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.]

Reason No. 18 is Henry Peacham’s Unidentified Writer Behind the Curtain: “By the Mind I shall be Seen”

"Minerva Britanna" by Henry Peacham, Master of Arts (1612) - "Or a Garden of Heroical Devices, furnished, and adorned with Emblems and Impresa's of sundry natures, Newly devised, moralized, and published."

If there’s a single Elizabethan or Jacobean picture that cries out “Secret author,” well, take a look at the title page of Minerva Britanna by Henry Peacham, published in London in 1612:  Shown is the proscenium arch of a theater, with the curtain drawn back so we can see the right hand and arm of a writer using a quill pen to complete a Latin inscription:

MENTE.VIDEBORI — “By the Mind I shall be Seen” — the identity of this writer is hidden and therefore exists only in the mind!

A Closer Look Reveals the Dot between "E" and "V" to created E.V., the initials of Edward Vere

The upside-down inscription indicated a hidden meaning; and Eva Turner Clark in 1937 saw it as a Latin anagram reading TIBI NOM. DE VERE or “The Identity of this Author is  De Vere” – that is, Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford.

A closer look reveals that the “dot” in the inscription has been placed right between the “E” and the “V” to create E.V., the initials of Edward Vere.

Oxford’s death is recorded as occurring on June 24, 1604, the same year the authorized and full-length version of Hamlet was first published, after which no new authorized “Shakespeare” plays were printed for nineteen years, until the First Folio of his dramatic works in 1623.     

"The Compleat Gentleman" by Henry Peacham, 1622

In 1622, just one year before the folio, the same Henry Peacham published a treatise entitled The Compleat Gentleman, in which he calls the Elizabethan reign a “golden age” that produced poets “whose like are hardly to be hoped for in any succeeding age.”  With that he lists those “who honored Poesie [poetry] with their pens and practice” in this order:

Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spenser, Master Samuel Daniel, with sundry others whom (together with those admirable wits yet living and so well-known) not out of envy, but to avoid tediousness, I overpass.” [My emphasis]

Ben Jonson and George Chapman were “still living” and “well-known” as writers in 1616, so Peacham did not name them – but although William Shakspere of Stratford on Avon had died back in 1616, The Complete Gentleman is utterly silent when it comes to “William Shakespeare,” the writer to whom the greatest credit must be given for that “golden age” of Queen Elizabeth; and at the head of the list, where the name of the Bard of Avon should be expected, he placed Oxford’s name instead.

Henry Peacham (circa 1578-1644) must have known that Oxford and “Shakespeare” were one and the same.

Louis P. Benezet, Chairman of the Department of Education at Dartmouth College, wrote in 1945 that the above paragraph “contains one of the best keys to the solution of the Shakespeare Mystery.”

A sketch of a scene of "Titus Andronicus" in 1595, apparently by Peacham when he was seventeen

And it appears that Peacham had been interested in the theatrical world early on, because a surviving sketch of a scene of Titus Andronicus, thought to have been made in 1595, was signed “Henricus Peacham” – generally identified as the man who would go on to produce Minerva Britanna of 1612 and The Compleat Gentleman of 1622.

Peacham would have been about seventeen when he drew the sketch.  In the scene, Queen Tamora is pleading for the lives of her two sons; at right is Aaron the Moor, gesturing with his sword.

Oxford's arms with the blue boar on top

Oh, yes – in Minerva, one of the emblems shows a boar, which plays a crucial role in Ovid’s story of Venus and Adonis as well as in Shakespeare’s poem of that name, published in 1593; and the boar was also Oxford’s heraldic symbol.

One of the Emblems of "Minerva Britanna" -- about "Venus and Adonis" featuring the Boar

Below the emblem Peacham writes, “Who liketh best to live in Idleness” – and in an early poem by Oxford in The Paradise of Dainty Devices in 1576 he wrote:

That never am less idle lo, than when I am alone

Was Henry Peacham bringing “Shakespeare” and Oxford together on the same page?

In any case, such is Reason No. 18 in terms of evidence that Oxford was Shakespeare.

The two English stanzas read this way [modern spelling]:

I much did muse why Venus could not brook [break]

The savage Boar and Lion cruel fierce,

Since Kings and Princes have such pleasure took

In hunting: ‘cause a Boar did pierce

Her Adon fair, who better liked the sport,

Then spends his days in wanton pleasure’s court.

Which fiction though devised by Poet’s brain,

It signifies unto the Reader this:

Such exercise Love will not entertain,

Who liketh best, to live in Idleness:

The foe to virtue, Canker of the Wit,

That brings a thousand miseries with it.

%d bloggers like this: