The Earl of Southampton: Re-posting No. 28 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

One of the most compelling reasons to believe Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is the central role in the Shakespeare story played by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593, as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis, a 1200-line poem that the poet called “the first heir of my invention” in his dedication. The second appearance of “William Shakespeare” in print came a year later, with the publication of an 1800-line poem, Lucrece, again dedicated to Southampton.

The Lucrece dedication was an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the twenty-year-old earl:

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked himself to Southampton for all time.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that the Fair Youth of Shake-speares Sonnets, the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered poems printed in 1609, is also Southampton, even though he is not identified by name. Most further agree that, in the first seventeen sonnets, the poet is urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”

“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in 1984, “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer [1922] spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”

“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

  • De Vere became the first royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in 1562, under the guardianship of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), and in 1571 he entered into an arranged marriage with the chief minister’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil.
  • Henry Wriothesley became the eighth and last child of state as a boy in 1581-82, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted intense pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Cecil’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter, making the elder earl, in fact, the prospective father-in-law. Scholars generally agree that in the seventeen “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare’s tone sounds much like that of a prospective father-in-law or father urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him, although the poet never identifies or describes any specific young woman.

Lady Elizabeth Vere, who married William Stanley Earl of Derby in 1595

J. Dover Wilson writes in 1964: “What man in the whole world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married?”

Obviously, de Vere and Wriothesley both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome of this marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England, who must have had the full blessing of his sovereign Mistress.

Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”

The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”

A Notice of the Essex-Southampton Trial of Feb. 19, 1600 (1601) with Edward de Vere given prominence as a judge on the tribunal

By the time Southampton came to court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford had removed himself from active attendance. It seems that the two shared some kind of hidden story that tied them together:

= As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother. Even though their respective biological mothers were alive when their fathers died, under English law they became wards of the state, and the queen became their mother in a legal sense.

= Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.

= Oxford in the early 1590s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.

= After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford sat as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal for the treason trial of Essex and Southampton.

= The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict; there is evidence that Oxford then worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual liberation, as in Sonnet 35: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate.”

= On the night of Oxford’s recorded death on 24 June 1604, agents of the Crown arrested Southampton and returned him to the Tower, where he was interrogated all night until his release the following day.

= Henry Wriothesley and Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford (born in February 1593 to Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham) became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.” As members of the House of Lords, they often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for doing so.

On the eve of the failed rebellion led by Essex and Southampton in 1601, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s royal history play Richard II at the Globe; many historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself secured permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its scene of the deposing of the king. On the other hand, it is possible that Robert Cecil himself arranged for it, so he could then summon Essex to court and trigger the rebellion, which had actually been scheduled for a week later.

Once the rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of 8 February 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased for several years.

After Southampton was released on 10 April 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

Upon Oxford’s death in virtual obscurity, recorded as occurring on 24 June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published.

As part of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations surrounding the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival. In the days before and after the wedding, seven performances of the Bard’s plays were given. (The royal performances appear to be a memorial tribute to the playwright, rather than a tribute to a living author.) One performance was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, for King James and Queen Anne, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

After Hamlet in 1604 all publications again ceased, for four years. (King Lear was printed in 1608; Troilus and Cressida was issued in two editions during 1608-09; and Pericles appeared in 1609.) Then the silence resumed, for thirteen more years, until a quarto of Othello appeared in 1622; and finally the First Folio of thirty-six Shakespeare plays was published in 1623. Fully half of these stage works were printed for the first time; the folio included none of the Shakespeare poetry, nor any mention of Southampton or the Sonnets.

The connections between Oxford and Southampton are numerous and significant; the link between the two earls is crucial for the quest to determine the real Shakespeare.

[This post is now Reason 53 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with editorial assistance from Brian Bechtold.]

Queen Elizabeth as the Dark Lady: “Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap to kiss the tender inward of thy hand”

“Prominent among these favorites was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford … He was an agile and energetic dancer, the ideal partner for the queen, and he had a refined ear for music and was a dexterous performer on the virginals.” – Carolly Erickson, “The First Elizabeth” (1983)

How oft, when thou my music music play’st

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds

With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st

The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap           

To kiss the tender inward of thy hand…

(Emphasis added)

Queen Elizabeth's Virginal

So begins Sonnet 128, the second verse of the Dark Lady series (127-152); and with Oxford viewed as the author, it is plainly about Elizabeth I, who was fond of playing on her virginals – a musical instrument of the harpsichord family, with “jacks” or wooden shafts that rest on the ends of the keys. The presumption here is that Oxford, an expert musician, composed pieces that he and the queen would play together:

Oxford had been jealous of Sir Walter Raleigh, a “jack” who had leaped into the court’s attention in 1580, when he went to Ireland to help suppress an uprising. He soon became a favorite of the queen, and in 1587 he was knighted and appointed Captain of the Queen’s Guard.  Later he helped the government bring Essex to his tragic ending upon the failure of the Essex Rebellion and was said to gloat at the time of the earl’s execution.

“When the news was officially announced that the tragedy was over, there was a dead silence in the Privy Chamber, but the queen continued to play, and the Earl of Oxford, casting a significant glance at Raleigh, observed, as if in reference to the effect of Her Majesty’s fingers on the instrument, which was a sort of open spinet, ‘When Jacks start up, then heads go down.’ Everyone understood the bitter pun contained in this allusion.” – Agnes Strickland, “The Life of Queen Elizabeth” (1910), p. 674, citing “Fragmenta Regalia: Observations on the late Q. Elizabeth, her times and favorites,” Sir Robert Naughton (1641)

[The Monument views the chronological arrangement of the Dark Lady series as beginning with Sonnet 127 on the night of the Rebellion on February 8, 1601; in this context, Sonnet 128 would follow upon the execution of Essex a little more than two weeks later on February 25, 1601.  The placement is a perfect fit within that context of the contemporary history.]

The lines about “those Jacks that nimble leap/ To kiss the tender inward of thy hand” recall a letter from Essex to Elizabeth in 1597: “And so wishing Your Majesty to be Mistress of all that you wish most, I humbly kiss your fair hands.”

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh

Francis Bacon apparently recalled the same incident with the virginals (or perhaps one that occurred much earlier) in “Apophthegemes New and Old” (1625): “When Queen Elizabeth had advanced Raleigh, she was one day playing on the virginals, and my Lord of Oxford, & another Noble-man, stood by. It fell out so that the Ledge, before the Jacks, was taken away, so the Jacks were seen [i.e., making them visible]; My Lord of Oxford and the other Noble-man smiled, and a little whispered.  The Queen marked it, and would needs know what the matter was?  My Lord of Oxford answered that they smiled to see that ‘when Jacks went up, Heads went down.’”

The actual occasion of the incident matters little in terms of its placement in the Dark Lady series or its relationship to Sonnet 128. The point is that there is, in fact, documentary evidence that the Queen and Oxford were together while she played on the virginals and he came up with his now-famous, spontaneous quip about the leaping jacks being like Raleigh, an upstart “jack” at the royal court.  To express his bitterness at Raleigh in relation to the execution of Essex, there was no better allusion than this one.  [In addition, all recollections of the quip have the same rather obvious allusion to an execution-by-beheading.]

Sonnet 128

How oft, when thou my music music play’st

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds

With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st

The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap

To kiss the tender inward of thy hand…

Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,

At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand.

To be so tickled they would change their state

And situation with those dancing chips,

O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,

Making dead wood more blest than living lips.

Since saucy Jacks so happy are in this,

Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.

The list of ways in which Queen Elizabeth permeates the Sonnets of Shakespeare continues to grow:

1 – Sonnet 76: “Ever the Same” – the Queen’s motto in English

2 – Sonnet 25: “The Marigold” – the Queen’s flower

3 – Sonnet 131: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes” – to a monarch

4 – Sonnet 1: “Beauty’s Rose” – the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose

5 – Sonnet 107: “the Mortal Moon” – Queen Elizabeth as Diana, the chaste moon goddess

6 – Sonnet 19: “The Phoenix” – the Queen’s emblem

7 – Sonnet 151: “I Rise and Fall” – the courtier as sexual slave to his Queen

8 – Sonnet 128: “Those Jacks that Nimble Leap” – recalling the Queen at her virginals

The Dark Lady is Identified in the Sonnets as Elizabeth I of England – (1)

Elizabeth I 1533 - 1603

Elizabeth I
1533 – 1603

The Shakespeare sonnets involve three real-life individuals: the author, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford; the friend, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton; and the dark lady, Queen Elizabeth I of England.  There is a fourth character [the “rival poet”] who is not a person but, rather, Oxford’s pen name — “Shakespeare” — which he can attach publicly to Southampton while he himself must remain silent.

Oxfordians have had many candidates for the Dark Lady, but this is only because some continue to view the Sonnets as recording a “love” story rather than a political story involving Southampton’s role in the “succession crisis,” which led to his death sentence as a traitor followed by the Queen’s sparing of his life, and, after a confinement of more than two years in the Tower, his release and pardon by King James. Once this context of the Sonnets is perceived, it becomes immediately clear that the so-called dark lady must be Elizabeth, who was only “dark” or “black” because of her negative view of Southampton — her imperial “frown” that cast its shadow of shame and disgrace upon him.

Once Elizabeth is recognized as the treacherous, powerful female of the Sonnets, she can be seen being identified throughout the  sequence of Sonnets 1 to 154. Following are just two examples, rooted in documents of the time:

Elizabeth to Leicester July 19, 1586 CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

Elizabeth to Leicester
July 19, 1586
CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

“EVER THE SAME”

In Sonnet 76 the author states by way of a rhetorical question that he writes in all these lines of the sequence “still” or always “all” about just “one” topic, which is “ever the same” – the Queen’s recognized motto, Semper Eadem, which she occasionally signed in English as “ever the same.”

“Why write I still all one, ever the same…”

A good example is provided by a letter from “E. R.” (Elizabeth Regina) written on July 19, 1586 to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was acting as her lieutenant general in the Low Countries, signed, “As you know, ever the same, E.R.”  [See Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller and Mary Beth Rose: Elizabeth I: Collected Works, University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 283]

If in fact Edward de Vere is writing these words, it’s a given he’s quite aware of referring to the Queen by means of her motto. Oxford knew many things about his sovereign mistress, without question, and was incapable of using her motto without doing so deliberately.  He was recording her presence in the Sonnets and it was intentional.

Marigold Flower

Marigold Flower

“THE MARIGOLD”

In Sonnet 25 he refers quite explicitly to her Majesty as one of the “Great Princes” who can remove all glory from her favored subjects by a simple “frown” of royal disapproval – and in the process he brings in the Queen’s own flower, the marigold, again identifying her without question. (Oxford’s personal secretary John Lyly wrote in Euphues his England, dedicated to Oxford in 1580, about Elizabeth:  “She useth the marigold for her flower, which at the rising of the sunne openeth his leaves, and at the setting shutteth them…”)

“Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread,

“But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,

“And in themselves their pride lies buried,

“For at a frown they in their glory die…”

To be continued…

“Shakespeare” the Pen Name was Political!

During the first forty years of his life, Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford wrote highly successful “comedies” staged at the Elizabethan royal court.  He wrote elegant prose as well as poetry and, too, helped save the Blackfriars playhouse while actively patronizing play companies and writers.  Only after turning forty-three in 1593 did he adopt “Shakespeare” — a pen name to which, via the dedications of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, he deliberately and boldly linked nineteen-year-old Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" in 1593 to Southampton with first printing of the Shakespeare name

Dedication of “Venus and Adonis” in 1593 to Southampton with first printing of the Shakespeare name

Southampton is the only individual to whom “Shakespeare” dedicated his work.

This is the starting point for any theory that Oxford deliberately used “William Shakespeare” as the printed signature to those dedications.  It means the Earl got along for more than four decades writing anonymously or under fictional names or the names of real individuals.  Then, in the early 1590s, just when the power struggle over control of the succession to Elizabeth on the English throne had begun in earnest, and when Southampton was coming of age at court, Oxford used this military-sounding name to conjure the image of a poet shaking the spear of his pen on the dedicatee’s behalf.

In the first dedication he referred to “the world’s hopeful expectation” for Southampton, echoing the king’s image of his son Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV (3.2.36) as “the hope and expectation of thy time” — that is, as the future Henry the Fifth of England.

In the second dedication he issued an extraordinary pledge to Southampton:  “What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours.”

Here is the big dividing line for Oxfordians who wish to persuade others that Edward de Vere wrote the Shakespeare works:

Why did he use this particular pen name?

Why did he choose to adopt it on his published poems?

Why did he link it to Henry Wriothesley?

Why did he introduce the pen name in 1593 and not before?

What did he mean when he wrote that “what I have to do is yours”?

"Lucrece" Dedication 1594

“Lucrece” Dedication
1594

Was he publicly thanking the younger Earl for his financial help?  (No.)

Was he making this public proclamation to a real or prospective lover?  (No.)

There is only one correct answer — not to mention the only one that will enable Oxford’s proponents to persuade the world that he was the author.

The answer involves politics, policy and power, within the historical context of 1593 and the contemporary history that led to the succession of a foreigner, King James of Scotland, in the same way that Fortinbras of Norway arrives to claim the throne of Denmark in place of the true prince.

Oxford’s intentions were political.  He was publicly taking Southampton’s side in the deadly political end game of the Tudor dynasty.  He was putting the weight and influence of his writings as “Shakespeare” behind Southampton and his political goals … to avoid for England the tragic ending that he rendered in Hamlet.

He would continue to use “Shakespeare” in Southampton’s support until February 7, 1601, when conspirators of the coming Essex Rebellion, led by Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex and Southampton, enlisted the Lord Chamberlain’s men to play Richard II at the Globe.  Whatever the Essex camp hoped to gain by this special performance of a play dramatizing the deposition of a king, clearly their motive was political and clearly “Shakespeare” was involved.

“I am Richard the Second,” the Queen reportedly said six months after the failed Rebellion of February 8, 1601 had led to the destruction and execution of Essex and to Southampton’s death sentence followed by perpetual imprisonment.

The reason why Oxford’s authorship had to be covered up in the decades that followed?  The answer is that those in power feared that Southampton’s claim as Henry IX of England would be revealed, leading to a rising against James followed by civil war.

“Shakespeare” was political.

The Earl of Oxford, Man of the Theater – Part Three of Reason 66 Why he was “Shakespeare”

Taking an “aerial view” of Edward de Vere’s connections to the stage reveals a map of the terrain with a single major thoroughfare running through the landscape.  This unbroken line consists of the life spans of the three major acting companies linked one to the other in three successive chapters:

Chapter One: Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1573-1583)

Chapter Two: Queen Elizabeth’s Men (1583-1593)

Chapter Three: Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1594-1603)

actorsUpon the death of Queen Elizabeth on March 24, 1603 and the succession of King James, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men became the King’s Men.   Here is the basic story up to 1603 according to the three chapters:

Chapter One: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1573-1583)

During the 1570’s until 1583 the Lord Chamberlain’s Men under the Earl of Sussex brought play after play to the royal court, indicated by the keepers of the records.  Many of these were identified by Eva Turner Clarke in 1931 as early versions of dramatic works destined to be revised and issued, under new titles, as the works of “Shakespeare” in the 1590’s.

Ms. Clarke supported her identifications with extraordinary scholarship, linking events of contemporary history to characters and scenes in the Shakespeare plays.  She often noticed the different stages of revision within a given play – the way archaeologists can “read history” by the fossils or the rings within a tree trunk.  Given Edward de Vere’s intense involvement with writers and play companies, along with his great friendship with Lord Sussex, I believe that Ms. Clarke must have been largely correct: many of the first versions of future “Shakespeare” plays were initially performed for Elizabeth at Court by the Lord Chamberlain’s men under Sussex.

Chapter Two: Queen Elizabeth’s Men (1583-1593)    

Sussex died in June 1583 and that fall the Queen’s Men were formed with a dozen of the best actors from the different other companies.  Oxford lent his secretary John Lyly as stage manager and coach for performances at court; but then the Queen’s Men, often with two separate troupes, traveled around the countryside – often performing plays of royal history, geared to rousing patriotic fervor as England prepared for invasion by Philip of Spain and his armada.

Early version of Shakespeare's play of King John, performed by the Queen's Men in the 1580's

Early version of Shakespeare’s play of King John, performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s

Now that scholars are becoming more aware that early versions of Shakespearean history plays were performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s, with titles that would remain quite similar, the next logical step is to see that Edward de Vere – despite his involvement in companies under his own name – was actively behind first the Chamberlain’s Men under Sussex and then behind the Queen’s Men under the patronage of Her Majesty and Francis Walsingham of the secret service.

[Oxford’s extraordinary annual grant of a thousand pounds, begun in June 1586, was drawn from the government treasury with the same formula used for the secret service, bringing him into close alignment with the Queen’s Men from that angle as well.]

Chapter Three: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (1594-1603)

The new Lord Chamberlain’s company gave its first performances at court in the Christmas season of 1594.  It would become known to us as “Shakespeare’s Company,” given that its actors gave the initial performances of the vast majority of the Shakespearean plays.

In government records for March 1595, actors Richard Burbage and Will Kempe along with “William Shakespeare” are listed as payees of the new Chamberlain’s Men — collecting payment for those court performances the previous December.  The inclusion of “Shakespeare” in that record is highly suspicious, however, since the name had just been introduced as a poet in the dedications of Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594) to Southampton, and because the name would never again be listed a payee for the Chamberlain’s Men.

The playhouse known as the Curtain

The playhouse known as the Curtain

[After the succession of 1603 and the creation of the King’s Men, we have another story.  I believe that once King James took the throne, with Robert Cecil retaining his power behind the monarch, the government made a feeble attempt to indicate Shakespeare as an actor with the company.]

The Lord Chamberlain was Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, followed by his son George Carey, Lord Hunsdon – but these were nominal figures when it came to the running of the company.  The logical conclusion is that Oxford himself was the guiding hand of “Shakespeare’s Company” – not because of his title of Lord Great Chamberlain, but, rather, because this new group was an extension of the previous companies, first under Chamberlain Sussex and then the Queen’s Men, with Oxford having used them as the primary vehicles for his plays.

This perspective on the history requires taking that aerial view and connecting the dots to see the larger picture – which is, to put it simply, that Edward de Vere was the guiding hand behind the three great acting companies of the Elizabethan reign, all three of which were linked together to produce (1) the renaissance of English literature and drama in the 1570’s and 1580’s, followed by (2) the phenomenon of the Shakespeare works in the 1590’s.

Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s, put on some of the most dangerously political plays of the reign, yet it never got in trouble with officialdom.  Quite obviously it was receiving protection from on high.  In the 1590’s the government was moving rapidly to take control of the theater – by limiting the play companies in London to two, by restricting the use of playhouses for the drama to two, and by exercising increasingly heavy censorship that led, for example, to the bonfire of books in 1599.

It was Shakespeare’s company, also, that performed Richard II at the Globe on February 7, 1601, for conspirators of the Essex Rebellion, which erupted the following morning – yet the actors were let go after cursory questioning and the author was never summoned at all.

globe more

Meanwhile Oxford had withdrawn entirely from court life after 1590.  Remarrying in 1591, he and his new Countess (Elizabeth Trentham) moved to the village of Stoke Newington, just north of Shoreditch – the center of the London theater scene, where the Curtain playhouse would become the premier venue of Shakespeare’s Company.

“Thus we see him moving quite close to the ‘Shakespeare’ work, but never in it,” J.T. Looney wrote in 1920, describing a man who had become virtually invisible – and yet a man who, in the view here, was singularly responsible for the eruption of the Shakespearean plays in public performance, igniting the explosion of theatrical activity that remains a grand chapter, perhaps the grandest of all, in the history of the stage.

Edward de Vere emerged briefly from his retirement to serve as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal at the trial of Essex and Southampton on February 19, 1601.  He had no choice but to join the twenty-four other peers in finding both earls guilty of high treason and condemning them to death.  Essex was beheaded six days later; but Southampton, the “fair youth” of the Shakespeare sonnets, unofficially had his sentence reduced to life in prison and, two years later, in April 1603, King James granted him his freedom with a royal pardon.

Meanwhile the adult acting troupe under Oxford’s own name, which was mainly a touring group, had merged with Worcester’s company in 1602.  Even the aging Queen Elizabeth became involved in this new, expanded company, and ordered the Lord Mayor of London to allow them to play at their favorite Boar’s Head tavern.  “In August of that year the united company was acting at the Rose under Henslowe,” wrote B.M. Ward in 1928, “and among the actors we find the names of William Kempe and Thomas Haywood, the playwright.”

Will Kempe!  This was the same man listed back in 1595 as a payee of the new Lord Chamberlain’s Men, with Richard Burbage and “William Shakespeare” — and now as the Elizabethan reign draws to its close, Kempe is acting in the company patronized by the earls of Worchester and … Oxford!

I’d say that’s a fitting way to conclude this attempt to “connect the dots” and glimpse a larger picture.  All along, just beneath the surface, or standing in the wings, we find the figure of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, a man of the theater all his life.

“Last Will. & Testament” to be Launched in the United Kingdom

First Folio Pictures has announced that the Shakespeare authorship documentary Last Will. & Testament is scheduled to air in the United Kingdom on Saturday 21 April 2012 at 8:00pm on Sky Arts 2 HD.  Congratulations, folks!  Special hoorays for producer-directors Lisa Wilson and Laura Wilson Matthias … and Aaron Boyd!

Here’s some of the promotional copy:

Was Will Shakspere, the grain dealer from Stratford, really the literary icon we celebrate today?

The traditional story of a Stratford merchant writing for the London stage has held sway for centuries, but questions over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays and poems have persisted. 

Why is there no definitive evidence of authorship that dates from his lifetime? And why are there discrepancies between the alleged author’s life and the content of his work? 

Writers and critics, actors and scholars, including Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Leslie Howard, and Derek Jacobi, have struggled to reconcile England’s ‘Star of Poets’ with the glove maker’s son from Stratford. 

In Last Will. & Testament Sir Derek Jacobi leads a host of actors, academics and historians on a hunt for the truth: who was William Shakespeare?

Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,

To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light.

– William Shakespeare

The Rape of Lucrece 

Act One explores the orthodox story of William “Shakspere” of Stratford and the long-standing views held by academia.

Act Two is a testament to an alternative Shakespeare – one presented to the world in the literary works themselves and in the testimony of his most insightful doubters.

Act Three weaves together the major historical events of the late Tudor era, including the crisis of succession and the Essex revolt.

Contributors

Sir Derek Jacobi, Actor
Charles Beauclerk, Author of Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom
Prof. Roger Stritmatter, PhD, Coppin State University
Vanessa Redgrave, Actor
Prof. Jonathan Bate, CBE, Oxford University
Prof. Stanley Wells, CBE, Honorary President of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Diana Price, Author of Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem
Assoc. Prof. Michael Delahoyde, Washington State University
Dr William Leahy, Brunel University
Prof. Daniel Wright, Director – Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre, Concordia University
Mark Rylance, Actor
Bill Boyle, librarian at New England Shakespeare Oxford Library
Jon Culverhouse, Curator of Collections & Conservation at Burghley House
G. J. Meyer, Author of The Tudors
Michael Cecil, 8th Marquess of Exeter (descendant of Elizabethan statesman William Cecil, Lord Burghley)
Hank Whittemore, Author of The Monument – a 900-page edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets

Post No. 2 on the Southampton Tower Poem and How It Sheds Light on the Double Image of the Sonnets

The discovery that the Earl of Southampton wrote a “verse letter” to Queen Elizabeth from the Tower, after being convicted of treason on 19 February 1601 and sentenced to death, sheds light on various aspects of the Monument theory of Shakespeare’s sonnets — perhaps the most important aspect being a view of the Sonnets as a genuine historical document in the same way that the Southampton Tower Poem is not only a literary work, but, simultaneously, part of the contemporary biographical record.

A Famous Double-Image: every line drawn in service of both the Old Hag and the Young Woman

Within this view is the idea that Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford created the Sonnets to contain a DOUBLE IMAGE: on the one hand, the individual sonnets are romantic love poems; on the other hand, Oxford was recording high-stakes events (for posterity) by means of addressing Southampton (the fair youth) and Elizabeth (the dark lady) in a series of thinly disguised “verse-letters” such as the one Southampton wrote to the Queen.  Equally important is that both Oxford and Southampton were writing within the same real-life context of time and circumstance: the plight of the younger earl in the Tower, where he suffered the “disgrace” and “shame” of a traitor who initially faced execution and then lifelong imprisonment as a dead man in the eyes of the law.

[The Shakespeare verses arranged to correspond with the 1601-1603 context are the Fair Youth Sonnets 27-126 and the Dark Lady Sonnets 127-152]

A Woman's Face - or Flowers & Butterfly

This method of writing on two levels at once is similar to the art of double-image drawing.  Take, for example, the familiar picture that depicts both an Old Hag and a Young Woman.  Whether we see one or the other image depends on our prior assumptions — basically, what we’ve been told about the picture before viewing it.  If we’ve been told it’s a picture of the Old Hag, that is the image we’ll see; and we’ll go right on seeing her forever, unless our perspective changes.  Meanwhile, of course, the Young Woman is also right there in front of us.

The picture itself never changes; that always stays the same.  What can change, however, is the perspective of an individual viewer.  When we look at the drawing from a different angle, based on new information, the Old Hag suddenly disappears and the Young Woman replaces her — as if by magic.

The trick of double-image drawing is that the artist uses every line in service of both images at once; and Oxford reveals in Sonnet 76 that he’s doing the same thing, except that instead of every line he’s using “every word” to create his double image:

Why write I still all one, ever the same,

And keep invention in a noted weed,   

That every word doth almost tell my name…

A Sax Player & a Woman's Face

A major difference between the Southampton Tower Poem and the Shakespeare sonnets is that we already know the real-life “context” of the former.  We know a lot about who, where, what, when and even how and why.  In the case of the Sonnets, however, we were never given the real-life context; in fact, scholars have been saddled with the wrong author!   Therefore the very same words (related to the law, crime, prison, etc.) in the lines of the Sonnets have been overlooked or dismissed as metaphorical and no more.

Some significant words in the Southampton poem that are also used in the Sonnets include: Blood, Buried, Cancel, Condemned, Crimes, Dead, Die, Faults, Favor, Grave, Grief, Ill, Liberty, Loss, Mercy, Offenses, Pardon, Power, Princes, Prison, Sorrow, Stain, Tears, Tombs. In Southampton’s poem these words fit snugly into the real-life context of his death sentence and, therefore, their meaning is literal and even obvious to us.  But the very same words in the Sonnets, viewed within the context of romantic love poems, tend to be ignored:

Sonnet 63: When hours have drained his blood

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

Sonnet 30: And weep afresh love’s long-since cancelled woe

Sonnet 99: The Lily I condemned for thy hand

Sonnet 120: To weigh how once I suffered in your crime

Sonnet 68: Before the golden tresses of the dead

Sonnet 68: When beauty lived and died as flowers do now

Sonnet 35: All men make faults

Queen Elizabeth suffering her Final Torments

Sonnet 28: And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger

Sonnet 34: And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds

Sonnet 58: The imprisoned absence of your liberty

Sonnet 34: Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss

Sonnet 145: Straight in her heart did mercy come

Sonnet 34: The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief/ to him that bears the strong offense’s cross.

Sonnet 58: To you it doth belong/ yourself to pardon of self-doing crime

Sonnet 94: They that have power to hurt, and will do none

Sonnet 133: Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward/ but then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail

Sonnet 28: But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer

Sonnet 33: Clouds and eclipses stain both Moon and Sunne

Sonnet 34: Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds

Sonnet 83: When others would give life and bring a tomb

To repeat my view as expressed in The Monument: Oxford’s writing of the Sonnets uses a double image, which, on a level that usually goes uncrecognized, is equivalent to Southampton’s use of poetry for political pleading.

Try this one!

The Sonnets also contain a “double image” in terms of authorship.  On the one hand, Oxford himself is the speaker; on the other hand, readers holding the traditional or orthodox viewpoint are under the impression that “Shakespeare” is the speaker.  Oxford reveals this double-image of authorship, speaking of both himself and his pen name in Sonnet 83:

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes

Than both your poets can in praise devise.

(In the traditional view, the two poets must be Shakespeare and some “rival” such as Raleigh or Chapman or Essex.  I must report that even most Oxfordians remain trapped within this context of the double-image of authorship; that is, they view the speaker as Oxford in relation to a real-life “rival poet” rather than to his pen name “Shakespeare.”  The actual double-image of authorship, with Oxford-“Shakespeare” as the two poets, is still difficult for many Oxfordians to see.  In my opinion, of course!)

I’ll be following up with more posts covering other aspects of this remarkable discovery, including the overwhelming evidence that the attribution to Southampton is correct.  As stated in the first blog post on the Southampton Tower Poem, it was found by Lara Crowley, assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University, and reported (with text of the poem) in the Winter 2011 edition of English Literary Renaissance.  Professor Crowley’s article includes her transcription of the text discovered in the miscellany Manuscript Stowe 962 in the British Library.  The poem is not in Southampton’s handwriting, but apparently it was copied from the original or as he dictated it in his Tower prison room.

New Support for the Monument Theory of the Sonnets: Discovery of a Poem Begging Queen Elizabeth for Mercy: by the Earl of Southampton, while in the Tower during February-March 1601, when Facing Execution

New support for the Monument theory of the Sonnets has come from the discovery in the British Library of a 74-line poem by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, written in the Tower of London while he awaited execution for his role in the Essex rising of 8 February 1601.   In this unique scribal copy of a “verse letter,” Southampton pleads with Queen Elizabeth for mercy.

My thanks to the scholar Ricardo Mena for passing on this discovery, reported by Lara Crowley, Assistant Professor of English at Texas Tech University, in the winter 2011 edition of English Literary Renaissance.  The poem, entitled “The Earle of Southampton prisoner, and condemned. To Queen Elizabeth,” was found in BL Manuscript Stowe 962, which contains 254 miscellaneous folios prepared mainly in the 1620’s and 1630’s.

The “high level of accuracy” of attributions in the manuscript “enhances the likelihood” that the  ascription to Southampton “proves accurate as well,” Professor Crowley writes, adding that this “heartfelt” plea to Elizabeth points to a familiarity with “specific, intimate details” of the earl’s career and health and even writing style.  “Multiple references” identify Southampton as appealing to the Queen for a pardon.

The Monument theory holds that Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford arranged the Sonnets to record that he worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his freedom with a royal pardon.  The theory claims that part of the price Oxford paid, forced upon him by Secretary Robert Cecil, was the permanent destruction of his identity as author of the “Shakespeare” works (“My name be buried where my body is” – Sonnet 72).

Professor Crowley offers some speculations which, when viewing Oxford-Shakespeare as helping Southampton, are striking:

“It seems possible, even likely, that someone or something else influenced Elizabeth’s decision, making one wonder if, at his time of greatest need, Southampton – a ‘dere lover and cherisher’ of poets * – composed what could be his lone surviving poem … One possibility is that the poem was composed in 1601 to mollify the Queen, but by a more practiced poet who composed the verses for Southampton to offer Elizabeth as his own … Yet the notion that Shakespeare, or any other poet, provided Southampton with the poem proves improbable.  Access to the earl early in his imprisonment was restricted …”

[*Thomas Nashe, in his dedication of The Unfortunate Traveler, 1594, to Southampton]

The Monument theory is supported in a number of other ways; for one, we may now claim that all three earls – Oxford, Essex and Southampton – wrote verse in relation to this same situation of English political history:

Oxford: If he was the author of the Sonnets, then at the very least he wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating Southampton’s liberation by King James in April 1603, after the death of the Queen as “the mortal Moon” a few weeks earlier.

Essex: During his final four days in the Tower before he was executed on 25 February 1601, he wrote a 384-line poem to Elizabeth entitled The Passion of a Discontented Mind.

Southampton: Here we have Southampton, the fair youth of the Sonnets, also in the Tower with expectation of execution, writing a 74-line poem to the Queen in February or March 1601, pleading for her mercy and a pardon.

A remarkable aspect of Southampton’s verse epistle is how close he comes to a theme Oxford expressed in a letter to Cecil on 7 May 1603, alluding to a monarch’s ability to offer Christ-like mercy and forgiveness: “Nothing adorns a king more than justice, nor in anything doth a king more resemble God than in justice, which is the head of all virtue, and he that is endued therewith hath all the rest.”

More than two years earlier, Southampton wrote in his poem to Elizabeth from the Tower:

If faults were not, how could great Princes then

Approach so near God, in pardoning men?

Wisdom and valor, common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice…

Southampton had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” as Oxford writes in Sonnet 107 of the Fair Youth Series; and in Sonnet 145 of the Dark Lady Series, as I see it, he describes Elizabeth’s decision to spare Southampton this way:

Straight in her heart did mercy come,

Chiding that tongue that ever sweet

Was used in giving gentle doom…

The phrase “Great Princes” used by Southampton also appears in Sonnet 25: “Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread…”

At one point Southampton writes that “prisons are living men’s tombs” and that “there I am buried quick” – recalling Sonnet 31, which in the Monument theory corresponds to 12 February 1601:  “Thou art the grave where buried love doth live…”

He refers to himself as “dead in law,” reflecting his status in the Tower as “the late earl,” who has become legally dead.

He mentions his “legs’ strength decayed,” reflecting the fact that, while in the Tower at this early stage, he was suffering from a “quartern ague” that caused a dangerous “swelling in his legs and other parts,” as the Council reported to Sir John Peyton, Lieutenant of the Tower.

At one point near the end of the poem, he reveals his terror and dwindling hope for mercy:

Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;

And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear…

Southampton uses many words in his poem that also appear in the Sonnets, among them the following forty-seven words:  Blood, Buried, Cancel, Cheeks, Chest, Condemned, Countenance, Crimes, Dear, Dead, Die, Eyes, Faults, Favor, Furrows, Grace, Grave, Grief, Groans, Ill, Lamed, Liberty, Light, Loss, Mercy, Offend, Offenses, Pardon, Parts, Power, Princes, Prison, Prisoners, Proceed, Rain, Religious, Sacred, Sorrow, Stain, Stone, Tears, Tombs, True, Vial, Worm, Worthy, Wrinkles.

A number of these words are related literally to Southampton’s situation: Condemned, Crimes, Faults, Liberty, Mercy, Offend, Offenses, Pardon, Prison, Prisoners – more evidence, in my view, that Oxford uses the same words in the Sonnets to refer to Southampton’s plight in the same circumstances.

There is much more about this discovery to be examined here, in future posts; but meanwhile, here is the text of Southampton’s poem, based on Professor Crowley’s transcription from secretary hand and put into (mostly) modern spelling/punctuation for readers of this blog:

The Earl of Southampton Prisoner, and Condemned, to Queen Elizabeth:

Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee

But with new merits, I beg liberty

To cancel old offenses; let grace so

(As oil all liquor else will overflow)

Swim above all my crimes.  In lawn, a stain

Well taken forth may be made serve again.

Perseverance in ill is all the ill.  The horses may,

That stumbled in the morn, go well all day.

If faults were not, how could great Princes then

Approach so near God, in pardoning me?

Wisdom and valor, common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice, and will,

Like a true blood-stone, keep their bleeding still.

Where faults weigh down the scale, one grain of this

Will make it wise, until the beam it kiss.

Had I the leprosy of Naaman,

Your mercy hath the same effects as [the river] Jordan.

As surgeons cut and take from the sound part

That which is rotten, and beyond all art

Of healing, see (which time hath since revealed),

Limbs have been cut which might else have been healed.

While I yet breathe, and sense and motion have

(For this a prison differs from a grave),

Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go

As one may, sith say the dead walk so.

There I am buried quick: hence one may draw

I am religious because dead in law.

One of the old Anchorites, by me may be expressed:

A vial hath more room laid in a chest:

Prisoners condemned, like fish within shells lie

Cleaving to walls, which when they’re opened, die:

So they, when taken forth, unless a pardon

(As a worm takes a bullet from a gun)

Take them from thence, and so deceive the sprights [spirits]

Of people, curious after rueful sights.

Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been

On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:

My face which grief plowed, and mine eyes when they

Stand full like two nine-holes, where at boys play

And so their fires went out like Iron hot

And put into the forge, and then is not

And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie

Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry:

Mine arms like hammers to an anvil go

Upon my breast: now lamed with beating so

Stand as clock-hammers, which strike once an hour

Without such intermission they want power.

I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed

Like one, whose stock being spent give over trade.

And I with eating do no more ingross

Than one that plays small game after great loss

Is like to get his own: or then a pit

With shovels emptied, and hath spoons to fill it.

And so sleep visits me, when night’s half spent

As one, that means nothing but complement.

Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;

And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear:

With less than half these miseries, a man

Might have twice shot the Straits of Magellan

Better go ten such voyages than once offend

The Majesty of a Prince, where all things end

And begin: why whose sacred prerogative

He as he list, we as we ought live.

All mankind lives to serve a few: the throne

(To which all bow) is sewed to by each one.

Life, which I now beg, wer’t to proceed

From else whoso’er, I’d first choose to bleed

But now, the cause, why life I do Implore

Is that I think you [Elizabeth] worthy to give more.

The light of your countenance, and that same

Morning of the Court favor, where at all aim,

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,

For my tears have already worn these stones.

[As mentioned, there’s more commentary on this to be posted here in the future.]

The Table of Contents for “Twelve Years in the Life…”

Some readers have requested that I post the Table of Contents for my new book Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare, a chronological collection of seventeen columns focusing on a dozen separate years in the life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550).

TWELVE YEARS IN THE LIFE … TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. 1564: The Education of Young Shakespeare
  2. 1572: Politics of Massacres, Need for Intelligence
  3. 1577: The Art of Navigation
  4. 1580: The Year of Living Dangerously
  5. 1581: Reckonings and Reconciliation
  6. 1586 (P. 1): “Buy a thousand pound, buy a rope”
  7. 1586 (P. 2): Preparations for War
  8. 1589: The Metamorphosis Begins
  9. 1593: Oxford’s Metamorphoses
  10. 1597: Island Voyages and Isle of Dogs
  11. 1601 (Pt. 1): “Authorizing thy trespass…”
  12. 1601 (Pt. 2): “I watch the clock for you”
  13. 1601 (Pt. 3): “On better judgment making”
  14. 1601 (Pt. 4): “Three winters cold”
  15. 1603: “Your trespass now becomes a fee”
  16. 1604 (Pt. 1): “Our revels now are ended”
  17. 1604 (Pt. 2): The Rest of the Story 

The columns were published in Shakespeare Matters, the newsletter of the Shakespeare Fellowship, and I had never planned to collect them; however, it occurred to editor Billy Boyle and me that we had created a special kind of biography without realizing it.

Because of the focus on individual years in Oxford’s life, arranged in chronological sequence, there’s a new clarity — which, it seems to me, creates some enjoyable reading while lending new insights into Oxford’s life in relation to the “Shakespeare” phenomenon.

In another post soon I’ll post up the Table again with a short paragraph of description for each chapter.

Reason No. 28 of 100 to Believe that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: the Crucial Role Played by Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton, Dedicatee of Shakespeare’s Poetry and Fair Youth of his Sonnets

One of the most important reasons to believe Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” – number 28 on this list – is the central role played by Henry Wriothesley the third Earl of Southampton.

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593 as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis as “the first heir of my invention,”  followed a year later by the dedication to him of Lucrece in 1594, with an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the 20-year-old earl:

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked Southampton to “Shakespeare” from then to now.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that “Shakespeare,” in the first seventeen of the 154 consecutively numbered sonnets printed in 1609, was privately urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”

[As most readers of this blog are aware, I believe the language, tone and statements in the Sonnets make clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the elder poet, Oxford, was writing to Southampton as father to son – and, too, as father to a royal son who deserved to succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth, on the throne as King Henry IX of England.  For the purposes of this post, however, all we need show is that Oxford is the most likely man who publicly pledged his devotion to Southampton.]

The trouble for traditional scholars is that there’s not a scrap of documentary evidence that “Shakespeare” and Henry Wriothesley had even met each other, much less that they might have had any kind of personal relationship allowing the author to command a high-ranking peer of the realm to “make thee another self, for love of me”!

“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in The Mysterious William Shakespeare [1584], “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer [1922] spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”

“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

  • Edward de Vere became the first royal ward of Elizabeth at age twelve in 1562, under the guardianship of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), and in 1571 he entered into an arranged marriage with the chief minister’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil.
  • Henry Wriothesley became the eighth and last such child of state as a boy in 1581, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted unusual pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Burghley’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter (of record), making him in fact the prospective father-in-law; and scholars generally agree that in the “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare sounds very much like a prospective father-in-law (or father) urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him.

Lady Elizabeth Vere, who married William Stanley Earl of Derby in 1595

At the outset, therefore, Edward de Vere and Henry Wriothesley were brought together by this particular marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England with the full blessing of his sovereign mistress.  And regardless of how either Oxford or Southampton truly felt about it, they both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome.

Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”

The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”

If Oxford was writing the private sonnets to Southampton, and I have no doubt of it, then we should not expect to find the two of them publicly spending much time together or even any time at all.  Oxford tells Southampton in Sonnet 36, for example, “I may not evermore acknowledge thee;” in Sonnet 71 he instructs him, “Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;” and in Sonnet 89 he vows: “I will acquaintance strangle and look strange, Be absent from thy walks, and in my tongue Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell…”

A Notice of the Essex-Southampton Trial of Feb. 19, 1600 (1601) with Edward de Vere given prominence as a judge on the tribunal

[Once Southampton came to Court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford removed himself from active attendance.  The two shared an important secret, a hidden story, that tied them together; and they evidently needed to stay apart, at least in public.]

Some of the historical facts are:

  •    As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother, in addition to serving her as loyal subjects.
  •    Oxford in the early 1590’s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.
  •    After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford came forth to sit as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal for the treason trial of Essex and Southampton.
  •    The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict; but there is evidence that Oxford then worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual liberation, as in Sonnet 35: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate.”
  • Southampton in the Tower (Feb 8, 1601 - April 10, 1603)

  • On the night of Oxford’s reported death on June 24, 1604, agents of the Crown arrested Southampton and returned him to the Tower, where he was interrogated all night until his release the following day.
  • Henry de Vere, 18th earl of Oxford, and Henry Wriothesley, 3rd earl of Southampton - circa 1619

  • Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton and Henry de Vere, the eighteenth Earl of Oxford+ became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.”  They were Parliament men who often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for it.

(Henry de Vere was born to Edward de Vere and his second wife Elizabeth Trentham in February 1593)

And there are other kinds of evidence for us to mull:

Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590’s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.

On the eve of the Essex Rebellion led by the Earls of Essex and Southampton, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s play Richard II at the Globe; and a number of historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself got permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its (as yet unpublished) scene of the deposing of the king.

Once the so-called rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of February 8, 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased.

After Southampton was released on April 10, 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a “doom” or sentence of imprisonment for life.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

When Oxford reportedly died in June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published; and then all such authorized publications again ceased for the next nineteen years until the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.

For the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival with seven performances of the Bard’s plays running into January 1605.  [If Edward de Vere had been the real author, and again I have no doubt that he was, the royal performances were a memorial tribute to him.] One of the festival’s stagings for King James and Queen Anne, with the Court, was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

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