“A King of Infinite Space” – No. 78 of 100 Reasons why Oxford was “Shakespeare”

"Were I a king I could command content..." Edward de Vere

“Were I a king I could command content…”
Edward de Vere

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space,” Hamlet cries out; and although he adds the caveat that this would be true “were it not that I have bad dreams,” his point is that, yes, we do have the potential to deal with terrible suffering by retreating from the world – into a nutshell, as the Prince puts it – and by ruling over the vast kingdom of the mind.

Hamlet does have the ability to endure “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” by using his sovereign power of thought. In the circumstances of the play, of course, he has literally been deprived of the crown by his uncle; at this time he cannot be the King of Denmark, but he can always be the king of his limitless mind.

"Lo thus I triumph like a king, "Content with that my mind doth bring"

“Lo thus I triumph like a king,
“Content with that my mind doth bring”

This theme appears elsewhere in writings attributed to both “Shakespeare” and Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), with frequent appearances of similar words such as “king” or “kingdom” and “mind” and “content” or “contented.” In 3 Henry VI (3.1) for example the King, in disguise, meets up with two Keepers who wonder why he talks like a king:

KEEPER: Say, what art thou that talk’st of kings and queens?
HENRY VI: More than I seem, and less than I was born to:
A man at least, for less I should not be;
And men may talk of kings, and why not I?
KEEPER: Ay, but thou talk’st as if thou wert a king.
HENRY: Why, so I am – in mind; and that’s enough.
KEEPER: But, if thou be a king, where is thy crown?
HENRY: My crown is in my heart, not on my head;
Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen: my crown is called content:
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.

No. 78 of 100 reasons to conclude that Oxford used the pen name “Shakespeare” is that he expressed the same basic ideas in similar combinations of words. The earl stopped putting his own name on any of his writings after age twenty-six in 1576, the year that The Paradise of Dainty Devices was first published (probably by his doing); but even by then his poems (or, rather, songs) often reflect the mind of Hamlet.

One such poem (“My mind to me a kingdom is”), actually a song, is often attributed (for no good reason) to Edward Dyer (1540-1607); but it’s nonetheless subscribed “Earle of Oxfenforde” in the Rawlinson manuscripts. The words were set to music under the title “In praise of a contented mind” by the great contemporary composer William Byrd (c. 1540-1623), with whom Oxford was associated. And Steven W. May cites it in Studies in Philology (1980) and The Elizabethan Courtier Poets (1999) as “possibly” by Oxford (although it seems to me that he thinks the case for him is definite):

My mind to me a kingdom is,
Such perfect joy therein I find,
That it excels all other bliss
That world affords or grows by kind;
Though much I want which most men have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave …

Content I live, this is my state,
I seek no more than may suffice…
Lo thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring…

That verse-song might as well have been penned by Hamlet himself! It comes from the same sensibility, with the same note of defiance.
Steven May assigns the following verse to Oxford without qualification:

Were I a king I could command contentWere I obscure unknown should be my cares,
And were I dead no thought should me torment,
Nor words, nor wrongs, nor loves, nor hopes, nor fears;
A doubtful choice of these things one to crave,
A Kingdom or a cottage or a grave.

In this case there is the same preoccupation with the lack of kingship, echoing lines spoken by the king in Richard II:

What must the king do now? Must he submit?
The king shall do it. Must he be deposed?
The king shall be contented
And my large kingdom for a little grave,
A little little grave, an obscure grave…

Oxford began signing his letters with a “crown signature” in November 1569 when he was nineteen; he stopped using it after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth on April 28, 1603, with the Tudor dynasty officially no more. Did he think of himself a rightful king deprived of his crown? That provocative signature would ordinarily get a nobleman in big trouble — the way Oxford’s uncle, the Earl of Surrey, had been imprisoned and executed by Henry VIII (just before the king’s death in February 1547) for provocatively altering his coat of arms. Why Oxford never got in trouble for his highly suggestive signature is an open question…

Sonnet 114 by “Shakespeare” has these lines:

Or whether doth my mind, being crown’d with yoU,
Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery?…
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up…

The anonymous verse publication Willobie His Avisa (1594) comes to its end with a long poem “The Praise of a Contented Mind” signed Ever or Never, one of Edward de Vere’s early pen names, concluding:

Of all the brave resounding words, which God to man hath lent,
This soundeth sweetest in mine ear, to say: I am content.

Oxford was a member of the House of Lords, where “Content” or “Not Content” were the formal expressions of assent or dissent (equivalent to “Aye” or “No” in the House of Commons); but in Willobie, as in works attributed to both Oxford and “Shakespeare,” the phrase “I am content” is an expression of inner peace despite the experience of painful loss — in other words, Hamlet has learned to travel “out of body” to some other dimension that may actually be the realm of madness, as he tells Laertes:

HAMLET: What I have done
That might your nature, honor and exception
Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness.
Was’t Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet.
If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away,
And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes,
Then Hamlet does it not. Hamlet denies it.
Who does it then? His madness.

In effect he becomes split apart, resulting in an appearance on the surface that’s very different from what is going on inside him, mentally and emotionally:

OXFORD: To entertain my thoughts, and there my hap to moan,
That never am less idle lo, than when I am alone.

OXFORD: I am not as I seem to be,
Nor when I smile I am not glad…

My mind to me a kingdom is
[song lyrics]

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
That world affords or grows by kind.
Though much I want which most men have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely pomp, no wealthy store,
No force to win the victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to feed each gazing eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall.
For why my mind doth serve for all.

I see how plenty suffers oft,
How hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that those that are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all;
They get with toil, they keep with fear.
Such cares my mind could never bear.

Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice;
I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look what I lack my mind supplies;
Lo, thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring.

I little have, and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have,
And I am rich with little store.
They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;
They lack, I leave, they pine, I live.

I laugh not at another’s loss;
I grudge not at another’s gain:
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
My state at one doth still remain.
I fear no foe, nor fawning friend;
I loathe not life, nor dread my end.

Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,
Their wisdom by their rage of will,
Their treasure is their only trust;
And cloaked craft their store of skill.
But all the pleasure that I find
Is to maintain a quiet mind.

My wealth is health and perfect ease;
My conscience clear my chief defense;
I neither seek by bribes to please,
Nor by deceit to breed offense.
Thus do I live; thus will I die.
Would all did so as well as I!

(My emphases are added above.)

Edward de Vere’s “Crown” Signature – and More

Over the years many Oxfordians have been mystified by what appears to be a “crown signature” that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford used at age nineteen at the end of a letter to his guardian William Cecil (the future Lord Burghley) on November 24, 1569.

Edward de Vere's "crown" signature that he used on letters to William and Robert Cecil from 1569 until the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603

Edward de Vere's "crown" signature that he used on letters to William and Robert Cecil from 1569 until the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603

He referred to himself as “Edward Oxenford” and continued to use the same crown-shaped signature on letters to William and Robert Cecil for more than three decades until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, after which he reverted to a different form of signature.

What did it signify?  Why did he stop using it after the Queen died?  Couldn’t such a signature have amounted to a claim that he deserved to be a King or at least a King Consort? Was he taunting both Cecils, father and son, with extremely sensitive information of which they were aware?  Otherwise, couldn’t they have accused him of treason?  What do you think?

In Oxford’s letter of November 1569 he requests Cecil’s permission to take part in the military campaign against the uprising of the powerful Catholic earls in the north of England.  He reminds the chief minister that “heretofore you have given me your good word to have me see the wars and services in strange and foreign places,” but that Cecil had been unable to “obtain me license of the Queen’s Majesty.”

“Now you will do me so much honour,” he adds, “as that by your purchase of my License I may be called to the service of my prince and country as at this present troublous time a number are.”

“If your father will do me any honour” – 1 Henry IV, 5.4

“I come to thee for charitable license” – Henry V, 4.7

“That in your country’s service drew your swords” – Titus Andronicus, 1.1

“And showed how well you love your prince and country” – 2 Henry VI, 4.9

“But in this troublous time, what’s to be done?” – 3 Henry VI, 2.1

“So are a number more” – 2 Henry IV, 3.2

The following spring Oxford was allowed to accompany the Earl of Sussex as the campaign was winding down and they pursued the fleeing rebels and their allies into Scotland.

A terrified Elizabeth commanded barbarous reprisals, to the point where some 90 fortified castles were razed and 300 villages were savagely pillaged and destroyed and 800 captives were hanged — and we are left to wonder about how this harsh reality of war affected the young man who, more than two decades later, at age forty-three in 1593, would adopt the warrior-like pen name “Shakespeare” on his dedications to nineteen-year-old Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, his son by the Queen who deserved by blood to succeed her on the throne.

PS – The lines from the plays with matching words or phrases come from the magnificent book SHAKESPEARE REVEALED IN OXFORD’S LETTERS by William Plumer Fowler, Peter E. Randall, Publisher, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1986 — one of the great Oxfordian works, with 872 pages showing how Edward de Vere’s letters are filled with Shakespearean language and unique Shakespearean forms of expression.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Fowler a few years before he died, in his nineties, and he recited Sonnet 33 while expressing his belief that Southampton was the son of Oxford and the Queen.  A retired lawyer and recognized poet, he was a graduate of Roxbury Latin School, Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, not to mention that he had been an ardent Stratfordian and, for twelve years, president of the Shakespeare Club of Boston!

Now, there was a man who trusted his head and his heart, his mind and his gut instincts; and there, I might add, was a man of courage.

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