Henry Peacham’s Loud Silence: Re-posting No. 38 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

Henry Peacham (1578-c.1644) suggested in Minerva Britanna (1612) that Edward de Vere had been a playwright of hidden identity.  A decade later, in 1622, he published his most popular work The Compleat Gentleman, in which he stated:

Title Page of The Compleat Gentleman

“In the time of our late Queen Elizabeth, which was truly a golden age (for such a world of refined wits, and excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be hoped for, in any succeeding age) above others, who honored Poesie with their pens and practice (to omit her Majesty, who had a singular gift herein) were Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others: whom (together with those admirable wits, yet living, and so well knowne) not out of Envy, but to avoid tediousness I overpass.”

Eva Turner Clark in The Man Who Was Shakespeare (1937) was the first Oxfordian to report on this passage. “Significantly,” she writes, “Peacham does not mention Shakespeare, a name he knew to be the nom de plume of Oxford.” Louis P. Benezet of Dartmouth writes in 1945 that Peacham’s testimony is “one of the best keys to the solution of the Shakespeare Mystery…. We recall the statement of Sir Sidney Lee [1898], that the Earl of Oxford was the best of the court poets in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, and Webbe’s comment [1586] that ‘in the rare devices of poetry he (Oxford) may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest.’ Also we remember that The Arte of English Poesie [1589] after confessing that ‘as well Poets as Poesie are despised, and the name become of honourable infamous’ so that many noblemen and gentlemen ‘are loath to be known of their skill’ and that many who have written commendably have suppressed it, or suffered it to be published ‘without their names,’ goes on to state that in Elizabeth’s time have sprung up a new group of ‘courtly writers, who have written excellently well, if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman, Edward, Earl of Oxford.’

”Now comes Henry Peacham, confirming all that has been said by others,” Benezet continues, noting the date of 1622, when the likes of George Chapman and Ben Jonson were “yet living, and so well known,” while Shakspere had been dead for six years and therefore should have been on the list – unless “Shakespeare” already headed the list under his real name, Edward de Vere. Peacham  “was in a position to know the truth,” Benezet writes. “He had been for several years the tutor of the three sons of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, Oxford’s cousin.  Living in the family circle, he knew the secret behind the pseudonym under which were published Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, those poems which, with The Fairie Queene [by the late Spenser, whom Peacham does mention], provide the high water mark of Elizabethan rhyming.”

George Greenwood had noted in 1908 that theatrical manager Philip Henslowe had never entered Shakespeare’s name in his diary, Dr. Benezet recalls, adding that “still more compelling is the silence of Henry Peacham, for not only does he ignore the Stratford man, but, at the head of his list of the great poets of ‘the Golden Age,’ where the name of the Bard of Avon should be expected, we encounter instead that of one who is not even mentioned in any of the histories of English literature consulted as ‘authority’ by my colleagues of the Departments of English — the greatest of the world’s unknown greats, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.”

In the mid-1590’s, as a seventeen-year-old Cambridge graduate, Peacham had created a sketch apparently depicting the rehearsal or performance of a scene from Titus Andronicus. As Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia of 1598 listed Titus as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies on the public stage, we can be sure, if Peacham had thought the Bard of Avon and Edward de Vere were two different persons, he would have included “Shakespeare” on his list of the greatest authors of Elizabeth’s time who were no longer living. But Peacham knew differently.

Subsequent editiions of The Compleat Gentleman in 1627 and 1634 also omitted Shakespeare from the list, proving that Peacham, who died in 1643, did not accidentally “forget” to mention him.

[This post is an updated version of the original blog entry, reflecting the invaluable work of editor Alex McNeil and other editorial help from Brian Bechtold, as it now appears in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

“Sweet Swan of Avon” Refers to the Poet-Playwright of Hampton Court Palace!

At the recent conference of the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship in Madison, Wisconsin, the multi-talented Alexander Waugh of England delivered a talk that should be picked up by the New York Times and put right on the front page, with a headline such as:

“SWEET SWAN OF AVON!” = “POET-PLAYWRIGHT OF HAMPTON COURT!”

(Click on Image for Larger View)

(Click on Image for Larger View)

In other words, all these years – these centuries! – we have been misinformed that Ben Jonson, in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays (1623), was referring exclusively to William Shaksper of Stratford-upon-Avon:

Sweet Swan of Avon! What a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames
That so did take Eliza and our James!

Waugh pointed out that neither Queen Elizabeth nor King James ever went to a play at the Globe on the Thames (or any other public playhouse in England). But the magical location where both monarchs enjoyed performances of the Shakespeare plays was the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, on the banks of the Thames; and it turns out that Hampton Court had been known as Avon!

Alexander Waugh

Alexander Waugh

In Britannia, his Latin history of Great Britain and Ireland, Jonson’s mentor William Camden quoted historian John Leland in Genethliacon (1543) as indicating that Hampton Court had been called Avon; and when Camden translated his own work in 1610, he rendered Leland’s lines about Hampton Court this way (with my emphasis):

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

“A Stately place for rare and glorious shew. There is, which Tamis with wandring stream doth dowse; Times past, by name of Avon men it knew: Heere Henrie, the Eighth of that name, built an house So sumputuous, as that on such an one (Seeke through the world) the bright Sunne never shone.”

Waugh included many other details in his talk, which is reproduced in the current issue of The Oxfordian , the annual journal of the Fellowship. For example: “In his Cygnea Cantio (1545), Leland explained that Hampton Court was called ‘Avon’ as a shortening of the Celtic-Roman name ‘Avondunum’ meaning a fortified place (dunum) by a river (avon), which ‘the common people by corruption called Hampton.” And, Waugh added, “This etymology was supported by Raphael Hollinshed, who wrote in his Chronicles (1586) that ‘we now pronounce Hampton for Avondune.’”

[The original meaning of Avondunum was “fort by the river.”]

The Great Hall Hampton Court Palace

The Great Hall
Hampton Court Palace

So Jonson in the Folio of 1623 was undoubtedly pointing – indirectly! – to Stratford-upon-Avon, but he was even more strongly (for those who would know) identifying the great palace on the Thames where the true author’s plays were given wondrous “flights” or performances for Elizabeth and James – the Palace of Avon, a.k.a. Hampton Court!

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PS – The swan, representing a poet, had been given royal status in the 12th century. And “sweet” in Shakespeare has several meanings, but perhaps the most famous one is applied to the royal protagonist of Hamlet: “Good night, sweet prince …”

“Sweet Swan of Avon!” – Royal Poet-Prince of Hampton Court Palace!

Jonson the Man … Shakespeare the Mask

Ben Jonson, the Man

The portrait of Ben Jonson reveals a flesh-and-blood man whose emotional life is palpable:

But the portrait of “Shakespeare” reveals only a mask, whose edge follows the hairline all the way down to the chin…

The true author’s eyes peer out, through the holes of the mask…

Emmerich and “Shake-speare” and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Earlier this month Kellvin Chavez at LATINO REVIEW asked filmmaker Roland Emmerich to discuss his movie project ANONYMOUS (formerly SOUL OF THE AGE) about Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford as “William Shakespeare” and he replied:

“Well, for me there was an incredible script that I bought eight years ago.  It was called ‘Soul of the Age,’ which pretty much is the heart of the movie still.  It’s three characters. It’s like Ben Jonson, who was a playwright then.  William Shakespeare who was an actor.  It’s like the 17th Earl of Oxford who is the true author of all these plays.  We see how, through these three people, it happens that all of these plays get credited to Shakespeare.  I kind of found it as too much like ‘Amadeus’ to me.  It was about jealousy, about genius against end (sic?), so I proposed to make this a movie about political things, which is about succession.  Succession, the monarchy, was absolute monarchy, and the most important political thing was who would be the next King.  Then we incorporated that idea into that story line.  It has all the elements of a Shakespeare play.  It’s about Kings, Queens, and Princes.  It’s about illegitimate children, it’s about incest, it’s about all of these elements which Shakespeare plays have.  And it’s overall a tragedy.  That was the way and I’m really excited to make this movie.”

Last I heard, the cameras are expected to roll next March in Germany.  Oh, Roland, you may have been controversial before, but just wait!  As they say, you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet!  What will the Folger do?  How will the Stratford tourism industry react?  The Birthplace Trust!  How will teachers and professors handle the upcoming generation and its students who will be eager to investigate one of the great stories of history yet to be told?

I predict that once those floodgates open, there will be more material about this subject matter over the coming years, in print and on video or film, than on virtually any other topic.  Why?  Because much of the history of the modern world over the past four centuries will have to be re-written!  Just think, for example, of all the biographies of other figures — such as Ben Jonson or Philip Sidney  — that will have to be drastically revised to make room for the Earl of Oxford as the single greatest force behind the evolution of English literature and drama, not to mention the English language itself.

In the end, it’s not just the Literature and Drama departments that will need to change; even moreso, the History Department will be where the action is.

Onward with those floodgates!

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