Reason 98 Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” – He’s the Only Playwright on the Meres List in 1598 Whose Plays are all “Lost”

“We have at least some dramatic material from all twenty-nine authors, except the politician Ferrers and the courtier De Vere.” – MacDonald P. Jackson, Determining the Shakespeare Canon, 2014, p. 119

Palladis_Tamia_1598 (2)

In the above excerpt from his new book to be published on August 19 this year, Professor Jackson of New Zealand refers to the English dramatists listed by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia (1598) as best for tragedy or comedy or both. And he points out that for only two of them, George Ferrers and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, no plays or even records of their plays are extant — despite the statement in The Arte of English Poesie, published less than a decade earlier in 1589:

“For Tragedy Lord Buckhurst and Master Edward Ferrys do deserve the highest praise; the Earl of Oxford and Master Edwards of Her Majesty’s Chapel for Comedy and Enterlude.”

Although Meres also included Edward Ferris (whose identity has been uncertain), he actually meant Ferrers, citing him for the poetry collection Mirror for Magistrates; but Ferrers was not a playwright, which leaves Oxford as the one and only bonafide dramatist on the Meres list whose plays have vanished — as mentioned by the seventeenth-century antiquary Anthony Wood in Fasti Oxonienses (1692), Vol. 1, p. 727:

“This most noble Earl of Oxon was … an excellent poet and comedian, as several matters of his composition, which were made public, did show – which, I presume, are now lost and worn out.”

This is the more famous section of the Meres book, announcing that "Shakespeare" was author of a dozen known plays

This is the more famous section of the Meres book, announcing that “Shakespeare” was author of a dozen known plays

The contemporary record clearly states that Oxford was highly regarded for writing some of the most popular stage works of his time, which would have included the 1570s and 1580s, so his standing as the sole writer for the English stage on the Meres list without any surviving play (or even any record of having written one) is a glaring anomaly that cries out for explanation. The answer from here, of course, is that this is just what to expect if all his “comedies and interludes” were originally anonymous, or credited to others, and later revised for publication under the “Shakespeare” name. This would explain why all his stage works were “lost” or unrecorded and how the author of Sonnet 81 could predict that “I, once gone, to all the world must die.”

John Thomas Looney, who identified Oxford as the Bard in 1920, wrote in Shakespeare Pictorial of November 1935:

“In Edward de Vere we have a dramatist, recognized by all contemporary authorities as belonging to the first rank, yet the whole of his dramas are missing. ‘The lost plays of the Earl of Oxford’ had become an outstanding reality of dramatic history many a year before the Shakespeare problem had even been thought of.

“De Vere is the only dramatist in the long list compiled in 1598 by Francis Meres of whose work no trace has been found. On the other hand, we have in the ‘Shakespeare’ plays a set of dramas of the highest class attributed to a man [William Shaksper of Stratford-upon-Avon] whose personal records have been found by modern historical research to be in direct conflict with all the outstanding and indisputable implications of such authorship. We have therefore an ever-growing mass of evidence that he was but a cover for some unnamed dramatist.

John Thomas Looney 1870-1944

John Thomas Looney 1870-1944

“Briefly, then, we have in Edward de Vere the only first-class dramatist the whole of whose plays are missing, and in the Shakespeare plays the only complete set of first-class dramas the author of which, on the strength of probabilities amounting to a practical certainty, is also supposed to be missing. These facts alone, each in its own way so amazingly strange and wholly unique, being contemporary and complementary, would justify, without further proof, a very strong belief that the Shakespeare plays are ‘the lost plays of the Earl of Oxford.’”

On the premise that Oxford wrote the “Shakespeare” works, the plays cited by Meres represent mature versions of earlier texts dating as far back as the 1570s or even earlier, when they were recorded as performed at Court under different titles. In those decades Oxford’s plays would have been anonymous.

Meres listed these individuals as Best for Tragedy: “The Lorde Buckhurst, Doctor Leg of Cambridge, Doctor Edes of Oxford, Master Edward Ferris, the author of the Mirror for Magistrates, Marlow, Peele, Watson, Kid, Shakespeare, Drayton, Chapman, Decker, and Beniamin Iohnson.”

He listed these as Best for Comedy: “Edward, Earle of Oxforde, Doctor Gager of Oxforde, Master Rowley, once a rare scholler of learned Pembrooke Hall in Cambridge, Maister Edwardes, one of Her Maiesties Chappell, eloquent and wittie Iohn Lilly, Lodge, Gascoyne, Greene, Shakespeare, Thomas Nash, Thomas Heywood, Anthony Mundye, our best plotter, Chapman, Porter, Wilson, Hathway, and Henry Chettle.”

The title page of Minerva Britannia of 1612 by Henry Peacham -- a dramatic visualization of a writer for the stage who remains unknown behind the curtain...

The title page of Minerva Britannia of 1612 by Henry Peacham — a dramatic visualization of a writer for the stage who remains invisible behind the curtain…

Only Shakespeare and Chapman are included in both lists. Oxford had been personally connected to many of them; for example: John Lyly and Anthony Munday were his secretaries who dedicated works to him, as did Thomas Watson and Robert Greene; he and Richard Edwards were connected through the Children of the Chapel and as fellow poets; George Gascoigne was an acquaintance from earliest years; George Peele and Thomas Lodge, among others on the list, were in his circle of writers during the wartime years of the 1580s; Chapman wrote about meeting him in Europe – and so on.

Following is the entire list, with my inclusion of one stage work for each individual, except for the non-playwright Ferrers and Oxford, the only dramatist on the list with no known play:


THOMAS SACKVILLE, LORD BUCKHURST (1536-1608) – Gorboduc (1561) with Norton
THOMAS LEGGE (1535-1607) – Richard the 3, The Destruction of Jerusalem (both plays named by Meres)
RICHARD EDES (1554-1604) – a play of Julius Caesar, no longer extant; and manuscript fragments of a court entertainment in 1592
GEORGE FERRERS (1500-1579) – (Mistakenly called Master Edward Ferris by Meres) – he may or may not have written plays for court; known for his contributions to the famous collection of poems Mirror for Magistrates, which Meres cites by name
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE (1564-1593) – Tamburlaine the Great, Part 1 (1587)
GEORGE PEELE (1556-1596) – The Arraignment of Paris (performed for the Queen in 1581; printed in 1584)
THOMAS WATSON (c. 1556-1592) – a Latin version of Antigone by Sophocles (pub. 1581); no original play extant
THOMAS KYD (1558-1594) – credited, on uncertain grounds, with The Spanish Tragedy (conjectured writing in 1584-1589)
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE – Six tragedies named by Meres
MICHAEL DRAYTON (1563-1631) – Sir John Oldcastle (1599), with Richard Hathway
GEORGE CHAPMAN (c. 1559 – 1634) – Bussy D’Ambois (1603-07)
THOMAS DEKKER (c. 1572 – 1632) – nearly twenty plays published during his lifetime; worked with many other writers, for Henslowe, from 1598 – Lust’s Dominion, or The Spanish Moor’s Tragedy, 1600, with Day, Marston, and Haughton
BEN JONSON (1572-1637) – (spelled Benjamin Johnson by Meres) – The Case is Altered, a comedy, possibly the earliest play written, in 1597; but no known tragedies until after the citation by Meres in 1598 (such as Sejanus, 1603)


EDWARD DE VERE, LORD OXFORD (1550-1604) – All his plays said to be “lost”
WILLIAM GAGER OF OXFORD – (known for Latin plays) – Rivales, a comedy (1583)
RALPH ROWLEY (d. 1604?) – “Once a rare scholar of learned Pembroke Hall in Cambridge” – but likely Meres may have been confused about the identity of this man, of whose writings nothing appears to be known; the only Rowley at Pembroke Hall during the period was Ralph Rowley, afterward Rector of Chelmsford
RICHARD EDWARDS (1525-1566) – “One of Her Majesty’s Chapel” – Damon and Pithias, performed in 1564 for the Queen; Palamon and Arcite, performed for Elizabeth at Oxford in 1566
JOHN LYLY (1554-1606) – “eloquent and witty John Lyly” – Endimion: The Man in the Moon (1580s; printed in 1591)
THOMAS LODGE (c. 1558-1625) – A Looking Glass for London and England (1590, pub. 1594), with Robert Greene
GEORGE GASCOIGNE c. 1535-1577) – Supposes, a prose comedy based on Ariosto’s Suppositi, performed in 1566 at Gray’s Inn.
ROBERT GREENE (1558-1592) – Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (1588-92)
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE – Six comedies named by Meres
THOMAS NASHE (1567-c. 1601) – Summers Last Will and Testament (circa 1592)
THOMAS HEYWOOD (Early 1570s-1641) – Edward IV (printed 1600)
ANTHONY MUNDAY (1560? – 1633) – “our best plotter” – The Downfall of Robert Earl of Huntington, on the Robin Hood legend (1598)
GEORGE CHAPMAN (c. 1559-1634) – The Blind Beggar of Alexandria (1596; pub. 1598)
HENRY PORTER (d. 1599) – The Two Angry Women of Abington (pub. 1599)
ROBERT WILSON (flourished 1572-1600) – The Three Ladies of London (pub. 1584)
RICHARD HATHWAYE (fl. 1597-1603) – Sir John Oldcastle (with Michael Drayton)
HENRY CHETTLE (c. 1564-c. 1606) – The Tragedy of Hoffmann (played 1602; pub. 1631)

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