Re-Posting No. 19 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford: The Polonius-Hamlet Family

An obvious link in the chain of evidence connecting Edward de Vere to “Shakespeare” is the similarity of his and Hamlet’s family relationships:

Queen Gertrude as played by Glenn Close

Gertrude is the mother of Hamlet, while Elizabeth was the legal mother of Oxford, when he was her ward.

Polonius as played by Eric Porter

Polonius is chief adviser to Gertrude, while Burghley (William Cecil) was chief adviser to Elizabeth.

Hamlet is engaged to young Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, while Oxford became engaged to young Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley.

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham Carter

Ophelia’s older brother, Laertes, goes off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress to his father, who recites the famous “precepts” to him as guidance. Anne’s eldest brother, Thomas Cecil, went off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress to his father, Burghley, who wrote him long letters full of wise “precepts” as guidance. Later he would also write his famous precepts to son Robert Cecil.

Claudius, who fatally poisons Hamlet’s father and marries the prince’s mother the queen, thereby becoming king, reflects Elizabeth’s lover Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was suspected of many poisonings. Oxford may have concluded that Leicester had caused the death by poisoning of his own father, John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford.

In Hamlet, the Shakespeare play carrying the most autobiographical tone of them all, we find the main character in virtually the same web of family relationships at court as Edward de Vere.  Traditional scholars may ask rhetorically, Well, now, you’re not claiming this as proof that Oxford wrote Hamlet, are you?” We might reply, “No, of course not, but doesn’t this give you a little queasy feeling in the gut?  Don’t you have the slightest tremor of doubt that Will of Stratford could have, or would have, written such a play?  Do you think this mirror image of family relationships can be mere coincidence?”

James Shapiro of Columbia University argues in Contested Will that “such claims about representing on the public stage some of the most powerful figures in the realm betray a shallow grasp of Elizabethan dramatic censorship.”  He adds that Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, “whose job it was to read and approve all dramatic scripts before they were publicly performed, would have lost his job – and most likely his nose and ears, if not his head, had he approved a play that so transparently ridiculed privy councilors past and present.”

Perhaps it is Shapiro himself who betrays a shallow grasp of what is really happening on the public stage. The author himself supplies a further clue to this when an exasperated Polonius, speaking of Hamlet, tells Gertrude: “He will come straight.  Look you lay home to him.  Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with, and that your Grace hath screened and stood between much heat and him.” Hamlet-Oxford has taken too many liberties, unbearably so, but nonetheless the queen has protected him from “much heat” and/or reprisals by government officials [such as Tilney] and his enemies at court.

Otherwise, Shapiro is right: not only Tilney but also the playwright surely would have lost his head … if he had been Shakspere of Stratford!

(This post, with great help from editor Alex McNeil, is now No. 9 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford)

 

Re-Posting No. 17 of “100 Reasons” why Oxford wrote the Shakespeare Works: Edward de Vere witnessed a real-life scene like the turning point of “Hamlet”

When Edward de Vere was barely into his teens, he witnessed a real-life event that was virtually the same as the one “Shakespeare” would create many years later for the dramatic turning point of Hamlet when the Prince puts on a play to “catch the conscience of the King.”

Oxford was 14 on Queen Elizabeth’s royal progress to Cambridge in 1564, the year she had hired a coach builder from the Netherlands (Gullian Boonen) who introduced the “spring suspension” to England

At fourteen, Oxford was on the 1564 summer progress when Queen Elizabeth paid her historic visit to Cambridge University for five thrilling days and nights.

Chancellor William Cecil (later Lord Burghley) was in charge while his arch political enemy, High Steward Robert Dudley (later the Earl of Leicester), acted as master of ceremonies.

Hamlet puts on a play to “catch the conscience of the King.”

Although in his early teens, Oxford was a well-tutored scholar whose Renaissance outlook had drawn him to literature and history among a myriad of fields, and Elizabeth, thirty-one, had displayed her own Renaissance spirit and love for learning when she and her retinue entered Cambridge that summer. The chapel of King’s College had been transformed into a “great stage” and she spent three of the five nights feasting on “comedies and tragedies.”

Elizabeth was set to leave on Thursday, 10 August, for a ten-mile ride to the home of Sir Henry Cromwell at Hinchingbrooke, where she was to spend the night, and her Majesty was eager to get going.

Hinchinbrooke House, where Elizabeth I of England stayed the night after the Cambridge visit in August 1564

According to Guzman de Silva, the Spanish ambassador, Elizabeth made a speech praising all the plays or “comedies” and disputations, but some of the anti-Catholic students “wished to give her another representation, which she refused in order to be no longer delayed.” The students were so anxious for her to hear their play, however, that they “followed her [to Hinchingbrooke] and so importuned her that at last she consented.” That evening, in a courtyard, an exhausted queen gathered with members of her court by torchlight for the student production.

It turned out to be a distasteful burlesque intended to mock those Catholic leaders who were then imprisoned in the Tower of London. The university atmosphere had become charged with the rapidly developing Protestant radicalism known as the Puritan movement. But the queen and Cecil were ending hostilities with France while trying to maintain good relations with Catholic Spain, so Elizabeth was in no mood for anti-Papal displays that de Silva would (and did) report back to King Philip:

“The actors came in dressed as some of the imprisoned bishops.  First came the Bishop of London carrying a lamb in his hands as if he were eating it as he walked along, and then others with devices, one being in the figure of a dog with the Host in his mouth … The Queen was so angry that she at once entered her chamber, using strong language; and the men who held the torches, it being night, left them in the dark…”

Queen Elizabeth I attends a play at one of her palaces

Imagine how this scene must have struck young Oxford!  Here was vivid proof that a dramatic representation could directly alter the emotions of the monarch; here was spontaneous evidence of the power of a play to affect Elizabeth’s attitude and even her decisions.

Her Majesty swept away using “strong language” as the torchbearers followed, leaving all “in the dark,” and the author of Hamlet would write:

Ophelia: The King rises.

Hamlet: What, frighted with false fire?

Gertrude: How fares my lord?  (to King Claudius)

Polonius: Give o’er the play!

King: Give me some light!  Away!

All: Lights, lights, lights!

Did the mature dramatist “Shakespeare” later recall this event when he came to write the “Mousetrap” scene of Hamlet, setting it at night with the King’s guards carrying torches?  When, in 1564, the queen rose in anger and rushed off, did chief minister Cecil call to stop the burlesque, as chief minister Polonius would do in Hamlet?  Did Elizabeth call for light as Claudius does in the play?

Re-Posting Reason 14 Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: “These Few Precepts”

William Cecil
Lord Treasurer Burghley
1520-1598

Mention “precepts” to an Oxfordian and you will undoubtedly hear about Polonius delivering “these few precepts” to Laertes in Hamlet. Then you’ll hear how Edward de Vere, as a royal ward living at Cecil House, would have known Burghley’s real-life Certain Precepts, which were not printed until 1616, the year that Shakespeare died, and long after the play had been written.

In 1869 the scholar George French observed in Shakspeareana Genealogica that Lord Chamberlain Polonius, his son Laertes and his daughter Ophelia are supposed to stand for Queen Elizabeth’s celebrated Lord High Treasurer Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, his second son Robert Cecil and his daughter Anne Cecil.”  In other words, long before the “authorship debate” it was hardly controversial to suggest that Polonius was modeled after Burghley and that Laertes and Ophelia were “supposed” to be modeled after Burghley and that Laertes and Ophelia were “supposed” to be modeled after Robert (and/or Thomas) Cecil and their sister Anne.

William Cecil was elevated in 1571 to the peerage as Lord Burghley so that Oxford could enter an arranged marriage with his fifteen-year-old daughter, who would then become a member of the nobility. When Burghley’s younger son, Robert, was setting forth on his travels in 1584 (the year when many Oxfordians believe the earl created the first draft of Hamlet), Burghley wrote out “certain precepts” for him as guides to behavior – “and in some of these,” French notes, “the identity of language with that of Polonius is so close that SHAKSPEARE [sic] could not have hit upon it unless he had been acquainted with Burghley’s parental advice to Robert Cecil.”

The first quarto of “Hamlet” appeared in 1603; this is the second one, the “authentic” version, twice as long, published in 1604, the year of Oxford’s death.

In the decades after J. Thomas Looney proposed Oxford as the author in 1920, orthodox scholars began to back away from seeing Polonius as Lord Burghley.  They even tried to suggest that the two sets of precepts are not necessarily similar; but here are some comparisons:

BURGLEY:

Be not scurrilous in conversation, or satirical in thy jests

POLONIUS:

Give thy thoughts no tongue, nor any unproportion’d thought his act … be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

///

BURGHLEY:

Let thy kindred and allies be welcome to thy house and table.  Grace them with thy countenance … But shake off those glow-worms, I mean parasites and sycophants, who will feed and fawn upon thee in the summer of prosperity…

POLONIUS:

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; but do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new hatch’d unfledged comrade.

 

///

BURGHLEY:

Neither borrow of a neighbor or of a friend, but of a stranger, whose paying for it thou shalt hear no more of it … Trust not any man with thy life credit, or estate.

POLONIUS:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

///

It is evident that the author of Hamlet needed to be – and was – familiar with Burghley’s maxims, the better to mirror them and simultaneously satirize them. He had heard them firsthand (probably on numerous occasions) at Cecil House, where he had lived until age twenty-one. In fact, such is the argument made by none other than Michael Cecil, the 18th Baron Burghley and a direct descendent of the first baron, William Cecil.

[Note: this post, now arranged as No. 10 of 100 Reasons Shakes-speare was the Earl of Oxford, is the beneficiary of editorial skills used upon it by Alex McNeil, editor of the book published in October 2016.]

Lord Burghley and his son Robert Cecil (1563-1612)

Here is the speech of Polonius followed by the full text of Burghley’s ten precepts:

Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3

Polonius:

And these few precepts in thy memory

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.

Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

Of each new-hatch’d, unfledged comrade. Beware

Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,

Bear’t that the opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;

Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

For the apparel oft proclaims the man,

And they in France of the best rank and station

Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine ownself be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Polonius and Laertes

CERTAIN PRECEPTE FOR THE WELL ORDERING OF A MAN’S LIFE

Son Robert:

The virtuous inclinations of thy matchless mother, by whose tender and godly care thy infancy was governed, together with thy education under so zealous and excellent a tutor, puts me rather in assurance of the hope that thou are not ignorant of that summary bond which is only able to make thee happy as well in thy death as life–I mean the true knowledge and worship of thy Creator and Redeemer, without which all other things are vain and miserable. So that, thy youth being guided by so all sufficient a teacher, I make no doubt but he will furnish thy life both with divine and moral documents; yet that I may not cast off the care beseeming a parent towards his child, or that thou shouldst have cause to drive thy whole felicity and welfare rather from others than from whence thou receivedst thy birth and being, I think it fit and agreeable to the affection I bear to help thee with such advertisements and rules for the squaring of thy life as are gained rather by much experience than long reading, to the end that thou, entering into this exorbitant age, mayest be the better prepared to shun those cautelous courses whereinto this world and thy lack of experience may easily draw thee. And because I will not confound thy memory, I have reduced them into ten precepts and, next unto Moses’ tables, if thou do imprint them in thy mind, then shalt thou reap the benefit and I the contentment. And these are they.

1. When it shall please God to bring thee to man’s estate, use great providence and circumspection in the choice of thy wife, for from thence may spring all thy future good or ill; and it is an action like a strategem in war where man can err but once. If thy estate be good, match near home and at leisure; if weak, then far off and quickly. Inquire diligently of her disposition and how her parents have been inclined in their youth. Let her not be poor how generous soever, for a man can buy nothing in the market with gentility. Neither choose a base and uncomely creature altogether for wealth, for it will cause contempt in others and loathing in thee. Make not choice of a dwarf or a fool, for from the one thou mayest beget a race of pygmies, the other may be thy daily disgrace; for it will irk thee to have her talk, for then thou shalt find to thy great grief that there is nothing more fulsome than a she-fool. Touching the government of thy house, let thy hospitality be moderate and according to the measure of thine own estate, rather plentiful than sparing–but not too costly–for I never knew any grow poor by keeping an orderly table. But some consume themselves through secret vices and their hospitality must bear the blame. Banish swinish drunkards out of thy house, which is a vice that impairs health, consumes much, and makes no show, for I never knew any praise ascribed to a drunkard but the well-bearing of drink, which is a better commendation for a brewer’s horse or a drayman than for either gentleman or serving man. Beware that thou spend not above three of the four parts of thy revenue, nor about one-third part of that in thine house, for the other two parts will do no more than defray thy extraordinaries, which will always surmount thy ordinaries by much. For otherwise shalt thou live like a rich beggar in a continual want, and the needy man can never live happily nor contented, for then every least disaster makes him ready either to mortgage or to sell, and that gentleman which then sells an acre of land loses an ounce of credit, for gentility is nothing but ancient riches. So that if the foundations sink, the building must needs consequently fail.

2. Bring thy children up in learning and obedience yet without austerity; praise them openly; reprehend them secretly; give them good countenance and convenient maintenance according to thy ability; for otherwise thy life will seem their bondage, and then what portion thou shalt leave them at thy death they may thank death for it and not thee. And I am verily persuaded that the foolish cockering of some parents and the overstern carriage of others causeth more men and women to take evil courses than naturally their own vicious inclinations. Marry thy daughters in time, lest they marry themselves. Suffer not thy sons to pass the Alps, for they shall learn nothing but pride, blasphemy, and atheism. And if by travel they attain to some few broken languages, they will profit them no more than to have one meat served in divers dishes. Neither by my advice shalt thou train them up to wars, for he that eats up his rest only to live by that profession can hardly be an honest man or good Christian, for war is of itself unjust unless the good cause may make it just. Besides it is a science no longer in request than use, for “soldiers in peace are like chimneys in summer.”

3. Live not in the country without corn and cattle about thee, for he that must present his hand to the purse for every expense of household may be likened to him that keeps water in a sieve. And for that provision thou shalt need lay for to buy it at the best hand, for there may be a penny in four saved betwixt buying at thy need or when the market and seasons serve fittest for it. And be not willingly attended or served by kinsmen, friends, or men entreated to stay, for they will expect much and do little, neither by such as are amorous, for their heads are commonly intoxicated; keep rather too few than one too many; feed them well and pay them with the most, and then mayest thou boldly require service at their hands.

4. Let thy kindred and allies be welcome to thy table, grace them with thy countenance, and ever further them in all honest actions, for by that means thou shalt so double the bond of nature as thou shalt find them so many advocates to plead an apology for thee behind my back. But shake off these glowworms–I mean parasites and sycophants–who will feed and fawn upon thee in the summer of prosperity, but in any adverse storm they will shelter thee no more than an arbor in winter.

5. Beware of suretyship for thy best friend, for he which payeth another man’s debts seeks his own decay; but if thou canst not otherwise choose, then rather lend that money from thyself upon good bond though thou borrow it, so mayest thou pleasure thy friend and happily also secure thyself. Neither borrow money of a neighbor or friend but rather from a mere stranger, where paying for it thou mayest hear no more of it, for otherwise thou shalt eclipse thy credit, lose thy freedom, and yet pay to him as dear as to the other. In borrowing of money be ever precious of thy word, for he that cares to keep day of payment is lord commander many times in another man’s goods.

6. Undertake no suit against a poor man without receiving much wrong for therein making him thy competitor. Besides it is a base conquest to triumph where there is small resistance. Neither attempt law against any man before thou be fully resolved that thou hast the right on thy side, and then spare not for money nor pains, for a cause or two so being well followed and obtained may after free thee from suits a great part of thy life.

7. Be sure ever to keep some great man thy friend, but trouble him not for trifles, compliment him often, present him with many yet small gifts and of little charge, and if thou have cause to bestow any great gratuity let it then be some such thing as may be daily in sight, for otherwise in this ambitious age thou mayest remain like a hop without a pole, live in obscurity, and be made a football for every insulting companion to spurn at.

8. Towards thy superiors be humble yet generous; with thy equals familiar yet respective; towards inferiors show much humility and some familiarity, as to bow thy body, stretch forth thy hand, and to uncover thy head, and suchlike popular compliments. The first prepares a way to advancement; the second makes thee known for a man well-bred; the third gains a good report which once gotten may be safely kept, for high humilities take such root in the minds of the multitude as they are more easilier won by unprofitable courtesies than churlish benefits. Yet do I advise thee not to affect nor neglect popularity too much. Seek not to be E. and shun to be R. [Essex and Raleigh? -SFR]

9. Trust not any man too far with thy credit or estate, for it is a mere folly for a man to enthrall himself to his friend further than if just cause be offered he should not dare to become otherwise his enemy.

10. Be not scurrilous in conversation nor stoical in thy jests; the one may make thee unwelcome to all companies, the other pull on quarrels and yet the hatred of thy best friends. Jests when they savor too much of truth leave a bitterness in the mind of those that are touched. And although I have already pointed all this inclusive, yet I think it necessary to leave it thee as a caution, because I have seen many so prone to quip and gird as they would rather lose their friend than their jests, and if by chance their boiling brain yield a quaint scoff they will travail to be delivered of it as a woman with child. Those nimble apprehensions are but the froth of wit.

I have reprinted the above precepts from:

http://princehamlet.com/burghley.html

Re-Posting No. 5 of 100 Reasons Why “Shake-speare” was Edward de Vere: The Earl, the Prince and the Pirates!

(Note: This reason to agree that Edward de Vere was the great author, originally published here on 10 March 2011, is now No. 11 and revised for inclusion in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, published in October 2016.)

When Professor James Shapiro of Columbia University came to the Epilogue of his book Contested Will, written to try to block the inevitable tide of doubt about the traditional identification of “Shakespeare,” he described his experience at a performance I gave of my one-man show Shake-speare’s Treason (based on my book The Monument) at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.

A Pirate in the 16th Centur

“It was a spellbinding performance,” he wrote, adding he “found it all both impressive and demoralizing” — because, of course, he wants you to think that any account of Oxford as Shakespeare must be pure fiction.  He went on: “I left the Globe wondering what mainstream biographers might say in response to Oxfordians who insist that Edward de Vere had a stronger claim to have written Hamlet and King Lear, since — unlike the glover’s son from Stratford — he had been captured by pirates and had three daughters.”

Okay, wait a minute, hold on!  You can’t take those pirates away from Oxford, just as you can’t erase the fact that the earl, like King Lear, had three daughters!  Let me put it this way.  If the glove maker’s son from Stratford had been stopped by pirates in real life, by now we’d have whole shelves filled with books with titles such as:

Trauma on the High Seas: How The Bard’s Capture by Pirates Affected His Writing Life & His Play about Hamlet …

Shakespeare’s Fateful Encounter With the Pirates: A Profound Turning Point in His Psyche and Work …

Shakespeare’s Pirate Complex: The Cause of His Tragic Phase?

Shakespeare & The Pirates: A Love-Hate Relationship?

Although this was just one event among many in Edward de Vere’s life that correspond in some way with what we find in the “Shakespeare” plays, Oxfordians have done little more than mention, in passing, its similarity to Hamlet’s experience.  It’s just one more example of something in Oxford’s life resembling what can be found in the plays. Does Shapiro think the earl’s capture and release by Dutch pirates in the English Channel should be a liability, in terms of evidence that he wrote Hamlet?  Does the professor want to twist it all around, turning a positive into a negative?

The episode in Hamlet comes from “Shakespeare” himself, as a writer, not from any of the play’s recognized sources, as Mark Anderson reports in his terrific Oxford biography “Shakespeare” By Another Name.  The pirates intercepted and boarded Oxford’s ship in 1576, as he was returning to England from his sixteen-month tour of France, Germany and (primarily) Italy.  They stripped the ship clean. “De Vere’s luggage was ransacked, and the pirates even took the clothes from the earl’s back,” Anderson writes.  The French ambassador reported that Oxford was “left naked, stripped to his shirt, treated miserably” and he might have lost his life “if he hadn’t been recognized by a Scotsman.”

A member of Oxford’s entourage, Nathaniel Baxter, recalled the pirate episode in a poem published in 1606, writing: “Naked we landed out of Italy/ Enthralled by pirates, men of no regard/ Horror and death assailed nobility” — and Hamlet writes to King Claudius about the encounter: “High and Mighty, you shall know I am set naked on your kingdom.”  (My emphases)

Do we suppose that same use of naked is just coincidental?

There’s an interesting debate over whether Hamlet had previously arranged his own brush with the pirates, so he could escape being murdered by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as per the king’s orders.  In any case, the Prince of Denmark writes to Horatio: “Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase.  Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled valor, and in the grapple I boarded them.  On the instant they got clear of our ship, so I alone became their prisoner.  They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy, but they knew what they did; I am to do a good turn for them.”

The prince, like Oxford, had been bound for England; now he turns back to Denmark while Rosencrantz and Guildenstern “hold their course for England,” where, because Hamlet has craftily switched the written orders, they will be killed instead of him.

Professor Shapiro argues against any attempt to turn the Shakespeare plays into works of autobiography, but that’s a straw man he’s setting up in order to knock it down.  Of course Hamlet is not strict autobiography; no one ever claimed such a thing.  The real point, which Shapiro wants his readers to miss, is that the best novelists and dramatists tend to draw upon their personal experiences and then to transmute them, through imagination and skill, into fictional art forms.  It’s not a matter of having to choose between reality and invention; all great art is a blend of both.

Shapiro concedes that “we know almost nothing about [Shakspere’s] personal experiences” and, therefore, “those moments in his work which build upon what he may have felt remain invisible to us.”  Given this vacuum within the documented Stratfordian biography, he boldly declares that all attempts to link the life of “Shakespeare” with his works should hereby cease!  He means not only such attempts by Oxfordians but also by Stratfordians — especially the latter, since these efforts have always failed and will fail even more glaringly in the future, as the authorship question is brought increasingly into the open.

Oh – I almost forgot: Oxford was targeted by pirates in the Channel not once but twice, i.e., not only in 1576 but also in 1585, when he returned from Holland and his brief command [with Colonel John Norris] of 4,000 foot soldiers and 400 horse.  But after receiving a letter from Burghley that he’d been put in command of the Horse, he was summoned back home [to be replaced by Philip Sidney, who would die on the battlefield a year later]; and according to one report, a ship carrying Oxford’s “money, apparel, wine and venison” was “captured off Dunkirk by the Spaniards.” Among Oxford’s belongings captured by the Spaniards was the letter from Burghley telling him of the Horse command; and as Anderson notes, “Hamlet contains not only an encounter with pirates but also an analogous plot twist involving suborned letters at sea.”

So, professor, the pirates are here to stay.  They certainly aren’t proof that Oxford wrote the play, but I put them here as just another piece of evidence that “authorship” really does matter.

Re-Posting Reason No. 3: Oxford Sponsored “The Courtier” — A Primary Inspiration for Prince Hamlet

“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form…”
— Ophelia speaking of Prince Hamlet

When Shakespeare created his greatest and most self-revealing character with the words and actiions of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, he drew upon his own intimate knowledge and obvious love for Baldesar Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano, that is, The Book of the Courtier, one of the great volumes of the High Renaissance.

Castiglione’s & The Book of the Courtier

Portrayed in the book is a group of real-life thinkers, politicians, soldiers, clerics, diplomats and wits who gathered together at the Palace of Urbino in 1507 to play a game, over four evenings, to try to piece together a portrait of the perfect courtier.

Their conversations about courtliness ranged “from chivalry to humanist debates about language, literature, painting and sculpture,” John Lotherington writes in his introduction to a 2005 edition from Barnes & Noble Books, “to the art of conversation and the telling of jokes, the role and dignity of women, the delicate job of guiding willful princes, and finally to love and its transcendent form in pure spirit.”

The Courtier, published in 1528, attempts “to refashion the medieval ideal of the chivalrous knight and to fuse it with the Renaissance virtues of learning and grace,” James Oscar Campbell writes in The Reader’s Encylopedia of Shakespeare (1966), adding that Shakespeare “may have derived the ‘merry war’ of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing from a similar battle in The Courtier.”

The Ducal Palace at Urbino

“Shakespeare may have read Castiglione in Italian,” Charles Boyce writes in Shakespeare A to Z (1990) — a fairly amazing statement from one who supposedly believes the author was William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon, who was unlikely to have been able to read works in Italian.

Translated into English in 1561 by Thomas Hoby, The Courtier exerted a strong influence on the courtly ideals of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.

The Courtier in English as translated by Thomas Hoby in 1561

A little more than a decade later, in January 1572, having just come of age as a courtier, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford made possible the publication of a new Latin translation of Castiglione’s work by one of his former tutors, Bartholomew Clerke.  To give it the biggest send-off possible, Oxford even wrote an eloquent introduction, also in Latin, which Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984) called “a remarkably finished piece of work for a 21-year-old writing in a classical language.”

Oxford’s first biographer B. M. Ward wrote in 1928 that becoming a leader in war had been Edward de Vere’s goal, “if only because that was the normal expectation for any young nobleman seeking to fulfill his destiny,” but having been denied military service it was “only natural” that the young earl then turned to literature.

The Latin translation of The Courtier by Bartholomew Clerke in 1571, published from the Royal Court with Oxford’s blessing

But Ward also noted that most likely Edward de Vere had been captivated by literature from boyhood.  He had taken degress at Cambridge and Oxford universities at ages fourteen and sixteen; before age twenty his library had included works of Chaucer, Plutarch, Cicero and Plato, not to mention the Geneva Bible and “other books and papers.”

In 1571, the year before he issued his former tutor’s Latin translation of The Courtier, his uncle Arthur Golding noted in print that that he knew from personal experience how Oxford had taken a keen interest in “the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding.”

Oxford in January 1572 was receiving the highest royal favor at Court.  The intimacy of his relationship with Queen Elizabeth was the subject of much scandalous gossip; the year before, he had married the Ophelia-like daughter of William Cecil Lord Burghley, the Polonius-like chief minister to the Queen.  Although he had grown up in the household and custody of Burghley, the architect of the Protestant reformation, Oxford leaned away from the Puritan movement and instead fell in love with classical languages and the old feudal values of knighthood and chivalry.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

In his early twenties, he was the latest descendant of noble earls stretching back 500 years to William the Conqueror and, in every way, the man whom Walt Whitman would describe as one of the ‘wolfish earls’ who must have written the Shakespeare plays:

“Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism – personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the ‘wolfish earls’ so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendent and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded history.”

When our modern world realizes sooner than later that Edward de Vere wrote the Shakespearean works, students will find more and more ways in which those works reflect his devotion to the ideas and ideals set forth by Castiglione, of whom the young earl wrote enthusiastically in his preface:

“For who has spoken of Princes with greater gravity?  Who has discoursed of illustrious women with a more ample dignity?  No one has written of military affairs more eloquently, more aptly about horse-racing, and more clearly and admirably about encounters under arms on the field of battle.  I will say nothing of the fitness and the excellence with which he has depicted the beauty of chivalry in the noblest persons.”

Drayton Henderson wrote a book in 1934 with a title that directly declared its theme:  Hamlet as a Castiglionean Courtier.  He also wrote introductory notes for the Everyman edition of The Courtier, stating that “without Castiglione we should not have Hamlet.  The ideal of the courtier, scholar, soldier developed first in Italy, and perfected in the narrative of Il Cortegiano, was Castiglione’s gift to the world,” adding, “Hamlet is the high exemplar of it in our literature.  But it is not only Shakespeare’s Hamlet that seems to follow Castiglione.  Shakespeare himself does.”

Hamlet the character is drawn in large part from Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier … Shakespeare created Hamlet as a special work of self-delineation … and it turns out that the leading candidate for the real author, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, strove to embody the “perfect courtier” as recorded by Castiglione in The Courtier — which, in turn, as a young man newly arrived at Court, he had read over and over and then caused to be published.

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword…

In the spring of 1570 the 20-year-old courtier Edward de Vere had been a soldier while accompanying the Earl of Sussex near the end of the Northern Rebellion, witnessing some battles of that English civil war; he was already known as a brilliant scholar;  he was famous for his sharp tongue and was the new champion jouster of the Whitehall tilt yard …

So that’s my Reason No. 3 why Oxford was author of the “Shakespeare” works.  The next installment, No. 4, will focus on the actual contents of the wonderful 1,100-word preface Oxford wrote for his former tutor’s Latin translation of The Book of the Courtier — a piece of writing that one day will be the basis of an essential chapter in the biography of the man who wrote the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

O Horatio what a wounded name!
Things standing thus unknown shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity a while
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story…

(Note: This post became Reason 7 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford by Hank Whittemore)

 

“Whether the Glass be Small or Large, Fill it Full”

water-glass

“Whether the glass be small or large, fill it full.”

This advice to artists of all kinds means the following to me, by way of analogy:

“If you take a thimble’s amount of water and pour it into a drinking glass, it won’t look so good.  (It’ll look even worse if you toss it into a bathtub.) But if you put the same thimble’s amount into a thimble, it suddenly looks perfect.”

Another way of saying it:

“If you don’t pour enough water into the glass, it doesn’t seem so good.  But if you pour in too much water, making it overflow, the result feels just as bad or maybe even worse.  Therefore, fill the glass … the vessel … the frame … with the right measure of contents.  Whatever the size, fill it up — no less, no more — and then your audience … your readers … your receivers … will feel satisfied.”

I think many of the best actors have the ability to make just the right gesture, use just the right tone … not too large or loud, not too small or soft, but somehow just right … following Hamlet’s advice to “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action…” (3.2)

Okay — I can already think of exceptions!  If it’s a rule, it’s a rule to be broken (although another good piece of wisdom, I’d say, is that you can’t break a rule until you know what that rule is and know how to obey it).

So, my thought is:

“Fill the glass full; and when you can do that well enough, okay, go ahead — break it if you will!”

#YayHamlet — Shakespeare Stands in the Wings for “Hamilton” on Broadway

By now the story of the hashtag #YayHamlet for Tweets about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s game-changing Broadway musical depicting the life of Alexander Hamilton is well known, but it bears repeating here. In February last year, when Hamilton was still playing its sold-out engagement at the Public Theater downtown, a woman driving on 181st Street stopped and rolled down her window and yelled to Miranda, “Congratulations on Hamlet!” “I WISH I wrote Hamlet,” he replied, and she shouted back, “Yay, Hamlet!” before driving off; and so the hashtag was born.

playbill hamilton

Hamilton is “Shakespearean” in many ways.  Like the great playwright of the Elizabethan age, Miranda looked to history – in this case, American history – as the basis of a great dramatic story for the contemporary audience. Just as Shakespeare transformed England’s royal history into a mirror of his nation’s current challenges, Miranda drew upon U.S. political history to depict its present struggles and still-emerging identity.

What the audience sees and hears on stage is not only a depiction of the country’s ongoing divisions, but, also, living proof of its continuing-though-uneven and often-volatile progress in social, political, cultural and artistic diversity.  For just a few hours in the theater, we are invited to join the terrific multi-ethnic cast and to share in and celebrate this joyous triumph of the democratic experiment.

Combing sharp intelligence with personal talent, education and experience, Miranda forged his work of genius with words – with linguistic patterns, rhythms and rhetorical devices, according to the distinct personalities of the characters – and he linked this emerging language to current music and dance, to the hip-hop cadences of speech and movement, and more.  Just as the Bard raised sixteenth-century English drama to new levels, Miranda and his fellow artists have offered a new vision of creative possibilities for this millennium. Here is surely the beginning of yet another renaissance of the American theater.

One rhetorical device in Hamilton is “anaphora” — basically the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of two or more successive lines, as Shakespeare provides for the king in Richard II:

With mine own tears I wash away my balm,

With mine own hands I give away my crown,

With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,

With mine own breath release all duteous oaths (4.1)

And so, for example, Hamilton’s sister-in-law Angelica sings:

I remember that night, I just might regret that night for the rest of my days.

I remember those soldier boys tripping over themselves to win our praise.

I remember that dreamlike candlelight like a dream that you can’t quite place. (1.4)

A direct nod to Shakespeare’s Macbeth comes from Hamilton as he begins a letter to Angelica with the first two lines of the title character’s most famous soliloquy:

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day”

And he continues:

I trust you’ll understand the reference to

Another Scottish tragedy without my having

To name the play. 

They think me Macbeth, and ambition is my folly. (2.3)

The full soliloquy, never spoken, is relevant:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing. (5.5)

Macbeth’s image of a man’s life as a “tale told by an idiot” will be a powerful theme in the final scenes of Hamilton – the fear that one’s own “story” will make no sense to posterity — and, in any case, that it will never be told correctly.  So Aaron Burr knows he will never be understood, much less forgiven, for killing Hamilton in a duel:

History obliterates. 

In every picture it paints,

It paints me with all my mistakes…

I survived, but I paid for it.

Now I’m the villain in your history.” (2.22)

Then George Washington picks up this theme, lamenting that there is no controlling over “who tells your story.”  The question is repeated, over and over: “Who tells your story?”

“Legacy,” Hamilton cries as he faces death.  “What is a legacy?  It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see…”

“And when you’re gone,” Burr agrees, “who remembers your name? Who keeps your flame?”

Such is also Hamlet’s concern as he, too, faces death as the result of a duel.  “Had I but time,” the prince says, referring to his need to tell what happened; but time has run out, so he turns to his trusted friend and pleads with him:

Horatio, I am dead:

Thou livest; report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied…

O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,

Things standing thus unknown shall I leave behind me! 

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity awhile

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story. (5.2)

Horatio promises to “speak to the yet unknowing world” how all these events (that we have just witnessed) came about. He knows that while most of the prince’s contemporaries think he was “mad” or insane, that “story” is far from accurate.  So it’s up to him to tell it or the truth will be lost.  As George Orwell will write in 1944 during World War Two, “History is written by the winners.”

Hamilton, too, suffers from a lack of understanding by others; and as a kind of Horatio figure in this innovative musical, his widow Eliza will spend the rest of her own life piecing together her late husband’s history.  But the enemy, as in the case of Hamlet’s story, is time; will she have enough time to set down the truth?

So the Twitter hashtag #YayHamlet is fitting for more than one reason.  Hamilton echoes the Bard’s great tragedy of the Prince of Denmark in unmistakable ways – as if Shakespeare himself is standing ghost-like in the wings, tapping his feet and whispering his encouragement and wondering, too, along with the other historical figures on stage, whether his own true story will ever be told and who will do the telling.

“Feeling It” — New Edition of the Novel by Hank Whittemore

new cover imagefeeling it back cover

(CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LARGER VIEWS)

Available now on Amazon Books

 

No. 84 of 100 Reasons why the Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”: He was Involved in the Revolutionary Expanding Universe of Astronomy

Among our well renowned men,
Dever merits a silver pen
Eternally to write his honour,
And I in a well-polished verse,
Can set up in our universe
A fame to endure for ever…
For who marketh better than he
The seven turning flames of the sky?

These lines published in 1584 came from a Frenchman writing under the pen name John Soothern, living in the household of “Dever” – Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford; and the “seven turning flames of the sky” are, of course, the planets. Oxford, according to this scholarly poet from France who knew him well, was an expert in the currently exciting but politically dangerous field of astronomy, which was threatening to overturn the old conception of the cosmos and even to upend the old relationship of man to himself, to the world and to God.

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,
And yet methinks I have Astronomy;

English astronomer Thomas Digges did groundbreaking work in the 1570s

English astronomer Thomas Digges did groundbreaking work in the 1570s

That was “Shakespeare” starting off his Sonnet 14, but right away he announces that he is not speaking here of astrological fortune-telling or superstitions or the making of predictions such as that used by Queen Elizabeth to choose the luckiest and most balmy date of her coronation:

But not to tell of good or evil luck…
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Or say with Princes if it shall go well
By oft predict that I in heaven find…

On the contrary, by “astronomy” he was referring to revolutionary science in sixteenth-century England that was still being studied in secret, notably by the group (later called the School of Night) whose members included Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, George Chapman, the mathematician Thomas Harriot and, yes, Edward de Vere himself. He had studied astronomy from boyhood in the 1550s with his tutor Sir Thomas Smith, and in the 1560s with Dr. John Dee, who was not only the Queen’s astrologer but a serious mathematician and geographer; and because of the book De Revolutionibus by Polish mathematician-astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, published in 1543, these English scholars were well aware that great changes of paradigm were under way – in terms of not only the universe but of the social-religious-political order itself, which even Hamlet is reluctant to mention aloud:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

(The prince in Hamlet, 1.4)

Map of the Celestial Orbs  By Leonard & Thomas Digges (father-son), 1576

Map of the Celestial Orbs
By Leonard & Thomas Digges (father-son), 1576

Such free-thinking men were moving from the old Ptolemaic model of the earth at the center of the universe to the revolutionary Copernican model, by which everything is in motion, the earth rotating on its axis while revolving with the other planets around the central Sun.

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love

(The prince in Hamlet, 2.2)

When Oxford was twenty-three in 1573, the English scientist Thomas Digges (1527-1608) published a treatise on the “supernova” or exploding star seen in the sky the year before; and in this work, dedicated to the young earl’s father-in-law William Cecil Lord Burghley, Digges included warm praise for the Copernican hypothesis. Burghley and spymaster Francis Walsingham, who made it their business to develop intelligence in defense of the realm, were keenly interested in a new-fangled device called a “perspective” glass or trunk that enabled astronomers to see farther into space; and in fact such new devices would help to quickly spot the warships of the Spanish armada upon their arrival in 1588, thereby playing a significant role in England’s victory over King Philip and the Pope.

Digges published another key work, A Perfect Description of the Celestial Orbs, in 1576, using allegory to simultaneously set forth and disguise his agreement with Copernicus as well as his heretical view that the Sun is just one star among an infinity of stars in an unending universe.

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space”
(The prince in Hamlet, 2.2)

Watson's Sonnet Sequence of 1582 dedicated to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Watson’s Sonnet Sequence of 1582 dedicated to Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

In 1582, when the poet Thomas Watson dedicated Hekatompathia, or the Passionate Century of Love to Oxford, thanking him for his help with the manuscript and getting it into print, his sequence of 100 consecutively numbered “passions” or sonnets contained the first known description of the Milky Way as a collection of discrete stars (as opposed to a single mass) – preceding Galileo’s published discovery in 1610 by nearly thirty years. The prose header for one of the sonnets – Oxford seems to have written all the headers – refers to “Galaxia” as “a White Way or Milky Circle in the heavens,” and the opening lines of the poem contain this radical description:

Who can recount the virtues of my dear,
Or say how far her fame hath taken flight,
That cannot tell how many stars appear
In part of heaven, which Galaxia height,
Or number all the moats in Phoebus’ rays,
Or golden sands, whereon Pactolus plays?

(Watson Sonnet 31, 1582)

Astronomer Tycho Brahe of Denmark 1546-1601

Astronomer Tycho Brahe of Denmark 1546-1601

In the same year Elizabeth sent Oxford’s brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby, on a mission to the Danish court; and during that extended visit Willoughby met with the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, who, in 1572, had made precise observations of that inexplicably brilliant star that became known as “Tycho’s Supernova” – an exploded, extremely bright and burning star, which traditionally trained scientists could not explain; but the playwright “Shakespeare” would describe it in the night sky over Denmark:

Last night of all,
When yon same star that’s westward from the pole
Had made his course to illume that part of heaven
Where it now burns…

(Bernardo in Hamlet, 1.1)

Tycho Brahe's Observatory

Tycho Brahe’s Observatory

“Tycho’s Supernova” provided “confirmation of an emerging scientific understanding of a dynamic universe,” Mark Andereson writes, as opposed to the prevailing Ptolemaic system, which continued to posit that all heavenly bodies were unchanging and firmly fixed in place.

In June of 1583 the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno appeared in England and delivered lectures at Oxford, contradicting the University’s continuing dogma that every object in the universe orbited the centrally positioned earth. The free-thinking Bruno preached in favor of the Copernican solar system and also proposed (correctly) that the Sun was just another star moving in space. Inevitably, of course, the University academics rebuked him.

“Oxford University and Giordano Bruno were celestial bodies in opposition,” Anderson notes. “The University preached the ancient geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Every object in the heavens, it was said, orbited the earth, and the earth occupied the center of the universe.” Bruno advanced the heresies that “the stars, contrary to fixed church doctrine, are free-floating objects in a fluid celestial firmament; that the universe is infinite, leaving no room for a physical heaven or hell; and that elements in the universe (called ‘monads’) contain a divine spark at the root of life itself. Even the dust from which we are made contains this spark.”

If circumstances lead me, I will find
Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeed
Within the center.
(Polonius in Hamlet, 2.2)

Oxfordians have made a compelling case that Edward de Vere began to set down the first of many versions of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in 1583, creating a fictional world at the Danish court reflecting his own real world at the English court — with Hamlet essentially a self-portrait; Claudius representing Queen Elizabeth’s former lover Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was thought to be a serial “poisoner” as well as her Majesty’s ambitious friend; Gertrude representing Elizabeth herself; chief minister Polonius representing chief minister Lord Burghley; and Ophelia, daughter of Polonius and fiance of Hamlet, depicting Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley and wife of Oxford.

Wittenberg - Market Square looking much as it did in 1502, when the university (attended by Hamlet in the play) was founded

Wittenberg – Market Square looking much as it did in 1502, when the university (attended by Hamlet in the play) was founded

He would be launching into this work just when discussions of the new ideas about the heavens were accelerating in England. Hamlet is a student at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, a major center for the Copernican theory; and in fact Bruno went on to teach at Wittenberg, where he could freely voice his bold ideas. Later he was imprisoned for seven years before the Roman Inquisition burned him at the stake in 1600 for heresy.

But now we also confront an amazing theory about this great Shakespearean tragedy in which Claudius usurps the throne of Denmark, depriving Prince Hamlet of his rightful place. According to Peter Usher, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University, this masterpiece of dramatic literature is also “an allegorical description of the competition between two cosmological models.” On one side is the heliocentric universe of Copernicus being taught at Wittenberrg and personified by Hamlet; on the other is the old geocentric order, personified by the Claudius (named for the ancient astronomer Claudius Ptolemy), who has usurped the throne.

KING CLAUDIUS (to Hamlet): How is it that the clouds still hang on you?
PRINCE HAMLET: Not so, my lord. I am too much in the Sun.

Hamlet deserves to be King, the royal Sun at the center. According to the new astronomy of Copernicus and the Sun-centered universe of Thomas Digges, the prince belongs on the throne at the center of the realm. So the Prince of Denmark is dangerous to the stability of the old hierarchy and, therefore, he poses a direct threat to King Claudius and Queen Gertrude.

This bodes some strange eruption to our state
(Horatio in Hamlet, 1.1)

The time is out of joint. O cursed spite
That ever I was born to set it right!

(The prince in Hamlet, 1.5)

Within the cosmological allegory, the play is chock full of allusions to this struggle between the old and new structure of the heavens and of the earth. “The idea of a rotating and revolving earth was counter-intuitive to most people and contrary to established religious and scientific doctrine,” Usher notes. When Claudius and Gertrude express their desire that Hamlet not return to Wittenberg, they do so by saying that such a course is “most retrograde to our desire” – an astronomical term for contrary motion, that is, the prince’s motion away from them and toward the Copernican cosmology as taught at Wittenberg – where, in addition, Martin Luther (1483-1546) had initiated the Protestant Reformation that was also disrupting the traditional order in England!

Giordano Bruno 1548-1600

Giordano Bruno
1548-1600

Scientists, according to Anderson, have observed that Shakespeare’s record of astronomical knowledge acquired during the Elizabethan age, as well as major celestial events, simply ceases by mid-1604, the year of Oxford’s death. The traditionally perceived author, William of Stratford, would live until 1616 — long enough, if he were “Shakespeare,” to continue to record events such as the discovery of sunspots or of Jupiter’s moons, not to mention “other significant celestial phenomena and developments in astronomical science” that occurred before he died. But the great dramatist is silent when it comes to astronomical discoveries and celestial phenomena made or observed between 1604 and 1616.

“The quest for truth and exposure of falsity is a theme that runs through Shakespeare’s play,” Usher says. “The castle platform (at Elsinore) is the interface between the castle interior and the sky, a contrast that parallels the contrast of reality and appearance, as when Hamlet says, ‘Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.’ The passage from geocentricism to Digge’s vision of an infinite universe is a passage from appearances to reality.”

Oxford’s extant letters show him as keenly alert to this theme. “But the world is so cunning,” he wrote to Lord Burghley in 1581, “as of a shadow they can make a substance, and of a likelihood a truth.” And he wrote to Burghley’s son Robert Cecil more than two decades later, in 1603, “But I hope truth is subject to no prescription, for truth is truth though never so old, and time cannot make that false which was once true.”

So this evidence is one more reason to conclude that Oxford and “Shakespeare” were one and the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonnet 114 by “Shakespeare” has these lines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mind to me a kingdom is
[song lyrics]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(My emphases are added above.)

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