The “Bed-Trick”: Re-Posting No. 36 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“[Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, but the father of the lady Anne, by stratagem, contrived that her husband should, unknowingly, sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.” – Thomas Wright, The History and Topography of Essex, 1836, discussing Oxford in relation to his wife Anne Cecil and her father, Lord Burghley.

Measure“[T]he last great Earle of Oxford, whose lady [Anne Cecil] was brought to his Bed under the notion of his Mistris, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan Vere, Countess of Montgomery, Oxford’s third daughter, but probably meaning to identify his first daughter, Elizabeth Vere] is said to proceed.” – Francis Osborne, Esq.,Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth & King James,1658.

These two reports, while differing in their particulars, both assert that de Vere was the victim of a “bed-trick” perpetrated by his wife Anne at the bidding of her father, Burghley – the same situation “Shakespeare” immortalized in no less than four of his plays – All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Hampton Court Palace

The “bed-trick” was a popular stage convention by the end of the sixteenth century, but the evidence is that “Shakespeare” employed it earlier than any playwright of the English renaissance; when Oxford is viewed as the author, the dates of composition go back even earlier.

Whether the incident actually happened or Oxford merely thought so, the story as told separately by Wright and Osborne probably stems from the royal visit to Hampton Court Palace in October 1574. When the schedule for the queen and her entourage became available, Anne, Countess of Oxford, requested additional lodgings she might entice her husband to join her. She wrote to Sussex, Lord Chamberlain of the Household:

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (1526-1583)

“My good Lord, because I think it long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging; that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third chamber next to it … for the more commodious my lodging is, the willinger I hope my Lord my husband will be to come hither.”

Oxford was in Italy the following September when he received a letter from Burghley telling him Anne had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in July; later, upon learning of court gossip that he had been cuckolded, he came to doubt he was the father and separated from his wife for five years.  Had he really been deceived in a bed-trick according to the “stratagem” devised by his father-in-law? In that case, the girl was his natural child; the other possibility is that Burghley concocted and spread the bed-trick story to cover up the fact that, at his bidding, Anne had become pregnant by some other man, a radical explanation put forth by Ogburn Jr. in 1984:

“I strongly incline [to the explanation] that her father was determined as far as humanly possible to ensure the continuation of the marriage and the status of his descendants as Earls of Oxford.  Three years had passed since Anne’s and Edward’s wedding and still there was no sign of issue, while it had now become impossible any longer to deny his son-in-law a Continental trip from which, given the hazards of travel, he might not return.  Thus, exploiting his daughter’s uncommon filial submissiveness and the argument that a child would be the surest means of binding her husband to her, he overcame her compunctions and resistance and brought her to accept service by another male and one of proved fertility …”

[Note: Oxford may have given voice to the idea of Burghley’s involvement in Anne’s pregnancy and deception by means of Hamlet’s remark to Polonius: “Conception is a blessing, but [not] as your daughter may conceive — friend, look to’t.” (2.2) — Curiously, the Folio version of Hamlet includes the word “not,” while the 1604 version omits it.]

Cover of Wright’s History of Essex – 1836

In Shakespeare” Identified, J. Thomas Looney saw Bertram in All’s Well as virtually a self-portrait of de Vere – but it was only after his 1920 book was in manuscript that he discovered Wright’s claim that Oxford himself had been deceived by a bed-trick. The excitement he feels is palpable when introducing “what has been the most remarkable piece of evidence met with in the whole course of our investigations: a discovery made a considerable time after this work had been virtually completed.” He continues:

“This evidence is concerned with the play, All’s Well; the striking parallelism between the principal personage in the drama and the Earl of Oxford having led us to adopt it as the chief support of our argument at the particular stage with which we are now occupied … [Chapter X: “Early Manhood of Edward de Vere”]. What we have now to state was not discovered until some months later:

“In tracing the parallelism between Bertram and Oxford we confined our attention to the incidentals of the play, in the belief that the central idea of the plot — the entrapping of Bertram into marital relationships with his own wife, in order that she might bear him a child unknown to himself — was wholly derived from Boccaccio’s story of Bertram. The discovery, therefore, of the following passage in Wright’s History of Essex furnishes a piece of evidence so totally unexpected, and forms so sensational a climax to an already surprising resemblance that, on first noticing it, we had some difficulty in trusting our own eyes.

“We would willingly be spared the penning of such matter: its importance as evidence does not, however, permit of this,” Looney added, with what Ogburn describes as “quaint Victorian delicacy” in the face of scandalous matters.  After citing the passage from Wright’s History quoted above, he continued:

“Thus even in the most extraordinary feature of this play; a feature which hardly one person in a million would for a moment have suspected of being anything else but an extravagant invention, the records of Oxford are at one with the representation of Bertram. It is not necessary that we should believe the story to be true, for no authority for it is vouchsafed … In any case, the connection between the two is now as complete as accumulated evidence can make it.”

Marliss C. Desens writes in The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama (1994) that this plot device appears in at least forty-four plays of the period, but also that “an examination of English Renaissance dramas shows that bed-tricks were not being used on stage prior to the late 1590’s” and, more specifically, that the bed-trick “begins appearing in plays starting around 1598.”

So, if Oxford was “Shakespeare,” we can say with virtual certainty that in the Elizabethan reign he was the first to incorporate it, and, too, that he did so after being a victim of it in real life, or believing he was.  Oxfordians date the original versions of the plays far earlier than the orthodox dates dictated by the life of Shakspere; in the case of the four plays with bed tricks, here are the differences:

All’s Well That Ends Well – Traditionally to circa 1604; Oxfordians to 1579-80

Measure for Measure – Traditionally to 1603-05; Oxfordians to 1581-85

Cymbeline – Traditionally to 1610; Oxfordians to 1578-82

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Traditionally to 1612-13; Oxfordians to 1566, revision in 1594

Here is another example of how the Oxfordian context stands previous scholarship on its head. The view of “Shakespeare’s” creative process, and its journey over time, is transformed. It’s no wonder the academic world has such built-in resistance to seeing, much less accepting, the change of paradigm.

[This reason is now No. 75 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

Oxfordian Journal Chapter 2: When Prince Hamlet Became My Friend … My Soul Mate!

We put on Hamlet in my senior year of college.  I was cast as Laertes and began several weeks of practice with the fencing team, to prepare for the duel with Hamlet near the end of the play.  In fact it worked out well, with the two of us bounding up and down stairs, leaping off various parts of the set and clanging our swords (foils) according to a choreographed duel that we kept intensifying with each performance.

The 2nd Quarto of “Hamlet” (the first full, authorized version) was published soon after Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford died on June 24, 1604, and then no more authorized printings of yet-unpublished Shakespeare plays appeared for eighteen years.

Laertes, of course, is the brother of Hamlet’s bewildered young girlfriend, Ophelia, who is also his potential wife.  And of course the father of Laertes and Ophelia is Lord Polonius, chief minister to King Claudius.  And of course Claudius has murdered Hamlet’s father and married his mother, Queen Gertrude, thereby stealing the crown of Denmark from the prince – who, in England at least, would have been the automatic successor.

It would be a very long time until I heard anything about the eccentric and Hamlet-like nobleman Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England.  It would be many years before I learned how Lord Oxford had married the bewildered young Anne Cecil, whose father was William Cecil Lord Burghley, chief minister to Queen Elizabeth, and the man who, like Polonius, made spying and the enlistment of spies an integral part of life at the royal court (and everywhere else).

I am not sure whether any of that Elizabethan history would have interested me.  I was an actor, after all, and the world I was trying to inhabit was strictly the world of the play.  Nor did I have any interest in the identity and life of the author, Mr. William Shakespeare – “the play’s the thing,” as Hamlet himself put it, so why bother with anything outside it?  [Only much later did I realize that the prince is making that statement within a much different context than the one used by those who argue it doesn’t matter who wrote the play.]

Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) — portrait of the eccentric, Hamlet-like nobleman at 25 in 1575, when he toured all through Italy

Looking back, it’s ironical that later in my senior year we put on Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill, in which I played the older brother, Jamie, and it seemed quite natural to be keenly interested in that author’s life and how the play reflected it – especially in that particular masterwork, which is autobiographical inside-out.  I read all I could about O’Neill, including many of his other plays, but I had no such interest in learning about Mr. Shakespeare.

For reasons that never crossed my mind at the time, we had no inkling there might be a connection between the character of Hamlet and the character of the author who had created him and brought him to life with his pen.   On stage we were in the world of Denmark, not England, and in the world of Denmark we stayed.

Meanwhile I was becoming so fond of the prince that I listened to everything he said, not only when I was with him on stage but while standing in the wings as well.  I loved the guy – for his quick mind, his sharp sense of humor, his rebelliousness, his howls of pain.  I loved that he was hiding his true self from everyone except his pal Horatio, whom he trusted.  The other characters on stage had their different individual views of the prince (all of them wrong), but they were unaware that he was putting on an “antic disposition” to keep them off track.

James Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) — in “Rebel Without a Cause,” released on October 27, 1955, a month after Dean’s death in an auto crash

Not since I’d first seen James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (yelling to his parents, “You’re tearing me apart!”) had I come upon a character whose inner life seemed to connect with my own.  I was being drawn into Hamlet’s inner self.  He had become … my friend!  He was … my soul mate!”

I loved his soliloquies and was thrilled by them:

“O, that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew … O all you host of heaven!  O earth!  What else?  And shall I couple hell?  O, fie!  Hold, hold, my heart … O what a rogue and peasant slave am I! … To be or not to be, that is the question … How all occasions do inform against me, and spur my dull revenge!  What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? … “

I loved the language, too.  I grew to love the rhythm of the lines (like music) and how that rhythm helped to convey their meaning.  Surely my personal discovery of Hamlet was a central event for me.  And then one night during a performance I was standing in the wings, watching and listening, and heard the prince say something that gave me a jolt … a sudden feeling, a thought, that may have changed my life …

(To be continued)

The Bed Trick: Number 36 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“[Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, but the father of the lady Anne [Cecil], by stratagem, contrived that her husband should, unknowingly, sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.”The History and Topography of Essex by Thomas Wright, 1836 – discussing Oxford in relation to his wife Anne and her father William Cecil, Lord Burghley.

Measure“…the last great Earle of Oxford, whose lady [Anne Cecil] was brought to his Bed under the notion of his Mistris, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan Vere, Countess of Montgomery] is said to proceed.” Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth & King James by Francis Osborne, Esq., 1658.Although these two reports differ in the particulars, they both assert that Edward de Vere had been the victim of a “bed-trick” perpetrated by his wife Anne Cecil [at the bidding of her father, Lord Burghley] – the same situation that “William Shakespeare” immortalized in no less than four of his plays – All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Hampton Court Palace

The so-called “bed-trick” became a popular convention by the end of the sixteenth century, but the evidence shows that “Shakespeare” employed it earlier than any other playwright of the English renaissance; and when Oxford is viewed as the great poet-dramatist, the dates of composition go back even earlier.  Whether the incident actually happened or Oxford merely thought so, the story from Thomas Wright [and probably also from Francis Osborne] stems from the royal visit to Hampton Court Palace in October 1574, when Anne Cecil requested additional lodgings so that she might entice her husband to join her, as she wrote to the Earl of Sussex, Lord Chamberlain of the Household:

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (1526-1583)

“My good Lord, because I think it long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging; that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third chamber next to it … for the more commodious my lodging is, the willinger I hope my Lord my husband will be to come hither.”

Oxford was in Italy the following September when he received a letter from Burghley telling him that Anne had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in July; and later, upon learning of Court gossip that he had been cuckolded, he came to doubt that he was the father and separated from his wife for five years.  Had he really been deceived in a bed-trick according to the “stratagem” devised by his father-in-law, the most powerful man in England?  In that case, the girl Elizabeth Vere was in fact his natural child; but the other possibility is that Burghley concocted and spread the bed-trick story to cover up the fact that, at his bidding, Anne had become pregnant by some other man – a rather shocking explanation held by Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare of 1984:

“I strongly incline [to the explanation] that her father was determined as far as humanly possible to ensure the continuation of the marriage and the status of his descendants as Earls of Oxford.  Three years had passed since Anne’s and Edward’s wedding and still there was no sign of issue, while it had now become impossible any longer to deny his son-in-law a Continental trip from which, given the hazards of travel, he might not return.  Thus, exploiting his daughter’s uncommon filial submissiveness and the argument that a child would be the surest means of binding her husband to her, he overcame her compunctions and resistance and brought her to accept service by another male and one of proved fertility …”

Cover of Wright’s History of Essex – 1836

While working on his 1920 breakthrough book “Shakespeare” Identified [as Oxford], the British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney realized that Bertram in All’s Well is virtually a self-portrait of Edward de Vere – but only after completing his manuscript did he discover Wright’s claim that Oxford himself had been deceived by a bed-trick.  The excitement he feels is palpable when introducing “what has been the most remarkable piece of evidence met with in the whole course of our investigations: a discovery made a considerable time after this work had been virtually completed …

“This evidence is concerned with the play, All’s Well; the striking parallelism between the principal personage in the drama and the Earl of Oxford having led us to adopt it as the chief support of our argument at the particular stage [Chapter XVI: “Dramatic Self-Revelation”] with which we are now occupied … What we have now to state was not discovered until some months later. 

“In tracing the parallelism between Bertram and Oxford we confined our attention to the incidentals of the play, in the belief that the central idea of the plot — the entrapping of Bertram into marital relationships with his own wife, in order that she might bear him a child unknown to himself — was wholly derived from Boccaccio’s story of Bertram.  The discovery, therefore, of the following passage in Wright’s History of Essex furnishes a piece of evidence so totally unexpected, and forms so sensational a climax to an already surprising resemblance that, on first noticing it, we had some difficulty in trusting our own eyes.

“We would willingly be spared the penning of such matter: its importance as evidence does not, however, permit of this,” Looney added, with what Ogburn describes as “quaint Victorian delicacy” in the face of such scandalous matters.  After citing the passage from Wright’s History of Essex quoted above, he continued:

“Thus even in the most extraordinary feature of this play; a feature which hardly one person in a million would for a moment have suspected of being anything else but an extravagant invention, the records of Oxford are at one with the representation of Bertram. It is not necessary that we should believe the story to be true, for no authority for it is vouchsafed … In any case, the connection between the two is now as complete as accumulated evidence can make it.”

Marliss C. Desens, in her book The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama (1994), states that this plot device appears in at least forty-four plays of the period; but she also reports that “an examination of English Renaissance dramas shows that bed-tricks were not being used on stage prior to the late 1590’s” and, more specifically, that the bed-trick “begins appearing in plays starting around 1598.”  This means that if Oxford was “Shakespeare” we can say with certainty that during the Elizabethan reign he was the first to incorporate it; and, too, that he did so after being a victim of it in real life or believing it was so.  Oxfordians date the original versions of the plays far earlier than the orthodox dates dictated by the life of William of Stratford.  In the case of the four plays with bed tricks, here are the differences:

All’s Well That Ends Well – tradition is circa 1604, but Oxfordians say 1579 or 1580

Measure for Measure – tradition has 1603-1605, but Oxfordians say 1581-1585

Cymbeline – Orthodox date is 1610, while the Oxfordian date is 1578-1582

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Orthodox date is 1612-13, but Oxfordians say 1566, revised 1594

Reason No. 36 demonstrates yet again how replacing “Shakespeare” with Oxford stands previous scholarship on its head (or turns it inside-out).  The whole picture of “Shakespeare’s” creative process and its journey is transformed!  No wonder the academic world has such built-in resistance to seeing the change of paradigm!

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