The Poet-Playwright George Chapman Knew the Correct Answer to the Authorship Question – Reason 77 of 100 Why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

The scholar-poet-playwright George Chapman (c. 1559-1634), translator of Homer, was well acquainted with Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who was about a decade his senior. Aware that Oxford’s creation of the character Hamlet was essentially a self-portrait, the younger man knew very well the correct answer to the Shakespeare authorship question; and after the earl’s recorded death in 1604, when the full Hamlet was printed in quarto, Chapman made every attempt to tell the rest of the world.

George Chapman c. 1559 - 1634

George Chapman
c. 1559 – 1634

The written testimony of George Chapman is No. 77 of 100 reasons to conclude that Edward de Vere was the author “William Shakespeare” – and this evidence comes so close to the proverbial “smoking gun” that I might wonder why I waited till now to include it.

It appears that Chapman was obsessed with Edward de Vere.

Let us begin with his play The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois, written about 1607 and published six years later. Chapman set it within recent French history (of the 1570s) while modeling his fictional main character, Cleremont D’Ambois, after Prince Hamlet – in this case seeking to avenge the murder of his brother, Bussy, reluctantly and long delaying it. Some of the dialogue is straight out of Hamlet, such as in a scene about the appearance of the dead brother’s ghost:

GUISE: Why stand’st thou still thus, and appliest thine ears and eyes to nothing?
CLERMONT: Saw you nothing here?
GUISE: Thou dream’st awake now; what was here to see?
CLERMONT: My brother’s spirit, urging his revenge.
GUISE: Thy brother’s spirit! Pray thee mock me not!
CLERMONT: No, by my love and service.

One speech in the play, familiar to most Oxfordians, occurs when Clermont describes the real-life figure of Edward de Vere – virtually tying him to Shakespeare, author of Hamlet. Clermont recalls an event that must have actually occurred in 1576 when a teenage Chapman “overtook” [caught up to] the twenty-six-year-old earl as he was returning to England from the Continent:

I overtook, coming from Italy,
In Germany, a great and famous earl
Of England, the most goodly fashioned man
I ever saw; from head to foot in form
Rare and most absolute; he had a face
Like one of the most ancient honored Romans,
From whence his noblest family was derived;
He was beside of spirit passing great,
Valiant and learned, and liberal as the sun,
Spoke and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects,
Or of the discipline of public weals;
And ‘twas the Earl of Oxford …

It’s an amazing homage that bears close reading. Oxford was “the most goodly fashioned man I ever saw,” indicating Chapman’s knowledge of the earl’s earlier pen name Ever or Never. Edward de Vere was “of spirit passing great,” meaning surpassingly great, as well as “valiant and learned, and liberal as the sun.”

The earl was “liberal” because, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, he was steeped in the arts and science and “directed to general intellectual enlargement and refinement … free in bestowing; bountiful, generous, open-hearted … free from restraint, free in speech or action … free from narrow prejudice … open-minded.” Also he “spoke and writ sweetly” – that is, Clermont identifies him as not only a talker but a writer, an author who wrote “sweetly,” which, as Barbara Burris observes, is “wording that brings to mind the ‘sugared sonnets’ and references to Shakespeare as ‘honey-tongued.’”

Clermont’s speech marks an “extremely rare occurrence in which a nobleman is actually named on stage,” writes Burris, who also observes, “Chapman made sure that he highlighted the Oxford connection … By openly describing and naming Oxford in this play, Chapman made it clear that he not only knew who really wrote Hamlet, but that the original character of Hamlet was modeled on Oxford himself.”

But Chapman was conflicted about Oxford. On the one hand he had a “negative and grudging” attitude toward the noble poet, Burris notes, and on the other hand he admired him. Chapman himself was apparently quite different from the earl in his personality, viewed by some as “of most reverend aspect, religious and temperate, qualities rarely meeting in a poet.” And while Clermont’s story is based on that of Hamlet, he is nonetheless the opposite in manner: calm, austere, stoical – Chapman’s preference.

Persecution of the French Huguenots (Leloir, 1904)

Persecution of the French Huguenots
(Leloir, 1904)

So when Clermont continues his speech about Edward de Vere, he begins to switch gears by describing Oxford’s refusal to review the army of Duke Casimir, a German Calvinist prince and leader of Huguenot [French Protestant] forces against the Catholic troops of Henri III. Oxford had left Venice in March 1576, traveling via Milan and Lyons to Paris on his way to the English Channel and home. For the entire month the two opposing armies in France’s current religious war were camped at Moulin in central France, according to researcher Nina Green, who adds that very likely Oxford passed very near Casimir’s six thousand troops on the way.

And being offered
At that time by Duke Casimir the view
Of his right royal army then in field,
Refused it, and no foot was moved to stir
Out of his own free fore-determined course.
I, wondering at it, asked for it his reason,
It being an offer so much for his honour.
He, all acknowledging, said ‘twas not fit
To take those honors that one cannot quit.

“’Twas answered like the man you have described,” replies Renel, a Marquesse, considering that Oxford’s response was appropriate for a proud nobleman who would not accept any honors he did not deserve. But Chapman, again through Clermont, delivers his own negative judgment of Oxford’s startling behavior:

O, ‘tis a vexing sight to see a man
Out of his way, stalk proud, as he were in;
Out of his way to be officious,
Observant, wary, serious and grave,
Fearful and passionate, insulting, raging,
Labor with iron flails to thresh down feathers
Flitting in air.

Sounds like Hamlet!

George Chapman’s first published poem, The Shadow of Night (1594), reflects his membership in the contemporary group that became known as the School of Night — learned men such as playwright Christopher Marlowe, astronomer-mathematician Thomas Harriott, writer Thomas Nashe, Sir Walter Raleigh and, yes, the poet-playwright Edward de Vere.

Regardless of his reputation as a strict moralist, Chapman was known for comedy as well as serious stuff; and one of his earliest works, An Humorous Day’s Mirth, was a huge comedy hit played all during 1597 by the Admiral’s Men at the Rose. In that work, Oxfordian author Richard Whalen writes, “Chapman seems to be depicting Oxford in the character of Lemot, a witty courtier who controls the action of the play.”

As Whalen notes, “Lemot” is French for “the word” and suggests that Lemot is a writer as well as a courtier and a wit. A female character addresses Lemot as “Monsieur Verbum” and he replies, “Why, ‘tis a green bum, ver is green and you know what a bum is, I am sure of that.” Whalen goes on to suggest that the punning on “ver” indicates “Vere” or Oxford as “the punning courtier, sometime jester, and recognized writer at Elizabeth’s court.”

In 1605, when Chapman collaborated with Ben Jonson and John Marston on the comic drama Eastward Ho!, that play contained no less than five allusions to Hamlet. [The three authors were briefly imprisoned, because of perceived slurs against the Scots who had come to court with King James.] One of the characters is “Hamlet, a footman” and another is “William Touchstone,” who has a daughter named “Gertrude” – the name of Hamlet’s mother. Other characters are related to Oxford himself, such as “Golding,” the name of Edward de Vere’s uncle, Arthur Golding, who is credited with translating Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Meanwhile, as if all the above were not enough, it appears that the title character in another Chapman play, Monsieur d’Olive, also represents Oxford! The Elizabethan Authors website of Barboura Flues and the late Robert Brazil suggests that at least one of d’Olive’s speeches represents Chapman’s recollection of Oxford’s speaking style, from personal experience:

D’OLIVE: Tush, man! I mean at my chamber, where we may take free use of ourselves; that is, drink sack, and talk satire, and let our wits run wild goose chase over court and country. I will have my chamber the rendezvous of all good wits, the shop of good words, the mint of good jests, an ordinary of fine discourse; critics, essayists, linguists, poets, and other professors of that faculty of wit, shall at certain hours I’ th’ day resort thither; it shall be a second Sorbonne…

Monsieur d’Olive, representing Oxford, slips right into Shakespeare references, such as his statement: “The weaver, sir, much like the virginal Jack, start nimbly up” – echoing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 128: “Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap.” Such deliberate attempts to link Oxford with Shakespeare bring us “almost into smoking-gun territory,” wrote Robert Brazil.

Some other facts:

* Chapman in the early 1580s was in the household of Sir Ralph Sadler, who was employed by both Queen Elizabeth and William Cecil Lord Burghley, who was Oxford’s father-in-law.

* Chapman was friends with Oxford’s daughter Susan de Vere, Countess of Montgomery, wife of one of the “incomparable pair of brethren” to whom the First Folio of Shakespeare plays was dedicated. For his translation of the Illiad, published in 1609, Chapman wrote a dedication poem to Susan de Vere – in the Shakespearean sonnet form.

* Chapman is linked to Oxford’s military cousins Francis and Horace (Horatio) Vere, known as the Fighting Veres. “Early in his career,” Whalen writes, he “described in minute detail an incident in Sir Francis Vere’s campaign in the Netherlands, while late in his career he urged the rescue of Sir Horace Vere and his troops who were besieged in Germany.” And, of course, the play Hamlet includes a soldier named Francis and another soldier, the Prince’s trusted friend, named Horatio.

This posting drew upon several sources that made it possible:

On Looking into Chapman’s Oxford by Richard Whalen (The Oxfordian, 2002)

A Golden Book, Bound Richly Up (Shakespeare Matters, Fall 2001)

George Chapman (Elizabethan Authors – Robert Brazil, Barboura Flues)

Chapman, George (Wikipedia)

Description of Oxford in “The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois” (The Oxford Authorship Site – Nina Green)

Bussy D’Ambois and The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois (Project Gutenberg online)

George Chapman (The Poetry Foundation)

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