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 Two Gentlemen of Verona — Alencon and Simier in an Early Version: No. 71 of 100 Reasons to Believe Oxford wrote the Shakespeare Works



One of the more remarkable episodes in Elizabethan history occurred during the time of the French Match, when the Duke of Alencon sent over an “advance man” in early 1579 to woo the Queen before he himself could get there to marry her.  The envoy was Alencon’s master of the wardrobe and close friend Jean de Simier, whose smooth tongue and erotic flattery so captivated Elizabeth that her nobles were shocked and flabbergasted as well as extremely jealous.  As contemporary historian William Camden put it, the little French aristocrat was “most skilled in love-toys, pleasant conceits, and court dalliances” – transforming the 45-year-old Queen of England into a radiant, gasping, giggling young woman suddenly appearing half her age.



Elizabeth called the dark-skinned representative of Alencon her “monkey” as she basked in his sweet whisperings and refinements of French passion at Richmond Palace.  The masterful Simier appeared to be seducing her in front of the entire English court.  He and Elizabeth enjoyed intimate suppers and dined together by candlelight when they weren’t jumping in and out of each other’s bedrooms.   Could it be that, while paving the way for the Queen’s bridegroom, he had become her lover?  (It seems so!)

Alencon himself came over unofficially that August, staying at Greenwich Palace, where Elizabeth swooned over him as well.  Calling him her “frog,” she treated him with a great show of affection – despite his being more than twenty years younger, not to mention the disfigurations of his face and body from childhood smallpox, which also had stunted his growth before he could reach five feet.

Imagine that during this time you happened to be the chief comedy-writer and stage producer for the rarefied audience of the Elizabethan royal court!  How could you resist putting on some satirical skits to set the palace on a roar?  (Today such skits might resemble the parodies on Saturday Night Live.)  Oh, my, what fertile ground for a young playwright such as Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – who apparently had Elizabeth’s approval, and even encouragement, to have uproarious fun with it!

On 26 December 1579, a play called A History of the Duke of Milan and the Marquis of Mantua was presented at Whitehall Palace by the actors of the Earl of Sussex, Lord Chamberlain, who was Oxford’s great friend and supporter.  Eva Turner Clark suggested in 1930 that this court comedy was one of the earliest versions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona – which, more clearly than most plays attributed to Shakespeare, appears to reveal the various stages of its development.

Edward de Vere spent much time in Italy during 1575-76, sojourning in Verona and Venice.  He had ample opportunity to attend Italian plays and the street theater of Commedia dell’arte – influences in Two Gentlemen with which William of Stratford could not have been familiar.  The settings of the play are Verona, Milan and the frontiers of Mantua – which Clark saw as representing Paris, London and Flanders.

(Oxford returned home from the Continent in April 1576 after fifteen months, cutting short his stay because of scandalous gossip at Court that his wife Anne Cecil had committed adultery and had given birth to another man’s child.  In the play, Valentine apparently alludes to this personal episode by saying he had been traveling “some sixteen months, and longer might have stayed if crooked fortune had not thwarted me.” – 4.1.21)


It seems that the early version of 1579 was more topical and much shorter than the later one, which was mentioned by Francis Meres in 1598 but withheld from publishers until it appeared in the First Folio of 1623 under the title The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  The early version for the court presented characters loosely based on participants in the Anglo-French marriage:  Elizabeth became Silvia, the beautiful daughter of the Duke of Milan; Alencon became Valentine, the gentleman of Verona who travels to the court at Milan and falls in love with Silvia; and Simier became Proteus, the other gentleman of Verona, who sues for Silvia’s affections himself.

Within Two Gentlemen the many allusions to the proposed Alencon match (as it stood circa 1579) include a reference to Alencon’s escape from the Louvre window by means of a rope-ladder, which he did on Valentine’s Day the year before.   Oxford may have used the name itself, Valentine, for Alencon because of that escape; and Valentine appears to refer to the episode when he speaks of himself and Silvia:  “Ay, we are betrothed: nay, more, our marriage-hour, with all the cunning manner of our flight, determined of: how I must climb her window, the ladder made of cords; and all the means plotted and ‘greed on for my happiness.”

Another allusion is the use of the French word “mal-content” in reference to opponents of Catherine de Medici called the Malcontents, of whom Alencon was the figurehead.  When Valentine asks Speed how he can tell that he, Valentine, is in love, Speed replies: “Marry, by these special marks:  first you have learned, like Sir Proteus, to wreathe your arms like a malecontent; to relish a love-song…”

Oxford apparently kept updating the early topical play as the French Match proceeded to its conclusion in early 1582, when Alencon finally left England for good.  In the previous December, the French prince was still stubbornly refusing to leave and actually threatened the Queen, telling her:  “If I cannot get you for my wife by fair means and affection, I must do so by force, for I will not leave this country without you!”

It’s Proteus who gets to mirror that statement, in the final scene of the play:

PROTEUS: Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words can no way change you to a milder form, I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arms’ end, and love you ‘gainst the nature of love,–force   ye.

SILVIA:  O heaven!

PROTEUS:  I’ll force thee yield to my desire!

      First Folio - 1623

First Folio – 1623

(The praise of Silvia in Two Gentlemen reflects the worshipful flattery lavished upon Elizabeth as when Valentine says of Silvia: “Yet let her be a principality, sovereign to all the creatures on the earth!”)

When the play was revised yet again, much later, its new title The Two Gentlemen of Verona was perhaps an inside joke indicating “The Two Sides of One Ver” – (1) Valentine, the idealistic side of Oxford, the courtier setting forth to travel; and (2) Proteus, the creative side of Oxford, as artist who views the world more darkly.

But that aspect goes beyond the topic at hand … that the presence of Alencon and Simier in an earlier, shorter, more topical version of Two Gentlemen is yet another reason to conclude that Oxford wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare — as opposed to William of Stratford, who, in 1579, was still only fifteen years old.

Postscript: The reigning Stratfordian scholars apparently need to keep denying that the French match is treated in the Shakespeare plays; or, more accurately, they need to keep ignoring it altogether.  But once someone sees the evidence of it in Two Gentlemen, as well as in several other plays, notably A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there’s a moment of clarity — an “aha!” moment — or, well, I’d say there should be!

A Guest Paper on “Cymbeline” & Queen Elizabeth’s Monarchy by Mildred Sexton

While on the subject of the play Cymbeline, I’d like to share an essay by Oxfordian researcher Mildred Sexton.  Although the paper was completed by 1997, her insights and themes are every bit as important and striking today.




By Mildred L.B. Sexton


Injustice to faithful subjects is the driving force behind the author’s efforts to council Queen Elizabeth regarding the strengths and weaknesses of her monarchy. He used the medium of drama, with its allegory, metaphor and imagery to paint powerful pictures for the Queen and members of her court about matters important to her monarchy and to their own lives as well.  It was his hope to make an impact upon specific events and consequently upon State policy.  This was a common practice of playwrights of the time, and in order to understand the plays, we must seat ourselves among the members of the Court audience and try to know and understand what they knew and how they felt.

"Cymbeline" - printed first in the 1623 folio

“Cymbeline” – printed first in the 1623 folio

In the Renaissance, it was the practice to reach back into the past for important works of antiquity and to apply Christian moral principles to them for use in contemporary life. This is exactly what the author did with Cymbeline.  He reached back into early British history to the reign of an ancient king who came to power at the time of the birth of Christ.  He intertwined this religious association with mythological as well as biblical references.  These references were used as metaphors in his instructions to the Queen and her subjects about the ancient values of true monarchy so desperately needed at the current time.  He also used great elements of symbolism about the current condition of Church/State policy which carried so powerful a message to the Queen and the Court that the play was revived during King James’ reign when a situation of similar import was occurring.

The solution of the authorship question revealing Edward de Vere, seventeenth earl of Oxford, to be the true author of the Shake-Speare works has provided answers to the many of the questions which have puzzled play goers and scholars alike.  The trick, now, is to realize that Oxford’s Court audience would have understood these plays.  What do we need to know that they knew?

First of all, we need to know that Elizabethans were steeped in knowledge of the Bible, Greek and Roman history, literature, myths and legends.  We must learn to recognize subtle references to the works of the Roman poet, Ovid and to Greek mythology.  The audience also knew their ancient British history, myths and legends as well as astrology, magic and superstition.  They didn’t just think about them occasionally.  All of these elements were part of their everyday lives.  It is not like that with us.  We have to expand our knowledge and make a real adjustment in our thinking if we are going to have a chance at understanding.

In order to begin to grasp the full meaning of this play we must perceive its chronological position in the canon and pinpoint the contemporary period on which the author focused.  We need to know that Cymbeline was originally a very early play, the original version probably written in the author’s teen-age years.  This is indicated by the use of the characters from the old Morality plays, Virtue and Vice, the True Church and the False Church.  In Cymbeline, Oxford transformed the latter to represent the true Church of England and Catholicism, the false church of Rome and the Pope.

The author’s limited use of imagery also indicates that this is an early play.  We clearly see his imagery growing and blossoming in his later works to be the miracle of the ages.  The use of soliloquies of minor characters to merely forward or explain the action is another early technique.  The internalizing of thoughts and emotions was to come later as he matured in his craft.  The crude use of the vision scene and the soothsayer would be handled much more smoothly in Hamlet, for instance, Macbeth or Julius Caesar.

It is possible to speculate from the rather idealized relationship between Imogen and Postumus, that the original version of this play was written before the author had experienced such feelings himself.  He seems to be taking a view learned from others at this stage of his development as a writer.  In his later works, relationships between lovers would seem to come from his own personal experiences.

It has become obvious that the play was reworked, with topical references inserted over a long period of time, even after Oxford’s death.  For instance, we hear the word “fury” calling to mind the Spanish Fury, the Roman Catholic fanaticism of the massacre at Antwerp in 1576.  The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 is reflected in the defeat of the Romans in the play.  In the spirit of the Renaissance, the author uses these allegorical references to orient the audience and reflect upon events in Elizabeth’s monarchy.  We can see that to be aware of even these few metaphorical associations, we need to acquaint ourselves with the code of allegory and metaphor used by all of the writers of the day which the Court audience understood but has escaped us until now.


In listening to this play, we need to know that one of the myths which the British believed – it wasn’t true, but they believed it and held it in emotional regard – was that Britain was founded by the Trojan, Bruté.  Bruté’s wife was Imogen.  Bruté’s grand sire was Postumus.  Since the names are the same, but the relationships are different in the play, it must be understood that this is merely symbolism representing the origins of the British people.  Oxford wanted his audience to reflect back upon the strengths of the ancient monarchies and compare them to what was going on at the current time.

Like every good playwright, Oxford tells us what the play is going to be about in the first scene.  Here we learn that Posthumus has been banished, unjustly, for treason.  Oxford’s audience was in the midst of a Church/State controversy beginning with the Counter Reformation dating from 1572.  The current crisis involved Elizabeth’s position as both Head of State and Head of the Church.  In Cymbeline’s time he was the undisputed head of both Church and State.  At this particular time in Elizabeth’s reign, Catholics recognized the Pope as Head of the Church, and therein lies the rub.  If a citizen didn’t recognize the Queen as Head of the Church, then it follows that he didn’t acknowledge her as Head of the State, and that was considered treason!  Elizabeth’s monarchy was continually threatened by plots for her overthrow by the Catholic powers of France and Spain supported by English Catholic sympathizers.  She felt she had no other choice but to weed out troublemakers.   Consequently, Catholics were subjected to questioning worse than the Spanish Inquisition, and the verdict was invariably treason which carried horrendous penalties.

Oxford had turned toward Catholicism, it is believed, during his trip to Italy in the mid-1570’s. We recognize him in the character of Posthumus, who after being unjustly banished from court goes to Rome. Oxford’s audience understood that, metaphorically, this meant that Posthumus had gone over the Roman Catholic Church.  At the time of a revision of this play in the early 1580’s Oxford had unwittingly become involved in a political plot of the Catholic sympathizers Lord Henry Howard, Philip earl of Arundel and Robert Southwell.  These three, without Oxford’s knowledge, plotted with France and Spain to land troops in England, murder Elizabeth and put the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.   When Oxford found out, he immediately informed the Queen, who went into such a state of terror that she threw him and the other three into the Tower until she could sort it all out.  Oxford was finally exonerated, but Elizabeth sent him from her court.   He was so terribly hurt by being banished in the face of having saved her life, and in consequence her monarchy, that he poured it all out in Postumus’ and Belarius’ speeches about injustice, introducing this as his main theme.

This was such a traumatic event for Oxford that he wrote the sad song about “Friendship remembered not” in As You Like It and portrayed the three real villains as Don John (Henry Howard), Borachio and Conrad (Arundel and Southwell) in Much Ado About Nothing.   The character, Hero, suffers the same fate as Oxford of having been plotted against and not believed.   Playwriting continually offered a form of expiation for the misunderstood nobleman.

It is important to remember that although the events of the play as well as those of Elizabeth’s reign occurred against the background of the religio/political conflict, Oxford focused upon a much deeper level of concern, namely, the right of the individual to have his own thoughts and beliefs.  This had been the focus of the argument of those who were accused of treason for their religious beliefs.  Their lawyers argued that thoughts were “private property” and as such were protected by law.  Oxford believed deeply in the rights of the individual and presented this message time and time again in the plays.  In Cymbeline, he felt that an additional message must be made clear to the Queen.  This was that, although her subjects might entertain different thoughts and beliefs, she must believe in their unassailable loyalty to the crown, no matter what those beliefs might be.  This is the argument in the final scene of the play where all come together to support the monarch.  Such a message would not have been lost on Elizabeth during this time of grave doubts about the loyalties of those around her.


As was mentioned at the outset, this play contains great layers of symbolism.  Modern playgoers must practice the skills of handling symbolism at which Oxford’s audience was so very adept.  They found completely comprehensible, situations which we find ridiculous because we are seeing them as involving individual characters rather than ideas.  We are especially taxed by this play.  However, our enjoyment is increased ten-fold when we are able to make the shift, and see the symbolism begin to emerge from those speeches which seem the most puzzling.

As we listen to the play, we are charmed by the Boccaccio tale of the devoted couple caught up in the evils that surround them, which occupies the beginning of the play.  Imogen is one of Oxford’s most beloved heroines.  However, she is too good to be true, and we soon see her become, through the constant biblical references, a symbol of the ancient True Church beset by the actions of the False Church or, in Oxford’s time, the Church of Rome.  Oxford’s audience would have followed her trials with the same sympathy that we feel.  However, because of their cultural background, they would have felt the undercurrents of the religious, moral and political messages.

So, now we come to understand that the play is operating on two levels at once. Not only is Imogen the faithful wife, but her trials also represent the trials of the True Church of scripture. The symbolic characters representing instruments of the False Church, the Catholic Church viewed as the antichrist, are introduced in quick succession.  These characters are identified as instruments of Satan by standard characteristics well known to Oxford’s audience through the old Morality plays.  These include poisons, magic, dissembling, lying, deceit, having bodies of filth and foul smells and the use of disguises.

Catherine de Medici        1519 - 1589

Catherine de Medici
1519 – 1589

The first of these characters exhibiting the requisite attributes is, of course, the queen.  Keep in mind that the author is presenting his ideas on several levels at once.  On the contemporary political level the evil queen parodies the French Catholic queen Catherine de Medici with HER poisons, HER plot to gain the throne of England by marrying HER son to Elizabeth.  And so the association is made with the audience.

Francis, Duc d'Alencon          1555-1584

Francis, Duc d’Alencon

Next we are introduced to the despicable Cloten, the queen’s son.  He is a parody of Catherine’s son, François, Duc d’Alençon, seen by many courtiers as the antichrist with the tell-tale characteristics.  The character’s name suggests a clot of clay or dirt. His attendants tell him that his shirt smells so foul. He uses the disguise of Postumus’ clothes to try to trick Imogen and Guiderius.  All fit Satan’s profile.

And finally Iachimo – little Iago – who lies and dissembles with Postumus and Imogen.  We hear him use the word “religion” shortly before he, an instrument of Satan, uses the word “covenant” in making the pact with the unwitting Postumus.  Oxford makes a pact with the devil when he gets involved with Howard and Arundel.

So now we see that Oxford has asked his audience to contemplate the fate of the true apostolic church of primitive British history as a symbol of the situation in Elizabeth’s monarchy beset by the various manifestations of the antichrist. The false church of Rome in the play points to the French Catholic faction under Catherine and Alençon, and the Spanish Catholic forces are suggested by the Romans of the play, Augustus Caesar/ Philip of Spain, and the ambassador, Lucius/ the Spanish ambassador Mendoza.


As the play progresses, Postumus/Oxford, our true and faithful knight, has become disillusioned through the machinations of the character Iachimo.  In the meantime Imogen is being revealed more and more as the True Church of the Bible as she succumbs to the misleading contents of Postumus’ letter and begins, like the Church wandering in the wilderness, her journey toward Milford Haven.  Here, the setting is a far western part of Wales where the ancient kings reigned and where the ancient Christian Church had arisen. This allies the association of the setting in the minds of the audience with the other symbols in the play.

 Later in history, Milford Haven would be the landing place for Henry Tudor to make his move to conquer Richard III and establish the Tudor dynasty of which Elizabeth was the reigning heir.  It was also here that Philip of Spain had just recently planned to land troops to lay siege to Elizabeth’s throne.  Writing about this event in the form of allegory, Oxford has the Romans of the play landing at Milford Haven to launch their attack upon Cymbeline’s forces.  Milford Haven is revealed as highly symbolic to Oxford’s audience, so the metaphor was powerful at many levels, the ancient and the contemporary, the political and the religious.

So – we see Imogen wandering toward Milford Haven and the longed for reunion with her husband, but she finally almost gives up as Postumus servant, Pisanio, tells her of her husband’s orders for her death.  Asking Pisanio to kill her, she uses the term “lamb” from the Bible suggesting the sacrificial lamb.  We now begin to recognize the biblical references which come straight out of the Book of Revelation.  In this Book of the Bible, the True Church is confronted by the Whore of Babylon and other antichrist monsters just as Imogen is set upon by the machinations of the queen, Cloten and Iachimo.

When Pisanio relents, Imogen finds her way to the cave of Belarius and Cymbeline’s sons where she is repeatedly referred to as an “angel”, as the figure of the Church is called in the scriptures.  Oxford has again tied the religious to the secular by introducing Imogen, the Church, to the characters of Cymbeline’s sons, Guiderius and Arviragus who represent the succession to the monarchy.

Oxford gives these boys additional names from Greek mythology, Polydore and Cadwal.  It is important for us to know at the outset what the Court audience knew, and they knew who Polydore and Cadwal were and were well aware of their significance to the symbolism of the play.

Polydore was the first son of Priam!   Remember Priam, King of Troy, made so much of by Hamlet?  Polydore had been sent to Thrace for safe-keeping, Priam desiring that he be, to quote Albion’s England* (1589), “ the conservor and restoration of his house and empire” *.  Belarius had taken the boys into hiding for the same reason – the preservation and restoration of the monarchy once Cymbeline realized his kingly duties to his faithful subjects. This is a symbolic message to Elizabeth that she must see the light about the importance of recognizing and protecting the rights and integrity of the individual from persecution for his own private thoughts and beliefs

Cadwal, or Cadwallader, the Welshman, was the last king of the ancient Britons.  So, we have Britain’s mythic roots in the Troy legend reaching through the reign of Cymbeline up to Cadwallader in 633.  The audience would now see that the author is asking them to consider the whole of the ancient monarchies as a symbol of Elizabeth’s roots and the symbol to which the Elizabethans should be looking for answers during these troubled times.  This is the Renaissance practice of applying the lessons of the past to the present.

In the Book of Revelation, the champion of the True Church slays the dragon figure of the False Church and throws the body into the lake of fire and brimstone.  In the play, the figure of the antichrist, Cloten, challenges Guiderius, heir to the throne, the symbol of the head of both Church and State, trying to trick him by wearing the clothes of the virtuous subject, Postumus.  Guiderius is not fooled and immediately strikes off his head throwing it into the creek behind the rock (the Rock of Ages, the Church).  He strikes off the head of the antichrist, the False Church, symbolically to Oxford’s audience, the Catholic faith.

With Imogen’s arrival at the cave, we learn that Belarius is another character which Oxford has created to speak his message.  The whole third scene of Act III contains Oxford’s own personal words about the evils of Court life and the injustice of his present situation:

My fault being nothing, as I have told you oft,

But that two villains (Howard and Arundel), whose false oaths prevailed

Before my perfect honor, swore to Cymbeline (Elizabeth)

I was confederate with the Romans (Catholics), So followed my banishment.     (3.3.58-69)

This speaks of the slander of Oxford to the Queen perpetrated by Howard and Arundel, and shows us that additions were made in the early 1580’s when the Jesuit plot devised by Spain and France to murder Elizabeth and seize the throne for Mary Stuart was revealed to the Queen by Oxford.  Until we know the history of the moment which was so important to the author, it is impossible to understand why this speech was ever put in.  Oxford was so stung by the whole mess that he simply could not stop himself from dwelling upon it.

In his soliloquy, Belarius/Oxford expounds upon his most important theme, that of the rights of the individual which were alluded to earlier.  Because we see Belarius again many years later mirrored in the character of Kent in Lear saying much the same thing, we must realize that this continued to be a theme of great importance to Oxford.

Hearing Cymbeline refer to him as “a banish’d traitor” (a parallel to Posthumus’ situation at the beginning of the play) Belarius replies, “banish’d man,/I know not how a traitor”.  Although he, speaking Oxford’s thoughts, has not been believed and respected by the Crown, he still remains the faithful subject.

Belarius has secreted the heirs to the throne in the safety of the wilderness until Cymbeline comes to his senses about the responsibilities of monarchy.  Oxford gives Belarius the vision to see that he must preserve the ancient traditions of kingship in the face of a monarch who cannot see clearly and gets too closely involved with dangerous enemies.  Even Imogen, symbolizing the Church, cannot distinguish the headless body of Cloten/Satan from that of Posthumus, who is symbolically, Elizabeth’s virtuous, true subject, Oxford.  This is a message to Elizabeth that she is not recognizing the danger in her disguised enemies, France and Spain, just as Cymbeline fails to recognize the danger in his queen.  Most of all Elizabeth is not recognizing the value of the undying loyalty of her true subject, Oxford.

At the end of the play, when the issue comes down to the defense of king and country against the Romans, Belarius and the boys, as well as the returning Posthumus, are shown to be well aware of their duty.  Oxford states through Belarius that it is “every subject’s duty to come actively to the support of the monarch especially when that subject has reasons to hold back and thus distance himself from the cause on which the king is seeking unanimity,” # – in Oxford’s time, the Catholic problem.

Oxford quickly resolved all of the conflicts in the play with the “pillar and vine” theme representing the ideal State/Church relationship, the pillar of the monarchy supporting and controlling the clinging vine of the Church.  The reconciliation of Postumus and Imogen also intertwines these symbols along with the universal theme of forgiveness for the repentance.

It is curious that Cymbeline was revived and reworked in 1609; many authorities see the hand of Chapman and perhaps others.  At this time there was a tremendous paper war being waged regarding the “Oath of Allegiance” controversy.  King James had tried to impose this oath upon Catholics to force them to swear allegiance to him, and in so doing renounce the Pope’s authority as Head of the Church with the right to depose a monarch.  This was the same controversy revisited from Elizabeth’s reign.

Oxford’s original position, expounded upon by Belarius, was centered upon the rights of the individual to have his own private thoughts and beliefs while remaining unassailably loyal to the monarch.  Those opposing James’ actions found a fitting vehicle to resurrect in a similar crisis.  Oxford’s message lived on after his death as it does today.

* – William Warner, The First and Second Parts of Albion’s England (1589)

# – Donna Hamilton, Shakespeare and the Politics of Protestant England. University Press of Kentucky. 1992


© Copyright, M. B. Sexton, St. Louis, MO, 1997

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Number 40 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “William Shakespeare” — Evidence that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Originated in the Early 1580’s as a Masque about Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon

A multi-faceted reason to view Edward de Vere Lord Oxford as “Shakespeare” involves the time frame.  To put it simply, most or all of the Shakespeare works were originally created ten or more years earlier than we have been told.

Oliver Chris & Judi Dench as Bottom and Titania in Peter Hall’s 2010 production at the Rose Theatre, Kingston

For example, studies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream reveal that its first version was a court masque parodying the farcical French Match of 1578 to 1581, when marriage negotiations between Queen Elizabeth (Queen Titania) and the Duke of Alencon (Bottom, disguised as an ass) were in full swing – but, alas, Will Shakspere was only seventeen in 1581, still very much in Stratford and not yet married, forcing orthodox scholars to date the original composition of the Dream to no earlier than 1594!

One result is that few if any books about Shakespeare mention anything about a relationship between that masterful romantic comedy and the French Match involving Elizabeth and Alencon.

The initial appearance of the name “William Shakespeare” was on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton in 1593.  This alone is a problem for the mainstream scholars, because it means that the very first publication by the young man from Stratford was a highly sophisticated, cultured narrative poem, one of the best ever written in England, yet he’d been in London just five years or even less.

Orthodox scholars, trying to fit the original writing of the Dream to the contours of Will of Stratford’s life, place the start of his composition in the very next year, 1594.  But was our struggling young playwright creating A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the public playhouse?  No, folks, no such apprenticeship for him, and not according to “the almost universally held belief among critics that the play was written for a private performance, clearly a part of the festivities attendant upon an aristocratic wedding,” writes Oscar Campbell in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966).

Elizabeth Vere (1575-1627), who married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby on 26 January1595 at Greenwich Palace, where a new version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” may have been performed during the festivities

“The only existing text,” Dr. Campbell tells us, “is the version of the comedy designed to be presented in the great hall of an Elizabethan gentleman’s country house, or possibly at the Court, on an occasion at which Queen Elizabeth may have been present … [Virtually all scholars acknowledge Queen Titania as a portrait of Elizabeth] …

“Many weddings of the nobility solemnized about the years 1594-1596 have been suggested as the occasion for which the play was written.  One considered most likely by many historians is that of Elizabeth de Vere, the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, to the Earl of Derby, which took place on January 26, 1595.”

Greenwich Palace, where the wedding of Lady Elizabeth Vere and the Earl of Derby took place

Now, let’s get this straight … a young man from Stratford upon Avon, near the start of his London career as a playwright, designs a play not for the public theater, but, instead, for a private wedding of the nobility.  He includes a major female character, Queen Titania, representing Elizabeth Tudor, and has her fall in love on stage with an ass!  Moreover the play is performed in front of that same female monarch, who is known for her extreme vanity, and for the amusement of her full court at Greenwich Palace!

Was it impossible?  Well, I’d say miraculous.

But let’s remove the constricting timeline of the Stratford fellow’s life and look at some of the perfectly logical evidence that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece that evolved through two or three or more of the author’s revisions, according to changing circumstances over more than a dozen years, from the Alencon affair reaching its climax in 1581 to a wedding of the nobility at Court in 1595.

“Tips of the iceberg” keep appearing to indicate the presence of this “hidden” history of the play; and Dr. Campbell is honest enough to mention some of these anomalies, as when he writes: “Certain textual inconsistencies indicate that the play as we have it has been revised, and that the lines which deal with the fantasy form only one of two textual layers.” [My emphasis]

The easiest way to eliminate the mystery is to realize that the first version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was an Elizabethan version of a Saturday Night Live skit, written by thirty-year-old Oxford in 1580.  At the time he was still in the highest favor of Elizabeth (though not for long); he and John Lyly, his private secretary and stage manager, were presenting plays for aristocrats at the private Blackfriars playhouse and for Her Majesty at Court.  The earl had been personally involved in the often-ludicrous Alencon affair, even to the point of twice refusing in 1578 to obey the Queen’s command to dance for the French diplomats, who had come to England to negotiate terms of the royal marriage.

Hercule Francois, Duke of Anjou and Alencon (1555-1584)

Oxford was “identified” as Shakespeare in 1920 by J. Thomas Looney.  It took hardly more than a decade for Eva Turner Clark in 1931 to suggest in her Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays that earl had the Dream performed as a masque (probably for the Blackfriars audience, poking fun at both Elizabeth and Alencon) in 1581, before presenting it in some more complete form for the Queen during the Christmas season of 1584 at Court.  Then he would have revised the play yet again, a decade later in the mid-1590’s, for its performance during the Greenwich festivities for his daughter’s marriage to the Earl of Derby.

In the play, Titania courts Bottom while he wears his ass’s head.  Bottom repeatedly refers to “monsieur,” a comical reference to Alencon, who would not yield to the pressures on him to leave England, just as Bottom says: “I see their knavery; this is to make an ass of me; to fright me, if they could.  But I will not stir from this place …!”  [It must have been hilarious.]

“My Oberon!” cries Titania.  “What visions have I seen!  Methought I was enamored of an ass!”

When Alencon finally left the country in early 1582, writes Clark, “he realized that his dream of being Elizabeth’s consort and sovereign of England had come to an end, just as Bottom’s dream of a life in fairyland.”

I recommend an essay by Dr. Roger Stritmatter entitled On the Chronology and Performance Venue of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dreame’ in the 2006 edition of The Oxfordian, and to look up the work of Dr. Earl Showerman on this subject as well as others.  There is much, much more to Reason No. 40 to believe it was Oxford who adopted the “Shakespeare” pen name at age forty-three in 1593.

[A footnote: Oxford had been publicly in favor of the Alencon match, along with William Cecil Lord Burghley, the Queen’s chief minister – both realizing that the prolonged affair would keep France from an alliance with Spain and give England time to prepare for the inevitable Spanish invasion by armada.  In private, Oxford was surely against the match.]

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