Henry Peacham’s Loud Silence: Re-posting No. 38 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

Henry Peacham (1578-c.1644) suggested in Minerva Britanna (1612) that Edward de Vere had been a playwright of hidden identity.  A decade later, in 1622, he published his most popular work The Compleat Gentleman, in which he stated:

Title Page of The Compleat Gentleman

“In the time of our late Queen Elizabeth, which was truly a golden age (for such a world of refined wits, and excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be hoped for, in any succeeding age) above others, who honored Poesie with their pens and practice (to omit her Majesty, who had a singular gift herein) were Edward Earle of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget; our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spencer, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others: whom (together with those admirable wits, yet living, and so well knowne) not out of Envy, but to avoid tediousness I overpass.”

Eva Turner Clark in The Man Who Was Shakespeare (1937) was the first Oxfordian to report on this passage. “Significantly,” she writes, “Peacham does not mention Shakespeare, a name he knew to be the nom de plume of Oxford.” Louis P. Benezet of Dartmouth writes in 1945 that Peacham’s testimony is “one of the best keys to the solution of the Shakespeare Mystery…. We recall the statement of Sir Sidney Lee [1898], that the Earl of Oxford was the best of the court poets in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, and Webbe’s comment [1586] that ‘in the rare devices of poetry he (Oxford) may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest.’ Also we remember that The Arte of English Poesie [1589] after confessing that ‘as well Poets as Poesie are despised, and the name become of honourable infamous’ so that many noblemen and gentlemen ‘are loath to be known of their skill’ and that many who have written commendably have suppressed it, or suffered it to be published ‘without their names,’ goes on to state that in Elizabeth’s time have sprung up a new group of ‘courtly writers, who have written excellently well, if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble gentleman, Edward, Earl of Oxford.’

”Now comes Henry Peacham, confirming all that has been said by others,” Benezet continues, noting the date of 1622, when the likes of George Chapman and Ben Jonson were “yet living, and so well known,” while Shakspere had been dead for six years and therefore should have been on the list – unless “Shakespeare” already headed the list under his real name, Edward de Vere. Peacham  “was in a position to know the truth,” Benezet writes. “He had been for several years the tutor of the three sons of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, Oxford’s cousin.  Living in the family circle, he knew the secret behind the pseudonym under which were published Venus and Adonis and Lucrece, those poems which, with The Fairie Queene [by the late Spenser, whom Peacham does mention], provide the high water mark of Elizabethan rhyming.”

George Greenwood had noted in 1908 that theatrical manager Philip Henslowe had never entered Shakespeare’s name in his diary, Dr. Benezet recalls, adding that “still more compelling is the silence of Henry Peacham, for not only does he ignore the Stratford man, but, at the head of his list of the great poets of ‘the Golden Age,’ where the name of the Bard of Avon should be expected, we encounter instead that of one who is not even mentioned in any of the histories of English literature consulted as ‘authority’ by my colleagues of the Departments of English — the greatest of the world’s unknown greats, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.”

In the mid-1590’s, as a seventeen-year-old Cambridge graduate, Peacham had created a sketch apparently depicting the rehearsal or performance of a scene from Titus Andronicus. As Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia of 1598 listed Titus as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies on the public stage, we can be sure, if Peacham had thought the Bard of Avon and Edward de Vere were two different persons, he would have included “Shakespeare” on his list of the greatest authors of Elizabeth’s time who were no longer living. But Peacham knew differently.

Subsequent editiions of The Compleat Gentleman in 1627 and 1634 also omitted Shakespeare from the list, proving that Peacham, who died in 1643, did not accidentally “forget” to mention him.

[This post is an updated version of the original blog entry, reflecting the invaluable work of editor Alex McNeil and other editorial help from Brian Bechtold, as it now appears in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.]

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

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

George Chapman c. 1559 - 1634

George Chapman
c. 1559 – 1634

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

It appears that Chapman was obsessed with Edward de Vere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persecution of the French Huguenots (Leloir, 1904)

Persecution of the French Huguenots
(Leloir, 1904)

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

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

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

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

Sounds like Hamlet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other facts:

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

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

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

This posting drew upon several sources that made it possible:

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

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

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

Chapman, George (Wikipedia)

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

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

George Chapman (The Poetry Foundation)

The So-Called “Rival Poet” of the Sonnets is NOT A REAL PERSON….

A section of the Shakespeare sonnets (78 to 86) has been known traditionally as the Rival Poet Series.  Stratfordians and anti-Stratfordians alike, including most Oxfordians, still assume that this figure must be a real individual such as George Chapman or Walter Raleigh or Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.  Well, I suggest this demonstrates yet again the power of a prior assumption or a long-held belief that is taken for granted and never questioned.

The Dedication of "Lucrece" - 1594 - CLICK ON IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW

The idea of the Rival Poet is that another writer has competed with the author successfully for the affections of the younger man known as the Fair Youth –  identified as Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), to whom “William Shakespeare” dedicated his first printed works, Venus and Adonis of 1593 and Lucrece of 1594, pledging: “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.”

Never again would the great author dedicate anything to anyone else, ensuring that the names of Southampton and Shakespeare would be linked exclusively and forever.  In Sonnet 82 of the Rival Poet series, the author points directly to his public epistles to Southampton, referring to:

The dedicated words which writers use

Of their fair subject, blessing every book

Under the belief that William Shakspere of Stratford was the author,  it’s a given that the Rival Poet must be a real human being.  But once Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is postulated as the author known as “Shakespeare,” it’s not only possible but inevitable that the Rival Poet is none other than his pen name or public persona, which is getting all the attention as the writer linked to Southampton.

As mentioned above, most of my own colleagues, while convinced that Edward de Vere was the great author, still assume that the Rival Poet is a real person.  [The latest candidate of choice is the Earl of Essex.]  Yet the case for Oxford is based on the premise that in fact he’s living with a split personality!  This is seen clearly in the personal sonnets, where he himself is PRIVATELY writing to Southampton while his alter ego “Shakespeare” is PUBLICLY addressing him (in the dedications still being printed in new editions of the narrative poems).

Dedication of "Venus and Adonis" - 1593

I wish my Oxfordian colleagues could entertain the thought that the “authorship question” is answered right there in the Sonnets — which Edward de Vere wrote and later compiled as a “monument” to preserve for posterity his own testimony about why and how he chose to obliterate his identity behind the “Shakespeare” mask.  What he describes in the Sonnets is NOT merely the adoption of the pen name in the early 1590’s, in which case he could have expected to be revealed posthumously, but, rather, his decision to sacrifice his identity after his death:

“My name be buried where my body is,” he writes in Sonnet 72, leading up to the “rival” series.

Oxford, addressing Southampton in Sonnet 80, offers a capsule answer to the authorship question:

O how I faint when I of you do write,

Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,

And in the praise thereof spends all his might

To make me tongue-tied speaking of your name.

The pen name “Shakespeare” is the rival who can praise Henry Wriothesley in public, while Edward de Vere must remain “tongue-tied” or silent.  (In Sonnet 66 he complains that his “art” or ability to communicate has been “tongue-tied by authority” or by official policy.)

"Knowing a better spirit doth use your name"

Would the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England and highest-ranking earl of the realm, ever, under any circumstances, call anyone else, including Chapman or Raleigh or Essex (whom he really disliked), a “better spirit”?  I think not!

“Shakespeare” is the better spirit… 

In Sonnet 81 he offers an even more direct answer, telling Southampton:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have

Though I (once gone) to all the world must die

Could that be any clearer?  He correctly predicts that Southampton will be remembered because of the Shakespeare connection; and then he says directly that, after his death, he will have to “die” all over again “to all the world”which can only mean that he anticipates his own obliteration as “Shakespeare,” who publicly devoted his labors to Southampton.

By what logic, and for what reason, would the traditional Shakespeare write such words?

This is just one piece of the puzzle among others needed to create the full picture.  I’ll be back with more such pieces, as set forth in The Monument … in Shakespeare’s Son and His Sonnets … and in Twelve Years in the Life of Shakespeare.

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