Part Two: No. 99 of 100 Reasons to Believe Oxford was “Shakespeare” — The Tale of Two Shrews

This conclusion to Reason No. 99 begins by recommending a superb paper by Ramon Jimenez, in Volume XIV of The Oxfordian for 2012: The Playwright’s Progress: Edward de Vere and the Two ‘Shrew’ Plays. Mr. Jiminez has been making important contributions to the authorship case for the Earl of Oxford as “Shakespeare” with his essays focusing on anonymous plays, which, he demonstrates, comprise Oxford’s early versions of works attributed to Shakespeare – the “apprenticeship” plays upon which the master built his masterpieces.

Richard Burton and  Elizabeth Taylor - 1966 Petruchio & Kate

Richard Burton and
Elizabeth Taylor – 1966
Petruchio & Kate

Here are some excerpts about the relationship between A Shrew (1594) and The Shrew (1623):

“An objective review of the evidence … confirms that the two plays were written in the order in which they appear in the record, The Shrew being a major revision of the earlier play, A Shrew. They were by the same author – Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford, whose poetry and plays appeared under the pseudonym ‘William Shakespeare’ during the last decade of his life [1593-1604]. Events in Oxford’s sixteenth year and his travels in the 1570s support composition dates before 1580 for both plays.”

Even for seasoned Oxfordians the latter statement may be startling. Can it be that two plays published for the first time in 1594 and 1623, respectively, had both been written before 1580, when the true author was thirty? Well … yes.

“These conclusions also reveal a unique and hitherto unremarked example of the playwright’s progress and development,” Jiminez continues, “from a teenager learning to write for the stage to a journeyman dramatist in his twenties. De Vere’s exposure to the intricacies and language of the law, and his extended tour of France and Italy [in 1575-76], as well as his maturation as a poet, caused him to rewrite his earlier effort and produce a comedy that continues to entertain centuries later.”


Given current discussions of “How Genius Happens” (The Atlantic, July/August 2014) and “The Creative Process Made Simple” (Scientific American, July/August 2014), these findings about the Shrew plays serve as reminders that works of “genius” often require hard work and motivation over long intervals of time.

[The author’s motivation may come to be recognized as more crucial to understanding his work than previously emphasized. Why, for example, does this particular dramatist write King Lear? Is it only because he thinks it’s good for the box office? Is it merely because he thinks it’s time for a new tragedy?]

What follows is my version of the history, with help from the work of Jiminez and many others:

Twelve-year-old Edward de Vere rode to London from the funeral of his father in September 1562, in the company of twenty-seven-year-old George Gascoigne, the soldier-poet. Young Oxford, about to become the first royal ward of Elizabeth I, was heading for the home of his guardian, William Cecil, of whom Gascoigne was a cousin-in-law.

Edward received honorary degrees from the universities, at fourteen and sixteen, before enrolling by 1567 at Gray’s Inn, where The Supposes, translated from the Italian of Ariosto’s I Suppositi (1509) and attributed to Gascoigne, was being performed by law students. Years later it would be hailed as the first English prose comedy and, too, acknowledged as a crucial source used by Shakespeare for The Taming of the Shrew.

George Gascoigne  1539 - 1577

George Gascoigne
1539 – 1577

[Stephanie Caruana and Elisabeth Sears argue in Oxford’s Revenge (1989) that Edward de Vere himself wrote The Supposes as performed at Gray’s Inn. The translation is “unlikely” to have been done by Gascoigne, they write, citing a statement of his biographer Ronald Johnson that it contains “a form of euphuistic dialogue that is remarkable in its grasp of the techniques perfected over a decade later by Lyly” – that is, John Lyly, who became Oxford’s secretary by the latter 1570s.]

The fact that A Shrew is devoid of legal terms suggests to Jiminez that Oxford wrote it before, or soon after, his studies at Gray’s Inn began in 1567. But The Shrew attributed to Shakespeare contains frequent legal terms, suggesting that Oxford rewrote the play as a whole after studying the law. It also appears that he wrote the more mature version after returning from his Italian travels in 1576. The shorter and less mature work is set in Athens, while the revised and longer play (to be attributed to “Shakespeare”) is set in Padua, the center of learning and the arts that Oxford visited with relish. Lucentio seems to voice Oxford’s own thoughts upon his arrival:

Tranio, since for the great desire I had
To see fair Padua, nursery of arts…
Here let us breathe and haply institute
A course of learning and ingenious studies…

Engraving of Padua University in 1600

Engraving of Padua University in 1600

Tell me thy mind, for I have Pisa left
And am to Padua come, as he that leaves
A shallow plash to plunge him in the deep
And with satiety seeks to quench his thirst!

Less than three years after Oxford returned to England, on the first of January 1579, the Paul’s Boys performed a play at Richmond Palace recorded as A Moral of the Marriage of Mind and Measure. Eva Turner Clark suggested in 1931 that this recorded title describes The Taming of the Shrew, caricaturizing the marriage of his sister Lady Mary Vere and Peregrine Bertie [Lord Willoughby] the previous year.

Apparently Mary Vere was considered a shrew, that is, a woman of violent temper and speech. Thomas Cecil, in a letter to his father Lord Burghley in September 1578, several months after the wedding, told him there was now an “unkindness” between the young couple, adding his prediction that Mary Vere “will be beaten with that rod [by her husband] which heretofore she prepared for others.” If Oxford was having sport with Petruchio as his new brother-in-law and Katharina as Mary Vere (much to the amusement of members of the court, given that Mary had been a Maid of Honor), it appears he was depicting how better “measures” might be used to tame the “mind” of his wilful sister:

Say that she rail; why, then I’ll tell her plain
She sings sweetly as a nightingale:
Say that she frown; I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew:
Say she be mute, and will not speak a word;
Then I’ll commend her volubility,
And say she uttereth piercing elogquence…

Kate’s father in The Shrew, one of the wealthiest men in Padua, is Baptista Minola. Oxford, writing to Burghley before his arrival at Padua in November 1575, mentioned he had “taken up of Mr. Baptisto Nigrone 500 crowns.” Burghley had arranged, through an Italian merchant in London named Benedetto Spinola, for some 4,000 pounds to be advanced to Oxford during his trip.

Could it be just coincidental that Baptista Minola echoes a combination of Baptisto and Spinola?

Meryl Streep as Kate the Shrew in the Outdoor Delacourte Theatre - Central Park, NY - 1978

Meryl Streep as Kate the Shrew in the Outdoor Delacourte Theatre – Central Park, NY – 1978

Moreover, Kate’s father is quite willing to use her for his own personal gain – shades of Polonius, father of Hamlet’s fiancé Ophelia; and, too, shades of Lord Burghley, the manipulative father of Oxford’s wife Anne Cecil.

So this play opens up a rare view into the long creative process of “Shakespeare” – in this case starting with what was perhaps his earliest comedy, written sometime after The Supposes in 1567, when he was seventeen, its action set in Greece; and then moving on to an expanded version, set in Italy and written (mostly?) by 1579, when he was twenty-nine.

Think of the mind-twisting efforts this will require of scholars who have been teaching that “Shakespeare” began his playwriting career no earlier than 1590-1592! Think of the unraveling of prior assumptions required to comprehend The Taming of a Shrew, printed anonymously in 1594, and The Taming of the Shrew, printed in the Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623!

J. Thomas Looney wrote in Shakespeare Pictorial of December 1935 (his article is reprinted in Volume 2 of Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare, edited by Altrocchi and Whittemore, 2009):

“The two stages in dramatic composition were, then, a result of marked division in the career of the dramatist: in the first period concentrating his powers upon invention, and in the second upon development and literary elaboration …

“Taking the first Shrew as representative of Oxford’s early comedies, and comparing it with pre-Oxfordian drama, some estimate may be formed of his great achievement as a pioneer in dramatic construction quite apart from any contribution to living literature. By a creative effort, the magnitude of which we cannot now measure, he called into existence the very instrument which made the Shakespeare literature possible.

“The full costliness of ‘first steps’ is seldom realized in the presence of later developments, but it is safe to say that as much inventive genius and mental concentration would be required to create the first Shrew as to transform it into the second a decade or more later…

“This conception of a twofold elaboration, first dramatic and then literary, is as essential to a right understanding of Shakespeare as it is to sound judgment about authorship. Both studies are inextricably mixed and show how irrational is the supposition that the authorship problem may be set aside while serious literary study continues. It is the peculiar glory of the Oxford hypothesis that for the first time it unites the two harmoniously.”

Postscript: The quarto title page of A Shrew in 1594 advertises the text “as it was sundry times acted by the Right honorable the Earl of Pembroke his servants,” and in fact four of the play’s characters carry names of actors or sharers in that company – Sly, Simon, Sander and Tom. The names “were clearly added to the manuscript of A Shrew at the time that the company performed the play,” Jiminez writes, “and remained in the text when it was printed in 1594.” It is also likely, he continues, that phrases and lines from plays attributed to Marlowe were also inserted in the early 1590s.

Second Postscript: When were the scenes of the 1594 “Sly Frame” written? When were they revised or rewritten for the “Sly Induction” printed in 1623? Is Sly intended to invoke William of Stratford, in the act of taking Oxford’s place as author of the “Shakespeare” works? My suggestion is that Oxford wrote it early on, based on an old folk tale, but then continued to revise it even after 1594, for the longer and more mature version to be printed in the Folio of 1623. We can imagine, then, the producers of the latter work cutting all the Sly scenes after the opening induction – to eliminate even the memory of the tinker’s conception of himself as “Don Christo Vary” or Lord Oxford, Edward de Vere.

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