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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travail tired.

But then begins a journey in my head,

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

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

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,

Looking on darkness, which the blind do see.

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

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

For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For such a time do I now fortify

Against confounding Age’s cruel knife,

That he shall never cut from memory

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

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

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry …

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

Save that to die, I leave my love alone.

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

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

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

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

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

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,

Comes home again, on better judgment making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All men make faults, and even I in this,

Authorizing thy trespass with compare…

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

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

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

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

Though thou repent yet I have still the loss,

The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

To him that bears the strong offence’s cross …

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

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,

For my tears have already worn these stones.

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

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

And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

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

Let me confess that we two must be twain …

I may not ever-more acknowledge thee…

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

And this my hand against myself uprear,

To guard the lawful reasons on thy part.

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

The dark time continues, no one knowing the outcome.

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

How like a winter hath my absence been

From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!

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

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

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

Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul

Of the wide world dreaming on things to come

Can yet the lease of my true love control,

Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom!

The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured,

And the sad Augurs mock their own presage,

Incertainties now crown themselves assured,

And peace proclaims Olives of endless age.

Now with the drops of this most balmy time,

My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,

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

While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes.

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.

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

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

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

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

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

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

When I, perhaps compounded am with clay,

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

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

My name be buried where my body is

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

(My identity will disappear, leaving you to flourish)

Your name from hence immortal life shall have,

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

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

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

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

’Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth! Your praise shall still find room

Even in the eyes of all posterity

That wear this world out to the ending doom.

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

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

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

Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange:

They are but dressings of a former sight.

Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire

What thou dost foist upon us that is old,

And rather make them borne to our desire

Than think that we before have heard them told.

Thy registers and thee I both defy –

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

For thy records and what we see doth lie,

Made more or less by thy continual haste.

This I do vow, and this shall ever be:

I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

 

/////

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Cleopatra ………………… Antony and Cleopatra

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

Gertrude …………………. Hamlet

Olivia ………………………. Twelfth Night

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

Rosalind …………………… Romeo and Juliet

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

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

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

An image of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt on an ancient coin

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

Other instances where Queen Elizabeth is being depicted include:

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth I of England, a potrait

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

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

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

 

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

Philip Sidney: Re-posting No. 47 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Edmund Spenser’s first mention of someone named “Willie” appeared in The Shepherd’s Calendar attributed to “Immerito,” a pen name, in 1579. At that time Oxford was twenty-nine and a recognized poet (but had stopped signing his poems three years earlier), whereas Shakspere of Stratford was just fifteen years old.

Spenser depicted a “rhyming match” between two poets “Willie” and “Perigot.” It was a thinly disguised spoof on the current rivalry between the leaders of England’s two literary factions: Oxford, head of the Euphuists, and Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586), a de facto leader of a faction that thought to “standardize” English versifying. The two men were also on opposite sides politically; in general, Oxford was more liberal while Sidney leaned to the Puritan camp.

That year they also became embroiled in an infamous “quarrel,” or shouting match, on the Greenwich Palace tennis court, where members of the visiting French delegation had front-row seats, watching from the windows of their private galleries. The delegation had come to England to negotiate the marriage of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon, which Sidney opposed and Oxford publicly championed, though Oxford apparently knew, along with Burghley, that the French match was a big charade on her Majesty’s part.

Oxford held Sidney in contempt for his plagiarism of other writers’ works; for that reason he hated the contemporary praise Sidney received but didn’t deserve. On the royal tennis court, the earl scornfully glared at Sidney and shouted: “Puppy!” to which Sidney retorted: “In respect, all the world knows that puppies are gotten by dogs, and children by men!” 

Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) – from the Miniature by Isaac Oliver at Windsor Castle

Oxford stood silent, allowing Sidney’s words to resound within the courtyard. The unintended implication was that Sidney, a puppy, was begotten by a dog (a son of a bitch, we might say). Then after some further sharp words, Sir Philip “led the way abruptly out of the Tennis-Court,” as Fulke Greville recorded in his adoring homage Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney (written in 1610-14 but not published until 1652).

Sidney and other Romanticists aimed to “reform” English poetry by instituting “certain laws and rules of quantities of English syllables for English verse,” as Spenser wrote to Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey. Their objective, B. M. Ward writes, was to “reclothe the old stories of knighthood and chivalry as to render them more vivid and applicable to their own times.”

Oxford and his Euphuists viewed laws and rules of literature as made to be broken (a view “Shakespeare” would share). Their aim was to refine and enrich the English language; as Ward writes, “It was the magic of words and the imagery of sentences that appealed to them.”

Ward also observes that, regardless of how much Sidney irked Oxford, “There is nothing essentially antagonistic in these two points of view; neither can live without the other.”  These men were literary “pioneers,” with Oxford and Sidney mutually providing each other with “the necessary stimulus without which no human achievement can be attained.”

Philip Sidney would die in the Battle of Zutphen in September 1586 at age thirty-one, adding to his popular image as a heroic courtier and soldier

Probably the most notable example of the Oxford-Sidney literary rivalry is their pair of epigrams, Oxford’s beginning with “Were I a king I might command content” and Sidney’s verse, in reply, beginning with “Wert thou a king, yet not command content.”

Spenser opens the contest in his Shepherd’s Calendar this way:

WILLIE (Oxford): Tell me, Perigot, what shall be the game,

Wherefore with mine thou dare thy music match?

Or been thy bagpipes run far out of frame?

Or hath the cramp thy joints benumbed with ache?

PERIGOT (Sidney):  Ah!  Willie, when the heart is ill assayed,

How can bagpipe or joints be well a-apaid?

The exchange continues through a succession of stanzas and grows into a wild volley of contrapuntal rhyming, such as:

PERIGOT (Sidney): It fell upon a holy eve,

WILLIE (Oxfod): Hey, ho, holiday!

PERIGOT (Sidney): When holy fathers were wont to shrieve.

WILLIE (Oxford): Now ‘ginneth the roundelay!

PERIGOT (Sidney): Sitting upon a hill so high,

WILLIE (Oxford): Hey, ho, the high hill!

PERIGOT (Sidney): The while my flock did feed thereby.

WILLIE (Oxford): The while the shepherd self did spill!

Here, I submit, we have Spenser describing a significant chapter in the development of the great author who would call himself “Shakespeare” some fourteen years later. The lines Spenser assigned to “Willie” can be described as “pre-Shakespearean,” that is, foreshadowing the scene in Twelfth Night when Feste the Clown (representing Oxford) sings with the same “hey, ho” and back-and-forth rhyming:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But this reason also involves the crucial issue of dating, with the example of Love’s Labour’s Lost, a “pleasant conceited comedie” first published in 1598, its title page advertising it as newly corrected and augmented by W. Shakespere.” Orthodox scholars (given the Stratford man’s chronology) need to have it written circa 1592-1596, but the evidence suggests a much earlier date.

In January 1579, several months before Spenser introduced “Willie” and “Perigot,” the Elizabethan court was entertained by the double bill of A Maske of Amazones and A Maske of Knights, which Oxfordians view as the first version of Love’s Labour’s Lost, an extremely sophisticated court comedy in which Berowne is an unmistakable self-portrait of de Vere and Boyet is unmistakably Sidney.

Love’s Labours Lost is full of the same contrapuntal jousting in which Oxford and Sidney were engaged in the late 1570s.  It appears to be all in fun, but finally the author moves in for the attack upon Boyet/Sidney, accusing him of stealing from the works of others:

This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons peas,

And utters it again when God doth please … (5.2)

Three centuries later Sir Sidney Lee would point out that “the majority of Sidney’s efforts” had been inspired by Petrarch, Ronsard and Desportes, from whose works in French he grabbed “almost verbatim translations” as if they were his own.

One day, lovers of Shakespeare will be much richer for their ability to learn the true story of Oxford and Sidney within and beneath the lines.

Sidney died in the Battle of Zutphen in the Netherlands, fighting for the Protestant cause against Spanish forces. Shot in the thigh, he suffered from gangrene for twenty-six days until his death on 17 October 1586, after which he became a national hero.

(The above text now appears as No. 71 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil.)

The Love and Knowledge of Music: Re-posting No. 37 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears.  Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony…

Only a writer with music flowing in his veins would give Lorenzo these famous lines to Jessica in The Merchant of Venice (5.1). Music is pervasive in Shakespeare’s works; some 170 passages include the words “music” or “musical” or “musician.” He continues:

Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patens of bright gold!

There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st

But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still choiring to the young-eyed cherubins.

Such harmony is in immortal souls…

Shakespeare uses “sing” in various forms no less than 247 times.  Some forty passages deal with musical instruments. Lorenzo continues:

[Enter Musicians]

Come, ho, and wake Diana with a hymn!

With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear

And draw her home with music…

He includes or alludes to the texts of well over a hundred songs.  In addition to the numerous stage directions for music and sound effects, his dramatic and poetical work is permeated by specific references to more than 300 musical terms. And more in the same speech of Lorenzo in The Merchant:

[Play Music]

The man that hath no music in himself

Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds

Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils:

The motions of his spirit are dull as night

And his affections dark as Erebus.

Let no such man be trusted.  Mark the music!

De Vere was associated with music from his teenage years at Cambridge and Oxford, before arriving at court in 1571 and quickly gaining the highest favor of Queen Elizabeth, becoming her dance partner and apparently performing for her on the lute and the virginals. Early on he had become associated with Richard Edwards, Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, who is credited with compiling The Paradise of DaintyDevices (1576), which includes at least eight of Oxford’s early poems that appear to be song lyrics. He also maintained a company of adult actors and one of choir boys, who sang as well as performed stage works, and records of the 1580’s indicate he patronized a traveling company known as The Earl of Oxford’s Musicians.

Oxford was the patron of John Farmer, the celebrated madrigalist, and from about 1572 onward he was involved in musical activities at court with the composer William Byrd, one of the greatest musicians England has produced. It appears he was Byrd’s patron as well. The earl’s own accomplishments in the field were praised by professional musicians.

In Shakespeare’s England (1916), W. Barclay Squire reports that Shakespeare “is far in advance of his contemporaries” in terms of musical references, although his education in that field, “wherever it was acquired,” had been “strictly on the lines of the polyphonic school” — a musical teaching that all parts of a composition must fit equally into the whole, as expressed in Richard II (5.5.):

Music, do I hear?

Ha, ha!  Keep time.  How sour sweet music is

When time is broke and no proportion kept!

Such a passage “cannot be understood without some knowledge of the elaborate system of proportions inherited by Elizabethan composers from the earlier English school,” Squire observes. He adds it is “remarkable that the musical terms of the plays should be so consistently those of the old school of polyphony.”  Why is that remarkable?  Because, during the last half of the 1590s, a new style of musical arrangement replaced the old one, yet the great dramatist was apparently unaware of it. “This change dates from about the year 1597,” Squire writes, unable to conceal his bafflement, “yet in all the plays which Shakespeare produced from then [on], no allusion to the ‘new music’ can be discovered.”

This would be baffling indeed if the author had actually been Shakspere, who, within the traditional time frame, still had the best of his career in front of him. In that case he surely would have incorporated the “new school” of music into his plays.  But in the Oxfordian view, de Vere had finished writing the early versions of all his plays by 1589, which easily explains why “Shakespeare” failed to embrace a musical revolution that began almost a decade later. It would be natural that the best writer of that age, who seemed to know everything about music, would have known and worked with the best composer of the same age. And the evidence shows exactly that, although not in the way that orthodox history would have it.

[To be continued with Part Two]

[This post, reflecting the work of editor Alex McNeil and other help from Brian Bechtold, has become No. 62 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford]

Anthony Munday: No. 27 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (as it now appears in the book)

Anthony Munday was an actor-printer-writer-translator and anti-Catholic spy who signed himself “Servant to the Right Honourable  the Earl of Oxenford.”  Oscar James Campbell is one of many traditional Shakespeare scholars who note the following points of interest about this writer of whom Oxford was the patron:

Shakespeare contributed an addition to the play Sir Thomas More (1592), the first draft of which had been written by Munday.

Shakespeare found incidents and ideas for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1594) from Munday’s play John a Kent.

Shakespeare wrote parts of  The Merchant of Venice (1596) by drawing upon Munday’s long prose romance Zelanto, or The Fountain of Fame.

Shakespeare got his general plot outline for Much Ado About Nothing (1598) from Fedele and Fortunio, an Italian play adapted by Munday.

Shakespeare received inspiration for the idyllic green world of the forest in As You Like It (1599) from a play about Robin Hood by Munday.

In the traditional view it appears that during the 1590s the Bard grabbed stuff from Munday whenever he wanted; the reality, I suggest, was the other way around. Munday was one of many writers who served as secretaries to Oxford during the 1570s and 1580s and benefited from his reckless generosity (Oxford provided money, work space, inspiration and instruction) as they developed the English renaissance of literature and drama. I suggest that in the next decade Oxford adopted plots and characters that he himself had originated and had shared with Munday and other writers under his wing.

Edward de Vere

The son of a London draper, Munday had been an actor, most likely in Oxford’s boy company and then in his adult troupe. In 1576 he became an apprentice to John Allde, the stationer whose son, Edward Allde, would later print several Shakespeare quartos. Two years later Munday journeyed to Rome “to see strange countries and learn foreign languages,” as he recalls in English Romayne Lyfe (1582), but Campbell and others state he was actually a spy sent to report on the English Jesuit College in Rome. He returned to England by 1579, when he “may have become an actor again, with the Earl of Oxford’s company,” and that year he published The Mirror of Mutability, dedicating it to his patron and including the following poem to him:

E xcept I should in friendship seem ingrate,

D enying duty, whereto I am bound;

W ith letting slip your Honour’s worthy state,

A t all assays, which I have noble found.

R ight well I might refrain to handle pen:

D enouncing aye the company of men.

 

D own, dire despair, let courage come in place,

E xalt his fame whom Honour doth embrace

 

V irtue hath aye adorn’d your valiant heart,

E xampl’d by your deeds of lasting fame:

R egarding such as take God Mars his part

E ach where by proof, in honour and in name.

 

Munday referred to Oxford’s “courteous and gentle perusing” of his writings. As B.M. Ward notes, the earl was “no ordinary patron,” since he was “willing to give both his time and attention to manuscripts submitted to him, and could be relied on to make suggestions and offer advice.” Oxford and his Euphuists aimed to refine and enrich the English language, believing in the magic of words and the power of imagery, while Philip Sidney and the Romanticists wanted to retail old stories of knighthood to make them more accessible.

Philip Sidney

In 1580 Munday dedicated his novel Zelato, The Fountain of Fame to de Vere (“By A.M., Servant to the Right Honourable the Earle of Oxenford”), praising “the rare virtues of your noble mind” and declaring that “among all the brave books which have been bestowed [upon you], these my little labours contain so much faithful zeal to your welfare as [all] others whatsoever.” He also wrote that the book was “Given for a friendly entertainment to Euphues” — revealing, in effect, that the character of Euphues stood for Oxford himself.

Munday was one of the chief witnesses against Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest who was hanged, drawn and quartered on December 1, 1581; part of Munday’s savage tract A Discoverie of Edmund Campion and his Confederates was read aloud from the scaffold at Tyrburn. His political services against Catholics were rewarded in 1584, when he received the post of Messenger of Her Majesty’s Chamber.

In his 1588 dedication of Palmerin d’Olivia, Pt. 2, a translation, Munday spoke of Oxford’s “special knowledge” of foreign languages and referred to his “precious virtues, which makes him generally beloved” and of “mine only duty, which nothing but death can discharge.” (Only the 1616 reprint containing this information is extant.) Oxford died in 1604, but Munday would never forget his master; in 1619 he dedicated all three parts of a new edition of his Primaleon of Greece to Oxford’s son Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, and spoke of “having served that noble Earl your father of famous and desertful memory” and of “your honourable father’s matchless virtues.”

[This post is now Reason 35 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

The Italian Connection – Reposting No. 24 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere was Shake-speare

When the case for Edward de Vere as “Shakespeare” finally gains popular acceptance, not the least reason will be the overwhelming evidence that the author (no matter who he was) had traveled in Italy and must have lived in Venice for a time. Such was the experience of twenty-five-year-old Oxford in 1575, when he was welcomed in one place after another as an illustrious dignity from the English court — a young, high-born nobleman absorbing this land and its people and the Italian renaissance.

In fact, it was a play set in Italy that inspired Thomas Looney’s search for “Shakespeare,” as he wrote in 1920:

“For several years in succession I had been called upon to go through repeated courses of reading in one particular play of Shakespeare’s, namely The Merchant of Venice. This long continued familiarity with the contents of one play induced a peculiar sense of intimacy with the mind and disposition of its author and his outlook upon life. The personality which seemed to run through the pages of the drama I felt to be altogether out of relationship with what was taught of the reputed author and the ascertained facts of his career.”

He continues:

“For example, the Stratford Shakespeare was untraveled, having moved from his native place to London when a young man, and then as a successful middle-aged man of business he had returned to Stratford to attend to his lands and houses. This particular play on the contrary bespeaks a writer who knew Italy at first hand and was touched with the life and spirit of the country. Again the play suggested an author with no great respect for money and business methods, but rather one to whom material possessions would be in the nature of an encumbrance to be easily and lightly disposed of: at any rate one who was by no means of an acquisitive disposition.”

Now, nearly a century later, another book, The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Paul Roe (2012), is finally breaking down the rigid walls of Stratfordian tradition as readers demand better explanations. Roe died in 2010 at eighty-eight, having spent the last quarter-century of his life traveling the length and breadth of Italy on what the publisher aptly describes as “a literary quest of unparalleled significance.”

Here is a beautiful paragraph from Roe, speaking of “Shakespeare” in relation to Venice and The Merchant:

“In the latter part of the sixteenth century, the gifted English playwright arrived in the beating heart of this Venetian empire: the legendary city of Venice. He moved about noting its structured society, its centuries-old government of laws, its traditions, its culture, and its disciplines. He carefully considered and investigated its engines of banking and commerce. He explored its harbors and canals, and its streets and squares. He saw the flash of its pageants, its parties and celebrations; and he looked deeply into the Venetian soul. Then, with a skill that has never been equaled, he wrote a story that has a happy ending for all its characters save one, about whom a grief endures and always will: a deathless tragedy.”

If Roe’s description of the dramatist’s activities is at all accurate, how can the authorship continue to be attributed to William of Stratford?

When de Vere traveled through Italy during 1575, he and his retinue skirted Spanish-controlled Milan before navigating by canal and a network of rivers on a 120-mile journey to Verona.  His travels took him to Padua, Venice, Mantua, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Naples, Florence, Messina, Palermo and elsewhere, with his home base in Venice.

Aside from three stage works set in ancient Rome (Corianlanus, Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar), ten of Shakespeare’s fictional plays are set in whole or in part in Italy: Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well That Ends Well (also France), Much Ado About Nothing, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest (which opens aboard a ship in the Mediterranean between North Africa and Italy).

Only one play of fiction (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is set in England — an astounding ten-to-one ratio!  Why?  The logical answer is that “Shakespeare” (whoever he was) must have fallen in love with Italy.  It would be pretty hard to fall in love with a country without ever visiting it!

Oxfordians believe that de Vere “brought the European Renaissance back to England” when he returned in 1576 after fifteen months of travel through France, Germany and, most extensively, Italy.  He became the quintessential “Italianate Englishman,” wearing “new-fangled” clothes* of the latest styles. He brought richly embroidered, perfumed gloves for Queen Elizabeth, who delighted in them. Such gloves became all the rage among the great ladies of the time; and, for example, he brought back his perfumed leather jerkin (a close-fitting, sleeveless jacket) and “sweet bags” with costly washes and perfumes.

Soon enough John Lyly, who was Oxford’s personal secretary and stage manager, issued two novels about an Italian traveler: Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and his England (1580), the latter dedicated to de Vere, who apparently supervised the writing of both books.  Together they are said to comprise “the first English novel” and in the following decade “Shakespeare” would demonstrate Lyly’s influence upon his plays.

“There is a secret Italy hidden in the plays of Shakespeare,” Roe begins the introduction to his groundbreaking book.   “It is an ingeniously-described Italy that has neither been recognized, nor even suspected – not in four hundred years – save by a curious few.  It is exact; it is detailed; and it is brilliant.” The descriptions of Italy in the plays are in “challenging detail” and “nearly all their locations” can be found to this day.  Whoever wrote them “had a personal interest in that country equal to the interest in his own.”  The places and things in Italy which Shakespeare alludes to or describes “reveal themselves to be singularly unique to that one country.”  His familiarity with Italy’s sites and sights – “specific details, history, geography, unique cultural aspects, places and things, practices and propensities” and so on – “is, quite simply, astonishing.”

Roe never mentions Oxford; instead he takes us right away to Verona, the setting for Romeo and Juliet, and recounts making one trip to search for … sycamore!  Roe went to find sycamore trees, which would have to be located in one specific spot, “just outside the western wall” as “remnants of a grove that had flourished in that one place for centuries.” The trees are described in the very opening scene –

Where, underneath the grove of sycamore

That westward rooteth from the city’s side…

There are no sycamore trees in any of the known source materials for the play; they were deliberately put in by the great author himself. So Roe, our intrepid detective-explorer, arrives in the old city of Verona: “My driver took me across the city, then to its edge on the Viale Cristoforo Colombo.  Turning south onto the Viale Colonnello Galliano, he began to slow.  This was the boulevard where, long before and rushing to the airport at Milan, I had glimpsed trees, but had no idea what kind.” His car creeps along the Viale and comes to a halt.  Are there sycamores at the very same spot where “Shakespeare” said they were?  Did this playwright, who is said to be ignorant of Italy, know this “unnoted and unimportant but literal truth” about Verona?  Had he deliberately “dropped an odd little stone about a real grove of trees into the pool of his powerful drama”?

Yes, he did!

“No one has ever thought that the English genius who wrote the play could have been telling the truth: that there were such trees, growing exactly where he said in Verona,” writes Roe, whose discoveries all demonstrate Shakespeare’s depth of knowledge and personal experience of Italy. They comprise yet another solid reason to conclude that Oxford was the great poet-dramatist.”

(This post has become no. 45 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford. Thanks to editor Alex McNeil for some extra help on this one.)

 

Re-Posting No. 18 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was Edward, Earl of Oxford: “Minerva Britanna” by Henry Peacham: “By the Mind I shall be Seen”

“Minerva Britanna” by Henry Peacham, Master of Arts (1612) – “Or a Garden of Heroical Devices, furnished, and adorned with Emblems and Impresa’s of sundry natures, Newly devised, moralized, and published.”

If there’s a single Elizabethan or Jacobean picture that cries out “Secret author,” it appears on the title page of Minerva Britanna by Henry Peacham, a book of original emblems (accompanied by his own verses) published in London in 1612. Shown on the front is the proscenium arch of a theater, with the curtain drawn back so we can see the right hand and arm of a writer using a quill pen to complete a Latin inscription:

MENTE.VIDEBORI (“By the Mind I shall be Seen”): The suggestion is that the author, who is behind the curtain, must remain hidden.

In 1937, Eva Turner Clark argued that the phrase MENTE.VIDEBORI is a Latin anagram of TIBI NOM. DE VERE or “The Identity of this Author is  De Vere.”

A closer look reveals that the “dot” in the inscription has been placed directly between the “E” and the “V” to create E.V., the initials of Edward Vere.

Oxford’s death date is recorded as 24 June 1604, the same year the authorized, full-length version of Hamlet was first published, after which no new “authorized” Shakespeare plays were printed for nineteen years.

In 1622, just one year before the publication of the First Folio, Peacham published a treatise entitled The Compleat Gentleman, in which he looks back at the Elizabethan reign as a “golden age” that produced poets “whose like are hardly to be hoped for in any succeeding age.”  He lists those “who honored Poesie [poetry] with their pens and practice” in this order:

“Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spenser, Master Samuel Daniel, with sundry others…” Curiously, he does not list “Shakespeare.”

Peacham (1576?-1644?), a graduate of Cambridge, had been interested in the theatrical world early on; a surviving sketch of a scene of Titus Andronicus, thought to have been made in 1595, was signed “Henricus Peacham.” He would have been a teenager when he drew the sketch.  In the scene, Queen Tamora is pleading for the lives of her two sons while Aaron the Moor gestures with his sword.

A sketch of a scene of “Titus Andronicus” in 1595, apparently by Peacham when he was seventeen 

Oxford’s arms with the blue boar on top

At age twenty-five in 1603, Peacham became a schoolmaster at Kimbolton Grammar School; his Minerva (“Or a Garden of Heroical Devises, furnished and adorned with Emblems and Impresa of sundry natures”) contains 206 emblems, each accompanied by a pair of six-line stanzas. Roger Stritmatter reports that it “has long been considered the most sophisticated exemplar of the emblem book tradition ever published in England.”

One of the emblems in Minerva shows a boar, which plays a crucial role in Ovid’s story of Venus and Adonis as well as in the one by “Shakespeare” published in 1593. The boar was also Oxford’s heraldic symbol. Below the emblem, Peacham writes:

One of the Emblems of “Minerva Britanna” — about “Venus and Adonis” featuring the Boar

I much did muse why Venus could not brook

The savage Boar and Lion cruel fierce,

Since Kings and Princes have such pleasure took

In hunting: ‘cause a Boar did pierce

Her Adon fair, who better liked the sport,

Then spends his days in wanton pleasure’s court.

Which fiction though devised by Poet’s brain,

It signifies unto the Reader this:

Such exercise Love will not entertain,

Who liketh best, to live in Idleness:

The foe to virtue, Canker of the Wit,

That brings a thousand miseries with it.

The line “Who liketh best to live in Idleness” is a direct reflection of what Oxford had written in 1576:

That never am less idle lo, than when I am alone *

Clearly Peacham was well aware, even in 1612, of an authorship mystery involving the poet of Venus and Adonis. With his emblem containing the boar symbol of the Vere earldom and those lines underneath it, he brought together “Shakespeare” and Oxford on the same page, providing the solution for all to see.

  • In The Paradise of Dainty Devices, 1576

(This blog post, with the invaluable help of editor Alex McNeil, has become No. 95 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

Re-Posting No. 17 of “100 Reasons” why Oxford wrote the Shakespeare Works: Edward de Vere witnessed a real-life scene like the turning point of “Hamlet”

When Edward de Vere was barely into his teens, he witnessed a real-life event that was virtually the same as the one “Shakespeare” would create many years later for the dramatic turning point of Hamlet when the Prince puts on a play to “catch the conscience of the King.”

Oxford was 14 on Queen Elizabeth’s royal progress to Cambridge in 1564, the year she had hired a coach builder from the Netherlands (Gullian Boonen) who introduced the “spring suspension” to England

At fourteen, Oxford was on the 1564 summer progress when Queen Elizabeth paid her historic visit to Cambridge University for five thrilling days and nights.

Chancellor William Cecil (later Lord Burghley) was in charge while his arch political enemy, High Steward Robert Dudley (later the Earl of Leicester), acted as master of ceremonies.

Hamlet puts on a play to “catch the conscience of the King.”

Although in his early teens, Oxford was a well-tutored scholar whose Renaissance outlook had drawn him to literature and history among a myriad of fields, and Elizabeth, thirty-one, had displayed her own Renaissance spirit and love for learning when she and her retinue entered Cambridge that summer. The chapel of King’s College had been transformed into a “great stage” and she spent three of the five nights feasting on “comedies and tragedies.”

Elizabeth was set to leave on Thursday, 10 August, for a ten-mile ride to the home of Sir Henry Cromwell at Hinchingbrooke, where she was to spend the night, and her Majesty was eager to get going.

Hinchinbrooke House, where Elizabeth I of England stayed the night after the Cambridge visit in August 1564

According to Guzman de Silva, the Spanish ambassador, Elizabeth made a speech praising all the plays or “comedies” and disputations, but some of the anti-Catholic students “wished to give her another representation, which she refused in order to be no longer delayed.” The students were so anxious for her to hear their play, however, that they “followed her [to Hinchingbrooke] and so importuned her that at last she consented.” That evening, in a courtyard, an exhausted queen gathered with members of her court by torchlight for the student production.

It turned out to be a distasteful burlesque intended to mock those Catholic leaders who were then imprisoned in the Tower of London. The university atmosphere had become charged with the rapidly developing Protestant radicalism known as the Puritan movement. But the queen and Cecil were ending hostilities with France while trying to maintain good relations with Catholic Spain, so Elizabeth was in no mood for anti-Papal displays that de Silva would (and did) report back to King Philip:

“The actors came in dressed as some of the imprisoned bishops.  First came the Bishop of London carrying a lamb in his hands as if he were eating it as he walked along, and then others with devices, one being in the figure of a dog with the Host in his mouth … The Queen was so angry that she at once entered her chamber, using strong language; and the men who held the torches, it being night, left them in the dark…”

Queen Elizabeth I attends a play at one of her palaces

Imagine how this scene must have struck young Oxford!  Here was vivid proof that a dramatic representation could directly alter the emotions of the monarch; here was spontaneous evidence of the power of a play to affect Elizabeth’s attitude and even her decisions.

Her Majesty swept away using “strong language” as the torchbearers followed, leaving all “in the dark,” and the author of Hamlet would write:

Ophelia: The King rises.

Hamlet: What, frighted with false fire?

Gertrude: How fares my lord?  (to King Claudius)

Polonius: Give o’er the play!

King: Give me some light!  Away!

All: Lights, lights, lights!

Did the mature dramatist “Shakespeare” later recall this event when he came to write the “Mousetrap” scene of Hamlet, setting it at night with the King’s guards carrying torches?  When, in 1564, the queen rose in anger and rushed off, did chief minister Cecil call to stop the burlesque, as chief minister Polonius would do in Hamlet?  Did Elizabeth call for light as Claudius does in the play?

Re-Posting No. 8 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: Gabriel Harvey’s Address to the Court

In July of 1578. the Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey composed a Latin address to the Court during Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the university. Within the printed address to Edward de Vere, which he may or may not have delivered orally, was a statement translated by B.M. Ward in 1928 as “Thy countenance shakes a spear!”  

(Defenders of the Stratfordian faith might want to counter with a less “Shakespearean”-sounding translation, such as: “Your facial expression brandishes a long wooden shaft with a sharp-pointed head!”)

A Representation of Gabriel Harvey (left) and his literary “enemy” Thomas Nashe

Oxford had met Harvey a decade or so earlier.  The earl had been “in the prime of his gallantest youth” when he had “bestowed Angels [funds] upon me in Christ’s College in Cambridge,” Harvey recalled in writing, “and otherwise vouchsafed me many gracious favors.”

“It is evident that a genuine friendship between the Earl and Harvey sprang up as a result of their early acquaintance,” Ward writes, “and it is equally evident that literature must have been the common ground on which they met. “

Gabriel Harvey was quite a character.  His role is complicated, but I suggest he’s a key to the whole Oxford-Shakespeare story. I think Harvey understood from the get-go that de Vere was a literary genius; that from those early Cambridge days onward, he was obsessed with Oxford; and that, when “Shakespeare” appeared on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton in 1593, he knew very well it was Oxford using a pen name.  I believe the two men (who were about the same age) worked together behind the scenes, in ways that have yet to become clear…

Harvey’s address was printed in “Gratulationis Valdinensis Liber Quartus” (The Fourth Book of Walden Rejoicing) in September 1578

Elizabeth was accompanied at Audley End by the whole Court including Oxford as Lord Great Chamberlain, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Philip Sidney.  Harvey delivered a Latin speech to each of these courtiers, but his address to Oxford was startling when, for example, he urged him to “throw away the insignificant pen” and honor his noble heritage by becoming a military leader in preparations for the inevitable war against Spain  (which became official in 1584).

“O great-hearted one, strong in thy mind and thy fiery will, thou wilt conquer thyself, thou wilt conquer others; thy glory will spread out in all directions beyond the Arctic Ocean; and England will put thee to the test and prove thee to be a native-born Achilles.

“Do thou but go forward boldly and without hesitation: Mars will obey thee, Hermes will be thy messenger, Pallas striking her shield with her spear shaft will attend thee, thine own breast and courageous heart will instruct thee.

“For a long time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts!

“English poetical measures have been sung by thee long enough!

“Let that Courtly Epistle – more polished even than the writings of Castiglione himself – witness how greatly thou dost excel in letters. *

“I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the Muses of France and Italy, but has learned the manners of many men, and the arts of foreign countries.

 

“It was not for nothing that Sturmius himself was visited by thee; neither in France, Italy, nor Germany are any such cultivated and polished men.

“O thou hero worthy of renown, throw away the insignificant pen, throw away the bloodless books, and writings that serve no useful purpose; now must the sword be brought into play, now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear and to handle great engines of war…

“In thy breast is noble blood, Courage animates thy brow, Mars lives in thy tongue, Minerva strengthens thy right hand, Bellona reigns in thy body, within thee burns the fire of Mars.

“Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear; who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again?” **

Ward observed that Harvey was revealing the indisputable fact that de Vere “was well known to have written a great number of poems both in Latin and English, the majority in the latter tongue.”  The amount of his known poetry by then, however, “is quite incompatible with Harvey’s description of the Earl’s poetical output.  It is therefore evident that he must have been privileged to read Oxford’s poems in manuscript – a privilege that must also have been extended to others in the Court, because Harvey makes no secret of their existence in his open address. These facts are important and confirm what we are told by other and no less credible witnesses than Harvey that Lord Oxford stood supreme among his contemporary poets and dramatists.”

[Here’s a thought, which I insert here in this current post: If what Ward suggests is the case, that members of the Court already knew his large output of poetry by this time, many having read the verses, is there any doubt that Court members in 1593 knew very well that “Shakespeare” was none other than Oxford? My view is that the “authorship” of Shakespearean works was no “question” for the Queen, Burghley and others at the royal court, from the moment Venus and Adonis was published in that year.)

Achilles, Greek hero of the Trojan War

If we had put forth the hypothesis that the author was Edward de Vere using a pen name, imagine then coming upon this public address to him back in 1578 and ask: Given that we are talking about the greatest writer of the English language, isn’t Harvey’s description of Oxford exactly what we should expect to find?

  • Harvey is referring to Oxford’s elegant preface “To the Reader” of Bartholomew Clerke’s translation of The Courtier from Italian to Latin in 1571.

**   Check out Professor Michael Delahoyde’s comparison of Harvey’s description of Oxford as Achilles to this passage in Lucrece (1594) by “Shakespeare”:

For much imaginary work was there,

Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,

That for Achilles’ image stood his spear,

Grip’d in an armed hand, himself behind

Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind…

[Note: This post is the basis for No. 27 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford ]

Re-Posting Reason 7: Oxford Wrote One of the First “Shakespearean” Sonnets of the Elizabethan Reign

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547) – Beheaded a few years before Oxford, his nephew, was born; as a poet he introduced the “Shakespearean” sonnet into England and Oxford followed suit soon after becoming a courtier at twenty-one in 157

Poetry was part of Edward de Vere’s family heritage.  He was a boy when the lyrical verses of his late uncle the Earl of Surrey were published, and among them were the first English sonnets in the form to become known much later as the “Shakespearean” form.

Soon after Oxford turned twenty-one in 1571 and began his steep rise in the royal favor, he himself composed one of the first sonnets in that form during the Elizabethan reign.

Oxford’s sonnet consisted of a series of questions to himself about the one who was the center of his universe. The answer to each rhetorical question was Elizabeth, who — “above the rest in Court” — was the one who gave him royal “grace.”   (Only a monarch could give grace.)  All his loyal devotion was directed to his sovereign mistress.

The words and themes of this early work will reappear in the more mature verses published in 1609, five years after Oxford’s death, entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS.

We’ll take a look at a few of these parallels, but, first, his Shakespearean sonnet:

Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?

Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?

Who filled your eyes with tears of bitter smart?

Who gave thee grief and made thy joys to faint?

Who first did paint with colors pale thy face?

Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?

Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?

Who made thee strive in honor to be best?

In constant truth to bide so firm and sure,

To scorn the world regarding but thy friends?

With patient mind each passion to endure,

In one desire to settle to the end?

Love then thy choice wherein such choice thou bind,

As nought but death may ever change thy mind.

The Shakespearean sonnet form using Sonnet 129 as an example

The opening line – “Who taught thee first to sigh alas, my heart” – will be echoed decades later by “Shakespeare” in Sonnet 150: “Who taught thee how to make me love thee more.”

Oxford’s phrase “Above the rest” in the second quatrain will be repeated in Sonnet 91: “Wherein it finds a joy above the rest.”

His theme in the first line of the third quatrain – “In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – will find similar expression by “Shakespeare” in Sonnet 152:

“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy.”

Queen Elizabeth I circa 1565-1570, when she was age 32-37

It’s fitting that Oxford’s sonnet to and about Elizabeth is echoed so strongly in the later Dark Lady Series of the Shakespeare sonnets (127-152), given the premise of The Monument that the “dark lady” is the Queen herself – not, I should add, because of any dark physical coloring but because of her “dark” or negative attitude and actions toward the “fair youth,” Henry Wriothesley third earl of Southampton.

[This circumstantial evidence was originally posted here more than six years ago; now a slightly expanded and edited version appears as No. 22 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (October 2016)].

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