Did Marlowe and Shakespeare Collaborate? Well … yes! … because Marlowe Worked with Oxford, Who then Became Shake-speare

Due Soon at Amazon.com

Due Soon at Amazon.com

So … according to the “New Oxford Shakespeare” editors, Christopher Marlowe and the great poet-dramatist worked together!  Well, that’s a step in the right direction … a giant step on the journey away from Stratford and into the political terrain of London and the court … a journey into what really happened when Marlowe, a Cambridge student and government spy, worked in the 1580s with Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who supervised a group of writers turning out plays of English history during wartime … promoting a new spirit of patriotic identity and national unity.  De Vere took the younger Marlowe under his wing … and when the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588, the earl dropped from public view … reappearing in 1593 as “Shakespeare” on the printed page.  In other words, Will Shakspere had no part in it. So … did Marlowe and “Shakespeare” collaborate? Well, sure! But let us continue the journey away from Stratford, with all possible speed…  

Here’s an advance look at the Marlowe chapter of my forthcoming book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, based on the series of a hundred “reasons” posted on this blog site:

CHAPTER NINE: THE MARLOWE ENIGMA

Reason 49 – Christopher Marlowe

We now confront the shadowy figure of Christopher Marlowe, the Cambridge student and government spy who was stabbed to death at age twenty-nine on 30 May 1593, just when the initial copies of Venus and Adonis, carrying the first appearance of the printed name “William Shakespeare,” were on their way to the London bookstalls.

Tamburlaine the Great (in two separate parts) had drawn great crowds to the Rose playhouse from 1587 onward, but Marlowe’s name never appeared on any published work during his lifetime. (As audiences seemed uninterested in who wrote the plays they attended, a common assumption that he was “the toast of the town” as a popular playwright may well be a fantasy.) Ironically, however, upon his death the “Shakespeare” name was launched—the name of a previously unknown writer whose highly cultured narrative poem was an instant bestseller. In fact, the name of Shakespeare quickly did become the toast of the town, at least among those who could buy books.

The relationship of “Marlowe” and “Shakespeare” has generated much uncertainty and perplexity among academics. Scholars and biographers have pondered and dissected the inextricable entanglement of those two famous names, and of the works attributed to them, without consensus. Oscar James Campbell notes the confusion in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966):

“Because the chronology of the composition of Marlowe’s plays and those of Shakespeare is uncertain, and because of the dearth of information about Shakespeare’s activities during the “seven lost years” [1586 through 1592], it is impossible to discuss with precision the literary interrelationship of these two playwrights …Whatever their personal relationship, it is demonstrable that Shakespeare knew Marlowe’s plays and poetry. There are hundreds of verbal echoes and dozens of comparable scenes and situations in the works attributed to the two different men. Frequently it is difficult to guess who is echoing or borrowing from whom….” 

The tradition is that Will of Stratford, being the same age as Marlowe but newly arrived in London, was so inspired by Tamburlaine’s commanding eloquence and unrelenting violence that he began to write Henry VI (all three parts) and then his own blood-gushing play Titus Andronicus. Exactly how Shakspere found the time to write such plays while engaged in his acting career and moneylending is never explained.

[Well … we might as well add here that the New Oxford Shakespeare editors are listing Marlowe himself as his co-author on those three plays– the first time for any major edition of the Works.]

Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World (2004) has no trouble comprehending the miracle. He imagines—with no supporting evidence—that just when Shakspere was “finding his feet in London,” he noticed the hoopla over Tamburlaine, which “may indeed have been one of the first performances he ever saw in a playhouse—perhaps the first.” That experience “appears to have had upon him an intense, visceral, indeed life-transforming impact.”

The transformation would have been from a young man who had never been inside a London playhouse to a dramatist who not only instantly surpassed Marlowe himself, but also became the greatest playwright of the English language! By 1595 he would have turned out both Richard II and Richard III and, by 1598, completed no less than twelve plays, including Love’s Labour’s Lost, Romeo and Juliet, King John and The Merchant of Venice!

“Shakespeare had never heard anything quite like this before,” as Greenblatt imagines the Tamburlaine experience, “certainly not in the morality plays or mystery cycles he had watched back in Warwickshire. He must have said to himself something like, ‘You are not in Stratford anymore.’” Standing among the groundlings at the Rose and staring up at Edward Alleyn as Tamburlaine, was for Will a “crucial experience” and a “challenge” that “must have been intensified when he learned that Marlowe was in effect his double: born in the same year, 1564 .…”

Let’s take our own look at 1593, when Venus and Adonis, the sophisticated poem that the author termed “the first heir of my invention,” surged to popularity among university students, aristocrats and members of the royal court including young Henry Lord Southampton, to whom it was dedicated. This blockbuster would be joined in 1594 by an even more brilliant poem, Lucrece, whose primary source was the story told by Ovid in his Fasti, a work not to be translated into English until 1640.

On 28 September 1593, the unfinished manuscript of another narrative poem, Hero and Leander, was entered at the Stationers’ Register by John Wolf, who described it as “an amorous poem devised by Christopher Marloe.” But something happened to stop Wolf from printing it. The first edition was finally published by Edward Blount in 1598, attributed to Marlowe, followed in the same year by another edition from publisher Paul Linley, advertising it as “begun by Christopher Marloe and finished by George Chapman.” “Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is the best of the Ovidian romances,” Campbell writes. “It contains the most successful combination of the genre’s distinctive characteristics: descriptions of natural beauty, voluptuous development of erotic situations, and an ornate style. These are also the elements of which Shakespeare composed Venus and Adonis.

So Marlowe and “Shakespeare” were both writing long, romantic, sensuous, erotic poems based on Ovid; they completed them at virtually the same time—in the year of Marlowe’s untimely death—when “Shakespeare” forged ahead by getting his masterful “first heir” into print and taking over the poetical limelight.

Marlowe’s name appeared in print for the first time in 1594, when the play Edward II was published as by “Chr. Marlow” and another play, Dido, Queen of Carthage, was published as by “Christopher Marlow and Thomas Nashe.” “No play of Marlowe’s is more closely related to one of Shakespeare’s than is Edward II to Richard II,” Campbell writes. “For decades scholars assumed that Marlowe’s was the first significant English chronicle history play, and that therefore he taught Shakespeare much. Recently, however, it has been established that Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy antedates Edward II; in other words, Shakespeare helped Marlowe; the combination of Shakespeare and Marlowe helped Shakespeare in Richard II.” In classic understatement, he adds: “The intricacies of these interrelationships are detailed and complex.”

Marlowe was one of the “University Wits” recruited from Cambridge and Oxford by the Elizabethan government during the 1580s to serve as informants or spies for its wartime intelligence service. These young men also worked as secretaries, scribes and writers under the financial support of Oxford, who provided them with writing space and materials as well as plots, themes, language and even entire works to be published anonymously or under their own or fictitious names.

“During his studies at Cambridge,” Daryl Pinksen writes in Marlowe’s Ghost (2008), “perhaps as early as 1585, Marlowe was recruited into the English secret service headed at that time by Secretary of State Sir Francis Walsingham.” Records indicate a “marked increase of spending” as if he “suddenly had a new source of income” and “frequent absences from Cambridge beginning in 1585 for longer and longer periods, also consistent with work as an intelligence agent …. Lord Burghley … was also Chancellor of Cambridge, and worked closely with Walsingham in directing and funding intelligence operations. During Marlowe’s years at Cambridge it is likely he made numerous trips, perhaps to the continent, at the behest of Walsingham and Burghley to spy for his country.”

“In the fast-expanding arena of Elizabethan espionage, writers were an obvious source of recruits,” Charles Nicholl writes in The Reckoning (1992). “They were intelligent, educated, observant young men. They knew the international language, Latin, and the literary tastes of the day gave them a good smattering of French and Italian.” They were geographically and socially mobile, as well as continually in need of cash, so “it is perhaps not surprising that a number of Elizabethan writers crop up in the files of the intelligence services, both foreign and domestic. They are remembered as poets, pamphleteers and playwrights, but down there in the reality of their lives they had to profess other skills if they were to survive.”

Nicholl mentions writers such as Munday and Lyly, both working from the late 1570s as de Vere’s secretaries, and devotes a chapter to “another poet glimpsed in the secret world of the 1580s … an elusive and engaging figure”—Thomas Watson, who was “a close friend of Marlowe,” Lyly and others. Watson is one of many “intermediaries” linking Oxford and Marlowe by just one degree of separation, making it highly likely that de Vere and Marlowe not only knew each other, but worked together on plays such as Tamburlaine the Great and on poems such as Hero and Leander. But it would not have been an equal relationship; Oxford, fourteen years Marlowe’s senior, would have been guiding the younger man.

In 1564, the year of Marlowe’s birth, Oxford was already receiving his honorary degree from Cambridge; in 1575, when Marlowe turned eleven, Oxford was twenty-five and spending a year in Italy; and in 1581, when Marlowe entered Cambridge at seventeen, Oxford, at thirty-one, was recruiting young disciples who, during wartime, would help achieve the great renaissance of English literature and drama leading up to “Shakespeare” in the 1590s. The truth about Marlowe becomes clear within the context of this crucial chapter of England’s history in which he appears; it begins with Oxford’s pivotal role at the center of those young writers who helped create a new language—a new cultural and national identity, leading to a strong sense of English pride and patriotic fervor.

The intention of King Philip’s Armada was to not only to conquer the island nation, but also to crush the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance in England and overturn the Protestant Reformation. If any single aspect of English life created the immediate, fertile ground from which “Shakespeare” sprang, it was this prolonged expectation of invasion. Once the Anglo-Spanish war became official in 1584, the arrival of enemy ships loomed ever closer; during the next four years, Burghley and Walsingham were determined to employ “the media”— books, pamphlets, ballads, speeches and plays (especially plays of royal history) that promoted unity in the face of internal religious and political conflicts, which threatened to render England too weak to survive.

The phenomenon of “Shakespeare” involves not only the solitary figure of de Vere; it involves an array of others who wrote for him or with him or who lent their names to creations that were entirely his, all contributing to a body of work by Oxford that is much larger than the one “Shakespeare” has been allowed to claim. His labors include a vast body of translation as well as original poetry, prose, plays, dramatic literature, song lyrics, musical compositions and political tracts, presented anonymously or under names of real persons living or dead, not to mention fictitious persons whose “biographies” are skimpy and tentative at best.

Marlowe fits into this picture as one of Oxford’s satellite figures who may (or may not) have contributed his own labors to anonymous works such as Tamburlaine. (All works later attributed to Marlowe were either unpublished or published anonymously during his brief lifetime.) Tamburlaine may have been written earlier by a younger Oxford, who could have given it to Marlowe (age twenty-three in 1587) to work on. Performed on the public stage before the Armada sailed in 1588, its speeches roused audiences to a fever pitch; the character of Tamburlaine, according to Frederick Boas in University Drama in the Tudor Age (1914), seemed to Englishmen to embody Philip of Spain himself. He is a tyrant calling himself master of the lands and seas, confident he will conquer “all the ocean by the British shore” and that “by this means, I’ll win the world at last!”

Such arrogant confidence and raging, bloodthirsty ambition might well have served to alarm Englishmen over the danger they faced and to further motivate them to join together to defeat the Armada.

Burghley wrote on 21 June 1586 to Walsingham, asking if he had spoken with the queen in support of de Vere. Five days later Her Majesty signed a Privy Seal Warrant authorizing an annual grant to Oxford of 1,000 pounds, an extraordinary figure, especially since England was at war with Spain and desperately needed funds. The grant, to be paid in quarterly installments, expressly stated the earl was not to be called on by the Exchequer to render any account as to its expenditure—a clause which, Ward writes, was “the usual formula made use of in the case of secret service money.”

Oxford was playing an important but unpublicized role for Elizabeth, Burghley and Walsingham during these dangerous times. The earl had made extensive sales of land between 1580 and 1585, indicating he had been personally financing writers and play companies, so now the otherwise frugal queen was compensating him for past, as well as future, expenses. In 1585, upon the outbreak of war with Spain in the Netherlands, annual payments to Walsingham rose to 2,000 pounds; it is “at this stage of increased funding and activity,” Nicholl writes, “that Marlowe enters the lower ranks of the intelligence world.”

Eva Turner Clark in Hidden Allusions (1931) notes that the writers known as the University Wits went into high gear during 1586 and 1587. “Play after play flowed from their pens. These were chronicle plays, revenge plays, Senecan plays—mostly plays calculated to keep people at a high pitch of excitement during wartime. Gathering this group of writers together, directing their work, and producing their plays on the stage was the function of the secret service office that Lord Oxford filled and upon which he spent the money that had been granted to him…. In order to keep a heavy program going, he [and Burghley] appealed to recent graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, and even to those on the point of graduation, who gave promise of dramatic ability, to assist in this important work of stage propaganda.”

“Lord Oxford, as a prolific writer and scholar, an eclectic, devotee of the theatre, generous patron of literary men and musicians, drew into his orbit the best writers and wits of the day,” Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn write in This Star of England (1952). “He was the center and prime inspiration of the University Wits: such men as Lyly, Watson, Kyd and Munday—all of whom he employed—as well as Greene, Peele, Marston, Dekker, Lodge, Nashe and Marlowe. Somewhat older than most of them, infinitely greater than any, he attracted these intellectuals as a magnet attracts steel chips; … he supported, encouraged, and directed these men, broadening their classics-bound culture through his knowledge of Italian, German, and French literature, as well as of feudal customs and the ways of court-life, while devoting his abundant creative energies to the production of dramas which not only entertained and stimulated the elect but also delighted and edified the intelligent though unschooled.”

Oxford had purchased the London mansion known as Fisher’s Folly to provide writing space for the younger men, who apparently had been turning out anti-Spanish plays for at least several months before the queen authorized the earl’s annual grant. On 20 July 1586 the Venetian ambassador in Spain, Hieronimo Lippomano, wrote to the Doge and Senate that King Philip had been furious over reports about plays being performed at the Elizabethan court: “But what has enraged him more than all else, and has caused him to show a resentment such as he has never displayed in all his life, is the account of the masquerades and comedies which the Queen of England orders to be acted at his expense.”

During the second half of 1586, after Walsingham had foiled the Babington Plot to put captive Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne, Oxford sat on the tribunal at her trial, when she was found guilty of treason. Mary Stuart, mother of twenty-year-old James VI of Scotland, was beheaded on 8 February 1587 at Fortheringhay Castle. Her execution virtually ensured that Philip, with the blessings of the Pope, would soon launch his Armada against England.

On 29 June 1587 the Privy Council sent orders (signed by Burghley and Archbishop Whitgift) to Cambridge authorities that Marlowe should receive his Master’s degree, despite frequent absences from the campus amid rumors he was a Catholic traitor—which is what he seems to have pretended to be, as part of secret service work, during visits to the English College at Rheims in Northern France, a key seminary for Catholic defectors. The Council certified that Marlowe had “behaved himself orderly and discreetly whereby he had done her Majesty good service, and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealings … because it was not her Majesty’s pleasure that anyone employed as he had been in matters touching the benefit of his Country should be defamed by those that are ignorant in the affairs he went about.”

In a letter to Burghley on 2 October 1587, Marlowe was named as a courier in dispatches to Walsingham from Utrecht in Holland, indicating that after leaving Cambridge, his travels for intelligence work were continuing apace. The evidence makes it seem likely that Oxford was giving Marlowe a “cover” in London, according to the needs of Burghley and Walsingham, by taking him under his wing. To what degree Marlowe actually wrote the works for which he is credited is a matter of conjecture; some Oxfordians believe that Oxford wrote all of them.

“Shakespeare” was forged out of the fires of wartime. Because of stage works written or promoted by de Vere, young men from different parts of the country, Protestants and Catholics alike, speaking different dialects that often needed interpretation, descended upon London in the summer of 1588 and volunteered to join together in the face of a common enemy. (That kind of “public relations” effort to foster national unity would be used in the twentieth century by the U.S. government, whose media operations during World War II became a workshop for writers, photographers and filmmakers, enabling them to sharpen their skills.)

England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada was, perhaps inevitably, followed by a shameful episode that might be called a “bloodbath” of those same writers. Having utilized their services to help England survive, the authorities no longer had the same need of them and became afraid of their freedom to express themselves and of their power to influence the public. After defeating the enemy without, the government focused on enemies within.

After England destroyed the Armada in the summer of 1588, Oxford played a prominent role in the celebratory procession to St. Paul’s Cathedral on 24 November. An observer reported in A Joyful Ballad of the Royal Entrance of Queen Elizabeth into the City of London:

The noble Earl of Oxford then High Chamberlain of England

Rode right before Her Majesty his bonnet in his hand…

And afterwards unto Paul’s cross she did directly pass,

There by the Bishop of Salisbury a sermon preached was;

The Earl of Oxford opening then the windows for her Grace,

The Children of the Hospital she saw before her face….

This triumphant appearance seemed to mark the end of Oxford’s public life. He soon disappeared from court and public view, retiring to the countryside after selling Vere House and Fisher’s Folly. His wife, Anne Cecil, had died in June of 1588 and her father, Burghley, as Master of the Court of Wards, instituted procedures against him in early 1589 for debts dating back at least two decades and amounting to a staggering 22,000 pounds, rendering his annuity of a thousand pounds virtually useless.

Oxford had been the central sun around which the writers revolved, so when he could no longer finance their labors they began to fly out of orbit. The result, directly or indirectly, was the loss of nearly all of them within a span of some five years.

The Earl’s company of child actors, known as Paul’s Boys and/or Oxford’s Boys, was forced by the government to dissolve in 1590; soon after, writes Clark, “the loud complaints of members of the group are heard; one member dies in poverty; another fails to receive promised preferment; another is killed in a tavern brawl; and others drag on in miserable existence. The goose that laid the Golden Eggs was dead.”

Outcries from the writers took various forms that only certain members of the royal court and the aristocracy might have understood. Nashe, in his 1589 preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon, entitled “To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities,” referred to an “English Seneca” who had been forced to “die to our stage,” that is, to abandon his commitment to theatre: “Yet English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches. But oh grief! Tempus edax rerum: [“Time, the consumer of all things”] what’s that will last always? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be dry, and Seneca, let blood line by line and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage.”

The death of Walsingham in April 1590 sent the world of English espionage into a tailspin, with factions competing for prominence. The strongest was controlled by the father-son team of William and Robert Cecil, the latter determined to gain power over all intelligence-gathering apparatus and, too, over the public stage with its playwrights, play companies and playhouses. Upon the secretary’s death some of his spy network fell into the hands of his cousin Thomas Walsingham, who began to lead a kind of rogue operation. Watson and Marlowe both entered into his patronage and Marlowe continued to travel abroad. Nicholl reports that Marlowe was lodging in January 1592 with two other English spies in Flushing, a Dutch seaport town ceded to England in return for support against Spanish invaders. He was arrested as a counterfeiter and deported, a bizarre episode that ended with him returning home as a prisoner to face Burghley in private and answer his questions. Might it be reasonable to ask how Marlowe found time to write? It appears that whatever his literary and dramatic contributions may have been, they had ceased when Oxford gave up Fisher’s Folly in 1589 and could no longer support the University Wits.  Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984) agrees that it was Oxford who had discovered Marlowe’s dramatic ability and brought out Tamburlaine in 1587, to teach the people what might be expected of a ruthless conqueror like Philip; and later, for publication, he had put Marlowe’s name on it.

“The relationship between the two playwrights [Oxford and Marlowe] at this time may be taken to account for the similarities in Shakespeare’s early historical dramas to Edward the Second, printed in 1594 as Marlowe’s,” Ogburn also suggests. “The supposition would be that the play was an early one of Oxford’s that the earl turned over in draft to Marlowe to make what he would of it.”

Dorothy Ogburn writes of “evidence that Edward II is a direct forerunner of Henry IV and of Richard II and is by the same hand, created out of the same consciousness: it is not plagiarized from someone else. There are innumerable correspondences between Edward II and these dramas, not only in locutions, imagery and mannerisms, but also in point of view.”

On 18 April 1593, the highly cultured and sophisticated narrative poem Venus and Adonis was entered at the Stationers’ Register in London, without an author’s name. On 30 May Marlowe was killed in the company of three other spies. Among them was the most important government agent, Robert Poley, now working for Burghley and Robert Cecil, the latter determined to prevent nobles such as Oxford, Essex and Southampton from choosing a successor to Elizabeth, who was now in her sixtieth year. The only way Cecil could hope to retain power behind the throne beyond the reign of Elizabeth was to become the kingmaker himself.

It appears Cecil had viewed Marlowe as knowing too many secrets to be trusted and as too dangerous to remain alive. By June 1593, virtually at the time of Marlowe’s death, Venus and Adonis went on sale. No author’s name appeared on the title page, but the printed signature beneath the dedication to Southampton carried, for the first time, the name of an otherwise unknown author—William Shakespeare—evoking the image of a warrior-poet shaking the spear of his pen.

Oxford had returned.

100-reasons-cover-front-only-for-thumbnail-resized_2-10_26_16

Christopher Marlowe, Continued: the Fourth and Final Part of Reason 95 to Believe the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Queen Elizabeth with the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish armada arrived

Queen Elizabeth with the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish armada arrived

After England destroyed the Spanish armada in the summer of 1588, Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford played a prominent role in the celebratory procession to St. Paul’s Cathedral on the twenty-fourth of November. An observer reported in A Joyful Ballad of the Royal Entrance of Queen Elizabeth into the City of London:

The noble Earl of Oxford then High Chamberlain of England
Rode right before Her Majesty his bonnet in his hand…
And afterwards unto Paul’s cross she did directly pass,
There by the Bishop of Salisbury a sermon preached was;
The Earl of Oxford opening then the windows for her Grace,
The Children of the Hospital she saw before her face.

But this was the end of Oxford’s public life. He soon disappeared from court and public view, retiring to the countryside after selling Vere House and Fisher’s Folly, the latter mansion having provided a London home base for writers in his charge. His wife Anne Cecil had died in June of 1588 and her father, Lord Burghley, as Master of the Court of Wards, instituted procedures against him in early 1589 for his debts dating back at least two decades and amounting to a staggering total of some 22,000 pounds – rendering his annuity of a thousand pounds virtually useless.

William Cecil Lord Burghley

William Cecil
Lord Burghley

[Mostly likely Oxford went to the manor house of Stoke Newington. After that he may have gone to Billesley Hall in the Valley of the Avon, owned by the family of Elizabeth Trussel, the Maid of Honor who became his second wife in 1591. A local legend is that As You Like It was written by “Shakespeare” at Billesley Hall.]

Billesley Hall or Manor

Billesley Hall or Manor

Oxford was the central sun around which the writers revolved, so when he could no longer finance their labors they began to fly out of orbit. The result, directly or indirectly, was the loss of nearly all of them within a span of some five years; for example:

John Lyly, his main secretary and stage manager, lost his job in 1590;
Thomas Lodge escaped poverty by voyaging to South America in 1591;
Thomas Watson died in 1592;
Robert Greene died of dissipation and poverty in September 1592;
Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death on May 30, 1593;
Thomas Kyd, after being tortured on the rack in 1593, died in 1594.

Oxford’s company of child actors, called Paul’s Boys and/or Oxford’s Boys, was forced by the government to dissolve in 1590; and soon after, writes Eva Turner Clark, “the loud complaints of members of the group are heard; one member dies in poverty; another fails to receive promised preferment; another is killed in a tavern brawl; and others drag on in miserable existence. The goose that lay the Golden Eggs was dead.”

Outcries from the writers took various forms that only certain members of the royal court and the aristocracy might have understood. Thomas Nashe, for example, in his 1589 preface to Greene’s prose work Menaphon entitled To The Gentlemen Students of Both Universities, referred to Oxford as the “English Seneca” who had been forced to “die to our stage” or to abandon his commitment to theatre:

“Yet English Seneca read by candlelight yields many good sentences, as ‘Blood is a beggar,’ and so forth; and if you entreat him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets, I should say handfuls, of tragical speeches. But oh grief! Tempus edax rerum: [‘Time, the consumer of all things”] what’s that will last always? The sea exhaled by drops will in continuance be dry, and Seneca, let blood line by line and page by page, at length must needs die to our stage.”

armada
Many Oxfordians believe that Edward de Vere had written the first version of Hamlet by 1585, when he had Marcellus allude to “shipwrights” (builders of wooden vessels) in London who were helping to prepare for the Spanish invasion:

Good now, sit down, and tell me, he that knows,
Why this same strict and most observant watch
So nightly toils the subject of the land,
And why such daily cast of brazen cannon,
And foreign mart for implements of war;
Why such impress of shipwrights, whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week…

The spectacle of shipbuilding all week and even on Sundays, as the nation braced for war on the home front, would have resonated with an English audience before, but not after, the arrival of the armada in 1588. Meanwhile Nashe was also indirectly reporting that the author of the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark had been forced to “die to our stage.”

Then at the end of 1590 came registration of the poem Tears of the Muses, attributed to Edmund Spenser, also bemoaning the loss of the great author:

And he, the man whom nature self had made
To mock herself, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter under mimic sdhade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! Is dead of late…

But that same gently spirit, from whose pen
Large streams of honey and sweet nectar flow,
Scorning the boldness of such base-born men
Which dare their follies forth so rashly throw,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
That so himself to mockery to sell.

It was Edward de Vere who (as Hamlet puts it) held the mirror up to “nature” and so “imitate” the “truth” in his work – an echo in passing of his motto Nothing Truer than Truth. Oxford was the great writer who had been “dead of late” and was now choosing to “sit in idle cell” rather than sell himself or his work. In one of his song-verses printed back in The Paradise of Dainty Devices, signed “E.O.” in 1576 and “E. Ox” in subsequent editions, he revealed that “never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone” – that is, he never worked harder than when he was by himself.

Meanwhile in September 1589 two of the writer-spies in Oxford’s circle got into trouble. Marlowe was fighting in the street with an innkeeper’s son, William Bradley, when Watson appeared and drew his sword. Marlowe stepped back, but Bradley leaped toward Watson and wounded him. Watson retreated, but Bradley charged again, so now Watson pierced him deep in the chest, killing him. Both writer-agents were tossed into the Newgate dungeon, but Marlowe was released without charge while a jury eventually ruled that Watson had acted in self-defense. He spent some months in the prison, awaiting “the grace of the Queen” until, on February 10, 1590, he received a pardon.

Queen Elizabeth The Armada Portrait

Queen Elizabeth
The Armada Portrait

The death of Secretary Francis Walsingham on April 6, 1590 sent the world of English espionage into a tailspin of competing factions. The strongest one was controlled by the powerful father-son team of William Cecil Lord Burghley and Robert Cecil. The latter, Oxford’s former brother-in-law, was determined to gain power over the intelligence-gathering apparatus and, too, over the public stage along with its playwrights, play companies and playhouses.

Upon the Secretary’s death some of his spy network fell into the hands of his cousin Thomas Walsingham, who began to lead a kind of rogue operation. Watson and Marlowe both entered Thomas Walsingham’s patronage; and Marlowe continued to travel abroad. As reported first by Nicholl in The Reckoning, in January 1592 Marlowe was lodging with two other English spies in Flushing, a Dutch seaport town ceded to England in return for support against Spanish invaders. On the twenty-sixth of that month, Marlowe was arrested in Flushing as a counterfeiter and deported – a bizarre episode that ended with him returning home as a prisoner to face Burghley in private and answer his questions.

Might it be reasonable to ask how Marlowe found time to write? It appears that whatever his literary and dramatic contributions may have been, they had ceased when Oxford gave up Fisher’s Folly in 1589 and could no longer support the University Wits. In The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1584), Charlton Ogburn Jr. supported the idea that it was Oxford who had discovered Marlowe’s dramatic ability and brought out Tamburlaine in 1587, to teach the people what might be expected of a ruthless conqueror like Philip of Spain; and he continued:

“The relationship between the two playwrights [Oxford and Marlowe] at this time may be taken to account for the similarities in Shakespeare’s early historical dramas to Edward the Second, printed in 1594 as Marlowe’s” – that is, printed with his name after he was murdered. “The supposition would be that the play was an early one of Oxford’s that the Earl turned over in draft to Marlowe to make what he would of it.”

[Ogburn’s mother Dorothy Ogburn had written of “evidence that Edward the Second is a direct forerunner of 2 and 3 Henry the Sixth and of Richard II and is by the same hand, created out of the same consciousness: it is not plagiarized from someone else. There are innumerable correspondences between Edward the Second and these dramas, not only in locutions, imagery and mannerisms, but also in point of view.”]

On April 18, 1593, the long, highly cultured and sophisticated narrative poem Venus and Adonis was entered at the Stationer’s Register in London, without any author’s name.

William Cecil Lord Burghley (l) and his son Robert Cecil (r)

William Cecil Lord Burghley (l) and his son Robert Cecil (r)

On May 30, 1593, Christopher Marlowe was killed in the company of three other spies. Among them was the most important government agent, Robert Poley, who was now working for Burghley and Robert Cecil – the latter being determined to prevent nobles such as Oxford, Essex and Southampton from choosing a successor to Elizabeth, now in her sixtieth year. The only way Robert Cecil could hope to retain power behind the throne, beyond the reign of Elizabeth, was to become the kingmaker.

It appears that Cecil had viewed Kit Marlowe as knowing too many secrets to be trusted, that is, as having been too dangerous to remain alive. In any case, Marlow had never been named as the author of any poem or play during his lifetime.

A few weeks later, in June 1593, Venus and Adonis went on sale. No author’s name appeared on the title page, but the printed signature for the dedication to Southampton carried, for the first time, the name of an otherwise unknown author – William Shakespeare, evoking the image of a warrior-poet shaking the spear of his pen.

Oxford had returned…

“English Seneca” … “Our Pleasant Willy” … was back.

Christopher Marlowe – Part Three of Reason 95 to Conclude that Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”

“Christopher Marlowe became a scholar of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. in 1584, and M.A. in 1587. As Tamburlaine was acted in that year, it appears that Marlowe’s academic and his literary life overlapped. Little is certainly known of his later life, apart from the production of his plays and poems. He belonged to a circle of which Sir Walter Raleigh was the center, and which contained men like the Earl of Oxford …” The Chief Elizabethan Dramatists edited by William Allan Neilson, Ph.D., Professor of English, Harvard, 1911

Queen Elizabeth, flanked by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham

Queen Elizabeth, flanked by Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham

Elizabeth I’s chief minister William Cecil, Lord Burghley wrote on June 21, 1586 to spymaster Secretary Francis Walsingham asking if he had spoken with Queen Elizabeth in support of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Five days later her Majesty signed a Privy Seal Warrant authorizing an annual grant to Oxford of a thousand pounds – an extraordinary figure, especially since England was at war with Spain and desperately needed funds. The warrant, to be paid each year in quarterly installments, expressly stated that the earl was not to be called on by the Exchequer to render any account as to its expenditure – a clause which, B.M. Ward wrote in his 1928 biography of Oxford, was “the usual formula made use of in the case of secret service money.”

Oxford was playing an important but unpublicized role for Elizabeth, Burghley and Walsingham during these dangerous times when the mighty Spanish armada was about to appear on the horizon at any moment. The earl had made extensive sales of land between 1580 and 1585, indicating he had been personally financing writers and play companies, so now the otherwise frugal and even stingy Queen was compensating him for past as well as future expenses.

Walsingham caused the Queen's Men to be created in 1583

Walsingham caused the Queen’s Men to be created in 1583

Such was also the case with Walsingham himself, who had spent a decade financing England’s first official secret service all on his own, paying informants and going broke in the process. In the summer of 1582, however, the Queen, finally realizing she should invest regular sums of public money on intelligence, signed a warrant under the Privy Seal granting the Secretary a sum of 750 pounds per annum in quarterly installments – another formula to be followed exactly in Oxford’s case. In 1583 Walsingham caused the Queen’s Men acting company to be formed to promote patriotic unity during wartime, with two troupes performing around the countryside. In 1585, upon the outbreak of war with Spain in the Netherlands, annual payments to Walsingham rose to two thousand pounds; and it is “at this stage of increased funding and activity,” Charles Nicholl writes in The Reckoning, “that Marlowe enters the lower ranks of the intelligence world.”

Oxfordian researcher Eva Turner Clark writes in Hidden Allusions (1931) that the group of writers known as the University Wits went into high gear of activity during 1586 and 1587. These younger men have been viewed as those who “paved the way” for Shakespeare in the 1590s, but Clark argues that Oxford himself was the great author who, later, would revise his own plays under the “Shakespeare” pen name. The younger men in the 1580s, following Oxford’s example, were “his pupils and imitators.”

spanish_armada

“Play after play flowed from their pens,” Clark writes. “These were chronicle plays, revenge plays, Senecan plays – mostly plays calculated to keep people at a high pitch of excitement during war time. Gathering this group of writers together, directing their work, and producing their plays on the stage was the function of the secret service office that Lord Oxford filled and upon which he spent the money that had been granted to him … In order to keep a heavy program going, he [and Burghley] appealed to recent graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, and even to those on the point of graduation, who gave promise of dramatic ability, to assist in this important work of stage propaganda.”

“Lord Oxford, as a prolific writer and scholar, an eclectic, devotee of the theatre, generous patron of literary men and musicians, drew into his orbit the best writers and wits of the day,” write Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn in This Star of England (1952). “He was the center and prime inspiration of the University Wits: such men as Lyly, Watson, Kyd and Munday – all of whom he employed – Greene, Peele, Marston, Dekker, Lodge, Nashe, Marlowe.

“Somewhat older than most of them [fourteen years Marlowe’s senior], infinitely greater than any, he attracted these intellectuals as a magnet attracts steel chips; and … he supported, encouraged, and directed these men, broadening their classics-bound culture through his knowledge of Italian, German, and French literature, as well as of feudal customs and the ways of court-life, while devoting his abundant creative energies to the production of dramas which not only entertained and stimulated the elect but also delighted and edified the intelligent though unschooled.”

Philip II of Spain  1527-1598

Philip II of Spain
1527-1598

Oxford had purchased the London mansion known as Fisher’s Folly to provide writing space for the younger men (Nashe referred to a “college of writers”), who apparently had been turning out anti-Spanish plays for at least several months before the Queen authorized the earl’s annual grant. On July 20, 1586 the Venetian ambassador in Spain (Hieronimo Lippomano) wrote to the Doge and Senate that King Philip had been furious over reports about plays being performed at the Elizabethan court: “But what has enraged him more than all else, and has caused him to show a resentment such as he has never displayed in all his life, is the account of the masquerades and comedies which the Queen of England orders to be acted at his expense.”

During the second half of 1586, after Walsingham had foiled the Babington plot to put the captive Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne, Oxford sat on the tribunal at her trial in October 1586, when she was found guilty of treason. Mary Stuart, mother of twenty-year-old King James of Scotland, was beheaded on February 8, 1587 at Fortheringay Castle. This virtually ensured that King Philip, with the blessings of the Pope, would send his armada to conquer England.

Portrait of Elizabeth in the 1580s

Portrait of Elizabeth in the 1580s

On June 29, 1587 the Privy Council sent orders (signed by Burghley and Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury) to Cambridge authorities that Marlowe should receive his Master’s degree, despite frequent absences from the campus amid rumors he was a Catholic traitor – which is what he seems to have pretended to be, as part of secret service work, during visits to the English College at Rheims in Northern France, a key seminary for Catholic defectors. The Council certified that Marlowe had “behaved himself orderly and discreetly whereby he had done her Majesty good service, and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealings … because it was not her Majesty’s pleasure that anyone employed as he had been in matters touching the benefit of his Country should be defamed by those that are ignorant in the affairs he went about.” In a letter to Burghley on October 2, 1587, Marlowe was named as a courier in dispatches to Secretary Walsingham from Utrecht in Holland – indicating that after leaving Cambridge his travels for intelligence work were continuing apace.

The traditional story of Marlowe as a playwright is that he came down to London in the latter months of 1587 and quickly became the most distinguished English dramatist, even though he was never credited in print as an author until after his death little more than five years later.

ElizaTriumphansWmRogers1589Compressed

“Since Marlowe was born in 1564,” Warren Dickinson writes in The Wonderful Shakespeare Mystery (2001), “his initial box office hit, Tamburlaine I, was first played when he was only twenty-three years old. While this testifies to Marlowe’s genius, it also indicates that he did not act alone. A young man cannot ride into London and have a hit play within a year unless he has a patron and a mentor. In fact, Marlowe went to work in Edward de Vere’s ‘play factory’ in 1586 and received the guidance and support which he needed. Since Edward de Vere was already a highly successful playwright-poet [at thirty-seven], it was natural for Marlowe to use him as a model in his writing. He may also have been influenced by the fact that de Vere was paying his salary.”

My feeling is that Oxford was giving Marlowe a kind of “cover” in London, according to the needs of Burghley and Walsingham, by taking him under his wing as a writer. To what degree Marlowe actually wrote the works for which he is credited is still, for me, a matter of conjecture – although some notable Oxfordians have already declared outright that it was Oxford who wrote those works.

World War Two Propaganda to Inspire Unity of Management and Labor

World War Two Propaganda to Inspire Unity of Management and Labor

In any case the phenomenon of “Shakespeare” was forged out of the fires of wartime. Behind the rise of the mighty warrior shaking the spear of his pen was a domestic army of literary men and artists of various kinds, all inspired and guided by their leader, Edward de Vere. Finally young men from different parts of the country — Protestants and Catholics alike, speaking different dialects that needed to be translated — descended upon London in the summer of 1588, volunteering to join together in the face of a common enemy.

The great director Frank Capra during WWII

The great director Frank Capra during WWII

[Such a “public relations” effort would be used by the United States government’s media operations during World War Two, providing work for many writers, photographers and filmmakers, enabling them to sharpen their talents and skills.]

But England’s defeat of the Spanish armada was followed by a shameful episode that might be called a “bloodbath” of those same writers. To put it simply, the government — having utilized their services, in helping England survive — suddenly (a) no longer felt the same need of them and (b) became afraid of their freedom to express themselves along with their power to influence the public. After defeating the enemy without, the government focused on enemies within.

Screenwriters, actors and directors were blacklisted and even jailed for being under suspicion as enemies of the U.S.

Screenwriters, actors and directors were blacklisted for being under suspicion as enemies of the U.S.

[Again a comparison with U.S. history in the twentieth century appears to be in order –- the blacklisting of writers and filmmakers after WWII, during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.]

The fourth and final part of Reason 95 to conclude that Oxford was “Shakespeare” will continue the story from 1589 through the high point of the “bloodbath” — the political assassination of Marlowe on May 30, 1593, followed by the first appearance of “William Shakespeare” shortly afterward in June.

Part Two of Reason 95: Christopher Marlowe and Why Oxford was “Shakespeare”

Christopher Marlowe was one of the “university wits” recruited from Cambridge and Oxford by the Elizabethan government, during the 1580s, to serve as informants or spies for its wartime intelligence service. These young men also worked as secretaries-scribes-writers under the financial support of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, who provided them with writing space and materials as well as plots, themes, language and even entire works to be published either anonymously or under names that were either fictitious or their own.

This portrait may be of Christopher Marlowe ... Made in 1585, it was found at Corpus Christi College, where Marlowe was a student that year at age twenty-one

This portrait may be of Christopher Marlowe …
Made in 1585, it was found at Corpus Christi College, where Marlowe was a student that year at age twenty-one

“During his studies at Cambridge,” Daryl Pinksen writes in Marlowe’s Ghost: The Blacklisting of the Man Who was Shakespeare (2008), “perhaps as early as 1585, Marlowe was recruited into the English secret service headed at that time by Secretary of State Sir Francis Walsingham.” Records indicate a “marked increase of spending” as if he “suddenly had a new source of income” and “frequent absences from Cambridge beginning in 1585 for longer and longer periods, also consistent with work as an intelligence agent …

Francis Walsingham  Secretary of State and England's Spymaster

Francis Walsingham
Secretary of State and
England’s Spymaster

“Lord Burghley, England’s Lord Treasurer – and the de facto head of the Privy Council, the governing body of England – was also Chancellor of Cambridge, and worked closely with Walsingham in directing and funding intelligence operations. During Marlowe’s years at Cambridge it is likely he made numerous trips, perhaps to the continent, at the behest of Walsingham and Burghley to spy for his country.”

William Cecil  Lord Burghley

William Cecil
Lord Burghley

Marlowe received a Bachelor’s degree in 1584, but a few years later Cambridge authorities heard rumors that he was collaborating with Catholic enemies of Queen Elizabeth. The whispers of treason, Pinksen suggests, had been “instigated by Marlowe himself as part of an effort to entrap Catholic sympathizers, part of a mandate given him by Walsingham and Burghley.” So when the university hesitated to give Marlowe his Master’s degree in 1587, the Council sent a written command to confer it upon him because he had “done her Majesty good service, and deserved to be rewarded for his faithful dealing.”

“In the fast-expanding arena of Elizabethan espionage, writers were an obvious source of recruits,” explains Charles Nicholl in The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. “They were intelligent, educated, observant young men. They knew the international language, Latin, and the literary tastes of the day gave them a good smattering of French and Italian.” They were geographically and socially mobile, as well as continually in need of cash, so “it is perhaps not surprising that a number of Elizabethan writers crop up in the files of the intelligence services, both foreign and domestic. They are remembered as poets, pamphleteers and playwrights, but down there in the reality of their lives they had to profess other skills if they were to survive.”

Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

Nicholl mentions writers such as Anthony Munday and John Lyly, both working from the late 1570s as Edward de Vere’s private secretaries, and he devotes a single chapter to “another poet glimpsed in the secret world of the 1580s … an elusive and engaging figure” – Thomas Watson, who was “a close friend of Marlowe” as well as of Lyly and others. Watson also worked under the patronage of Oxford, to whom in 1582 he dedicated Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love , a 100-sonnet sequence that the earl had “favorably perused” when it was “as yet but in written hand.”

There is increasing evidence that many if not all of the works attributed to Thomas Watson were in fact written by the earl himself; but for Reason 95 the point is that Watson can be viewed as one of many “intermediaries” linking Oxford and Marlowe by just one “degree of separation” – making the odds overwhelmingly in favor of Edward de Vere and Christopher Marlowe not only knowing each other but working together on plays such as Tamburlaine the Great, Parts One and Two and on poems such as Hero and Leander. But it would not have been an equal relationship; Lord Oxford, being some fourteen years Marlowe’s senior, would have been guiding the younger man in various ways.

In 1564, the year of Christopher Marlowe’s birth, Oxford received his honorary degree from Cambridge at fourteen; in 1575, when Marlowe turned eleven, Oxford was twenty-five and spending a year in Italy; and in 1581, when Marlowe entered Cambridge at seventeen, Oxford, at thirty-one, was already recruiting young disciples who, during wartime, would help achieve the great renaissance of English literature and drama leading up to “Shakespeare” in the 1590s. The truth about Marlowe becomes clear only when viewed within the context of the crucial chapter of England’s history in which he appears; and it begins with Oxford’s pivotal role at the center of those former and current students who helped create a new language, a new cultural and national identity, leading to a strong sense of English pride and patriotic fervor.

Philip II of Spain

Philip II of Spain

England’s naval forces turned back King Philip’s armada of 150 ships carrying 30,000 troops intent on conquering the island nation, crushing the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance and overturning the Protestant Reformation. If any single aspect of English life created the immediate, fertile ground from which “Shakespeare” sprang, it was that prolonged expectation of the dreaded invasion. Once the Anglo-Spanish war became official in 1584, the arrival of the armada loomed ever closer; and during the crucial four years that followed, Burghley and Walsingham were determined to employ “the media” – books, pamphlets, ballads, speeches and, above all, plays (especially plays of royal history) promoting unity in the face of religious and political conflicts threatening to render England too weak to survive.

The phenomenon of “Shakespeare” involves not only the solitary figure of Edward de Vere; it includes an array of those other figures who wrote works for him or with him or who even simply lent their names to creations that were entirely his. These others contribute to a body of work that is much larger than the high priests of academia have allowed “Shakespeare” to claim. As we should expect in the case of the world’s greatest and most influential writer in English, or perhaps in any other language, his labors ripple out to include a vast body of translation as well as original poetry, prose, stage works, dramatic literature, song lyrics, musical compositions, political tracts – all presented anonymously or under different names of real persons living or dead and, too, of fictitious persons whose “biographies” are skimpy and tentative at best.

England defeats the Spanish Armada - 1588

England defeats the Spanish Armada – 1588

Christopher Marlowe fits into this picture as one of Oxford’s satellite figures who may – or may not! – have contributed his own literary labors to anonymous works such as Tamburlaine. (All works later attributed to Marlowe were either unpublished or anonymous during his brief lifetime until 1593.) This work, actually two separate plays, could well have been written much earlier by a much younger Oxford, who could have given it to Marlowe (who was twenty-three in 1587) to work on; and it was performed on the public stage before the armada sailed in 1588. The speeches roused audiences to a fever pitch; the character of Tamburlaine, according to Frederick Boas, seemed to Englishmen to embody Philip of Spain himself. He is, after all, a tyrant calling himself master of the lands and seas, confident he will conquer “all the ocean by the British shore” and that “by this means I’ll win the world at last!”

tamburlaine poster

Such arrogant confidence and raging, bloodthirsty ambition might well have served to further alarm Englishmen over the danger they faced from Philip II of Spain and, thereby, might have further motivated them to join together to defeat the armada.

Part Three will continue this story, explaining in more detail how Christopher Marlowe contributes to the evidence that “Shakespeare” was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Reason 95 – Part One – Why Edward, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” — the Shadowy and Elusive Figure of Christopher Marlowe

This series now confronts the immortal but shadowy figure of Christopher Marlowe, the Cambridge student and government spy who was stabbed to death at age twenty-nine on May 30, 1593 – just when the initial copies of Venus and Adonis, carrying the first appearance of the printed name “William Shakespeare,” were on their way to the London bookstalls.

"Tamburlaine" was printed in 1590 without an author's name (click on image to enlarge it)

“Tamburlaine” was printed in 1590 without an author’s name (click on image to enlarge it)

Even though Tamburlaine the Great had drawn great crowds to the Rose from 1587 onward, Marlowe’s name had never appeared on any published work during his lifetime. Given that audience members seldom if ever cared to know who wrote the plays they attended (the way we seldom care to know the screenwriters of our movies), the commonly held assumption that he was “the toast of the town” as a popular playwright must be a fantasy.

Ironically, however, at the very moment of Marlowe’s death in 1593 the “Shakespeare” name was being launched as that of a new, heretofore unknown poet whose highly cultured narrative poem would soon be a bestseller reprinted over and over again. In fact the name of Shakespeare, on the dedication to Henry, Earl of Southampton, quickly did became the toast of the town, at least for those who could buy books and read them.

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" in 1593 to Southampton with first printing of the Shakespeare name

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

The nature of the relationship between “Marlowe” and “Shakespeare” has generated much academic uncertainty and perplexity. Scholars and biographers have pondered and dissected the inextricable entanglement of those two famous names, and of the works attributed to those names, without consensus. Oscar James Campbell in his trustworthy & valuable Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966) notes the confusion:

“Because the chronology of the composition of Marlowe’s plays and those of Shakespeare is uncertain, and because of the dearth of information about Shakespeare’s activities during the ‘seven lost years’ [1586-1592], it is impossible to discuss with precision the literary interrelationship of these two playwrights … Whatever their personal relationship, it is demonstrable that Shakespeare knew Marlowe’s plays and poetry. There are hundreds of verbal echoes and dozens of comparable scenes and situations in the works of the two men. Frequently it is difficult to guess who is echoing or borrowing from whom…”

The traditional idea is that Will Shakspere of Stratford, being the same age as Marlowe but newly arrived in London, was so inspired by Tamburlaine’s commanding eloquence and unrelenting violence that soon he began to write parts one, two and three of Henry VI and then got to work on his own bloody play, Titus Andronicus. Exactly how such a miracle might have occurred – amid Shakspere’s supposed acting career, his moneylending activities, and so on – is beyond words.

With the Admiral's Men at the Rose

Edward Alleyn as Tamburlaine, with the Admiral’s Men at the Rose Playhouse

But Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (2004) betrays no perplexity and no trouble at all comprehending the miracle. He imagines — he fancies, he supposes, he conjectures — that, just when Shakspere was “finding his feet in London,” he must have noticed the hoopla over Tamburlaine and “almost certainly saw the play.” And this “may indeed have been one of the first performances he ever saw in a playhouse – perhaps the first.”

Yes, and on the basis of what we see in the early plays, this “appears to have had upon him an intense, visceral, indeed life-transforming impact.”

(Hmmmm. The transformation — in just a few years — would have been from a young man who had never been inside a packed London playhouse to a dramatist not only surpassing Marlowe himself, but, of course, becoming the greatest playwright of the English language! By 1595 he would have turned out both Richard II and Richard III and, by 1598, completed no less than twelve plays including Love’s Labours Lost, Romeo and Juliet , King John and The Merchant of Venice!]

The 2007 production directed by Michael Kahn for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC

The 2007 production directed by Michael Kahn for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC

“Shakespeare had never heard anything quite like this before,” writes Greenblatt as he imagines the Tamburlaine experience, “certainly not in the morality plays or mystery cycles he had watched back in Warwickshire. He must have said to himself something like, ‘You are not in Stratford anymore.’”

[Do I hear a song coming on …?]

Attending this play among the groundlings at the Rose, and staring up at Edward Alleyn playing Tamburlaine, was a “crucial experience” for him and a “challenge” that “must have been intensified when he learned that Marlowe was in effect his double: born in the same year, 1564 …”

Okay, enough! Enough of this imaginative fiction run rampant…

Let us return to 1593, when the sophisticated and highly cultured narrative poem, which “Shakespeare” called “the first heir of my invention,” was instantly popular among university students, aristocrats and even members of the royal court including young Henry Lord Southampton, to whom it was dedicated. This blockbuster would be joined in 1594 by an even more brilliant poem – Lucrece, also dedicated to Southampton, whose primary source was the story as told by Ovid in his Fasti, a work that would not be translated into English until … 1640!

We shall need even more imaginative fiction to explain how the young Warwickshire fellow pulled that rabbit out of the hat…

The first time Marlowe's name on this poem is in 1598...

The first time Marlowe’s name becomes linked to this poem is in 1598…

On September 28, 1593, the unfinished manuscript of another narrative poem, Hero and Leander, was entered at the Stationer’s Register by John Wolf, who described it as “an amorous poem devised by Christopher Marloe [sic].” But something happened to stop Wolf from printing the poem and it was five years until the initial edition was published by Edward Blount in 1598, attributed to Marlow; and this was followed in the same year by another edition from publisher Paul Linley, who advertised it as “begun by Christopher Marloe [sic] and finished by George Chapman.”

“Marlowe’s Hero and Leander is the best of the Ovidian romances,” Campbell writes. “It contains the most successful combination of the genre’s distinctive characteristics: descriptions of natural beauty, voluptuous development of erotic situations, and an ornate style. These are also the elements of which Shakespeare composed Venus and Adonis.”

hero and leander

Imagine that! Marlowe and “Shakespeare” were both writing the same kind of long, romantic, sensual, erotic poem based on Ovid; they were writing and/or completing their similar narrative poems at virtually the same time, in the year of Marlowe’s untimely death, when “Shakespeare” forged ahead by getting his masterful “first heir” into print and taking over the poetical limelight from there on.

Marlowe’s name appeared in print for the first time in the following year, 1594, when the play Edward II was published as by “Chr. Marlow” and another play Dido, Queen of Carthage was published as by “Christopher Marlow and Thomas Nashe.”

“No play of Marlowe’s is more closely related to one of Shakespeare’s than is Edward II to Richard II,” Campbell writes. “For decades scholars assumed that Marlowe’s was the first significant English chronicle history play, and that therefore he taught Shakespeare much.

“Recently, however, it has been established that Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy antedates Edward II; in other words, Shakespeare helped Marlowe; the combination of Shakespeare-Marlowe helped Shakespeare in Richard II.”

Reflecting the aforesaid academic perplexity, Campbell adds in classic understatement: “The intricacies of these interrelationships are detailed and complex.”

Part Two will look at the elusive, shadowy figure of Marlowe from a different angle, beginning to resolve this confusion by arranging the puzzle pieces — the seemingly inscrutable facts of the history — in a new way, bringing into focus of what I suggest to be the contours of a true, clear picture.

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).

 

 

 

“Our Pleasant Willy”: Re-posting No. 46 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford

Edmund Spenser published the first books of The Fairie Queene in 1590; in the following year came the Complaints, which contained his poem The Teares of the Muses.  In the latter, nine goddesses bemoan the current state of the arts, despite the fact that a great renaissance of English literature and drama had been taking place, just in time for England’s defeat of Spain’s attempted invasion in 1588.  Now, at the start of a new decade, Spenser was warning that the renaissance had ended.

The English government, having used the wartime services of writers working under de Vere’s patronage, promptly forgot them. Burghley began to pressure the earl financially. As a result, many of the writers who depended upon him fell to the wayside. Lyly, his private secretary, was out of a job; Kyd was tortured to death on the rack; Watson died in 1590; Greene died in 1592; Marlowe was murdered in 1593; Lodge left England. Future scholars would conclude that “Shakespeare,” arriving onto the printed page in 1593, “had the field all to himself.”

One of Spenser’s laments in Teares is delivered by the goddess Thalia, Muse of Comedy, who wails over the public withdrawal of a particular poet-dramatist who, while being “learning’s treasure,” has been delivering “comic sock” to audiences with his plays:

Where be the sweete delights of Learning’s treasure,       
That wont with comick sock to beautefie
The painted theaters, and fill with pleasure
The listners eyes, and eares with melodie,
In which I late was wont to raine as queene,
And maske in mirth with graces well beseene?           

O, all is gone! and all that goodly glee,
Which wont to be the glorie of gay wits,
Is layd abed, and no where now to see;
And in her roome unseemly Sorrow sits,
With hollow browes and greisly countenaunce               
Marring my joyous gentle dalliance.

Spenser certainly knew in 1590 that de Vere had abruptly withdrawn from public life; in that sense, as well as financially, the earl was “dead of late.” Continuing her lament in Spenser’s poem, Thalia declares:

And he, the man whom Nature selfe had made
To mock her selfe, and truth to imitate,
With kindly counter* under mimick shade,
Our pleasant Willy, ah! is dead of late:
With whom all ioy and iolly merriment
Is also deaded, and in dolour drent.*

Instead thereof scoffing Scurrilitie,
And scornfull Follie with Contempt is crept,
Rolling in rymes of shameles ribaldry
Without regard, or due decorum kept;
Each idle wit at will presumes to make*,
And doth the learneds taske upon him take.

[*”Counter” = counterfeit, imitate; “drent” = drowned; “make” = write poetry.]

But that same gentle spirit, from whose pen
Large streames of honnie and sweete nectar flowe,
Scorning the boldnes of such base-borne men,
Which dare their follies forth so rashlie throwe,
Doth rather choose to sit in idle cell,
Than so himselfe to mockerie to sell.

Only one man in Elizabethan England held the mirror up to Nature with such scathingly accurate imitations of truth that his audiences roared with laughter and swooned with delight. “We should be convinced that by ‘our pleasant Willy,’ Spenser meant William Shakespeare,” Nicholas Rowe writes in his Some Account of the Life of the bard (1709), the first attempt at Stratfordian biography, explaining that “such a character as he gives could belong to no other dramatist of the time.”

But Spenser’s description has presented an insurmountable problem, as Shakspere of Stratford had barely begun his alleged career in 1591.  In no way could he have withdrawn from writing for the stage, nor could he have been “dead of late” or “sitting in idle cell.” But such was precisely the case with forty-year-old de Vere, who had become a virtual recluse by 1591; in the Oxfordian view, he had begun revising his previous stage works to be published under the “Shakespeare” pen name.  In that view he was “idle” only in the sense that he was no longer writing many original works for the public; otherwise he was hard at work, alone, transmuting much of his prior work into literary and dramatic masterpieces that would live for all time.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that, as a much younger man in 1576, Oxford had published a signed poem in The Paradise of Dainty Devices concluding he was “never am less idle, lo, than when I am alone.”

And what to make of Spenser’s statement about “our pleasant Willy” that he was “Scorning the boldness of such base-born men,” reflecting the attitude of a high-born nobleman who looks down with scorn upon commoners?  At a time when class distinctions were rigid, how could the commoner Shakspere have fit that description unless he was scorning the boldness of such men as himself? Otherwise it expresses exactly the view of proud de Vere, the highest-ranking earl of Queen Elizabeth’s realm.

“The Faire Queene” by Spenser (1590) and his Dedication to Queen Elizabeth

One of Spenser’s seventeen dedicatory verses to noble individuals in The Fairie Queen of 1590 was to Oxford, whom he praised directly and personally as a poet, in language that called attention to “the love which thou dost bear to th’Heliconian imps [Muses] and they to thee, they unto thee, and thou to them, most dear.” Writing publicly to de Vere, using his real name and calling him the poet most beloved of the Muses, Spenser added:

Dear as thou art unto thyself, so love

That loves and honors thee; as doth behoove.

Ogburn Jr. translates those lines as Spenser telling Oxford: “As dear as you are to yourself, so are you to me, who loves and honors you, as it behooves me to.”

The bafflement over the identity of “our pleasant Willy” disappears once the “experts” realize that Spenser was referring to the great author who was not, after all, Shakspere of Stratford, but that same earl of Oxford who was “most dear” to the Muses and would soon adopt the pen name “William Shakespeare.”

[This blog post, with editing by Alex McNeil, now appears as No. 30 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), published by Forever Press.]

Thomas Watson, De Vere and “Shakespeare”: Re-posting No. 35 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere the Earl of Oxford

The poet Thomas Watson is a direct forerunner of the poet of Venus and Adonis and the Sonnets. A leader in the long procession of Elizabethan sonnet-cycle writers, he is linked to “Shakespeare” through Edward de Vere in some startling ways.

Watson’s Sequence of 100 Sonnets Dedicated to Edward de Vere (1582) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

In 1582, Watson published Hekotompathia or The Passionate Century of Love, a sequence of 100, or a “century,” of numbered eighteen-line sonnets or “passions”, with “prose headers” demonstrating his knowledge of works by some fifty classical or renaissance authors in their original languages. He dedicated it to Oxford, testifying that the earl “had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand.”

It appears likely the “prose headers” were also written by Oxford, who may well have written all of this poetical sequence.

In 1589, the year after de Vere sold his London mansion Fisher’s Folly to William Cornwallis, Watson became employed in the Cornwallis household.  That September, when Christopher Marlowe was attacked by an innkeeper’s son, William Bradley, for failure to pay a debt, Watson came to his friend’s aid and killed Bradley – an act for which he spent six months in prison.

Francis Walsingham, the spymaster (1530?-1590)

Marlowe served as a spy for the English government and it would seem that Watson did, too.  His association with Francis Walsingham, head of the secret service, brings him into probable contact with Oxford from this direction as well. On 21 June 1586, Burghley urged Walsingham to confront the queen about financial assistance to Oxford; five days later Elizabeth awarded de Vere his annual grant of 1,000 pounds, which would be continued by King James in 1603 until the earl’s death a year later.

The fact that Burgley appealed to Walsingham on Oxford’s behalf indicates that the latter’s grant was somehow connected to intelligence activities at the highest level, perhaps involving Catholics among the English nobility as well as diplomatic contact with foreign rulers and courts.

Watson’s Italian Madrigals was published in 1593, the year after his death. Most of its contents had been composed originally by Luca Marenzio while Marenzio was in Mantua living with the Gonzaga family from 1568 to 1574. Watson had never traveled to Italy, but Oxford had apparently stayed with the Gonzaga family while visiting Mantua in 1575.

Also in 1593, Watson’s posthumous sequence of sixty numbered sonnets (in the later-known “Shakespearean” form of fourteen lines) appeared in print as The Tears of Fancie, or Love Disdained (with no author’s name on the title page and only “Finis T.W.” after the final sonnet, which was clearly a version of Oxford’s early sonnet Love Thy Choice, written in the 1570s to express his devotion to the queen.)

When SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS was printed in 1609, one verse in the so-called Dark Lady series (no. 130) was clearly a takeoff on one of the sonnets printed under Watson’s name (no. 7) in the Hekatompathia of 1582. For example, Watson wrote,“Her lips more red than any Coral stone,” and Shakespeare turned it inside-out: “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red.”

Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love attributed to Watson is often cited as paving the way for the Shakespearean sonnet sequence published twenty-seven years later; the two are related through Oxford himself. In the SHAKE-SPEARE volume there is also a series of exactly 100 verses or a “century” (nos. 27 to 126) between two equal segments of twenty-six sonnets apiece (nos. 1-26 and 127-152); this central 100-sonnet sequence contains two sections, of eighty and twenty sonnets, respectively, exactly as Watson’s earlier century had been “divided into two parts” (as indicated on the title page) in an eighty-twenty format.  Watson’s dedication begins:

“To the Right Honorable my very good Lord Edward de Vere, Earle of Oxenford…

“Alexander the Great, passing on a time by the workshop of Apelles, curiously surveyed some of his doings, whose long stay in viewing them brought all the people into so great a good liking of the painter’s workmanship, that immediately after they bought up all his pictures, what price soever he set them at.  And the like good hap (Right Honorable) befell unto me lately concerning these my Love Passions, which then chanced to Apelles for his Portraits.  For since the world hath understood (I know not how) that your Honor had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work, and at convenient leisures favorably perused it, being as yet but in written hand, many have oftentimes and earnestly called upon me to put it to the press, that for their money they might but see what your Lordship with some liking had already perused…”

(This updated post, reflecting the help of editor Alex McNeil and other editorial work by Brian Bechtold, has become no. 36 of the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

“One Whose Power Floweth Far”: Re-Posting No. 26 of 100 Reasons why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

A thick volume printed for the Roxburghe Club of London in 1882 featured an Elizabethan book of two narrative poems, Cephalus and Procris and Narcissus, translated from Ovid by the otherwise unknown Thomas Edwards.  It was registered in 1593 and printed in 1595, just after the “Shakespeare” name had made its debut on the dedications of Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594 to the Earl of Southampton.

Attached to Narcissus was an “envoy” or postscript in several stanzas of verse, identifying major poets by characters in their works: “Collyn Clout” for Spenser; “Rosamond” for Daniel; “Leander” for Marlowe; and “Adon”  for Shakespeare.

This was followed immediately by reference to a poet “in purple robes distained … whose power floweth far” with his “bewitching pen” and “golden art” that should make him “the only object and the star” of England’s writers.

Who was this poet, said to be the best of all?

In the Roxburghe appendix, one scholar identifiedthe star” as Edward de Vere while another said it must be a description of Shakespeare! If those two scholars of the late nineteenth century had been in the same room at the same time, one identifying Oxford and the other pointing to Shakespeare, might it have occurred to them that maybe they were both talking about the same man?  If so, they would have solved the authorship question then and there.

Here, in modernized English, is the stanza praising Shakespeare as “Adon,” followed by those praising the poet who “should have been … the only object and the star”:

Adon deafly masking through 

Stately troupes rich conceited,

Showed he well deserved to,

Love’s delight on him to gaze,

And had not love herself entreated,

Other nymphs had sent him bays.

Eke in purple robes distained,

Amidst the Center of this clime,

I have heard say doth remain

One whose power floweth far,

That should have been of our rhyme

The only object and the star.

 

Blackfriars Playhouse

Well could his bewitching pen

Done the Muses’ objects to us;

Although he differs much from men

Tilting under Frieries,

Yet his golden art might woo us

To have honored him with bays. [Emphases added.]

[Note that the first stanza about Adon, and the second of the next two stanzas about “one whose power floweth far,” conclude with “bays” – perhaps intended as a way for readers to link all three stanzas in their praise of a single poet.]

Roxburghe Club editor W.E. Buckley reported how one scholar identified Oxford and the other pointed to Shakespeare:

Edward Dowden (1843-1913)

“If ‘purple robes’ may mean a Nobleman’s robes, it gives some colour to the conjecture of Professor [Edward] Dowden, that Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have been intended, ‘as his reputation stood high as a Poet and Patron of Poets’ … Dr. B. Nicholson is of opinion that these two stanza must be connected with the preceding one in which Adon — that is, Shakspere — is described.”

Buckley noted that The Arte of English Poesie (1589) had named Oxford “first among the crew of courtly makers” and that Edmund Spenser had written a dedicatory sonnet to the earl in The Faire Queen of 1590 “in which he speaks of ‘the love that thou didst bear To th’Heliconian Nymphs, and they to thee.’  His ‘power flowed far’ as he was Lord High Chamberlain of England.  He had contributed to The Paradise of Dainty Devices, signing E.O. or E. Ox. [1576] and to The Phoenix Nest in 1593.  One of his poems is a vision of a Fair Maid (‘clad all in color of a Nun and covered with a Vail’) who complains of love and gets Echo answers of ‘Vere.’  In another, Oxford represents himself as ‘wearing black and tawny’ and [having] ‘no bays’ …”

Prior to John Thomas Looney’s identification of de Vere in 1920, orthodox scholars could mention him in a positive light without worrying about giving any ground in the authorship debate. Buckley also referred to a statement made by the literary antiquary Thomas Coxeter (1689-1747): Oxford was said by Coxeter to have translated Ovid, which would connect him with Narcissus, but no one has ever seen his Ovid.”

The street fighting in “Romeo and Juliet” is a mirror image of the “tilting” at Blackfriars involving Oxford’s men

An important contribution to work on the Narcissus L’Envoy was done by Dr. Roger Stritmatter, who introduced new evidence allowing “definitive identification of the phrase ‘tilting under Frieries’ as referring to a notorious series of Blackfriars street fights (1582-85) involving Oxford’s retainers.”  The fighting, in which Oxford was wounded and lamed for life, “left an indelible impression in the popular imagination of the era,” he writes, citing a series of documents (transcribed by Alan Nelson  for his Oxford biography Monstrous Adversary) confirming that the earl’s men were “tilting under frieries” in spring 1582 at Blackfriars. Stritmatter further observes:

“The significance of this finding, identifying Oxford as the poet with the ‘bewitching pen’ who ‘should have been’ – but cannot be – the ‘only object and the star’ of the chorus of the Elizabethan poets, should not be underestimated. Without doubt, the 1582-83 Oxford-Knyvet affair at Blackfriars was the most striking instance of ’tilting under Frieries’ during the thirty-seven years of Elizabeth’s reign that informed the imagery and diction of Edwardes’ enigmatic poem.  Before the fray had ended, a literary peer of the realm had been lamed for life, and followers of both factions wounded or killed.  The concealed poet of ‘bewitching pen’ and ‘golden art’ – whose men were in 1582 notoriously ’tilting under frieries’ – is none other than the still controversial Edward de Vere.”

The “Envoy to Narcissus” is an example of how, soon after publication of Venus and Adonis and the first appearance of the “Shakespeare” name in print, writers were already dropping hints about the presence of an author – in fact the “star” among them – who had chosen to withhold his identity. The chatter was growing from the start.

[This reason, with tremendous help from Editor Alex McNeil, as well as Brian Bechtold, is now no. 31 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford).

 

Oxford’s Thousand-Pound Grant: Re-posting No. 25 of 100 Reasons He Was “Shakespeare”

“But if Her Majesty, in regard of my youth, time, and fortune spent in her Court, and her favors and promises which drew me on without any mistrust, the more to presume in mine own expenses…” – Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford to Robert Ceil, 2 February 1601, describing how he had gone bankrupt in financing his activities (which were not specified) for Queen Elizabeth and the English government.

On June 26, 1586, when England was two years into the official war with Spain and bracing for King Philip’s invasion, the queen signed a warrant granting Oxford an extraordinary allowance of 1,000 pounds per year (roughly equivalent to about $400,000 today; also, in Elizabethan times a pound could buy much more than now). The grant was to be paid to him by the Exchequer, by the same formula for payments to Francis Walsingham and his wartime secret service: in quarterly installments with no accounting required.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

At this time the English government desperately needed all available cash for military defense; moreover, Walsingham required a constant flow of cash to pay foreign and domestic spies. Back in 1582 the Queen had given him 750 pounds; in 1586 she raised it to 2,000 pounds, but that would be the limit for her spymaster, even during the crucial year 1588.

Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-1590)

Why would Elizabeth, known for being a parsimonious (some would say miserly) monarch, choose to support a “spendthrift” nobleman who had “wasted” the vast bulk of his great inheritance?  Why would she do so at this most perilous moment for the nation?

De Vere’s grant went unnoticed by historians until two years after John Thomas Looney published his work on Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920.  Inspired to conduct further research, B. M. Ward discovered Elizabeth’s signature on the Privy Seal Warrant and then looked at surviving records for all other salaries and annuities paid from the Exchequer during her reign.  Aside from sums paid to King James VI of Scotland for political reasons, Ward found that the grant to Oxford was larger than any other except for the award to Walsingham and an annual 1,200-pound grant to the Master of the Posts for the ongoing expenses of that office.

As Ward noted, there is no hint as to the purpose of the grant except that it was “to be continued unto him during Our pleasure, or until such time as he shall be by us otherwise provided for to be in some manner relieved, at what time our pleasure is that this payment of one thousand pounds yearly to our said cousin in manner above specified shall cease.”

Blackfriars Playhouse – In the 1580’s Oxford gave the lease of it to John Lyly

By 1586, the thirty-six-year-old de Vere was, in fact, broke; he surely did need “to be in some manner relieved,” but the circumstantial evidence clearly suggests he had been working with Walsingham (and William Cecil Lord Burghley) to serve the government’s interests.  The evidence points to him playing a multifaceted role behind the scenes that included, but was not limited to, the issuance of his own “comedies” for the stage.

Oxford actively patronized two acting companies performing at the private Blackfriars Playhouse and at the royal court.  He patronized and/or employed many literary men for whom he provided working space, inspiration, guidance and freedom from the wartime suppression of written words and speech.  Some of the writers in his service, such as Anthony Munday and Thomas Watson, operated as secret service agents (as did Christopher Marlowe) while using their artistic activities as public cover. Others working under his wing included Robert Greene, John Lyly and Thomas Lodge.

The anonymous play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth was performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s

“The formation of the Queen’s Men in 1583 should be regarded particularly in connection with the intelligence system,” Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean write in The Queen’s Men and Their Plays (1998). “The point is not that the Queen’s Men were spies, but that traveling players wearing the Queen’s livery would have been useful to Walsingham – perhaps for occasionally bearing messages to the right persons, more obviously for showing that the central government was attending to the nation through its licensed travelers.”

With two companies on tour (except during the winter season, when they played at court), the Queen’s Men performed plays that would rouse patriotic fervor and encourage unity among Protestants and Catholics in the face of the coming Spanish invasion.  To call this “propaganda” would be true, but not the whole of it. Oxford had spent much of his fortune on helping to bring the European Renaissance to England – a result of his travels in 1575-1576 through France, Germany and Italy, and his employment of various artists who would create the great surge of English literature and drama in the 1580s, leading to the emergence of “Shakespeare” in the following decade.

The writers in Oxford’s orbit were creating a new English language, culture and national identity; these were weapons as important as ships and guns in building England’s ability and will to withstand attack. We cannot expect, however, to find these matters written down in the Queen’s Privy Seal Warrant authorizing his grant.

In the early 1660s, the Rev. John Ward, vicar of Stratford Parish in Warwickshire, recorded local rumors in his diary that “Shakespeare” had “supplied the stage with two plays every year and for that had an allowance so large that he spent at the rate of a thousand pounds a year.”

The Armada Battle

In fact, Oxford received his annual 1,000 pounds during the rest of the Anglo-Spanish War, from 1586 through the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the succession of James, until his own death in 1604.  That amounts to eighteen years, and, of course, two plays per year equals thirty-six, the number of works published in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.  There is no record that Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon ever received any allowance from the government or from anyone else.

It looks as though Rev. Ward had come into some accurate information about England’s greatest writer, even though, by that time, the author’s identity had been paved over and sealed by official history.

(Note: This post now appears as No. 43 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

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