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)  

A New Stratfordian Attempt to Destroy the Integrity (and Testimony) of the Sonnets

PART ONE

Most believers in William Shakspere of Stratford as the author known as “Shakespeare,” along with those who conclude he was Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, understand that the poems, plays and sonnets are filled with sexual innuendo, that is, double entendres or language with two meanings. Members of both camps agree that “Shakespeare” the man was probably bisexual, although the term was then unknown.

In addition, Shakespeare lovers generally recognize that the Sonnets as printed in 1609 come closest to revealing the author’s person and why, as he confesses, “My name be buried where my body is, and live no more to shame nor me nor you” (72). Many Oxfordians realize that once we discover how the Sonnets use the language of romantic and erotic love to preserve a more important story, the Stratfordian myth will automatically be shattered.

When J. Thomas Looney presented evidence in 1920 that “Shakespeare” was the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, close to the absolute monarch and her powerful chief minister, he stood the traditional image of the author on its head. In a single breath he identified the poet-dramatist as the antithesis of a commoner and confirmed that the “authorship question” is inextricably bound up with Elizabethan court politics and royal government.

Whatever the circumstances that caused Oxford to agree with the posthumous burial of his identity, they are alive within this very same sonnet sequence, which seeks to ensure the eternal fame of Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton:

‘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. (55)

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

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

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tryants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.  (107)

In that couplet of Sonnet 107 he is glancing at the recently deceased Queen, whose body is set to be borne on 28 April 1603 to Westminster Abbey, where her coffin will rest in the shadow of the great brass tomb of her grandfather, Henry VII of England. And yes, Oxford is saying that Elizabeth Tudor was a tyrant.

“If we suppose that ‘Shakespeare,’ whoever he may have been, retained in 1603 the feelings he had expressed for Southampton in 1593 and 1594,” Looney argues, “it is impossible to think of him writing panegyrics on Queen Elizabeth whilst his friend was being kept in prison … Oxford’s experience as a whole [would] indispose him to join in any chorus of lamentation or of praise.”

Looney agrees that 107 celebrates Southampton’s release from the Tower by King James on 10 April, following the Queen’s death on 24 March and the unexpectedly peaceful succession. He also proposes that 125 is “the Earl of Oxford’s expression of his private feelings relative to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral” and “may be taken as his last sonnet” (given that 126 is the envoi of the series). In other words, the schoolmaster recognized that 107 and 125 each express Oxford’s glaringly opposite attitudes toward Southampton and Elizabeth. He refers, for example, to these lines of 125:

Have I not seen dwellers on form and favor

Lose all and more by paying too much rent

For compound sweet forgoing simple savor,

Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?   (125)

This sentiment is “strongly suggestive of an allusion to royalty,” Looney writes, “and is exactly descriptive of what Oxford represents Elizabeth’s treatment of himself to have been.”

No such links to the royal court trouble Stratfordian leaders, however; only one thing frightens them, consciously or otherwise: the prospect of Oxfordians demonstrating that the sonnet sequence of 1609 contains a story that is both cohesive and based on specific events in the life of Edward de Vere, Henry Wriothesley and the Queen of England.

Over the past century since “Shakespeare” Identified was published, however, they have been confident (again, knowingly or not) that no such demonstration will appear. They have no problem with Looney’s statement that the Sonnets “reflect at once the soul and the circumstances” of the Earl of Oxford – no problem, just so long as such reflections appear to remain free of any overall coherent narrative linked to the contemporary history.

The goal of this Stratfordian game is to be able to keep on playing it.

Nor are they bothered that Oxford undoubtedly led a lusty sexual life, with both male and female partners, while trying to pull England out of the Dark Ages into the bright freedoms of the waning European renaissance. Most Oxfordians agree the Sonnets are drenched in the language of eroticism and bisexuality; but even that is no cause for Stratfordians to worry, so long as no true story within the 1609 sonnet sequence – one based on the record of actual persons, situations and events – comes to the surface.

If Oxford was bisexual, which the evidence suggests he was, Stratfordians can say the same about their champion – because, after all, the biographical fantasy of William Shakspere as “Shakespeare” allows for anything. So long as neither side discerns a coherent narrative in those deeply personal sonnets, it’s a draw; and the title, according to custom and convention, stays with the reigning champ.

The chieftains of tradition will continue to prevail, despite overwhelming evidence of Oxford’s authorship, so long as the 1609 sequence remains an unfathomable free-for-all. They will prevail because the 154 consecutively numbered sonnets – so profoundly autobiographical, so obviously arranged in order with careful connectivity – are still viewed (by Stratfordians and possibly by most Oxfordians) as loosely related little poems that can be rearranged at will and, therefore, remain supposedly ripe for any interpretation at all.

The unspoken Stratfordian fear of a real-life Oxfordian story within the Sonnets, one supported by a genuine historical context, nonetheless persists; and the latest demonstration of this underlying dread is now upon us, in the form of a new book by Sir Stanley Wells and Dr. Paul Edmondson. This latest blast from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust represents what may be the most direct assault on the cohesion of the Sonnets ever launched. Here, finally, is a frontal attempt to completely shatter the integrity of the numerical sequence and, thereby, remove any possible semblance of a recorded story.

Welcome to All the Sonnets of Shakespeare, which includes additional poetry from the plays, adding up to 182 verses arranged according to the chronological order in which the authors believe they were written. “We’ve removed the story which has plagued the sonnets for centuries about the so-called Fair Youth and the Dark Lady,” Edmondson told BBC Radio, “because it was never there. It was an eighteenth-century invention.” This new arrangement of the sonnets “in their probable order of composition” now “exposes them as free poems laden with Shakespeare’s personality.”

Free poems!

Stephen Greenblatt, who has admitted that his Will in the World was not a genuine “life” of Shakespeare but, rather, a historical novel, praises Wells and Edmondson for “jettisoning the order in which the sonnets appeared in print” because the result is “radical and unsettling.” The creators of this newly invented arrangement may imagine they have finally removed the specter of an Oxfordian story from the 1609 sequence; as the blurb from Greenblatt suggests, they will be applauding themselves for appearing to have slain that lurking dragon.

But Oxford’s more important true story is not going anywhere. It continues to exist right there, forever embedded within the familiar costume of the romantic and erotic poetical language, and one day it will be widely recognized as “the living record” (55) of Southampton preserved within a “monument” (81, 107) of verse for posterity – that is, for us.

(PART TWO will be posted next week.)

Re-posting No. 60 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: “The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth”

The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth, although not printed until 1598, was part of the wartime repertoire of the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s. Written by an obviously youthful (and anonymous) dramatist, the play also serves as a template or blueprint for the later Shakespearean trilogy 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V.

agincourt-3Virtually everything in Famous Victories is repeated, in a refined and expanded form, in the Shakespeare plays printed in the latter 1590s. From that, traditional scholars conclude that Shakespeare was a shameless plagiarist.  But isn’t it far more likely that the real “Shakespeare” wrote Famous Victories at a younger age, later re-working it to create his Henry trilogy?

Dr. Seymour Pitcher, a Stratfordian professor of English literature at the State University of New York, published a book in 1961 entitled The Case for Shakespeare’s Authorship of “The Famous Victories,” declaring that this youthful work “is not at all unworthy of Shakespeare as a spirited and genial apprentice dramatist.”

agincourt2The play is “a clatter of events, its quick narrative interspersed with light and raucous comedy.  Comical-historical it surely is, but, in its hybrid form, sufficiently self-consistent in tone.  Sketchy and sometimes banal, it is gusty and flaunting.  At best, it has poignancy in characterization and phrase.  How else should we expect Shakespeare to have begun?”

Dr. Pitcher suggests this must have been the Bard’s first play, written during his early twenties. Many Oxfordians would agree, although Ramon Jiminez has concluded that Edward de Vere may have written Famous Victories even earlier, in his teens.

Whatever the case, there is no evidence that Shakspere of Stratford could have penned Famous Victories in his twenties (or at any other time); but the young Earl of Oxford was uniquely qualified to have written it.

B.M. Ward concludes that Oxford wrote Famous Victories at age twenty-four in 1574.  One reason is that the play comically refers to the involvement of Prince Hal (the future Henry V) in a robbery on Gad’s Hill, just a year after Oxford’s own men had been involved in such a robbery (or prank) in the very same place.  Ward believes that the earl presented the play at court before Queen Elizabeth during the Christmas season of 1574.

famousvictorieshenry5titlepage.jpg“One can scarcely read The Famous Victories and not see in the skimpy little prose-play an early, comparatively amateurish exercise on the themes that would later come to magnificent flower in the Shakespearean dramas,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. writes, citing a speech in Famous Victories by the newly crowned Henry the Fifth in response to the belittling gift from the French Dauphin of tennis balls:

My Lord Prince Dauphin is very pleasant with me!  But tell him instead of balls of leather we will toss him balls of brass and iron – yea, such balls as never were tossed in France…”

This same early material, reworked in the Shakespearean play Henry V, becomes a masterful speech by the king that begins:

We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us:

His present and your pains we thank you for:

When we have match’d our rackets to these balls,

We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set

Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard… (1.2)

A prominent character in Famous Victories is Richard de Vere, 11th Earl of Oxford (1385-1417), but in 1 & 2 Henry IV and Henry V by “Shakespeare” that same earl disappears. Ogburn Jr. notes that this “initial inflation and later eradication of Oxford’s part” in the play is a telltale sign of something important.  Once the author is viewed as de Vere, the explanation for Richard de Vere’s disappearance from the play is clear: to continue to give such prominence to an ancestor would jeopardize Edward de Vere’s anonymity.

Note: This Reason is now No. 40 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, as edited by Alex McNeil.

 

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.

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