Re-posting No. 22 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford: His Geneva Bible

Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, as marked by Edward de Vere in his Geneva Bible

A great irony of the authorship movement is that Henry Clay Folger, founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library, was very likely an Oxfordian sympathizer. He took such keen interest in J. T. Looney’s 1920 identification of Oxford that, in 1925, he bought the Geneva Bible that the earl himself had purchased three and a half centuries earlier in 1570.

Henry Clay Folger (1857 – 1930)

De Vere’s copy was quietly ensconced in the Library when it opened in 1932, two years after Folger’s death.  There it remained, unheralded, until 1992, when two Oxfordian researchers, Dr. Paul Nelson and Isabel Holden, learned it was being guarded by folks with powerful reasons to keep its contents under wraps. Those contents were explosive: more than a thousand marked and/or underlined verses, apparently in Oxford’s own hand, with plenty of links to the Shakespeare works.

Enter Roger Stritmatter, who would pore over the handwritten annotations in Oxford’s bible (often in partnership with Mark Anderson) for the next eight years, eventually earning his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Dr. Stritmatter’s 2000 dissertation, The Marginalia of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible, stands as both a remarkable achievement in scholarship and a landmark event in the history of Shakespearean authorship studies. It is also a powerful demonstration of insights and connections that become possible when the correct biography of “Shakespeare” is brought into alignment with historical documents.

Dr. Roger Stritmatter’s Dissertation on Oxford’s Geneva Bible: a Landmark in Oxford-Shakespeare Scholarship

When de Vere obtained his Geneva Bible he was still a ward of Queen Elizabeth in William Cecil’s custody.  In his documentary life of Oxford in 1928, B.M. Ward reports finding an account book with “Payments made by John Hart, Chester Herald, on behalf of the Earl of Oxford” during 1570, with entries such as:  “To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers – … Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books …”  

“The first edition of that bible was published in 1560 in Geneva,” Stritmatter reports. “Due to its incendiary implied criticisms of Catholicism, it remained a popular unauthorized translation throughout the reign of Elizabeth I … Over a hundred years of scholarship has made it clear that the Geneva Bible was the translation most familiar to Shakespeare.”

Among the approximately 1,043 underlined or marked verses in Oxford’s bible, 147 are cited by previous scholars as having influenced Shakespeare.  Twenty marked verses contain language “at least as close” to other language already identified as Shakespearean influences – and so on, not to mention cases where Stritmatter found connections to the works of Shakespeare that previously had gone unnoticed.  The earl’s copy also contains some thirty-two short notes that have been verified through independent forensic paleography to be in his handwriting. Many themes reflected in the marked passages “can be traced directly to known biographical facts of Oxford’s life,” Stritmatter writes, confirming that “not only was Oxford the original owner of the book,” which had his de Vere crest on the cover, “but it was he who made the annotations.”

Stritmatter began to perceive a series of “patterned relations” narrating a “spiritual story,” one that we can begin to see once de Vere is perceived as Shakespeare. It is a story about “secret works” by an annotator whose name is removed from the historical record but who, nonetheless, re-emerges as the man who gave the world the greatest works of the English language. For example, Oxford marked and partially underlined Micha 9.7:

“I will bear the wrath of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause and execute judgment for me; then will bring me forth to the light…”

“Shakespeare” wrote in Lucrece:

Time’s glory is to calm contending Kings,

To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light

And Oxford wrote under his own name to Robert Cecil in 1602:

“Now time, and truth, have unmasked all difficulties.”

POSTSCRIPT

In 1929 Esther Singleton published Shakespearian Fantasias: Adventures in the Fourth Dimension, with stories based on characters in Shakespeare’s comedies. Having apparently read Shakespeare Identified by Looney, she introduced Oxford as Berowne of Love’s Labour’s Lost, Jacques of As You Like It and Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing.  Folger found these tales so delightful that he bought at least twenty copies of the book to give to friends; just before he died, he also negotiated with Singleton to buy her original manuscript. Singleton died only two weeks later, but her heirs eventually presented the manuscript to the Folger Library in her memory. Folger’s interest in the possibility of Oxford’s authorship was kept secret for decades.

(This reason has become no. 19 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil.)

 

“The Quality of Mercy” – Reason No. 32 to Conclude that the Earl of Oxford Wrote the “Shakespeare” Works

The works of “Shakespeare” contain the results of the author’s own meditations on justice and mercy, emphasizing the need for kings to carry out lawful remedies and punishments with compassion and kindly forbearance.  In Portia’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice about “the quality of mercy” being “not strained” (not constrained), she declares that mercy is “mightiest in the mightiest” and “becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.”  Mercy is above such trappings and is “enthroned in the hearts of kings,” she says, adding:

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice (4.1)

On May 7, 1603, six weeks after Queen Elizabeth died and James VI of Scotland was proclaimed James I of England, 53-year-old Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford wrote a business letter to Secretary Robert Cecil and, in passing, made this comment, which is printed below in the form of a speech in a Shakespeare play:

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.

By no means am I the first to notice a remarkable similarity of thinking between Oxford and “Shakespeare” and of the words expressing it.  Portia’s statement that when a King combines justice with mercy his “earthly power doth then show likest God’s” is reflected in Oxford’s remark that “nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice” – by which he clearly means a justice that contains the “virtue” of mercy or the capacity for forgiveness.

Surely it’s not difficult to imagine Oxford giving Isabella these words about monarchs in Measure for Measure:

Not the King’s Crown nor the deputed sword,

The Marshall’s Truncheon nor the Judge’s Robe,

Become them with one half so good a grace

As mercy does.  (2.2)

In Chapter 30 of his 2001 dissertation on the “marginalia” of Edward de Vere’s Geneva Bible, which the earl had purchased in 1568-69 before the age of twenty, Roger Stritmatter reports that Oxford had marked a series of verses in Ecclesiasticus on the theme of mercy.

Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, as marked by Edward de Vere in his Geneva Bible

The question of mercy “is central to the unfolding action of The Tempest,” Dr. Stritmatter notes.  “In this fable Prospero, like Hamlet, learns to abandon the lust to punish his enemies and realizes that ‘the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance.’ (5.1.27) — in which statement ‘virtue’ is a metaphor for ‘mercy.’ ”  He points out that previous students of Shakespeare and the Bible had failed to notice that Prospero’s epilogue “as you from crimes would pardoned be…” derives “direct, unequivocal inspiration” from Ecclesiasticus 28.1-5, which Oxford had marked in his Geneva Bible.

Ellen Terry as Portia in 1885

I recommend an informative (and amusing) exchange on this subject between William J. Ray and Alan Nelson, author of Monstrous Adversary (2003), the anti-Oxfordian biography of Oxford.  The dialogue was initiated by Ray, who pointed out similarities between Oxford’s “remarkable sentence on the theme of justice” and Portia’s speech on the quality of mercy.

“Apparently De Vere studied kingship and justice from Old Testament teachings,” Ray observes in the course of the exchange, adding later, “I do not see your implacable opposition of justice and mercy as represented by the one quotation versus the other, since to my ear they both [Oxford and “Shakespere”] were speaking of the same virtue(s) … and with virtually the same cadence and language.”

"The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay Castle" painted by Edouard Berveiller (1843-1910)

“There can be little doubt as to which side Oxford’s sympathies would lean” during the treason trial of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in October 1586,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920, introducing the Oxford theory of Shakespearean authorship – in other words the earl, who sat as one of the commissioners at the trial, would have been on Mary’s side; and “as we read of her wonderfully brave and dignified bearing, and of her capable and unaided conduct of her own defense, we can quite believe that if the dramatist who wrote The Merchant of Venice was present at the trial of the Scottish Queen … he had before him a worthy model for the fair Portia…”

Looney quoted Martin Hume on the trial: “Mary defended herself with consummate ability before a tribunal almost entirely prejudiced against her. She was deprived of legal aid, without her papers and in ill health. In her argument with [William Cecil Lord Burghley] she reached a point of touching eloquence which might have moved the hearts, though it did not convince the intellects, of her august judges.”

Drawing of the Trial of Mary Queen of Scots as part of the official record made by Robert Beale (1541-1601)

[Hume had quoted a letter in which Burghley says of Mary, “Her intention was to move pity by long, artificial speeches” – and Looney wrote, “With this remark of Burghley’s in mind, let the reader weigh carefully the terms, of Portia’s speech on ‘Mercy,’ all turning upon conceptions of royal power, with its symbols the crown and the scepter … Now let any one judge whether this speech is not vastly more appropriate to Mary Queen of Scots pleading her own cause before Burleigh, Walsingham, and indirectly the English Queen, than to an Italian lady pleading to an old Jew for the life of a merchant she had never seen before.  Who, then, could have been better qualified for giving an idealized and poetical rendering of Mary’s speeches than ‘the best of the courtier poets’ [Oxford], who was a sympathetic listener to her pathetic and dignified appeals?”

I include Looney’s remarks despite the fact that I share the view of many Oxfordians that Edward de Vere had written the first version of The Merchant of Venice several years prior to the trial of Mary Queen of Scots – that is, in the early 1580’s, four or five years after he had returned (in April 1576) from fifteen months on the Continent with Venice as his home base.

Portia’s speech in 4.1 of The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much

To mitigate the justice of thy plea;

Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

Prospero’s farewell at the end of The Tempest:

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,

I must be here confined by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgence set me free.


%d bloggers like this: