Why was “Shakespeare” Anonymous for so Long? Explanation, Anyone?

Titus Andronicus, 1594        (Anonymous)

Titus Andronicus, 1594

When the author “William Shakespeare” was just starting on his career as poet and playwright in the early 1590s, by tradition he was supposedly working as an actor learning lines and rehearsing and, of course, performing.  It’s a wonder he had time to eat, much less read the hundreds of books from which he would draw information and ideas for his writings!

In any case, in the early 1590’s he was apparently trying to make a name for himself; and sure enough, his two narrative poems (Venus and Adonis in 1593 and Lucrece in 1594) were instant bestsellers.  They both carried his name – not on the cover pages but inside, as printed signatures of the dedications to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton – and so, by the end of 1593, his name was made.


Why did “William Shakespeare” fail to appear anywhere on the early publications of his plays?  His name was prominent, so surely he could have insisted upon it; moreover, the publishers themselves would have been eager to use his name to promote sales.  I don’t think the Stratfordians have any convincing explanations.

My view is that Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, had already written the earlier versions of these plays by 1589.  Now, in the 1590s, he was unloading them.  And having attached his pen name “Shakespeare” to Southampton, speaking to him in language that a nobleman would use only to address a royal prince, he must have promised William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man in England, to keep his pen name off the printed copies of his plays.

Henry_VI_pt_3_quartoWhen Lord Burghley died in August 1598, the agreement abruptly ended. Now Oxford — helping to promote Southampton, from behind the scenes — faced the cunning Robert Cecil; and that fall he saw to it that twelve of his “Shakespeare” plays were listed in Palladis Tamia by Francis Meres.  In terms of the struggle to control the inevitable succession to the Queen, the gloves were off.  Now quartos of the plays began appearing under the Shakespeare name (which was often hyphenated as “Shake-speare”).  Before that, however, seven play publications up to 1598 had been issued without any name attached to them:

  Titus Andronicus (1594); 2 Henry the Sixth – “The First Part of the Contention…” (1594); 3 Henry the Sixth – “The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York…” (1595); Richard the Third (1597); Romeo and Juliet Q1 (1597); Richard the Second (1597); 1 Henry the Fourth (1598)…

Why would young Will Shakspere of Stratford turn out these plays and have them published without his name on them?  Why, given his popularity as a poet from 1593 onward, would publishers keep his name off these plays?  Here, as they say, is another dog that failed to bark…

Richardthird 1597

romeo-and-juliet-1597 good

Richard II quarto 1597 no Shakespeare name


The Sea and Seamanship: No. 61 of 100 Reasons Why Edward, Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

tempest shipwreckIt’s been nearly fifty years since Lt. Commander Alexander Falconer, a naval officer during World War Two and a professional sailor steeped in the history of seamanship and navigation, published two books that were largely ignored at the time: Shakespeare and the Sea (1964) and A Glossary of Shakespeare’s Sea and Naval Terms including Gunnery (1965).

Falconer brought his firsthand knowledge and experience to bear on an investigation of Shakespeare’s use of seafaring terms and situations involving the sea.  His conclusion was that the great author brought with him detailed, accurate knowledge of naval matters and was well-informed about storms, shipwrecks, pirates, voyages of exploration, navigation:

“The manning and running of royal ships … duties of officers and seamen … strategy and the principles of sea warfare, gunnery, grappling and boarding are all known to him; so, too, are the main types of ship, their build, rigging, masts, sails, anchors and cables.  The sea itself in its varied working, tides, waves, currents, storms and calms, never goes out of his work.”

Writing about the opening scene of The Tempest, when the ship is wrecked in a storm, Falconer noted Shakespeare’s care for details and that he “has not only worked out a series of maneuvers, but has made exact use of the professional language of seamanship.”

A ship of the Spanish armada, 1588

Ships of the Spanish armada, 1588

This year the Royal Shakespeare Company presented a “shipwreck trilogy” of Shakespeare plays:  The Tempest, Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors.  In reaction, Charles Spencer of The Telegraph noted that “although there were books on navigation in Shakespeare’s time, nothing on seamanship was published until later.”  In any case, Falconer believed that the Bard’s knowledge in this area could not have come from books alone.

“Most current scholarship fails to note the sophistication of Shakespeare’s maritime imagination,” writes Dan Brayton in Shakespeare’s Ocean (2012), noting “the extraordinary degree [in the poems and plays] to which human lives are connected with the sea, or the remarkable specificity of his descriptions of marine phenomena.”

The great author’s exact use of naval and maritime language, along with his intimate knowledge of the sea and seamanship, cannot be explained by anything in the documented life of William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon (1564-1616).  It’s sheer fantasy to think he might have been a sailor during his “lost” years (presumably in the 1580’s), just as it’s wishful thinking to imagine he was a schoolteacher or a law clerk or whatever else during that time.

Perhaps scholars generally fail to notice the bard’s experience at sea precisely because they know the Stratford man never once left dry land. When one assumes that it’s impossible for something to exist, it becomes quite easy to ignore it.

The Oxfordian scholar Paul Altrocchi puts it this way: “Closed minds automatically blockade new information which conflicts with their own beliefs, preventing highly persuasive evidence from entering their brains for evaluation.  Oxfordians believe with conviction that Stratfordianism represents a classic example of the common human tendency to stick tenaciously with conventional wisdom, preventing much more logical and coherent newer theories and facts from being given a fair hearing.”

When we turn to look at the life of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), however, there is no need to imagine his experience with the sea and no reason to ignore the vast knowledge of the sea to be found in the poems and plays.  No. 61 of 100 Reasons to conclude that Oxford was “Shakespeare” is that the earl did have such maritime experience.

Oxford at twenty-two in September 1572 wrote to William Cecil Lord Burghley, in reaction to the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in France, offering to help defend England in any way that he could.  “If there be any setting forth to sea, to which service I bear most affection,” he wrote, “I shall desire your Lordship to give me and get me that favor…”

A 16th-century map of Venice

A 16th-century map of Venice

Oxford traveled extensively by ship or boat.  He crossed the Channel to France in 1575 and would have taken many boat trips on the then-existing canals and other waterways between Italian cities, making his home base at Venice.  In Shakespeare by Another Name, author Mark Anderson notes Oxford’s letter to Burghley saying he would “bestow two or three months to see Constantinople and some part of Greece.”

In Venice the earl lived in the heart of a community of Greeks who traveled to and from their native country.  “The 1,100-mile, fifteen-day voyage to Athens would have followed the Adriatic currents down the Illyrian (now Croatian) coastline,” Anderson writes.  Oxford would have made such a journey by means of a Venetian galley ship; and, in fact, it would be reported in the autumn of 1575 that Oxford had hurt his knee in a Venetian galley.  Oxford was stopped by pirates and nearly killed [as Hamlet would be] in the Channel in April 1576, while returning to England.

Martin Frobisher  (1536/9-1594)

Martin Frobisher

He crossed by ship over to the Netherlands in 1585, on a military mission, and this time pirates stopped the vessel carrying his belongings and apparently they stole everything on board.  The earl had invested (disastrously) in Martin Frobisher’s voyages to discover the Northwest Passage to China, so he would have learned about the various aspects of the navigation involved.  He was well acquainted with Dr. John Dee, who was intimately involved in developing Frobisher’s navigational routes.

Moreover Oxford had his own ship, the Edward Bonaventure, which he contributed to Captain Edward Fenton’s expedition in 1582 to the Spanish Main.  (The Spanish rebuffed the little fleet, so the earl’s investment did not pay off.)  Then in June 1588, with the Armada on its way, Oxford prepared to take the Bonaventure into battle.  Although the English soundly defeated the great Spanish fleet, it appears that Oxford’s ship became disabled.

In the following year, a poem apparently by Oxford’s private secretary John Lyly envisioned the earl standing on the hatch-cover of the Bonaventure, literally breathing fire instilled within him by Pallas, the spear-shaker: “De Vere … like warlike Mars upon the hatches stands./ His tusked Boar ‘gan foam for inward ire/ While Pallas filled his breast with fire.”

Shakespeare and the Sea was reviewed in the autumn 1965 edition of the Shakesperean Authorship Review by I.L.M. McGeoch, who observed:

“Professor Falconer points out that whereas many educated Elizabethans understood the art of navigation – in those happy days art was science, and science was art – only those who actually served at sea could acquire a profound knowledge of the practice of seamanship and the correct meaning and use of the terms proper to the working of ships.  That Shakespeare possessed such a profound knowledge is instanced many times.”

He offered a line from King John (4.2.23) as an example of “inspired accuracy of allusion seasoned with wit” by Shakespeare: “And like a shifted wind unto a sail, it makes the course of thoughts to fetch about.”

“Tacking is to bring a ship’s head to lie the other way,” McGeoch noted.  “True.  And ‘to fetch about’ is synonymous with ‘to tack’; but subtler still is the reference to ‘course,’ which is not only the direction in which a ship is heading, but also the name given to the principal sail on any mast of a square-rigged ship.  The essence of tacking, therefore, is to bring the wind onto the other side of the sail, or ‘course,’ and the necessary re-trimming of the sail is assisted by the wind blowing upon it from the side appropriate to the new tack.”

“Not knowing that Edward de Vere wrote the great plays of Shakespeare makes it impossible to understand many of the allusions and subtleties within every play,” Dr. Altrocchi writes, adding that such impossibility “deprives the audience of much of a play’s texture so richly spun” by the author.

A Note on the “100 Reasons” — Having Reached No. 60, We’ve Got Just 40 More to Go…

Yes, we have reached No. 60 of the 100 reasons why the Earl of Oxford was Shakespeare.  When the series was launched as part of this blog, I thought it would be a snap – you know, write a paragraph for each “reason” and the whole thing would go quickly.


Well, it turns out that each “reason” has given me an opportunity to revisit the research and, quite often, to find new aspects of the case for Edward de Vere’s authorship.  And the individual posts have run an average of a thousand words apiece, often much longer and in two or three parts.

Thanks to all who have posted comments along the way!

The first “reason” of the series was published back on February 23, 2011, nearly two year ago!

However long it will it take to complete the next forty, I know I’ll continue to enjoy the process.

And I hope you enjoy it, too.

“Vero Nihil Verius” — Nothing Truer than Truth!

(I should add that with this post Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog has reached 300 posts overall.)

WATCH THE TRAILER FOR “LAST WILL. & TESTAMENT” — The First Major Documentary on the Shakespeare Authorship Question in Over Two Decades — Is it a Game Changer?



The New Shakespeare Authorship Documentary “Last Will. & Testament” Soon to be Available Nationwide

On 23 October 2012, the Shakespeare authorship documentary LAST WILL. & TESTAMENT will finally be launched in the United States via ON DEMAND and ITUNES, bringing this powerful argument for Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford to a nationwide audience.

Two days before, on 21 October 2012, the documentary will have its U.S. Premier at the Austin Film Festival.  Meanwhile the film is now on a college tour that has already included a stop on Oct. 5 at DePaul University in Chicago and, today, Oct. 7, at the Film Society of Minneapolis.  The upcoming schedule so far:

OCT 12 Southern Oregon University -OLLI – Ashland, OR

OCT 14 University of Missouri – Kansas City/ESU-KC

OCT 19 Caltech/Shakespeare Authorship Conference – Pasadena, CA

And, as mentioned above:

OCT 21 US Premiere at the Austin Film Festival – Austin TX

OCT 23 – available nationwide On Demand and iTunes on October 23, 2012.

The most important result of all this, in my view, is that more and more folks will have information — just plain information, to which they had never had access.  This is not about making overnight converts to the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship; rather, it’s about letting people know what’s behind one of the most amazing and important investigations related to literature and history.

It’s especially gratifying to know that this information will now be available to members of a new generation of students, who will not be as brainwashed (and deprived of the facts) as so many other generations have been.  These young people will not be trapped in the old Shakespearean paradigm; they will be able to look at the information with more open minds.

Let the new era begin!

The TV Documentary Correspondent for “The Shakespeare Mystery” Now Brings Us a Novel about a TV Documentary Correspondent Making a Documentary in Search of the True Shakespeare

Just finished reading The Cottage, a new mystery-thriller novel by Alan K. Austin — and I zipped through those 217 pages so fast it’s a shame the guy didn’t write it twice as long.  One essential key to any good novel, it seems to me, is to tell it through the sensibilities of some larger-than-life central character…

Alan K. Austin

So Al Austin, the great investigative reporter and correspondent for documentary films who gave us The Shakespeare Mystery broadcast on Frontline (WGBH – PBS) back in the 1990’s, brings alive a fellow named Jack Duncan, a likeable guy whose various strengths and weaknesses keep competing with each other to determine his destiny, and who also happens to be … a great investigator and correspondent who sets off to create a documentary film that might as well be called “The Shakespeare Mystery.”

Austin takes us on the roller-coaster ride of Jack Duncan’s journey to England where he visits a number of places including Stratford upon Avon, birthplace of money-lender William Shakspere, whom academia still calls the greatest writer of the English language; and Castle Hedingham in Essex, birthplace of Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, the true poet-dramatist who adopted “William Shakespeare” as a pen name.

Along the way we can feel that we’ve put ourselves in good hands.  Why so?  Well, to put it simply, we can be confident that the author of The Cottage knows what he’s talking about – he’s been there, as the saying goes.  We have no doubt that Austin is opening a window on the world of the documentary filmmaker, where he once lived and worked and earned his living.   Not to mention, of course, that in various ways through Jack Duncan he must be giving us more personal pieces of himself, small and large.

Castle Hedingham, where Edward de Vere was born and raised until age twelve in 1562, when he became a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth (who had visited the castle for five days the year before) in the custody of William Cecil, her chief minister and the future Lord Burghley

And come to think of it, this aspect of writing is one of the bedrocks of the Oxfordian case for Shakespearean authorship – the fact that within the great poems and plays we can see large and small aspects of Edward de Vere’s character and life and even, if you will, pieces of his soul.  We’re talking about some magical combination of experience plus imagination and, in this case, we’re discussing “genius” as well – but please, no miracles!

Austin is also opening a window on the world of the Shakespeare Authorship Question that he himself had investigated, to such great effect that the Frontline documentary did more for the Oxfordian cause than anything since publication of The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn Jr. in 1984.  (It may be that the film attracted even more favorable attention, given the size of its audience and the power of its impact.)

A. L. Rowse (1903-1997), historian and Stratfordian biographer of Shakespeare

Along the way in Austin’s novel we can see reflections of some familiar figures – for example, in the marvelously drawn character of Dr. Lester Crowne, an authority on Shakespeare and the Elizabethan age modeled on the late A.L. Rowse, whose appearance in Austin’s documentary for Frontline supplied one of its many memorable moments:

“The Earl of Oxford was quite talented, he knew Italian, been to Italy,” Rowse said on camera, “and he wrote just a few poems, he never wrote a single play, and he really became a most frightful lightweight.  He was married to the daughter of the great Lord Treasurer, whom he treated awfully badly.  Because in point of fact he was a roaring homo, as Marlowe was and as Bacon was.  I mean it was perfectly obvious William Shakespeare’s plays are full of passionate appreciation and feeling for women, where the Earl of Oxford had none.  Neither had Christopher Marlow – Christopher Marlowe was only interested in the boys, and Francis Bacon had no interest – he was also another homo.  And William Shakespeare you might say was almost abnormally heterosexual – he was only interested in the girls.”

[I must interject here that I always suspected that Dr. Rowse was a closet Oxfordian — that he knew, consciously or perhaps just beneath his conscious mind, that Edward de Vere was the true author.  My reason?  Well, for one thing, he made sure to know everything he could about the earl.]

It was a wonderful speech that made most Oxfordians laugh out loud, given their knowledge that Edward de Vere had been (1) cited as the most excellent of all the courtier poets, (2) named as “best for comedy” among contemporary English playwrights and (3) punished harshly by the Queen for having carried on a secret love affair at Court with one of her Majesty’s own Maids of Honor, Anne Vavasour, who gave birth to their illegitimate son – not quite the usual behavior of a “roaring homo,” as Dr. Rowse told viewers.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. (1911-1998), author of “The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality”

In the novel Al Austin cites a few Oxfordians by name, among them the late Ogburn Jr., whose strong emotions rose to the surface:

“I think Hamlet was Oxford, and I don’t see how anybody who knows anything about literary creativity can fail to say that the author, whoever he was, has given his picture as Hamlet.  This is written from the inside – things happen in Hamlet not according to a preconceived plot, but as they do in life … I know what it cost him to write these plays.  I know what it cost him to have to give up any hope of being acknowledged as the writer.  God, you read the sonnets, you see it: ‘Though I, once gone, to all the world must die.’ That’s a tragic cry for a man …”

You can read the entire transcript of “The Shakespeare Mystery” online.

But for sheer reading pleasure, you can bring The Cottage with you this summer on vacation and take Jack Duncan’s journey with a great cast of characters, lots of mystery and suspense, some nifty insights as well as information within a fast-paced yarn, and – oh, yeah, loads of laughs!

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.]

“Last Will. & Testament” to be Launched in the United Kingdom

First Folio Pictures has announced that the Shakespeare authorship documentary Last Will. & Testament is scheduled to air in the United Kingdom on Saturday 21 April 2012 at 8:00pm on Sky Arts 2 HD.  Congratulations, folks!  Special hoorays for producer-directors Lisa Wilson and Laura Wilson Matthias … and Aaron Boyd!

Here’s some of the promotional copy:

Was Will Shakspere, the grain dealer from Stratford, really the literary icon we celebrate today?

The traditional story of a Stratford merchant writing for the London stage has held sway for centuries, but questions over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and poems have persisted. 

Why is there no definitive evidence of authorship that dates from his lifetime? And why are there discrepancies between the alleged author’s life and the content of his work? 

Writers and critics, actors and scholars, including Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Leslie Howard, and Derek Jacobi, have struggled to reconcile England’s ‘Star of Poets’ with the glove maker’s son from Stratford. 

In Last Will. & Testament Sir Derek Jacobi leads a host of actors, academics and historians on a hunt for the truth: who was William Shakespeare?

Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,

To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light.

– William Shakespeare

The Rape of Lucrece 

Act One explores the orthodox story of William “Shakspere” of Stratford and the long-standing views held by academia.

Act Two is a testament to an alternative Shakespeare – one presented to the world in the literary works themselves and in the testimony of his most insightful doubters.

Act Three weaves together the major historical events of the late Tudor era, including the crisis of succession and the Essex revolt.


Sir Derek Jacobi, Actor
Charles Beauclerk, Author of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom
Prof. Roger Stritmatter, PhD, Coppin State University
Vanessa Redgrave, Actor
Prof. Jonathan Bate, CBE, Oxford University
Prof. Stanley Wells, CBE, Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Diana Price, Author of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem
Assoc. Prof. Michael Delahoyde, Washington State University
Dr William Leahy, Brunel University
Prof. Daniel Wright, Director – Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre, Concordia University
Mark Rylance, Actor
Bill Boyle, librarian at New England Shakespeare Oxford Library
Jon Culverhouse, Curator of Collections & Conservation at Burghley House
G. J. Meyer, Author of The Tudors
Michael Cecil, 8th Marquess of Exeter (descendant of Elizabethan statesman William Cecil, Lord Burghley)
Hank Whittemore, Author of The Monument – a 900-page edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets

One Reason Why Henry Lord Southampton is Prince Tudor, the Unacknowledged King Henry IX of England


“But it is in the sonnets that we must look for the true key to the Shakespeare mystery.” 

— Louis P. Benezet, Shakspere, Shakespeare and De Vere, 1937

The idea that an ordinary Elizabethan poet, much less William Shakspere of Stratford, could promise “immortal life” to Henry Wriothesley the third earl of Southampton, is absurd.  Nor could Shakspere demand of the young but already powerful peer, “Make thee another self for love of me.”  The idea that he could have written those words is ridiculous.  For starters, Southampton would have run his sword through the author’s guts.

Henry, Lord Southampton, the Prince Tudor (1573-1624)

Of course, many traditional (Stratfordian) commentators have seen and accepted the decisive evidence of Southampton as the so-called Fair Youth of the Sonnets; and that acceptance, in turn, should have led them to the obvious conclusion that the author could not have been the Stratford man and must have been someone else. 

Nothing of the sort happened, however, and the reason has to do with the power of unquestioned assumptions to force rational men and women into holding irrational conclusions.   Ah, but such is also the case for perhaps the majority of Oxfordians, many of whom have been overwhelmed by vicious taunts and jeers against the so-called Prince Tudor theory that Southampton was the natural son of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth.  When these same Oxfordians are so self-righteously censoring Stratfordians such as Stephen Greenblatt and James Shapiro for their emotionally unbalanced attacks on anti-Stratfordians, they fail to notice their own emotionally unbalanced attacks on Oxfordians who are Prince Tudor theorists.

Let us assume for the moment that we agree about Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford writing in the Fair Youth series of Sonnets 1-126 to Southampton, to whom he promises:  “Your praise shall still find room/ Even in the eyes of all posterity/ That wear this world out to the ending doom” (55) and also, “Your name from hence immortal life shall have” (81).

Southampton in the Tower (1601-1603)

What does he mean by this?

Many or even most Oxfordians will tell you he simply means that Southampton’s name, on the dedications to him of Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594, will live forever because of its unique association with “Shakespeare,” who never dedicated anything to anyone else.  But I disagree with this conclusion, for reasons that follow.

In the first place, we are looking at the matter from the vantage point of more than 400 years later, when we can testify to the observable fact that anything connected to “Shakespeare” is immortal; and therefore we think, “Oh, well, he made that promise to Southampton because he knew his written words would live forever.”

I say no — no, that is not what’s going on here.  The great author is not merely boasting about his own literary and dramatic works, immortal though they surely are.  He’s not just thumping his chest about the projected ability of his poems, plays and sonnets to keep Southampton’s name/life alive in the mouths of men.   Whenever the young earl would have read those private promises made to him in the Sonnets, he would not have given a fig for such reasons; that is not the kind of fame he or any nobleman of that time would have valued.

He also would not have valued being immortal because he was physically “fair” or beautiful.  Forget about it!  And he certainly would not have wanted eternal memory in the eyes of posterity because of any love affairs he had had with either women or men, Oxford included.  Forget about it!

What Oxford was promising Southampton in terms of immortality is made absolutely clear in the Sonnets themselves – when he addresses him over and over as a prince or king of royal blood.  The matter is secret; it must be buried; but if these private sonnets do manage to survive in the distant future, it will then be known to all that Southampton deserved by blood to be King Henry IX.

This, I submit, is the only possible reason for Oxford’s promise to him of eternal life.  I have filled The Monument and also Shakespeare’s Son and His Sonnets with how Oxford unequivocally and explicitly addresses Southampton as a prince, so here I’ll offer just example with Sonnet 10, Line 11: “Be as thy presence is, gracious and kind” –– which, I contend, can only be addressed to a prince or king.

Here is some of its treatment in The Monument:

Sonnet 10, Line 11:


“Act according to your stature as a Prince, full of royal grace as the natural son of the Queen.”

PRESENCE = Kingly presence; (“Come I appellant to this princely presence” – Richard II, 1.1. 34; “And sent to warn them to his royal presence” – Richard III, 1.3.39; “Worst in this royal presence may I speak” – Richard II, 4.1.115; “I will avouch’t in presence of the King” – Richard III, 1.3.115; “The tender love I bear your Grace, my lord, makes me most forward in this princely presence” – Richard III, 3.4.63-64; “Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths, even in the presence of the crowned King; thus did I keep my person fresh and new, my presence, like a robe pontifical, ne’er seen but wondered at” – the King in 1 Henry IV, 3.2.53-57; “What’s he approacheth boldly to our presence?” – King Lewis in 3 Henry VI, 3.3.44)

GRACIOUS = Filled with royal (divine) grace, as in “your Grace” above; “Accept this scroll, most gracious sovereign” – 1 Henry VI, 3.1.149; “Great King of England, and my gracious lord” – 2 Henry VI, 1.1.24; “I come with gracious offers from the King” – 1 Henry IV, 4.3.30; “My gracious sovereign” – Richard II, 1.1.21; “I hold my duty as I hold my soul, both to my God and to my gracious King” – Hamlet, 2.2.44-45; “You have a daughter called Elizabeth, virtuous and fair, royal and gracious” – Richard III, 4.4.204-205

“So gracious and virtuous a sovereign” –Oxford to Robert Cecil,May 7, 1603

My verse alone had all thy gentle grace,

But now my gracious numbers are decayed                 Sonnet 79, lines 2-3

KIND = Natural, related by nature, as a child of Elizabeth and the bearer of her blood; (“Belonging to one by birth: lawful, rightful – 1570 … of persons: rightful heir, etc., 1589 – OED); “There she lost a noble and renowned brother, in his love toward her ever most kind and natural” – Measure for Measure, 3.1.218-220; “A little more than kin, and less than kind” – Hamlet, 1.2.65; “Shall kin with kin, and kind with kind, confound” – Richard II, 4.1.141; “Disclaiming here the kindred of the king, and lay aside my high blood’s royalty” – Richard II, 1.1.70-71; “The King is kind” – 1 Henry IV, 4.3.52; “My lord and sovereign, and thy vowed friend, I come, in kindness and unfeigned love, first, to do greetings to thy royal person” – 3 Henry VI, 3.3.50-52

“In all kindness and kindred” –Oxford to Robert Cecil, May 1601

Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind…

Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,

Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words                    Sonnet 105, lines 5, 9-10

(Fair= royal son; Kind = natural child of the Queen; True = rightful heir & related to Oxford, who is Nothing Truer than Truth)

The So-Called “Rival Poet” of the Sonnets is NOT A REAL PERSON….

A section of the Shakespeare sonnets (78 to 86) has been known traditionally as the Rival Poet Series.  Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians alike, including most Oxfordians, still assume that this figure must be a real individual such as George Chapman or Walter Raleigh or Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.  Well, I suggest this demonstrates yet again the power of a prior assumption or a long-held belief that is taken for granted and never questioned.

The Dedication of "Lucrece" - 1594 - CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

The idea of the Rival Poet is that another writer has competed with the author successfully for the affections of the younger man known as the Fair Youth –  identified as Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), to whom “William Shakespeare” dedicated his first printed works, Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594, pledging: “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.”

Never again would the great author dedicate anything to anyone else, ensuring that the names of Southampton and Shakespeare would be linked exclusively and forever.  In Sonnet 82 of the Rival Poet series, the author points directly to his public epistles to Southampton, referring to:

The dedicated words which writers use

Of their fair subject, blessing every book

Under the belief that William Shakspere of Stratford was the author,  it’s a given that the Rival Poet must be a real human being.  But once Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is postulated as the author known as “Shakespeare,” it’s not only possible but inevitable that the Rival Poet is none other than his pen name or public persona, which is getting all the attention as the writer linked to Southampton.

As mentioned above, most of my own colleagues, while convinced that Edward de Vere was the great author, still assume that the Rival Poet is a real person.  [The latest candidate of choice is the Earl of Essex.]  Yet the case for Oxford is based on the premise that in fact he’s living with a split personality!  This is seen clearly in the personal sonnets, where he himself is PRIVATELY writing to Southampton while his alter ego “Shakespeare” is PUBLICLY addressing him (in the dedications still being printed in new editions of the narrative poems).

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" - 1593

I wish my Oxfordian colleagues could entertain the thought that the “authorship question” is answered right there in the Sonnets — which Edward de Vere wrote and later compiled as a “monument” to preserve for posterity his own testimony about why and how he chose to obliterate his identity behind the “Shakespeare” mask.  What he describes in the Sonnets is NOT merely the adoption of the pen name in the early 1590’s, in which case he could have expected to be revealed posthumously, but, rather, his decision to sacrifice his identity after his death:

“My name be buried where my body is,” he writes in Sonnet 72, leading up to the “rival” series.

Oxford, addressing Southampton in Sonnet 80, offers a capsule answer to the authorship question:

O how I faint when I of you do write,

Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,

And in the praise thereof spends all his might

To make me tongue-tied speaking of your name.

The pen name “Shakespeare” is the rival who can praise Henry Wriothesley in public, while Edward de Vere must remain “tongue-tied” or silent.  (In Sonnet 66 he complains that his “art” or ability to communicate has been “tongue-tied by authority” or by official policy.)

"Knowing a better spirit doth use your name"

Would the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England and highest-ranking earl of the realm, ever, under any circumstances, call anyone else, including Chapman or Raleigh or Essex (whom he really disliked), a “better spirit”?  I think not!

“Shakespeare” is the better spirit… 

In Sonnet 81 he offers an even more direct answer, telling Southampton:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have

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

Could that be any clearer?  He correctly predicts that Southampton will be remembered because of the Shakespeare connection; and then he says directly that, after his death, he will have to “die” all over again “to all the world”which can only mean that he anticipates his own obliteration as “Shakespeare,” who publicly devoted his labors to Southampton.

By what logic, and for what reason, would the traditional Shakespeare write such words?

This is just one piece of the puzzle among others needed to create the full picture.  I’ll be back with more such pieces, as set forth in The Monument … in Shakespeare’s Son and His Sonnets … and in Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare.

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