Re-posting No. 10 of “100 Reasons” for Oxford’s Authorship of the Shakespeare Works – “Hamlet’s Book”

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.

The book Hamlet carries on stage and reads during the play has been identified by scholars as De Consolatione, by the Italian mathematician and physician Girolamo Cardano a.k.a. Jerome Cardan (1501-1576), and its English translation was published for the first time upon the orders of the passionate, enthusiastic, 23-year-old Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, who financed the printing as well.

Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576)

The first London edition appeared under the heading Cardanus Comforte translated into English and published by commandment of the right honorable the Earl of Oxenford, Anno Domini 1573. Signaling his intention henceforth to devote himself primarily to literature, Edward de Vere also contributed a prefatory letter and poem in honor of the translator, his friend Thomas Bedingfield.

The earliest identification of Cardanus’ Comforte with Hamlet apparently came from Francis Douce in 1839, writing, “Whoever will take the trouble of reading the whole of Cardanus as translated by Bedingfield will soon be convinced that it had been perused by Shakspeare.”  [Yep, back then they often spelled the name as it generally appeared in Stratford.]

“This seems to be the book which Shakespeare placed in the hands of Hamlet,” Joseph Hunter wrote of Cardanus Comforte in 1845, citing passages that “seem to approach so near to the thoughts of Hamlet that we can hardly doubt that they were in the Poet’s mind when he put [certain speeches] into the mouth of his hero.”

In the first quarto of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in 1603, just before the prince launches into “To be or not to be,” the king sees him “poring upon a book” — suggesting that originally Hamlet was to be holding the book while delivering that famous soliloquy, which is virtually a poetical paraphrase of it.  Examples (with my emphases) follow.

CARDAN: “In holy scripture, death is not accounted other than sleep, and to die is said to sleep … better to follow the counsel of Agathius, who right well commended death, saying that it did not only remove sickness and all other grief, but also, when all other discommodities of life did happen to man often, it never would come more than once … Seeing, therefore, with such ease men die, what should we account of death to be resembled to anything better than sleep … Most assured it is that such sleep be most sweet as be most sound, for those are the best wherein like unto dead men we dream nothing.  The broken sleeps, the slumber, the dreams full of visions, are commonly in them that have weak and sickly bodies.”

HAMLET:To die, to sleep – no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to: ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.  To die, to sleep — to sleep, perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause.”

Hardin Craig (1897-1968)

The resemblances, Hardin Craig wrote in 1934, are in fact “more numerous and of a more fundamental character than even Hunter seems to have realized.”  Indeed it may be said “without exaggeration,” he continued, “that Cardanus Comfort “is pre-eminently ‘Hamlet’s book,’ since the philosophy of Hamlet agrees to a remarkable degree with that of Cardano.”

Craig cited “a number of even more striking agreements” between Hamlet and Cardan, for example:

CARDAN: “For there is nothing that doth better or more truly prophecy the end of life, than when a man dreams that he doth travel and wander into far countries … and that he travels in countries unknown without hope of return…”

HAMLET: “But that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns…”

Hardin Craig found not only parallels to Hamlet’s speeches but clarifications of their meaning; for example:

CARDAN: “Only honesty and virtue of mind doth make a man happy, and only a coward and corrupt conscience do cause thine unhappiness.”

HAMLET: “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pitch and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.”

Previously most scholars had interpreted Hamlet’s use of “conscience” as a “sense of right and wrong,” but Hardin Craig’s reading of Cardanus’ Comfort in Bedingfield’s 1573 translation revealed that Hamlet is referring not to moral scruples about suicide, but, rather, to lack of virtue.  In speaking of “virtue” both Cardano and Hamlet mean the power to find remedies for our ills within ourselves; our innate capacity to exercise fortitude and control our minds; and both also use “virtue” to mean our ability to act in response to the calamities of life.

CARDAN: “The life of man must not be accounted long or short in respect of his years.  The life of all mortal men is but short, because with death it shall be most certainly ended.  It is virtue and worthy acts that make the life long, and idleness that shortens thy days.”

HAMLET: (Taking the above thought and rendering it anew in his words): “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.  If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”

“Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is steeped in the philosophy of Cardanus’ Comforte,” Charles Beauclerk writes in his current book Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom, “and shot through with quotations and reminiscences from the work … [Hamlet’s] praise of Horatio’s ability to accept triumph and adversity with equal indifference (‘Give me that man that is not passion’s slave…’) is a masterful summation of Cardan’s recipe for a contented life.  Hamlet gives the speech just before he puts on The Mousetrap in front of the king and queen, highlighting the fact that through theater he achieves dispassion, which is, in Cardan’s view, essential to the clear and contented mind.  In other words, by choosing the appropriate role and playing it with understanding, we make peace with our lot.  Thus Cardanus’ Comforte gives us an insight into the way Shakespeare used theater as a means of coming to terms with his fate.”

Here are some of the comments made by Charles Wisner Barrell in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly of July 1946:

“AMONG THE MANY revealing circumstances that identify the poet-dramatist Earl of Oxford as the personality behind the pen-name of ‘William Shakespeare’ none is more telling than the fact that books which are intimately associated with Oxford’s intellectual development are clearly traceable in the great plays and poems. There are more than a dozen such books—amply certified as unquestionable Shakespearean source material—which contemporary records show the Earl owned, or which were publicly dedicated to him. Many others were written by his personal friends, relatives or known proteges.

“One of these key exhibits which Lord Oxford took a personal hand in bringing to the attention of Elizabethan readers in the year 1573 is a small blackletter translation from the Latin which bears the title of ‘Cardanus Comforte’….

“The human sympathy which Cardan expresses in this one passage is typical of his general out look. By the same token, it is also typical of Shakespeare who rarely fails to give even his deepest-dyed villains opportunity to air their grievances against fate.  Comfort, consolation and their derivatives are words for which the Bard displays a significant partiality….

“Cardan’s philosophy of consolation which made such a deep impression upon Shakespeare owes, in turn, a joint debt to Socrates. Plato, Catullus and Marcus Aurelius, but is shot through with the lively and realistic questioning of an active participant in the Revival of Learning. Wisdom and Wit go forward hand in hand. Neither does Cardan scorn to pause by the broad highway every now and then to chant a snatch of poetry appropriate to some phase of his commentary on the human journey…

“It speaks well for the character and mental proclivities of the young Earl of Oxford that he had encouraged or ‘commanded’ Bedingfield to the accomplishment of this work of permanent, cosmopolitan interest. The situation, however, is all of a piece with Oxford’s recorded career as an inspiring leader and generous, supporter of so many of the scholars and literary innovators whose works are clearly reflected in the deep well of Shakespeare’s knowledge.”

Oxford’s connection to the language and themes of Cardanus’ Comforte ran deep in his veins, as they did in Shakespeare’s — adding one more link in the chain of evidence that the two were one and the same.

This “reason” is now No. 8 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.

(See this essay by William Ray)

Many Oxfordians over the past near-century have made enormous contributions to the scholarship related to Oxford’s sponsorship of Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus’ Comforte – among them J. Thomas Looney, B. M. Ward, Percy Allen, Ruth Miller, Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn, Charlton Ogburn Jr., Roger Stritmatter and Joseph Sobran.

Here are some other links relevant to Reason No. 10:

FRANCIS DOUCE – Illustrations of Shakespeare and Ancient Manners, 1839

JOSEPH HUNTER – New Illustrations of Shakespeare, 1845

LILY B. CAMPBELL – Hamlet, A Tragedy of Grief, Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes, 1930

HARDIN CRAIG – Hamlet’s Book, 1934

CHARLES BEAUCLERK – Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom, 2010

Reason No. 11 (Part Three of Three) of 100 Reasons Why I Believe Oxford was “Shakespeare” — More on Oxford’s Public Letter for “Hamlet’s Book”

“I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests … further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity … and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use … What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others … So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion … “ – Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, in his prefatory letter to Thomas Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte in 1573 from Italian into English.

Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) the Italian philosopher and author of "Cardanus Comforte," was still alive when Oxford was in Italy during 1575-1576

The 23-year-old earl created an elaborate “excuse” for publishing the work despite his friend’s wish that he refrain from doing so.  This apology or justification was not meant to be taken seriously by the readers; rather it was a literary device that Oxford used to create an elaborate, lofty, amusing piece of writing while introducing Cardano’s work that has come to be known as the book Hamlet carries with him and reads on stage.

What Oxford produced was a piece of Elizabethan prose that Percy Allen described in the 1930’s as “one of the most gracious that even those days of exquisite writing have bequeathed to us, from the hand of a great nobleman … with its friendship that never condescends, its intimacy that is never familiar, its persuasive logic, its harmonious rhythms, its gentle and compelling charm.”  [The Life Story of Edward de Vere as “William Shakespeare” – 1932]

Here is surely the same voice we hear in the Prince of Denmark’s words, Allen noted.  Here is prose that sounds like Hamlet’s speech to the common players who arrive at the palace.  As Delia Bacon had put it in the 19th century, the author of the play must have been quite like “the subtle Hamlet of the university, the courtly Hamlet, ‘the glass of fashion and the mold of form’” – a description that perfectly fits Lord Oxford in the early 1570’s, when he was in the highest royal favor at the Court of Elizabeth.  [The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded – 1857]

Oxford and “Shakespeare” both argue that the possessor of a talent has a duty to use it, that anyone with a virtue has a responsibility to share it with others rather than hoard it for himself alone.  The earl writes that if he had failed to publish Bedingfield’s translation he would have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.”  By contrast his act of causing the work to be published is but a “trifle” to be overcome; and from “Shakespeare” we shall hear the same words within the context of the same theme in the sonnets to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton:

So the time that keeps you as my chest – Sonnet 52

Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? – Sonnet 65

But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are – Sonnet 48

But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,

And kept unused the user so destroys it;

No love toward others in that bosom sits

That on himself such murderous shame commits.  – Sonnet 9

Oxford rhetorically asks his friend to consider how it avails “a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags and never to be employed to your use?”  What good are Bedingfield’s studies if he chooses to “not participate them to others”?  Why would he want to “bury” his works “in the grave of oblivion?”

By new unfolding his imprisoned pride – Sonnet 52

Th’imprisoned absence of your liberty – Sonnet 58

Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament [“time’s best jewel”]

And only herald to the gaudy spring,

Within thine own bud buriest thy content,

And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.

Pity the world!  Or else this glutton be:

To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee – Sonnet 1

In Venus and Adonis of 1593, the goddess Venus lectures young Adonis on the same theme using the same words:

What is thy body but a swallowing grave,

Seeming to bury that posterity

Which by the rights of time thou needs must have,

If thou destroy them not in dark obscurityVenus and Adonis, lines 757-762

Thou art the grave where buried love doth live – Sonnet 31

The Tudor Rose - "That which we call a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet" - Juliet

Oxford enlarges upon his theme:

“What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit to another … What doth avail the Rose unless another took pleasure in the smell … Why should this Rose be better esteemed than that Rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other Rose?  And so it is in all other things as well as in man.  Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue through which every man desireth to be accounted of?  Then you amongst men I do not doubt but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornaments of virtue…” 

And Shakespeare more than two decades later:

What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.

But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

Lose but their show; their substance still smells sweet.

– Sonnet 5

O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem

By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!

The Rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem

For that sweet odor which doth in it live.

The Canker-blooms have full as deep a dye

As the perfumed tincture of the Roses

But for their virtue only is their show,

They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade,

Die to themselves.  Sweet Roses do not so:

Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odors made.  – Sonnet 54

Oxford writes:

“ … wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or Physician, who, though his patient in the extremity of his burning Fever, is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body …”

And Shakespeare uses the same image:

My love is as a fever longing still

For that which longer nurseth the disease,

Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,

The uncertain sickly appetite to please:

My reason, the Physician to my love…” – Sonnet 147

And finally, to choose among many such examples, Oxford anticipates one of Shakespeare’s major themes in the Sonnets printed in 1609, the power of his pen to create a “monument” for posterity:

“Again we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more then by erecting them of Tombs: Whereby when they be dead in deed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument, but with me behold it happeneth far better, for in your life time I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say in your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone.  And in your life time again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life…”

Not marble nor the gilded monuments

Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,

But you shall shine more bright in these contents

Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.

When wasteful war shall Statues overturn

And broils root out the work of masonry,

Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn

The living record of your memory.  

‘Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity

Shall you pace forth!  – Sonnet 55

Oxford and Elizabeth -- the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, carrying the Sword of State, with Queen Elizabeth the First

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,

And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,

When all the breathers of this world are dead.

You still shall live (such virtue hath my pen)

Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

– Sonnet 81

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent – Sonnet 107

So that’s it for No. 11 of 100 reasons why I believe Oxford wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare.

But I’m just warming up, so stay tuned!

(Significant work on Oxford’s public letter to Bedingfield has been done by many Oxfordians including, for example, Gwynneth Bowen in the Shakespearean Authorship Review [England] of spring 1967, reprinted online in Mark Alexander’s Shakespeare Authorship Sourcebook and also in So Richly Spun: Volume 5 of Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare , edited by Dr. Paul Altrocchi and yours truly.  Also, as mentioned previously, Joseph Sobran included an essay on the letter in an appendix to his book Alias Shakespeare in 1997.)

Reason No. 11 (Part Two): Oxford’s Dedicatory Letter is Filled with Words, Thoughts and Expressions to be Used by “Shakespeare”

The Oxford Universal Dictionary cites “Shakespeare” as the first person to write “persuade” and “murdered” as he used those words here:

“… your king … sends me a paper to persuade me patience?” – 3 Henry VI

“’Glamis hath murdered sleep…’” – Macbeth  

But Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford had used “persuade” and “murdered” in those same ways much earlier, when he was twenty-three, within his dedicatory letter to the translator of Cardanus Comfortein 1573:

“And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests.”

"The Mysterious William Shakespeare" (1984, 1992) by Charlton Ogburn Jr.

Charlton Ogburn Jr. reported these findings in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984), supporting the theory that Oxford himself was the author of 3 Henry VI and Macbeth, in which case he was simply using “persuade” and “murdered” as he had done years before.   Centuries later “Shakespeare” would be credited with creating those word usages without anyone noticing that in fact it was Edward de Vere who had created them.

The above is just a tiny example of what the world will discover once Oxford and “Shakespeare” are recognized as one and the same man.

William Plumer Fowler’s magnum opus,  Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters (1986), will one day be recognized as a major contribution to studies of Shakespearean authorship; and most of the examples cited below are taken from that important work of 872 pages.

Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford's Letters (1986) by William Plumer Fowler

Following is the first paragraph of Oxford’s prefatory dedication addressed “To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s gentlemen pensioners.”   I have underlined words and phrases that will appear in the plays, poems and sonnets to be published under the “Shakespeare” name two or three decades after 1573:

After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same, that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man, to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

Oxford: “After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield…”

Shakespeare: “Have you perused the letters from the pope” – 1 Henry VI, 5.1.1

Oxford: “…finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt…”

Shakespeare: “I cannot choose but pity her” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 4.4.77

Oxford: “… whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book.”

Shakespeare: “I’ll force thee to yield to my desire” – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 5.4.59

Shakespeare: “We’ll execute your purpose” – Troilus and Cressida, 3.3.50

Shakespeare (Following the same sentence construction used above by Oxford): “Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles” – Hamlet, 3.1.55

Oxford: “For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little.”

Shakespeare: “For Polixenes, with who I am accused, I do confess” – The Winter’s Tale, 3.2.62

Shakespeare: “You … have misdemeaned yourself, and not a little” – Henry VIII, 5.3.14

Oxford: “But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind…”

Shakespeare: “My lord, I have considered in my mind” – Richard III, 4.2.83

Oxford: “… of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work.”

Shakespeare: “So you do condescend to help me now” – 1 Henry IV, 5.3.17

Shakespeare: “In strange concealments, valiant as a lion” – 1 Henry IV, 3.1.166

Shakespeare: “A little of that worthy work performed” – Coriolanus, 2.2.45

Oxford: “Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same…”

Shakespeare: “I profit in the knowledge of myself” – Twelfth Night, 5.1.25

(In the above lines, within a single paragraph, Oxford uses concealment, worthy and profited; and all three are echoed in a single passage of 1 Henry IV, 3.1.164-166: “In faith he is a worthy gentleman, exceedingly well read, and profited in strange concealments”)

Oxford: “…that shall comfort the afflicted …”

Shakespeare: “For this affliction has a taste as sweet as any cordial comfort” – The Winter’s Tale, 5.3.76

Oxford:  “… confirm the doubtful …”

Shakespeare: “As doubtful whether what I see be true, until confirmed” – The Merchant of Venice, 3.2.148

Oxford: “… encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man…”

Shakespeare: “Faith, I’ll bear no base mind” – 2 Henry IV, 3.2.240

Oxford: “… to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue…”

Shakespeare: “To leave for nothing all thy sum of good” – Sonnet 109, line 12

Oxford: “… whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.”

Shakespeare: “The Doll and Helen of thy noble thoughts is in base durance” – 2 Henry IV, 5.5.36

I don’t know about you, but I find this stuff impressive.  Of course it’s not proof that Oxford later became “Shakespeare,” although it might come close to proof if studies found that no other writers of the time had such a frequency of what William Plumer Fowler called “arresting parallelisms, both in thought and expression, to Shakespeare’s poetry and drama.”

Fowler (1900-1993) lived most of his life in the Little Boar’s Head District of North Hampton, New Hampshire.  An alumnus of Roxbury Latin School, Dartmouth College, and Harvard Law School, he practiced law in Boston until he was 72.  For many years he was president of the Shakespeare Club of Boston — before he became an Oxfordian.  His diverse interests included publishing several books of poetry in addition to his work on Oxford’s letters.

There’s even more to include as part of Reason No. 11, so we’ll continue next time with Part Three…

Reason No. 11 (Part One) Why Oxford was “Shakespeare”: His Prefatory Letter for “Cardanus’ Comforte” is … Shakespearean!

When J. Thomas Looney hypothesized that Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare,” he came upon Oxford’s prefatory letter for Thomas Beddingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comforte published in 1573 when Oxford was twenty-three (reprinted in 1576); and one can only imagine Looney’s amazement upon finding such self-evident support for his thesis.  Here is a letter that we might well expect to find from “Shakespeare” as a young man…

"CARDANUS Comforte, translated And Published by commaundement of the right Honourable the Earle of Oxenforde."

Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified (1920) that Oxford’s letter “gives us a glimpse into the nature of the man himself as he was in these early years.  Whatever may have been the pose he thought fit to adopt in dealing with some of the men about Elizabeth’s court, this letter bears ample testimony to the generosity and largeness of his disposition, the clearness and sobriety of his judgment, and the essential manliness of his actions and bearing towards literary men whom he considered worthy of encouragement…

“As a letter it is, of course, prose, but it is the prose of a genuine poet: its terse ingenuity, wealth of figurative speech, and even its musical quality…”

Oxford had taken the court by storm; an expert in horsemanship, he was the new champion of the Whitehall tiltyard; and already he had risen to the heights of the royal favor, amid gossip that he and the queen were lovers despite his marriage to Lord Burghley’s daughter Anne Cecil. In addition, breaking with tradition as he had done with sponsorship of The Courtier by Castiglione, the young earl was clearly England’s great champion of literature and the Italian renaissance.

John Thomas Looney (1870-1944)

Looney’s parting word on the Cardanus preface was a plea to his readers to “familiarize themselves thoroughly with the diction of this letter” and then “read the dedication of Venus and Adonis” to Southampton printed in 1593. “So similar is the style that it is hardly necessary to make any allowance for the [twenty] intervening years.”

An Oxfordian who picked up on the latter theme was Joseph Sobran (1946-2010), who, in the appendix section of Alias Shakespeare (1997), offered perceptive observations such as:

“This document unmistakably prefigures the Southampton poems of Shakespeare: the Sonnets, Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece. Written when Oxford was only twenty-three, the letter anticipates these poems in spirit, theme, image, and other details. Like those poems, it borrows, for figurative use, the languages of law, commerce, horticulture, and medicine. It speaks of publication as a duty and of literary works as tombs and monuments to their authors. It has echoes in the plays, and the points of resemblance to the Southampton poems are especially notable…

"Alias, Shakespeare" (1997) by Joseph Sobran

“Oxford’s letter is Shakespearean in a wider respect too: in its overwhelming warmth and generosity, verging on excess, yet controlled by a pleasant irony. He loves to praise, but he avoids the risk of fulsomeness by disguising praise as admiring accusation. ‘For shame!’ he says: ‘You want to hoard your own excellence, deny your virtue to the world!’  This is exactly the rhetorical strategy of Sonnets 1 through 17, using much the same language and many of the same images…”

We’ll continue in the next blog post with Part Two of Reason No. 11, but meanwhile here is Oxford’s letter in 1573 to Bedingfield in full, followed by the dedication of Venus and Adonis in 1593 to Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton:

“To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire, one of Her Majesty’s gentlemen pensioners.

“After I had perused your letters, good Master Bedingfield, finding in them your request far differing from the desert of your labor, I could not choose but greatly doubt whether it were better for me to yield you your desire, or execute mine own intention towards the publishing of your book. For I do confess the affections that I have always borne towards you could move me not a little. But when I had thoroughly considered in my mind of sundry and divers arguments, whether it were best to obey mine affections or the merits of your studies, at the length I determined it better to deny your unlawful request than to grant or condescend to the concealment of so worthy a work. Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same, that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man, to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

“And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error, to have murdered the same in the waste bottoms of my chests and better I thought it were to displease one than to displease many: further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity, as may not with a little persuasion of reason be repaired again. And herein I am forced like a good and politic captain oftentimes to spoil and burn the corn of his own country lest his enemies thereof do take advantage. For rather than so many of your countrymen should be deluded through my sinister means of your industry in studies (whereof you are bound in conscience to yield them an account) I am content to make spoil and havoc of your request, and that, that might have wrought greatly in me in this former respect, utterly to be of no effect or operation: and when you examine yourself what doth avail a mass of gold to be continually imprisoned in your bags, and never to be employed to your use? I do not doubt even so you think of your studies and delightful Muses. What do they avail, if you do not participate them to others? Wherefore we have this Latin proverb: Scire tuum nihil est, nisi te scire hoc sciat alter. What doth avail the tree unless it yield fruit unto another? What doth avail the vine unless another delighteth in the grape? What doth avail the rose unless another took pleasure in the smell?  Why should this tree be accounted better than that tree, but for the goodness of his fruit? Why should this vine be better than that vine, unless it brought forth a better grape than the other? Why should this rose be better esteemed than that rose, unless in pleasantness of smell it far surpassed the other rose?

“And so it is in all other things as well as in man. Why should this man be more esteemed than that man, but for his virtue, through which every man desireth to be accounted of?  Then you amongst men I do not doubt, but will aspire to follow that virtuous path, to illuster yourself with the ornament of virtue.  And in mine opinion as it beautifieth a fair woman to be decked with pearls and precious stones, so much more it ornifieth a gentleman to be furnished in mind with glittering virtues.

“Wherefore considering the small harm I do to you, the great good I do to others, I prefer mine own intention to discover your volume before your request to secret the same; wherein I may seem to you to play the part of the cunning and expert mediciner or physician, who, although his patient in the extremity of his burning fever is desirous of cold liquor or drink to qualify his sore thirst, or rather kill his languishing body, yet for the danger he doth evidently know by his science to ensue, denieth him the same. So you being sick of too much doubt in your own proceedings, through which infirmity you are desirous to bury and insevill your works in the grave of oblivion, yet I, knowing the discommodities that shall redound to yourself thereby (and which is more, unto your countrymen) as one that is willing to salve so great an inconvenience, am nothing dainty to deny your request.

“Again, we see if our friends be dead, we cannot show or declare our affection more than by erecting them of tombs; whereby when they be dead indeed, yet make we them live as it were again through their monument; but with me, behold, it happeneth far better, for in your lifetime I shall erect you such a monument, that as I say [in] your lifetime you shall see how noble a shadow of your virtuous life shall hereafter remain when you are dead and gone. And in your lifetime, again I say, I shall give you that monument and remembrance of your life, whereby I may declare my good will, though with your ill will as yet that I do bear you in your life.

“Thus earnestly desiring you in this one request of mine (as I would yield to you in a great many) not to repugn the setting-forth of your own proper studies, I bid you farewell. From my new country muses at Wivenghole, wishing you as you have begun, to proceed in these virtuous actions. For when all things shall else forsake us, virtue yet will ever abide with us, and when our bodies fall into the bowels of the earth, yet that shall mount with our minds into the highest heavens.

“By your loving and assured friend, E. Oxenford”

DEDICATION OF “VENUS AND ADONIS” – 1593:

“TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE Henry Wriothesley, Earle of Southampton, And Baron of Tichfield

“Right Honourable,

“I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden.  Only, if your Honour seem but pleased, I account my self highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour.  But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather: and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest.  I leave it to your Honourable survey, and your Honour to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation.

“Your Honors in all duty, William Shakespeare”

Reason No. 10 Why Oxford = Shakespeare: He Introduced the English Translation of “Hamlet’s Book”

Hamlet, reading, and Polonius

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet: Words, words, words.

The book Hamlet carries on stage and reads during the play has been identified by scholars as De Consolatione, by the Italian mathematician and physician Girolamo Cardano a.k.a. Jerome Cardan (1501-1576), and its English translation was published for the first time upon the orders of the passionate, enthusiastic, 23-year-old Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, who financed the printing as well.

Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576)

Well, now, there’s a coincidence for you…

(See this essay by William Ray and this one from Roger Stritmatter.)

The first London edition appeared under the heading Cardanus Comforte translated into English and published by commandment of the right honorable the Earl of Oxenford, Anno Domini 1573. Signaling his intention henceforth to devote himself primarily to literature, Edward de Vere also contributed a prefatory letter and poem in honor of the translator, his friend Thomas Bedingfield.

The earliest identification of Cardanus’ Comforte with Hamlet apparently came from Francis Douce in 1839, writing, “Whoever will take the trouble of reading the whole of Cardanus as translated by Bedingfield will soon be convinced that it had been perused by Shakspeare.”  [Yep, back then they often spelled the name as it generally appeared in Stratford.]

“This seems to be the book which Shakespeare placed in the hands of Hamlet,” Joseph Hunter wrote of Cardanus Comforte in 1845, citing passages that “seem to approach so near to the thoughts of Hamlet that we can hardly doubt that they were in the Poet’s mind when he put [certain speeches] into the mouth of his hero.”

In the first quarto of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in 1603, just before the prince launches into “To be or not to be,” the king sees him “poring upon a book” — suggesting that originally Hamlet was to be holding the book while delivering that famous soliloquy, which is virtually a poetical paraphrase of it.  Examples (with my emphases) follow.

CARDAN: “In holy scripture, death is not accounted other than sleep, and to die is said to sleep … better to follow the counsel of Agathius, who right well commended death, saying that it did not only remove sickness and all other grief, but also, when all other discommodities of life did happen to man often, it never would come more than once … Seeing, therefore, with such ease men die, what should we account of death to be resembled to anything better than sleep … Most assured it is that such sleep be most sweet as be most sound, for those are the best wherein like unto dead men we dream nothing.  The broken sleeps, the slumber, the dreams full of visions, are commonly in them that have weak and sickly bodies.”

HAMLET:To die, to sleep – no more; and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to: ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.  To die, to sleep — to sleep, perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause.”

Hardin Craig (1897-1968)

The resemblances, Hardin Craig wrote in 1934, are in fact “more numerous and of a more fundamental character than even Hunter seems to have realized.”  Indeed it may be said “without exaggeration,” he continued, “that Cardanus Comfort “is pre-eminently ‘Hamlet’s book,’ since the philosophy of Hamlet agrees to a remarkable degree with that of Cardano.”

Craig cited “a number of even more striking agreements” between Hamlet and Cardan, for example:

CARDAN: “For there is nothing that doth better or more truly prophecy the end of life, than when a man dreams that he doth travel and wander into far countries … and that he travels in countries unknown without hope of return…”

HAMLET: “But that the dread of something after death, the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns…”

Hardin Craig found not only parallels to Hamlet’s speeches but clarifications of their meaning; for example:

CARDAN: “Only honesty and virtue of mind doth make a man happy, and only a coward and corrupt conscience do cause thine unhappiness.”

HAMLET: “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, and enterprises of great pitch and moment with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.”

Previously most scholars had interpreted Hamlet’s use of “conscience” as a “sense of right and wrong,” but Hardin Craig’s reading of Cardanus’ Comfort in Bedingfield’s 1573 translation revealed that Hamlet is referring not to moral scruples about suicide, but, rather, to lack of virtue.  In speaking of “virtue” both Cardano and Hamlet mean the power to find remedies for our ills within ourselves; our innate capacity to exercise fortitude and control our minds; and both also use “virtue” to mean our ability to act in response to the calamities of life.

CARDAN: “The life of man must not be accounted long or short in respect of his years.  The life of all mortal men is but short, because with death it shall be most certainly ended.  It is virtue and worthy acts that make the life long, and idleness that shortens thy days.”

HAMLET: (Taking the above thought and rendering it anew in his words): “There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.  If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.”

“Shakespeare’s play Hamlet is steeped in the philosophy of Cardanus’ Comforte,” Charles Beauclerk writes in his current book Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom, “and shot through with quotations and reminiscences from the work … [Hamlet’s] praise of Horatio’s ability to accept triumph and adversity with equal indifference (‘Give me that man that is not passion’s slave…’) is a masterful summation of Cardan’s recipe for a contented life.  Hamlet gives the speech just before he puts on The Mousetrap in front of the king and queen, highlighting the fact that through theater he achieves dispassion, which is, in Cardan’s view, essential to the clear and contented mind.  In other words, by choosing the appropriate role and playing it with understanding, we make peace with our lot.  Thus Cardanus’ Comforte gives us an insight into the way Shakespeare used theater as a means of coming to terms with his fate.”

Here are some of the comments made by Charles Wisner Barrell in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly of July 1946:

“AMONG THE MANY revealing circumstances that identify the poet-dramatist Earl of Oxford as the personality behind the pen-name of ‘William Shakespeare’ none is more telling than the fact that books which are intimately associated with Oxford’s intellectual development are clearly traceable in the great plays and poems. There are more than a dozen such books—amply certified as unquestionable Shakespearean source material—which contemporary records show the Earl owned, or which were publicly dedicated to him. Many others were written by his personal friends, relatives or known proteges.

“One of these key exhibits which Lord Oxford took a personal hand in bringing to the attention of Elizabethan readers in the year 1573 is a small blackletter translation from the Latin which bears the title of ‘Cardanus Comforte’….

“The human sympathy which Cardan expresses in this one passage is typical of his general out look. By the same token, it is also typical of Shakespeare who rarely fails to give even his deepest-dyed villains opportunity to air their grievances against fate.  Comfort, consolation and their derivatives are words for which the Bard displays a significant partiality….

Cardan’s philosophy of consolation which made such a deep impression upon Shakespeare owes, in turn, a joint debt to Socrates. Plato, Catullus and Marcus Aurelius, but is shot through with the lively and realistic questioning of an active participant in the Revival of Learning. Wisdom and Wit go forward hand in hand. Neither does Cardan scorn to pause by the broad highway every now and then to chant a snatch of poetry appropriate to some phase of his commentary on the human journey…

“It speaks well for the character and mental proclivities of the young Earl of Oxford that he had encouraged or ‘commanded’ Bedingfield to the accomplishment of this work of permanent, cosmopolitan interest. The situation, however, is all of a piece with Oxford’s recorded career as an inspiring leader and generous, supporter of so many of the scholars and literary innovators whose works are clearly reflected in the deep well of Shakespeare’s knowledge.”

The next installment of the “100 Reasons” will take up Oxford’s prefatory letter, a “document of considerable importance,” the Oxfordian researcher Ruth Miller noted, adding, “It gives the creative credo of a young but rapidly maturing writer.  It forms a part of that ‘long foreground somewhere’ which is missing in the early manhood of Stratford’s William.  It is a key exhibit in matching the shadowy figure of the Earl of Oxford to the silhouette of ‘Shakespeare.’”

Oxford’s connection to the language and themes of “Cardanus’ Comforte” ran deep in his veins, as they did in Shakespeare’s — adding one more link in the chain of evidence, I’d say, that the two were one and the same.

Many Oxfordians over the past near-century have made enormous contributions to the scholarship related to Oxford’s sponsorship of Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus’ Comforte – among them J. Thomas Looney, B. M. Ward, Percy Allen, Ruth Miller, Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn, Charlton Ogburn Jr and Joseph Sobran.  Reason No. 11 will include a list of online links to some of their work in this regard; meanwhile, here are some links relevant to Reason No. 10:

FRANCIS DOUCE – Illustrations of Shakespeare and Ancient Manners, 1839

JOSEPH HUNTER – New Illustrations of Shakespeare, 1845

LILY B. CAMPBELL – Hamlet, A Tragedy of Grief, Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes, 1930

HARDIN CRAIG – Hamlet’s Book, 1934

CHARLES BEAUCLERK – Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom, 2010

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