.

That fall back in London, Essex is in deep trouble with the queen and her council, under Cecil’s pressure against him. Meanwhile Southampton spends much of his time attending politically instructive plays at the Curtain such as Julius Caesar by “Shakespeare,” who, for the public audience, is creating an allegorical road map toward avoiding civil war and achieving a peaceful royal succession.

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

Events are moving fast, tensions are building, as the aging queen falls increasingly under Cecil’s influence. In January 1601 Southampton is attacked in the street by Lord Gray and his party on behalf of Cecil and Raleigh; the earl draws his sword and fights them off with the help of his houseboy, who joins in the fray and has one of his hands lopped off. As far as Essex and Southampton are concerned, they are in mortal danger and can no longer delay taking action.

In the first week of February, Southampton takes charge of planning to finally gain access to the queen at Whitehall. They plot to hold Cecil captive so Essex and Southampton can be in her Majesty’s presence and convince her to call a Parliament on succession – to finally name someone, even give up her crown, avoid civil war, and remove Cecil in the bargain.

Preparing for this confrontation with the queen, the conspirators on Sunday 7 February 1601 attend a special performance of Richard II with a deposition scene of the king handing over his crown. In this newly revised play, Oxford demonstrates to the Essex faction how it might be possible to confront Elizabeth with rational arguments and persuade her to do the same – without, most importantly, violating the laws of God or man.

Of course, the play is viewed allegorically, making it easy for Cecil to incite the queen’s fear and anger; and Elizabeth well understood, as she later exclaimed: “I am Richard Second, know ye not that!”

More immediately, however, the cunning Cecil uses this special performance to summon Essex to the palace that night for questioning; and his calculated move predictably causes the earl to panic. The next morning, at Essex House, his followers are clamoring in the courtyard amid an atmosphere of chaos. The subsequent events predictably end in disaster; that night, both Essex and Southampton surrender up their swords and are taken through Traitors Gate into the Tower of London, facing charges of high treason against the crown and virtually certain execution.

Eleven days later, at their joint trial in Westminster Hall, are two of the future leading candidates for the authorship of the “Shakespeare” works:  Sir Francis Bacon, viciously prosecuting; and Lord Oxford, having come out of retirement to sit as highest ranking earl on the tribunal of peers sitting in judgment. The accused earls will both be found guilty and sentenced to death; Essex will be executed six days later, but Southampton will find himself in perpetual confinement.

Now all authorized publications of as-yet-unprinted Shakespeare plays have abruptly ceased; aside from the full Hamlet in 1604, there will be no more newly printed authorized plays for nearly two decades; but my theme here is that the rebellion is not the end of author’s tragic story, it’s the beginning.

Southampton in the Tower: 8 February 1601 – 10 April 1603

In the normal telling it’s the conclusion: Southampton remains in the Tower while Cecil, under terrible tension, works desperately and even treasonously to communicate in secret with King James in Scotland. In that traditional history, Shakespeare writes few if any sonnets to Southampton all during the twenty-six months of his imprisonment. Then, upon Henry Wriothesley’s release from the Tower by King James on 10 April 1603, the author suddenly exclaims in Sonnet 107 that “my true love” had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom” but is now free; and, therefore, “my love looks fresh” – once again, offering the young earl his endless love, devotion and commitment.

Was Shakespeare a hypocrite?  His true love in the prison and he writes maybe a few private sonnets to or about him, or none at all, only to jump back on the bandwagon when Southampton is liberated? Well, I don’t think he could have been hypocritical.

Thinking about my friend on the train describing Shakespeare as a masterful storyteller, I recall the diagram of the most basic structure of a story, the way my English teacher drew it on the blackboard. In that light, if Sonnet 107 at the climax celebrates Southampton getting out of the Tower, in 1603, how could we care about that event unless the author has already established when he was put in the Tower two years earlier, back in 1601? In the framework of such a story, certainly Southampton’s entrance into the prison fortress is the inciting incident that finally reaches the climactic turning point later, in 1603.

Why would we care about Southampton getting out of the Tower if we didn’t know, in the first place, that he was in there?  Well, if we climb back down the consecutively numbered sonnets, we can see that the usual view is wrong. A journey “back down the ladder” of sonnets takes us through a long series of darkness, despair, prison, trial, legal words related to crime, guilt, death – all the way back down to where this great wave of darkness and suffering first appears; and then it becomes clear that literally dozens and dozens of sonnets have been leading up to the climax.

The author did not abandon Southampton; he never stopped writing to or about him; and in this context – the context of the prison years – those legal words are no longer metaphorical; rather, they are real, and carefully accurate: real words applied to real life, when the author is steeling himself against the worst outcome for the young earl.

Now I hope you’ll to indulge me for less than ninety seconds, as we take a quick “fly-over” to view these words from the high point of Sonnet 107 back downward; and this is just a sampling of those dark and legal words as we climb back down to where they begin at Sonnet 27:

(Sonnets 106-96): Confined doom, Wasted time, weak, mournful, despair, death, dark days, decease, fault;

(Sonnets 92-87): Term of life, thy revolt, sorrow, woe, fault, offence, night, attainted, misprision, judgment;

(Sonnets 86-77): Tomb, dead, confine, immured, attaint, decayed, waste, graves; (74-66): Fell arrest, bail, death, buried, blamed, suspect, died, dead, for restful death I cry;  

(Sonnets 65-57): Plea, gates of steel, drained his blood, shadows, for thee watch I, imprisoned, pardon, crime, watch the clock for you;

(Sonnets 55-51): Death, judgment, die, deaths, shadows, shadow, up-locked, imprisoned, offence, excuse;

(Sonnets 50-46): Heavy, bloody, grief, lawful reasons, allege, bars, locked up, thyself away, defendant, plea deny, verdict;

(Sonnets 43-38): Shadow, grief, waiting, blame, forgive, grief, absence, torment, pain;

(Sonnets 37-33): Shadow, confess, guilt, trespass, fault, lawful plea, offender’s sorrow, ransom, basest clouds;

(Sonnets 32-27): If thou survive, dead, grieve, buried, death’s dateless night, disgrace, outcast, hung in ghastly night…

That’s just a sampling of the “dark” words and legal terminology in the eighty sonnets from the climax of Sonnet 107 all the way back down to number 27, in which the author tries to sleep that night in the darkness, but his mind travels instead to Southampton in the Tower. He can imagine the earl up there in a window, like “a jewel hung in ghastly night.” In the dictionary “ghastly” is “frightful, dreadful, horrible,” as in “a ghastly murder” – or, we can be sure, like the ghastly torture of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

SONNET 27 on the night of the failed Rebellion on the Eighth of February 1601, where the story begins:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travail tired.

But then begins a journey in my head,

To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired.

For then my thoughts (from far where I abide),

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,

Looking on darkness, which the blind do see.

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,

For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Southampton entering the Tower as a prisoner is the first of many recorded, factual events. The overall circumstance is that he’s accused of a crime; and sure enough, in this diary of verse letters, Oxford calls it by name:

“To you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

“How much I suffered in your crime.” – Sonnet 120

In this case, the crime is that of treason, the most serious offence Southampton could have committed. It would almost cost him his life and cause the author of the Sonnets to descend into darkness and despair and finally to disappear. So, now, from Sonnet 27 forward, we have what might be called the “foundational tracks” of his personal story. These tracks during Southampton’s more than two years in prison are on the record; Oxford knows they are events that will be indelibly stamped upon English history.

Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford served as highest-ranking nobleman on the tribunal at the February 19, 1601 treason trial of Essex and Southampton — as indicated by a contemporary notice of the event

FEBRUARY 11, 1601: The twenty-five peers, Oxford among them, are “summoned” to serve on the tribunal at the “sessions” or treason trial; and in Sonnet 30 the author writes: “When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought, I summon up remembrance of things past.” Yes, it’s poetry, but I suggest there’s a “second intention,” which is actually the primary context – and, as you have probably noticed, that’s the most important word of this talk: context.

FEBRUARY 19, 1601: The trial of Essex and Southampton is held on this day at Westminster Hall. Bacon prosecutes; Oxford sits with the peers, who come to a foregone unanimous conclusion: both earls are found guilty of treason and sentenced to be executed.

Oxford, reacting to the tragedy, addresses Southampton in Sonnet 38 and wonders in sorrow: “How can my Muse want subject to invent/ While thou dost breathe? … The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.” In Sonnet 46 he glances back at the recent trial: “And by their verdict is determined…”

FEBRUARY 25, 1601: Essex is executed on the Tower Green by beheading; and the poet writes in Sonnet 44, referring to Southampton and himself, about their “heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.”

MARCH 5, 1601: The treason trial of five conspirators; all convicted and condemned to death; and Oxford writes to Southampton in Sonnet 57: “I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you.”

MARCH 13, 1601: Gelly Merrick & Henry Cuffe are hanged, drawn and quartered. “For thee watch I,” Oxford writes to Southampton in Sonnet 61; and in Sonnet 63 he sets down his fears that Wriothesley will face the executioner’s axe – using a double image that combines both universal time/age and specific words such as “knife” and “cut” and “life” related to beheading:

For such a time do I now fortify

Against confounding Age’s cruel knife,

That he shall never cut from memory

My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.

MARCH 18, 1601: Charles Danvers & Christopher Blount are publicly beheaded, leaving Southampton as the only one with the death sentence hanging over him; and the author writes Sonnet 66 as a virtual suicide note, listing reasons he wishes to die:

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry …

Tired with all these, from these I would be gone,

Save that to die, I leave my love alone.

He would prefer to kill himself, but will not commit suicide while Southampton remains alive and “alone” in the Tower. In that same virtual suicide note, he complains about “strength by limping sway disabled,” and John Dover Wilson (in his Cambridge edition of the Sonnets in 1969) finds it “tempting to suspect a glance at the control of the state by the limping Robert Cecil.” Well, as my friend on the train might say, it’s not only tempting, it “stimulates the muscle of our visual cortex” to create an image of Cecil swaying and limping toward his “disabling” or destruction of the earls.

“And captive good attending Captain Ill,” Oxford adds. Southampton, the captive prisoner, is at the mercy of Captain Ill, echoing Cecil, the captain in command of the situation.

Early the next morning, crowds wait on Tower Hill for the spectacle of Southampton being executed, but they’re disappointed because, without official explanation, the scaffold is taken down. The earl’s life has been spared. His sentence is quietly reduced to perpetual confinement. He becomes a nobody, stripped of all lands and titles, and is now “Mr. Henry Wriothesley,” a commoner, and even “the late earl” – a dead man in the eyes of the law; and therefore, in Sonnet 67:  “Ah, wherefore with infection should he live … Why should he live …?” And in Sonnet 69: “Thou dost common grow…”

Is Cecil is holding him hostage in the Tower? If so, the key must be Oxford himself and Cecil’s need to remove all future trace of him as the author calling himself Shakespeare, the poet-dramatist who devoted his work to Southampton, and, too, who had depicted Cecil as the monstrous ruler Richard the Third.

In number 87 of this diary of verse letters, Oxford supplies the legal mechanism by which Southampton’s life was spared:

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,

Comes home again, on better judgment making

“Misprision of Treason” is literally a “better judgment” or verdict, a reduction of the crime of treason. This special judgment is a kind of plea bargain, used by Tudor monarchs to gain information in exchange for a lesser verdict. It means Southampton was supposedly ignorant of the law; he knew about the plot but didn’t really participate and failed to report it; he expresses true sorrow or repentance; and it gives him the possibility of future liberation and even a royal pardon, so he cannot be retried for the same offence.

Oxford supplies a crucial account of how this better legal judgment for Southampton was obtained. Soon after Sonnet 27 on the night of the failed rebellion, anticipating the trial, he promises Southampton in Sonnet 35 that “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,” or as editor Katherine Duncan-Jones reads the line: “Your legal opponent is also your legal defender.”

Oxford has no choice but to join the other peers on the tribunal, in effect acting as Southampton’s “adverse party,” forced to vote with them to condemn him to death; but he also vows to work (privately, behind the scenes) as the earl’s “Advocate” or defense attorney, trying to save his life.

He must make a deal with Cecil, his former brother-in-law; and as he records in the Sonnets, there is a kind of prisoner exchange, that is, Oxford offers his life in exchange for Southampton’s reprieve from execution and possible future liberation. The younger earl is in fact spared from execution, without any official word, but he must remain in confinement until the monarch decides to release him and perhaps grant him a pardon.

Oxford instructs him on the law (and the plea deal), adding in Sonnet 58, “To you it doth belong yourself to pardon of self-doing crime,” that is, “Your life is in your own hands, young man.”

The monarch who may give him a pardon, however, will not be Elizabeth, who is much too angry and fearful. Cecil must succeed in bringing James to the English throne; only then will Cecil can he continue in his position of power, and only then might Southampton get out alive. Therefore, to save Southampton, Oxford must agree to help Cecil make James the King of England. (And to that end, perhaps Edward de Vere is the unidentified “40” in the Secretary’s secret correspondence with the Scottish king).

Also in Sonnet 35, Oxford blames himself for “authorizing” the crime as author of Richard II and depicting Elizabeth “with compare” as that historical king; as Duncan-Jones explains, “authorizing” is “used here in a legal sense for sanctioning or justifying, with a further play on ‘author’ as composer or writer.”

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authorizing thy trespass with compare…

Oxford is guilty not only for writing Richard II with its deposition scene, but, also, for allowing the Chamberlain’s Men to give the special performance of his play that Cecil then used to trigger the whole debacle. The actors are called in for questioning, but not the author, even though he had played a crucial role in the crime. In fact, he himself could possibly be charged with Treason by Words, if the queen chose to believe that Richard II depicts her as a tyrant. Oxford, too, could be executed.

More important to Cecil, however, was being able to ensure that Oxford, his former brother-in-law, could not be linked to the portrait of him in Richard Third (or, for example, that Oxford could not be linked to portraits of Burghley in the quartos of Hamlet). Instead of Oxford himself being physically executed, his identity could be obliterated beyond his death — forever — behind the Shakespeare pen name. Oxford could agree to that (and to ensuring that no one who know the truth will ever reveal it), if it means saving Southampton; and therefore, an essential part of the plea deal is his self-sacrifice.

In Sonnet 35 he records his acceptance of posthumous disappearance: “And ‘gainst myself a lawful plea commence” – a legal plea bargain, directed against himself. At the same time, Southampton must agree to his own guilt and confess that he never meant to commit treason; and so, for example, he writes to the Privy Council from his prison room: “My soul is heavy and troubled for my offences … My heart was free from any pre-meditate treason against my sovereign….”

Oxford refers in Sonnet 34 to the younger earl’s need to repent, while he himself must take on a Christlike role:

Though thou repent yet I have still the loss,

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence’s cross …

In his poem to the queen, Southampton begs for mercy:

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,

For my tears have already worn these stones.

His tears of repentance are “riches” to be paid, the way other noble prisoners are able to use actual money to purchase their freedom. Oxford reminds him in Sonnet 34 that his tears of repentance are a form of “ransom” for his life and possible liberty:

Ah but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds (sheds),

And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

The price also includes total separation from each other – in life, on the record, in future history. Oxford had linked Southampton to the pen name; the earl and the famous pseudonym went together; therefore, now Oxford must agree to de-link himself from not only “Shakespeare,” but, also, from Southampton. The two of them must be “twain” or apart, one from the other, as Oxford tells Southampton in Sonnet 36:

Let me confess that we two must be twain …

I may not ever-more acknowledge thee…

The author, a legal expert, finds in Sonnet 49 another way to phrase the same legal bargain behind the scenes:

And this my hand against myself uprear,

To guard the lawful reasons on thy part.

To leave poor me, thou hast the strength of laws…

The dark time continues, no one knowing the outcome.

FEBRUARY 8, 1602: First anniversary of the failed Rebellion: Southampton has spent one full year in prison, as Oxford records in Sonnet 97:

How like a winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

“Fleeting” is a deliberate play on the Fleet Prison to emphasize Southampton’s continuing confinement.

FEBRUARY 8, 1603: Second anniversary, marking two years or “three winters cold” in the Tower as indicated in Sonnet 104, covering the three Februaries of 1601, 1602 and 1603.

MARCH 24, 1603: Queen Elizabeth, the “mortal Moon,” dies in her sleep and those “sad Augurs” who predicted civil war are proved wrong. Cecil quickly proclaims King James of Scotland as James I of England, and the new monarch, who uses “Olives” to symbolize peace, quickly sends ahead the order for Southampton’s release. On April 10, 1603, after all the uncertainties are crowned with assurance, and after Southampton was “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” he walks out of the Tower as a free man and Oxford records this amazing climax of his recorded story in Sonnet 107:

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul

Of the wide world dreaming on things to come

Can yet the lease of my true love control,

Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom!

The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured,

And the sad Augurs mock their own presage,

Incertainties now crown themselves assured,

And peace proclaims Olives of endless age.

Now with the drops of this most balmy time,

My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,

Since ‘spite of him I’ll live in this poor rhyme,

While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes.

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

How very confident de Vere is that these “verse letters” are going to comprise a “monument” for Southampton that will outlive the crests of tyrants and the brass tombs of kings! As Oxford promised him in Sonnet 81:

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

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

And now, proceeding from the climax of number 107, the story’s resolution unfolds in nineteen days covered by exactly nineteen sonnets, advancing with increasing power and grandeur to the funeral procession bearing the coffin and effigy of Elizabeth under a canopy, on April 28, 1603, marked by Sonnet 125, the official end of the Tudor dynasty, followed immediately by the author’s envoy of farewell to “Oh thou my lovely Boy.”

The result is a self-contained series of the 80 prison sonnets plus the 20 sonnets of resolution, exactly 100 sonnets or a “century” of them – mirroring Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love (1582), the 100 consecutively numbered sonnets attributed to Thomas Watson and dedicated to Oxford. The “century” within SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS is the central sequence of his monument for Southampton.

The younger earl will live on, but the author will disappear. Oxford consistently expresses this sacrifice of one life for the other — the exchange of his life or identity as “Shakespeare” for Southampton’s life as a free man:

When I, perhaps compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse. (Sonnet 71)

(When I am dead, you will continue without acknowledging me.)

My name be buried where my body is

And live no more to shame nor me nor you. (Sonnet 72)

(My identity will disappear, leaving you to flourish)

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

Though I, once gone, to all the world must die. (Sonnet 81)

(You are forever tied to “Shakespeare,” while I must disappear.)

In effect, these lines of the Sonnets comprise Edward de Vere’s own version of Hamlet’s cry for his wounded name. It’s a tragic story, but also the basic answer to the Shakespeare Authorship Question, delivered to posterity by the author himself — as he talks about his “poor name” or “name” to be “buried” and stating that he himself must die – not just in the physical sense, of course, but to “all the world.” He disconnects himself from “Shakespeare” and, therefore, from Southampton, ensuring that his own identity will disappear … but not forever!

In fact, Oxford is counting on these very sonnets to “tell my story,” as Hamlet begs his friend Horatio.  Back in Sonnet 55, when Southampton’s fate was by no means certain, Oxford vowed to create “the living record of your memory,” adding:

’Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth! Your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

In this way he will triumph over Time and defeat the false “registers” or “records” upon which the future writers of history will rely. He himself will prevail in these sonnets, which will be printed in 1609 only to be quickly suppressed and driven underground, until the quarto’s reappearance more than a full century later. And so he defeats Time and Cecil and even Death, as expressed in Sonnet 107: “I’ll live in this poor rhyme.”

He draws his breath in pain, to tell his story.  The “monument” of the Sonnets is his ultimate triumph, as expressed in Sonnet 123:

No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!

Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange:

They are but dressings of a former sight.

Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire

What thou dost foist upon us that is old,

And rather make them borne to our desire

Than think that we before have heard them told.

Thy registers and thee I both defy –

Not wond’ring at the present, nor the past,

For thy records and what we see doth lie,

Made more or less by thy continual haste.

This I do vow, and this shall ever be:

I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

 

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The Launch of the “Shakespeare” Pen Name (Who Knew What & When?) and Its Aftermath

Following is a talk I gave to the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship Conference on 17 October 2019 at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT:

Part One

Samuel Clemens drew upon a wealth of personal experience in his work; and in his later years, he made the remark: “I could never tell a lie that anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.” Imagine old Sam on his porch out there and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, laughing along with him. And Oxford reminding him what Touchstone said in As You Like It: “The truest poetry is the most feigning” – in other words, pretending — telling truth by allegory and a “second intention.” Both men knew that more truth can be told and believed when dressed as fiction, whether it’s Huckleberry Finn or Hamlet. And, of course, both men wrote under pen names.

(Dedication of “Venus and Adonis” in 1593 to Southampton with first printing of the Shakespeare name)

I want to talk first about the launch of the pen name “Shakespeare” in 1593, on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, asking, “Who Knew What and When?” – or – “What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?”  The question is posed in relation to five individuals.

Queen Elizabeth – Did her Majesty see the letter to her from early reader William Reynolds, saying she was the subject of a crude parody in the character of Venus? Did she know who had written this scandalous, instant bestseller?  If she did know, when did she know it?

William Cecil Lord Burghley – Reynolds also wrote to the chief minister, saying he was offended by this portrait of Elizabeth as a “lusty old” queen. Meanwhile, Burghley was Southampton’s legal guardian and still pressuring him to marry his granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere (who may or may not have been the natural daughter of Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford). Therefore anything involving Southampton would be of great interest to Burghley and his rapidly rising son Robert Cecil.

After the death in 1590 of Francis Walsingham, head of the secret service, William and Robert Cecil had taken over the crown’s network of spies and informants. They made it their business to know everything; and now they were gearing up for the inevitable power struggle to control the succession upon Elizabeth’s death.

The queen refused to name her successor, even though she was turning sixty and could die any moment. The Cecils were preparing for the fight with Robert Devereuex, second Earl of Essex, with whom Southampton was closely allied. Could they allow this “Shakespeare” to dedicate to Southampton such a popular, scandalous work and not know the author?  What did Burghley know and when did he know it?

Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton, nineteen, whom we can imagine arriving at the royal court, where folks had their copies of Venus and Adonis with its dedication to him. Might they be curious about “William Shakespeare”? And about his relationship to Southampton? What did the earl know and when did he know it?

John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, who issued the publishing license in his own hand. He had a large staff for that purpose and normally delegated readings of manuscripts and signings-off on licenses, but now he took it upon himself. This strict archbishop was in charge of all government censorship. Why would he give his personal approval of such salacious poetry? Why would he allow this possibly dangerous political allegory into the market? Would he have done so without prior authorization from the queen and Burghley?

Whitgift had been appointed archbishop in 1583 and had gained her Majesty’s full trust and admiration. In 1586 he was given the authority to peruse and license all manuscripts and the power to destroy the press of any printer. He suppressed the Puritans so harshly that in 1588 they began to publish pamphlets against him, led by a writer using the pen name “Martin Marprelate” (who was “marring the prelates”). The archbishop responded with a ruthless campaign of retaliation, using pamphlets turned out by members of Oxford’s writing circle such as Tom Nashe and John Lyly.  Apparently, the earl himself wrote against “Marprelate” under the pen name “Pasquil Cavaliero.” (One pen name battling another!)

At the end of the 1590s, the archbishop will issue a decree ordering the burning of a long list of books, among them several based on works of Ovid. The condemned books will be publicly burned in the infamous Bishops’ Bonfire of 1599, but none will include works attributed to “Shakespeare” — not even Venus and Adonis or Lucrece, both based on Ovid.  (“Shakespeare” never got into trouble for his writing.) Now in 1593, Whitgift personally authorizes Venus and Adonis for publication by Field.

Richard Field, Publisher-Printer, who entered Venus and Adonis at the Stationer’s Register in April 1593.

“The Arte of English Poesie” – 1589

Field will print Love’s Martyr in 1601 with The Phoenix and Turtle as by “William Shake-speare” — hyphenated, as if to confirm that it’s a pen name. (Presumably he was the son of Henry Field, a tanner in Stratford-upon-Avon; but modern researchers are finding it difficult to verify that presumption.) Regardless of his background, by age seventeen in 1579 he was in London. He apprenticed for several years under the esteemed printer and French refugee Thomas Vautrollier, who died in 1587. A year later Field married Vautrollier’s widow and, at twenty-six, he took over the publishing business.

He was a dedicated Protestant, committed to the policies of Queen Elizabeth.  It’s been said Field was “Burghley’s publisher.” Later he would issue Protestant books in Spanish, for sale in Catholic Spain, under “Ricardo del Campo” – another pen name.

In 1589 Field published The Arte of English Poesie, by a deeply knowledgeable writer choosing not to identify himself. Along with Richard Waugaman and others, I hold the view that The Arte was written (wholly or in part) by Oxford, whose own verse is cited for description and instruction, not to mention that he himself is fulsomely praised as chief poet of the Elizabethan court.

The anonymous author of The Arte addresses his entire tract to Elizabeth – with distinct echoes of Oxford’s own praise of the queen in his elegant Courtier preface of 1572. The invisible author also uses the kind of alliteration Oxford so enjoyed; for example, he tells her Majesty:

“You, Madam, my most Honored and Gracious, if I should seem to offer you this my desire for a discipline and not a delight … By your princely purse, favours and countenance, making in manner what ye list, the poor man rich, the lewd well learned, the coward courageous, and the vile both noble and valiant: then for imitation no less, your person as a most cunning counterfeit lively representing Venus…”

(Here is Richard Field, who will publish Venus and Adonis four years later, issuing an anonymous book in which the author likens Queen Elizabeth to Venus.)

“Venus and Adonis” by Titian, the painting that “Shakespeare” must have seen in Venice (showing Adonis wearing his bonnet)

There is strong evidence that Oxford wrote the first version of Venus and Adonis in the latter 1570s after returning from Italy, where he had made his home base in Venice. For example, the poem contains a lifelike portrait-in-words of Venus trying to seduce young Adonis, who, significantly, is wearing his bonnet. Without question this section of the narrative poem is a vivid description of the painting in Venice at Titian’s own house, which Oxford must have visited (as most traveling nobles did) – because in that house was Titian’s only painting of Venus and Adonis (among his many others of the same subject) in which the young god is wearing his bonnet.

It may also be that Oxford was creating an allegory of his own experience as a young man pursued by Elizabeth. Adonis is killed by the spear of a wild boar — perhaps the same boar of Oxford’s earldom, as though his own identity is officially killed by the spear of “Shakespeare,” his new pen name. From the blood of Adonis, a purple flower springs up, and Venus tells it: “Thou art next of blood and ‘tis thy right.” Then the lustful goddess flies off to Paphus, the city in Cyprus sacred to Venus, to hide from the world. Her silver doves are mounted through the empty skies, pulling her light chariot and “holding their course to Paphus, where their Queen means to immure herself and not be seen.”

Oxford had an extensive personal history of publicly likening Queen Elizabeth to Venus. In Euphues and his England, the novel of 1580 dedicated to the earl, she is portrayed as both the Queen of Love and Beauty and the Queen of Chastity: “Oh, fortunate England that hath such a Queen! … adorned with singular beauty and chastity, excelling in the one Venus, in the other Vesta ….”  — the sexual goddess and the virginal goddess, both at once.

In the Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), the scholar Steven May writes, Oxford definitely likens Elizabeth to Venus: “But who can leave to look on Venus’ face?” the poet asks, referring to “her alone, who yet on th’earth doth reign.”

In the final chapter of Arte, the author apologizes to the queen for this “tedious trifle” and fears she will think of him as “the Philosopher in Plato who failed to occupy his brain in matters of more consequence than poetry,” adding, “But when I consider how everything hath his estimation by opportunity, and that it was but the study of my younger years in which vanity reigned…”

(“When I consider how everything” will be echoed in sonnet 15, which begins, “When I consider everything…”)

The anonymous author tells Elizabeth that “experience” has taught him that “many times idleness is less harmful than profitable occupation.” He refers sarcastically, sounding like Hamlet, to “these great aspiring minds and ambitious heads of the world seriously searching to deal in matters of state” who become “so busy and earnest that they were better be occupied and peradventure altogether idle.”

(Who else would dare to write that description to her Majesty about members of her own government? Oxford had written similar thoughts in his own poetry such as, “Than never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.” At the same time, he pledges his “service” to her, according to his “loyal and good intent always endeavoring to do your Majesty the best and greatest of those services I can.” Oxford always talks about serving the queen, as he wrote to Burghley, “I serve her Majesty, and I am that I am.”)

Richard Field publishes this work of 1589, written by an anonymous author sounding much like Oxford, and containing some of the earl’s own work, praising him to the skies – and then Field dedicates it to Burghley. “This book,” he tells the most powerful man in England, “coming to my hands with his bare title, without any Author’s name or any other ordinary address, I doubted how well it might become me to make you a present thereof.”

He was surprised and mystified to see this manuscript just flying over the transom into his hands; however, seeing that the book is written to “our Sovereign lady the Queen, for her recreation and service,” Field publishes the work and even dedicates it to Burghley. In his dedication, he also sounds as if Oxford helped him, as when he writes alliteratively of “your Lordship being learned and a lover of learning … and myself a printer always ready and desirous to be at your Honorable commandment.”

Four years later Field publishes Venus and Adonis dedicated to Southampton, whom Burghley, with the queen’s blessing, hopes to gather into his own family. Even orthodox commentators recognize that the high quality of the printing suggests Shakespeare’s direct involvement, as Frank Halliday writes in A Shakespeare Companion: “The two early poems, Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, both carefully printed by Field, are probably the only works the publication of which Shakespeare personally supervised.” (Imagine the Earl of Oxford working side by side with Richard Field at his shop in Blackfriars, to fine-tune the printing!) Now the manuscript goes to Whitgift, chief censor for everything published in England, and he signs off in his own hand – a fact that Field quickly advertises in the Stationers Register.

The question is posed in relation to Publisher Richard Field, Archbishop John Whitgift, Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burghley and the Earl of Southampton: Who knew what and when? What did they know and when did they know it?

My answer is that they all knew about the launch of Oxford’s new pen name and knew it before this work was published. They each knew who “Shakespeare” was and they allowed the earl to publish it and dedicate it to Southampton. The very individuals who were most closely involved, with the most at stake, and could make such decisions, must have worked directly, or indirectly, with each other – and with the author himself – to launch the famous pen name.

Part Two 

There is another dimension to the pseudonym that I would like to describe. It begins back in 1583, when Protestant England and Catholic Spain were definitely at war; and gearing up to defend against this mighty enemy was the queen’s great Puritan spymaster, Francis Walsingham, who quickly organized a new company of players. The Puritans generally hated the public theater, but Walsingham knew its value in terms of propaganda.

Early version of Shakespeare’s play of King John, performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580s

The new company, approved by Burghley and patronized by Elizabeth, was called the Queen’s Men. It was comprised of two separate troupes touring the country to rouse patriotic fervor and unity. All existing companies – including Oxford’s — contributed their best actors – and de Vere collected his expanding group of writers at a mansion in London (nicknamed Fisher’s Folly) for scribes such as Nashe, Lyly, Watson, Greene, Munday, Churchyard, Lodge and many others.

(Imagine Michelangelo’s studio filled with artists working together under a single guiding hand.)

In the 1580s these writers turned out dozens, even hundreds of history plays. Among them were Oxford’s own early versions of Shakespeare histories, anonymous plays such as The Troublesome Reign of King John, The True Tragedy of Richard Third, The True Chronicle History of King Leir and The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, the latter containing the entire framework for Henry Fourth Parts One and Two and Henry the Fifth as by Shakespeare.

Their weapons were not swords or guns or ships, but words, giving birth to an inspiring new English language and vision of national identity – a powerful weapon that de Vere was creating and guiding as well as helping to finance. And in 1586 the queen rewarded him with an extraordinary annual allowance of a thousand pounds, paid according to the same formula used to finance Walsingham for his wartime secret service. When the Spanish invasion by Armada arrived in 1588, volunteers from all parts of England responded – Protestants, Puritans, Catholics, speaking different dialects and often needing to be translated, all joining in the face of a common enemy.

Once the Great Enterprise of King Philip had been turned back, however, that same government had no more use for the writers. Having harnessed their talent and work to touch the minds and hearts of the queen’s subjects, the government now became wary of them, perhaps afraid of their freedom of expression and power to influence her Majesty’s subjects.

After defeating the enemy without, the government now focused upon its real or potential enemies within. The end game of internal power struggles was just beginning. Who would gain control of the inevitable succession to Elizabeth? Oxford had been the central sun from which the writers had drawn their light, and around which they had revolved; but now he was deliberately squeezed with old debts and could no longer support them, so they began to fly out of orbit and disappear.

By 1590, the year Walsingham died, Oxford’s secretary and stage manager John Lyly was out of a job; in 1591, Thomas Lodge escaped poverty by sailing to South America; in September 1592, Thomas Watson died and so did Robert Greene (if, in fact, Greene was a real person and not another pen name); on 30 May 1593, Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death; later that year, Thomas Kyd was tortured on the rack, leading to his death.

Lyly, Lodge, Watson, Greene, Marlowe, Kyd: all gone. They disappeared in a kind of bloodbath, into a metaphorical graveyard of writers; and Oxford himself disappeared. He withdrew from court and vanished from London. He remarried (his first wife, Anne Cecil, had died in 1588) and became something of a recluse at Hackney – undoubtedly revising his previous plays.

As far as the general public knew, Oxford no longer existed; some people even thought he was dead; but in the spring of 1593, just when Marlowe was being murdered, something else was afoot. From below the graveyard of writers, without any paper trail or personal history, the heretofore unknown “William Shakespeare” – a disembodied pen name — suddenly rose in defiance, shaking the spear of his pen and asserting his power in the Latin epigraph from Ovid on the title page of Venus and Adonis, translated as: “Let the mob admire base things! May Golden Apollo serve me full goblets from the Castilian Spring!” Who is this Shakespeare?  And which side is he on?

The sudden appearance of this name was not on the title page, but, rather, inside the book, and linked (directly, and uniquely) to nineteen-year-old Southampton. And in the very next year, 1594, the poet made himself even clearer, dedicating Lucrece to Southampton: “The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being all I have, devoted yours.” All that the pen name has is a multitude of written works to be published under that name – the two poems, plus any other writings that will use “Shakespeare” in the future.

The 1594 dedication of “Lucrece” to Southampton — by “Shakespeare” 

A metamorphosis has taken place. In this second dedication, the pen name is speaking for itself and not, in the first place, for the Earl of Oxford, who has disappeared; the pen name is saying to young Lord Southampton: “ALL I HAVE – ANYTHING WRITTEN UNDER THIS NAME — IS NOW AND FOREVER DEVOTED TO YOU. THEY ARE YOURS, TO DO WITH WHAT YOU WILL.” It is all “YOURS … YOURS … YOURS.”

The disembodied pen name has declared itself on the side of the young nobility, in favor of the Essex faction of which Southampton is a prominent member. Soon that young earl firmly and finally rejects Burghley’s marriage plans for him. Essex has been in secret communication with James in Scotland – pledging his support for the King, in return for the promise of James’ help against Burghley and his son Robert Cecil.

So long as Elizabeth remains alive, she can still name her successor; meanwhile, a main goal of Essex and Southampton is to keep the Cecils from assuming even more power after she dies. We are now in the very short period spanning 1595 to 1600 – six years – in which the great issuance of Shakespeare plays occurs: earlier plays that are now revised for the printing press and the public playhouse.

Robert Cecil becomes Principle Secretary in 1596; in the following year, he tries to have all public playhouses shut down and nearly succeeds; in fact, he does succeed in destroying the Swan Playhouse as a venue for plays.

And upon the death of his father, Burghley, in August 1598, Secretary Cecil begins to gain the full trust of Her Majesty and the power to control her mind, emotions and decisions. Now the gloves come off and “Shakespeare” suddenly – for the first time — makes its appearance on printed plays. Over the next three years comes the historic rush of quartos. In 1598 and 1599, four plays are printed with “Shake-speare” hyphenated, emphasizing it’s a pen name: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Richard III, Richard II and 1 Henry IV. The playwright had “newly corrected” two of these plays, quite obviously having written them their first versions much earlier.

Four more plays are published in 1600, all using the pen name without any hyphen: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2 Henry IV, The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing. And three others also appear in that time frame, but still anonymous: Romeo and Juliet, 3 Henry VI, and Henry V.  Many of these plays – especially the histories – deal with issues of kingship, of what kind of monarch should or should not rule, the right and wrong ways to choose a successor, the consequences of deposing a rightful king. These issues are swirling on and off the stage, in allegory and in real life, all around the aging queen, who refuses to make a choice while she still has the strength to do so.

Edward, Earl of Oxford was summoned as a judge to the 1601 trial of Essex and Southampton — the same Southampton to whom “Shakespeare” had pledged his “love … without end.”

Southampton takes charge of planning an assault on Whitehall Palace, aiming to remove Cecil and confront Elizabeth without interference. If they gain entrance to her presence, they will beg the queen to fulfill her responsibility by choosing a successor.

Members of the Essex faction meet with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s company, paying the actors to give a special performance of Richard II at their own playhouse, the Globe, on Sunday 7 February 1601. Southampton is in charge of the Shakespeare plays and, most likely, he himself pays for the performance – with its deposition scene of King Richard handing over his crown to Bolinbroke, who becomes Henry IV.

(The play is instructional. It’s also a cautionary tale: Richard is murdered in prison by Pierce of Exton, who mistakenly believes he’s carrying out the king’s wishes.)

Cecil uses this performance to summon Essex that night and trigger the chaotic events of the following day. By midnight of the Eighth of February, Essex and Southampton are both arrested and taken by river through Traitors Gate into the Tower, facing charges of high treason and almost certain execution. Of course, this play of royal history is another allegory, and Elizabeth will famously cry out six months later, “I am Richard the Second, know ye not that?”

So long as Southampton is in the prison, there will be no authorized printings of new Shakespeare plays. In effect, the pen name goes silent. The actors of Shakespeare’s company are summoned for questioning, but never the author … but why not? Well, he can’t be summoned, can he?  He has no flesh and blood, because “Shakespeare” — after all – is but a pen name.

Postscript

While Southampton languishes in prison, another metamorphosis takes place, as recorded by Oxford in the Sonnets. First, his disappearance: “My name be buried where my body is” (72); and “I, once gone, to all the world must die” (81). Then his sacrifice to the pen name, in a sequence that traditional critics call the Rival Poet series. The true “rival,” however, is not a flesh-and-blood person; rather, it is Oxford’s own pseudonym on the printed page.

Oxford understood that “Shakespeare” would remain attached to Southampton, even as he himself, the true author, faded from the world’s view. The Sonnets would be suppressed upon their publication in 1609, and the quarto would remain underground for more than a century until it reappeared in 1711, like a message in a bottle, carrying Oxford’s true account for posterity.  The story — of how Oxford sacrificed himself to save Southampton’s life and gain his freedom — remains within the “monument” of the Sonnets:

“Your monument shall be my gentle verse,/ Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read” (81); “And thou in this shalt find thy monument,/ When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent” (107).

 

 

 

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